The reopening of peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders sounds like a dreadful rerun of an old B movie for many in Israel. Nearly everyone I met on my recent 10-day trip there was pessimistic about the two sides coming to any substantial agreements. Most of my conversations suggested that the Israelis and Palestinians were "stuck" with one another. No one could imagine anything but a repeat of past talk failures, and no one seemed to have any idea of how to move forward unless the other side changed in some fundamental way.
I felt the same way during my trip, at least until the last day.
My trip began the day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced that he had convinced Israel and Palestine to talk about talking again. It ended on the day when they actually agreed to talk about peace. I met a variety of people—West Bank Palestinian leaders in Ramallah, common citizens in Bethlehem, Jewish settlers in occupied territories, Jewish peace and interfaith activists, Palestinian activists in Israel, members of the Israeli government, Christian leaders, military officials on the Lebanon and Syrian borders. The trip was planned for me by the Jewish Federation of Chicago, but they did as good a job as can be imagined for a 10-day trip if one is to get exposed to the variety of opinions in this troubled land.
I asked nearly every person I met about their hopes for the talks, and as I said, not a one was hopeful. And neither was I, until I had a conversation with a well-respected and influential rabbi. That's when a glimmer of hope sparkled ever so briefly.
First, some personal reflections of a non-expert after a second trip to this most controversial area. These are admittedly ...