Leaders from some 50 countries and organizations, including 12 Arab nations, are meeting in Annapolis, Maryland, today to begin negotiations for a peace agreement in the Middle East. News reports tell of " restrained optimism" that the event could lead to a Palestinian state.
The op-ed page of The Washington Post tells the rest of the story. Columnist Richard Cohen has a poignant column on the reality of human stories with conflicting narratives. He cites a new HBO documentary, To Die in Jerusalem, the story of a March 2002 suicide bombing in which a young Palestinian blew herself up in Jerusalem supermarket, killing a young Israeli woman. The film tells the story of the unsuccessful attempt by the mothers of the two women to talk with each other. Cohen writes that the reality of the Middle East is in the story of these two mothers:
The deaths of their daughters do not unite them. They talk past each other. They are virtual neighbors, but the distance between them is huge - roadblocks and checkpoints and mentalities ossified by 100 years of bloodshed. One mother is obsessed with the Israeli occupation. The other is preoccupied with terrorism. One is right. The other is right.
Israel must relent. That's for sure. The Palestinians must forswear terrorism. That's for sure, too. The occupation has to end. Suicide bombings have to end. A Palestinian state has to be created. Gaza cannot remain a terrorist base. The West Bank cannot become a terrorist base. It's all so sensible. It's all so logical. But, really, down where it counts, the mothers of two dead daughters cannot even talk to each other.
Until the leaders of both Israel and Palestine understand both of these narratives and can negotiate a common narrative, the tragedies will continue. I pray this Annapolis conference will at long last begin that process.