Friends, family and colleagues of “Barsi” – the late Prof. Yaacov Bar-Siman-Tov, who was head of the Institute from 2003 to 2013 – met at the JIIS this month to discuss the topic of "Justice and Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict" – which was a topic close to his heart and the title of his final book, to be released soon.
Dr. Ittai Bar-Siman-Tov, Barsi’s son, and Dan Halperin, JIIS Chairman, opened the event with an outline of his legacy, having devoted a lifetime to conflict resolution. This legacy, they said, was anchored “both in research and in values.”
Prof. Arie Kacowicz (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), who worked with Barsi on Justice and Peace, said that this book could be considered the last part of a “research trilogy” penned by its author that also included Stable Peace among Nations and From Conflict Resolution to Reconciliation. He said that Barsi claimed in this last work that the two sides’ narratives and perceptions of justice were in themselves barriers to peace, and therefore he called for compromise, adding that even though it is far from perfect the only solution is still two states for two peoples.
Defense Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon noted that the Israeli-Palestinian case differs from a conflict between two states (Israel and Egypt or Jordan, for example) in that it more closely resembles a struggle between Siamese twins who want to be separated but are dependent on a joint infrastructure. He said that the source of the conflict was not territorial and added that there must be an understanding that not every problem has a solution, that sometimes one must pursue a goal even if problems remain unresolved.
Prof. Daniel Bar-Tal (Tel Aviv University) drew on Ya’alon’s presentation when he analyzed the different components found in the narratives of the societies that are party to the conflict, saying they suggest a “culture of conflict.” These include “faith” and “justice,” self-image, a sense of victimhood, a negation of the other side’s goals, etc. in Israel, he said, an alternative to the culture of conflict has been growing that has different goals – and now there is a struggle between those differing views within Israel.
Prof. Dan Zakay (Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya) addressed the factor of time in the conflict: in general, people tend to view time as a blend of past, present and future. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians, he said, have a culture that has a strong orientation to the past and this is a real hurdle in the peace process.
Dr. Hiba Husseini, an attorney and former head of the Palestinian legal team for the bilateral negotiations, said that from a Palestinian perspective, numerous factors led to a sense of injustice, ranging from the difficulties individuals, including herself, faced as residents of East Jerusalem through to the broader issues of settlements and the security fence. She argued that while Israel is keen that the negotiations be based on a political solution, the Palestinians would rather see them have a legal basis, in line with international law. She said that the Palestinians accept the view that Bar-Siman-Tov voiced in his book that a process of reconciliation will follow once an agreement is reached, though she said that would require a mutual acceptance of the fact that each side has its own narrative.
In closing the event, JIIS Director-General Meir Kraus drew on Jewish sources when discussing the concept of justice, saying that the ancient texts indicate that compromise is in itself an act of justice.