Israeli army reservist Haim Gottfried and Palestinian security officer Samir al-Shakhshir are committed to fighting for their people’s security but both long for the day they can lay down their arms.Yet even as their leaders meet this week in Annapolis, Maryland, for a U.S.-led push to jump-start peace talks, neither man sees a quick fix to the 60-year old conflict.
In December, Gottfried, 26, will take leave from his studies in Tel Aviv and report for an annual month of reserve army duty required from most Israeli men his age. He will likely be stationed at a roadblock in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
“I am a firm believer in peace and human rights in the West Bank, but I’m also a realist and I know the security issues,” Gottfried said. “I know what it’s like to be on the Israeli side knowing the recent history of (attacks).”
In the West Bank city of Nablus, a frequent flashpoint between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants, Shakhshir, 36, recently gave up years of guerrilla warfare against the Jewish state to join President Mahmoud Abbas’s security force.
Israel granted amnesty to Shakshir and more than 100 other militants from Abbas’s secular Fatah faction in a gesture to bolster Abbas against rival Hamas Islamists who have seized Gaza. In return, Shakhshir swore off violence against Israel.
“As long as there is occupation, there is resistance,” Shakhshir said. “I don’t think I’ve stopped resistance. I continue fighting in my new role, just by helping my people.”
NO MIRACLE DRUGÂ
One of Israel’s major sticking points in negotiations has been Abbas’s inability to rein in militants. The Palestinians say Israeli raids and checkpoints undermine their efforts and that occupation of the West Bank deprives them of authority.
For Gottfried, reserve duty is simply part of life in Israel. Checkpoints and army raids are not the problem but a symptom of the larger conflict, he said. They may not be the ideal solution, but they prevent further violence, he said.
“I just don’t believe right now there’s a better way of keeping things peaceful, unfortunately,” Gottfried said.
“I believe that things are slowly getting better, but I don’t think that there is a miracle drug.”
In Nablus, Shakhshir said Israeli soldiers must leave the West Bank to allow his security force to act decisively against those who want to pursue the war in defiance of Abbas’s orders. With frequent Israeli checkpoints and new security barriers dividing cities, he said it’s like trying to work in a jail.
“Palestinian security forces are able to impose law and order, but we feel the Israeli side is trying to make our mission fail,” Shakhshir said.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas hope the Annapolis conference will lead to formal talks on creating a Palestinian state. But Shakhshir and Gottfried doubt the two leaders will be able to bring an end to the decades of violence.
“I think all Palestinians and even Israelis want good results to come from this conference … but I’m afraid of the Israeli side. The Palestinian people have been paying a heavy price in all regards,” Shakhshir said.
Gottfried said that neither Olmert or Abbas are the “visionaries” that can deliver peace, but he thinks the conference is a move in the right direction.
“Both sides realize you can’t go back 60 years and change the demographics,” he said. “But I do think you can change mentality and the way that we perceive this region if you realize most of the people on both sides just want to live their lives.”