It is hard to imagine a crazier election season than the one recently wrapped up, but the centennial election 140 years ago indeed may have been both more combustible and pivotal. The contest between Rutherford Hayes and Samuel Tilden- in what history ultimately remembers as the Compromise of 1877- effectively ended the great American project of Reconstruction. As noble and vital as it was, the inflamed socio-political project did not succeed in its grandiose vision, and institutional liberties such as voting and desegregation would have to wait almost another century for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
Despite the significant time gap, the failures of Reconstruction have much to contribute in contemporary discourses on Israeli-Palestinian affairs and its future resolutions. Whereas Reconstruction arguably failed due to the lack of existing organizational infrastructure to support its ambitious plans- the saturated field of peace-supporting initiatives and organizations in Israel, the Palestinian territories, and abroad provides ample support for an eventual peace for the two peoples once a political agreement is struck.
In the case of Reconstruction, the “political” solution was apparent and broadly agreed upon by both the North and South after General Lee’s surrender to Union troops at Appomattox. With the agreement in place, politicians and community leaders took control of the situation to begin implementing- and fighting against- the policies of racial equality and federal authority that led to the war. However, despite the presence of a clear ceasefire- and the political capital lying heavily in the North’s favor- President Lincoln’s political aspirations slowly withered away with swift and focused counter-campaigns by organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and the pro-slavery Democratic Party of the time.
I certainly do not claim expertise on the historical area of Reconstruction, but precisely the opposite scenario is what we are witnessing now on the Israeli-Palestinian front. The political atmosphere for two states for two peoples is stagnant and assuredly bleak in outlook, yet the organizational landscape in support of such an initiative is extremely strong and legitimate.
Notwithstanding the pro-settlement organizations that continue to operate alongside Israeli and international support- as well as the deeply embedded anti-normalization and anti-Israel structures within Palestinian circles- it is vitally important to recognize the work being done every day on both sides of the Green Line in support of stability, peace, and coexistence. There exist watchdog monitoring groups like Tag Meir that expose all forms of racism in Israel, coexistence organizations to unite Israelis and Palestinians such as OneVoice, and human rights-focused institutions like the Association for Civil Rights in Israel that protect legal freedoms in the Israeli Supreme Court. While Ir Amim is one of the many educational organizations providing academic resources in support of future solutions, Women Wage Peace represents the important role of grassroots activism in empowering like-minded individuals. Groups like The Portland Trust also vitally work in implementing Palestinian private sector growth and social entrepreneurship initiatives.
This tiny sample of organizations represents a much larger reality, in which nearly every specific issue is monitored, fought for, and at times maintained in accordance with the viability of a two-state solution. Some were born out of the Oslo peace process of the 1990’s, while others have existed since Israel’s modern inception in 1948. Their survival in the twenty-first century following the Second Intifada, a transformed world after the 9/11 attacks, and a stagnated political landscape is testament to the larger, less cynical facet of reality often neglected in mainstream media and politics.
Why is this important? Now, more than ever, opponents of the two-state solution continue to broadcast their calls for annexation of the West Bank, alongside other plans that are equally as disastrous for Israel’s democracy and security. Yet behind the veils of a dejected peace camp (both inside and outside of the Israel), exists a ready and capable army of organizations and individuals. By realizing and accepting this notion, we can and should relent on the non-starter rhetoric that elected officials hide behind- and rather focus on the immediate political barriers that continue to leave the two sides in gridlock.
For once these highly polarized peoples, and their governing leaders, realize their shared future far outweighs the risks associated with compromising in negotiations, and once the fateful piece of paper gets signed in relatively good faith- be it in five years or another fifty- the true battle will commence, and it will be our collective responsibility to ensure the fate of the two-state solution does not deteriorate as did the glorious failure of Reconstruction.