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Voices of People III: 'To make peace, build on what works'

Dahlia Shaham: “Two states may be the right format for a sustainable political arrangement… But to think that this separation is like a divorce is to live in a world that doesn’t exist. No political border can separate people that way”

Dahlia Shaham is a professional over-achiever. She grew up in Haifa and served in a legendary, slightly secretive IDF unit. She completed a law degree (LLB) at Hebrew University, worked as an analyst and team leader on social and economic affairs at the Reut Institute, a policy think-tank, and then did a Master of Law and Diplomacy in international political economics at the Fletcher School of Tufts University – all by the age of 33. Dahlia is now a consultant on social and economic development and training programs.

Dahlia Shaham 0511 (Photo: Morag Bitan)

She is the third in my series on regular people in Israel, following my cousin Moshe, a religious/Haredi American immigrant in Jerusalem, and Makarem, a  young Arab lawyer from Jaljulia. Dahlia lives in Herzliya with her husband, a chef, and their cats.

Dahlia’s work has focused largely on macro-economic regional forces and political economy.  I didn’t ask at first about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but she gravitated to it immediately – punctuating her conversation with rushes of hope when describing opportunities, and sighs of deep frustration at the sense of political stagnation.


The political system and leadership are seriously flawed. But there are things about civil society, bureaucracy, and in parts of the business community that are going well.


No one is held accountable and no one is expected to be accountable. That’s partly because of the lack of political stability, and the short tenure of governments and ministers. But a big part of it is our low expectations.

The leadership confuses justifications with end goals. It was really noticeable in the second Lebanon war (2006), or during the Cast Lead operation in Gaza (2009). If you ask “what are the goals of these policies,” they give you justifications, such as “there’s no alternative.” They justify bombing Gaza because of how the other side [Palestinians- DS] behaves, not because they have clear policy goals.


We need to discuss a vision of peace, before we try to figure out how to make it happen…What does it mean to have two states side by side, or a society that is not at war? We need to look at the aspects that are not at war, and strengthen them.


Take bureaucratic examples – the communications authorities, infrastructures, internet, telephone, transportation to some extent. Israel coordinates with Palestinians and Jordanians, and we’re part of many associations with Arab states participating too, where we’re not in conflict. Maybe we need to shine the spotlight there and see what works. Where do we have sustainable co-operation?

When it comes to the United Nations, the UN Security Council, the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council get lots of exposure – and those are the agencies where we see the same old game repeating itself. But there are numerous other international agencies, within the UN as well, playing a different game, where we’re not constantly fighting. It’s the responsibility of the media to give them space too.

For example, the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Trade – and the Trade Administration – works with the parallel administration in the Palestinian Authority and other Arab countries. There’s a person responsible for trade with Jordan and Egypt…there’s the economic arm of Foreign Ministry, aid projects to Gaza, and Mashav (the Foreign Ministry’s foreign development assistance program) which can work with Jordan. There are networks of civil, infrastructure and commercial cooperation, managed by government agencies. The Annapolis process could have strengthened those connections…

A few year ago the EU negotiated with all the Mediterranean states about trade agreements … And Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Tunisia, not to mention Morocco and Egypt, were all around the table. That could have been publicized. I heard about it…from someone at the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Trade, but she said it was a sensitive issue and we couldn’t talk about it.


It would have been a slight crack in the armor of Israel’s besieged mentality.
Let’s not be naïve, this alone won’t lead to peace. But there’s something childish about thinking that any one thing will bring peace; rather, there are islands of peace, where Israelis and Arabs sit on the same side of the road. And we could learn from those islands.

Who remembers that Israeli representatives participated at Dubai for the International Monetary Fund and World Bank forums? Sure, there is so-called “sensitivity” – they say if you expose Israel’s involvement too much, the Arab states won’t come. It’s true that in 2003, Netanyahu (then Finance Minister) canceled and when then-Bank of Israel Governor David Klein spoke, some representatives left the hall and some moved two rows back. So what? They stayed for the rest of the conference. We don’t need to be so afraid of the boycott.


When I was researching my thesis about business relations between Israel and the Gulf States, I spoke to a government clerk who said the relationship is like a married man with his mistress. Both want to enjoy the benefits of the relationship, but the condition for getting those benefits is secrecy.

He’s partly right. If there’s a franchise of [Israeli businessman] Lev Leviev in Dubai, he’s the mistress and the franchise is the married man. If the franchise is exposed as linked to Israel, clients might leave or burn the shop. But in international forums and organizations, it’s worth seeing if we can call their bluff.


What really remains of the Arab boycott? We are very scared of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement (BDS). But unlike the Arab boycott, it’s non-governmental and grassroots. Economically it’s almost irrelevant – mainly it’s just loud, with a high web presence and harsh rhetoric.

Giving BDS all that attention, and the title of ‘de-legitimization’ makes it much more than it is. The truth is that at this point, beyond hurting academic cooperation, boycotts only hurts the poorest and weakest.


Local small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Large Israeli business who want to work in the Western world have solutions; they might face some entry barriers and risk management costs but if they have enough economic interest, they’ll break into that market. Smaller shops can’t do that.

The boycott hurts those who need economic development the most, like Palestinians inside Israel. It stops them from realizing their potential, as Israel’s representatives for export, middlemen [to the Middle East – DS], for example.

Also cooperation initiatives at the lower levels of society get screwed. Consider the initiatives to advance the Palestinian high tech industry. They have to learn the field without having any connection to the Israeli high tech industry – that means non-realization of potential. That’s the cost of BDS.

Put aside the image damage that BDS does. What really damages our image is the occupation. We have the feeling here that words are everything, and diplomacy is just a matter of selling narratives. We’re so wrapped up in our image, but it’s the fact that we’re occupiers that screws us as a society, economy and state.


I see a dead end. I have no expectation that Israel will do anything.


I don’t know whether it’s the current government or the system. But I don’t believe that anyone in the current government believes there is any reason to make any agreements with any Arabs. That was [Ariel] Sharon’s starting point. If you don’t believe in any commitment you get from any Arab, you continue the way things are or you continue unilaterally.

Unilateral action

I think there is a place for unilateral action.

Transfer of authority is one example. The idea that Israel collects taxes for the Palestinian Authority – I didn’t understand it at the Paris accords, and I don’t understand it now…I realize it’s a leverage card for someone, but it’s really a political burden. That could change, as a trust-building measure.

Another example has to do with settlements. What bothers me more than construction is the destruction around the settlements. It’s very hard for any Israeli government to say it will freeze settlements – they just can’t do it… But the destruction in Area C, in the civilian administration – they just destroy buildings, wells, they interfere with Palestinian construction in those areas.

In the South Hebron Hills, there are communities near settlements that are prevented from picking their olives. [Israeli authorities] declare their water wells to be “closed army zones.” There are destruction orders for things that were there before establishment of the state. Why should IDF soldiers have to deal with that? Why destroy stuff? It’s a waste of resources.
The army’s activity in the West Bank should focus on real security, not just for the settlements.


We must try to end to occupation and strive for normalization. The Arab peace plan is worth exploring for various aspects. I don’t think any Israeli or Palestinian government can sign an agreement on borders. Both leaderships feel pinned down by the right.

And so unilateral moves have merit…Israel can definitely support [Palestinian statehood] and say that the Palestinians feel they are their own masters…It will be easier for Israel to make its case on security, when it’s state against state, rather than occupier against occupied.

…The less we interfere with their politics and the more we focus on the borders between us, and converge in our respective boundaries, we strengthen the claim that we’re not occupiers. The more we go in, conduct operations inside their territory and blur the borders, and resist their economic independence, it seems obvious to me that we’re going in the direction of being occupiers.

Big Picture


I wish Netanyahu would realize that we’re living in a historic time, and that the whole first part of Obama’s speech is important. And he must understand that the security and prosperity of Israel is inextricably linked to security and prosperity and independence and freedom of the people who live around us, first of all Palestinians, and then all the others.

And I would like to hear from Bibi that Israel has a role in the region, as a beacon of democracy and economic progress. When Bibi talked about economic peace, I hoped that Obama, Clinton and Mitchell would hold him accountable. The US made a mistake by insisting on settlements – they lost an opportunity to say “we recognize the vision of this democratically elected leader, there are important aspects of economic peace and we’ll think about how to advance it.”

But Bibi was swallowed up by the paranoid Bibi who thinks Iran is the most important thing in the world.


This might sound delirious, but I think the way to combat the regional threat of the nuclear arms race is through cooperation on nuclear energy. If Israel really wanted to call their bluff, we could say: “fine, if you say it’s just energy, then let’s establish the biggest agreement –  like the steel and coal agreements in Europe in the 1940s [part of the Marshall Plan] – we’ll get the best possible regional agreement, with international supervision, for shared nuclear energy. The condition, however, will be gradual nuclear disarmament and mutual supervision.” That could be a game changer. That’s what transformed Europe, taking the most serious weapons of the time and turning them into an industry, with shared supervision.

Visions of Cooperation

In 1938, my grandfather got on a train in Baghdad – he worked for the British rail company – he stopped in Damascus and Beirut, and got off in Jaffa. He met some crazy Zionists, refused a wild-sounding real estate offer (what a shame!), then got back on the train back to Baghdad.  It’s not so long ago – maybe the region can look like that again.

Two states may be the right format for a sustainable political arrangement… But to think that this separation is like a divorce is to live in a world that doesn’t exist. No political border can separate people that way.


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    1. Zvi

      I think that Israel must take the initiative in this process – we can afford to be magnanimous! We should embrace the winds of change which are blowing through the region. It was always futile to make “peace” with regimes which do not represent the people. We need to make peace between peoples! Perhaps Israel could offer to share our experiences in state-building – that is literally what will be necessary for these revolutions to succeed.

      Sadly, there seems to be little support for visions of cooperation (just look at Israeli’s opinions about Peres). Israeli politics have become highly corrosive and this is having a negative impact on many aspects of Israeli society.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Dahlia

      Thank you Zvi for reading this through and for appreciating it. I fully agree that we, as a society and as a culture, have plenty to offer the region. However, I think we should not focus our attention on the stalemate in the political system. While the system itself is troublesome, in many respects it mirrors the society, and changes within the society will eventually also change the system – we, as a society, are therefore also responsible for what our leadership looks like and what we demand of it.
      Meanwhile, many initiatives are already being taken by Israeli civil society – initiatives of protest, development assistance, dialogue and other forms of cooperation within Israel and with our neighbors and those should not be disregarded.

      Reply to Comment
    3. rick

      thanks for your thoughts. I agree, the way should not be a solution (peace, two-states, what ever) or no solution at all, it will be a future of small steps, partnership and neighboring.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Shoded Yam

      Ms. Scheindlin,
      “…While the system itself is troublesome, in many respects it mirrors the society, and changes within the society will eventually also change the system – we, as a society, are therefore also responsible for what our leadership looks like and what we demand of it.”
      This is true. What is equally true, is that Israeli society is under a severe time constraint. The window of oppurtunity to make the necessary changes is closing rapidly. Sooner or later (likely sooner rather than later)the world will cease making distinctions between those Israelis who pay lip service yet do little else toward their stated goal of reaching an agreement with the palestinians and those Israelis who are busy tearing up olive groves and marching through arab neighborhoods on Jerusalem Day. The day is rapidly appoaching when the world will see the face of the settler to be the face of Israel. No more Amos Oz, No more David Grossman, no more +972, no more Dahlia Shaham. Just mosque burners. While the truth is somewhat more complex, the world hates complex truths and they’re getting tired of delayed gratification. What it likes are easily understood perceptions delivered up quick and hot like a pizza from dominoes.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Shoded Yam – FYI, it was Dahlia Shaham (the interviewee) who wrote the comment you quoted above. Yes, it’s easy to get us confused!

      Reply to Comment
    6. Shoded Yam

      Ms. Scheindlin,

      Mea Culpa.


      Reply to Comment
    7. Shoded Yam

      Ms. Shaham,
      My apologies for the mistake. While I felt that your piece was spot on, I hope my point was not lost in the confusion.

      Reply to Comment
    8. directrob

      I am always wondering about well thinking Israeli like Dahlia Shaham.
      First before you think join the army and be a perfect part of the occupation and the war machine.
      Second get a good job and pay a lot of taxes, supporting the current government. (Or live as a wreck and be interviewed by Tamar Yarom)
      Third start to think, have a very clear view of the situation but do nothing about it but paying more taxes and living on what was Palestinian land and drinking Palestinian water. Maybe get interviewed by Dahlia Scheindlin.
      Fourth probably have children that brainwashed join the army again.
      How to look into the mirror and be happy with yourself and your life in Israel?

      Reply to Comment
    9. Yuli

      What is your suggestion, Directorob? Should she leave Israel, which is – for better or worse – her home? As an Israeli living abroad I can tell you that I miss Israel terribly, despite disagreeing with its policies, fiercely objecting the occupation, and feeling pessimistic about its future. I miss it because it’s home, and there’s little I can do about my emotional response to it. Isn’t it a good thing that Dhalia stays in Israel, rather than leave it (the way I did). Don’t we need people like her in Israel, who will probably raise children who AREN’T brainwashed?

      Reply to Comment
    10. Directrob – warning. Your comment is bordering on inappropriate and sounds too close to a personal attack. Please keep your points substantive and focused, otherwise we will edit them or delete. Please see our comments policy if you’re not sure why.

      Reply to Comment
    11. David

      you understand very little about Israel. All the more surprising since you are very opinionated in most threads. If someone wrote what you wrote about Palestinians you’d accuse them of racism.
      It is always noteworthy when far leftists from outside Israel opine and in doing so display an incredible lack of nuance and knowledge. This is one of the main reasons that opinions such as yours are neither here nor there. But I have a feeling Joseph Dana would love to read you, you are about his height.

      Reply to Comment
    12. directrob

      Reading my comment again I see it could be read like a personal attack and is much too harsh. It was not meant as a personal attack. I do not think people that are born in or went to Israel should have to leave Israel and leave their friends and family.
      It is just that I wonder how a very intelligent person like Dahlia clearly is can cope, given the current political situation, with opposing Israels policies vehemently on the one hand but on the other hand also being part of the state. I feel lucky that I was not born in Israel and do not have to answer that question (and yes at 18 I was also an Israel supporter).

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    13. directrob

      David, we all have to live forever with what we have written in this blog. This time it was my turn to make a nasty mistake.

      Reply to Comment
    14. David

      @ Directrob
      sometimes life is more complex or nuanced than you may think and the far left would have it. No, really.
      The most important thing is that one stays positive and contributes to a good solution. Screaming ‘bloody murder’ in thread’s is pointless, since other blogs feature Israelhaters ( 18y. ++) at length.
      And since you don’t “have to answer the questions” (you can’t, with your attitude) why not practice some humility when dealing with real Israelis who are looking for workable answers.

      Reply to Comment
    15. max

      Directrob, it’s easy to detect things you’re against. Care to share with us what you’re for?

      Reply to Comment
    16. Zvi

      @DIRECTROB, I live in Montreal, and am quite disgusted (and ashamed) with the current Canadian government. Perhaps I should move back to Israel! At least Quebec has the option of leaving Canada….

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    17. Saeed Hotary

      I second directrobs suggestion. Ms Shaham should ack her family, move back to Minsk along with 6 million other israelis and exercise their right of return so we can exercise ours.

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    18. Dahlia Shaham

      Shoded – no need to apologize for the daouble-dahlia confusion, and your point was not lost, I sometime fear the same, but like most fears, this is more of an emotional than a rational response. Reality is much too complex to ever go in one particular direction so rapidly. Yes, we should act fast, because the dreadful waste of lives and resources that this conflict is causing should end, but I don’t think these extreme gloomy projections are an effective driver for action.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Dahlia Shaham

      DirectorB –
      You’re asking how I can cope with the contradictions between my views and the political reality in Israel – I don’t know where you come from, but clearly you are very lucky if you never had to deal with such a dilemma. It means that conflict, particularly violent conflict, has not been prominent in your life or in your people’s history.
      While some of the measures taken on my behalf by Israeli authorities make me angry and ashamed, I recognize that I have the responsibility and, to some extent, the ability to shape reality as well. I also recognize that I am not alone in my views. I take comfort in the work that I do to change perceptions and help people in disempowered communities, I draw courage and pride from Israeli initiatives that sadly go unnoticed by mass media, but change lives of thousands of people daily, if I may name a few:
      Most importantly – I stay, I care, I inform myself. I learned a few things over the years of thinking this through and trying to figure out what my place is within this complex environment. I learned to ignore provocations and empty slogans (Saeed Hotary, I hope that’s okay), to let go of the ambition to convince everyone that I am right, and to focus on people, rather than on symbols, borders and titles. This is not the only way to go about it – everyone chooses their own way of coping, but this is what works for me. At least for now.

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    20. directrob

      Apart from the people who went straight to the West Bank, you cannot undo history, people were born in Israel. Even though the current Israeli state seems catatonic, I fear everyone has to make the best of it in one or two democratic states.

      Reply to Comment
    21. max

      @Shoded yam,
      There’re 2 possible principles underlying your comment, related only in practice.
      1) Reality is shaped by what’s possible, not by what’s right and wrong.
      I should hope that this is understood by any statesman. Obviously, they’ll differ in their judgment of what’s possible.
      2) Right and wrong are defined democratically by world opinion.
      This, I think, is a wrong preposition. As you wrote, the world expects simple slogans, not complex truth.
      So it’s all about propaganda to influence the world’s opinion, changing what’s possible to shape reality.
      But there’re other elements that define feasibility, such as the observation that violence often pays off, and the principle depicted by Prof. Aumann’s Blackmailer’s Paradox – blackmailing often pays off.
      I doubt that you’ll find many people that will _assess_ – as this isn’t a scientific exercise – that reality overlaps with suicide.
      The differences within the Zionists – Jews and non-Jews – that don’t rely on divine miracles are based on their assessments of what is feasible and what is suicidal. It’s judgmental, not principled.

      Reply to Comment
    22. Shoded Yam

      Ms. Shaham,
      Thank you for your response.
      “…but like most fears, this is more of an emotional than a rational response.”
      With all due respect, other than familial connections, I don’t have a vested intrest. Whatever happens, my toes are still tappin’ If you want to fiddle around in the think tank while Rome is burning, thats your affair. I’m simply making an observation. An observation that has been made recently by others.
      ” Strenger than Fiction
      Israelis must brace for dark times
      The imminent recognition of a Palestinian state by the UN puts Israel on a collision course with the rest of the world. By Carlo Strenger
      “…Commentators around the world agree on the coming scenario: Palestinians will go for recognition by the UN General Assembly. They have the full support of the Arab League; they already have a two-thirds majority virtually assured. Netanyahu’s intransigence will make it that much easier for major European countries like France and Britain to support the Palestinian request.”
      “…The script for the coming years, therefore, is clearly set out: Israel is bracing for a head-on collision with the rest of the world, and it won’t be a pretty sight. The Palestinians will use their newly won legitimacy to turn to international courts for legal help against Israel’s occupation. International opinion will support them, and we Israelis will pay the price legally, financially and with growing delegitimization.”
      “…Foreign diplomats friendly to Israel who spoke to me on condition of anonymity wondered whether Israel will have to go through the full South Africa treatment before it turns around. I wish I was optimistic and could tell them that Israel’s political class will wake up. I am afraid it won’t, and that we will, despite the peace camp’s efforts to the contrary, have to live with a solution of the conflict imposed from outside.”

      Reply to Comment
    23. max

      I was wondering about this window of opportunity – what does it mean? That if Israel doesn’t do X now, she’ll have to do (the worse) Y tomorrow?
      But if this is the case, why would the Palestinians let Israel do X today? Wouldn’t they be better off by setting Israel to not be able to do X, so they could get Y?

      Reply to Comment
    24. Shoded Yam

      “…why would the Palestinians let Israel do X today? Wouldn’t they be better off by setting Israel to not be able to do X, so they could get Y?”
      You see Max, this is like a game of Texas Hold em’ and you just showed your hand. Such statements as; ” why would the Palestinians let Israel…”, demonstrates that you perceive the danger acutely. Israels freedom of action will become increasingly truncated the longer it allows the Palestinians to claim the intiative. The antecedent for this behaviour is a world view that characterizes peace as being something Israel “has to do for someone else” rather than something it “wants to do for itself”, this being evinced by such polemics as;
      “…That if Israel doesn’t do X now, she’ll have to do (the worse) Y tomorrow?
      And btw. The way things look, Israel won’t have to do “Y” tommorow. “Y” will be done to her, rather than by her.

      Reply to Comment
    25. Saeed Hotary

      Mr Yam is a smart israeli who has already figured out that the zionist entity is non-sustainable and has made his home elsewhere. Why cant Dahlia and 6 million others do the same? Where they were born is irrelevant. Their presence on the land is illegitimate

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    26. Shoded Yam

      “…Mr Yam is a smart israeli”
      Smart enough to know a false flag when I see one.

      Reply to Comment
    27. directrob

      Dahlia Shaham,
      Thanks for your reaction, as far as the colonial history of my country is concerned there is not much to be proud about. The last forty years were more or less OK but certainly not perfect.
      If you work to help people live together or have a better life whatever they are or wherever they come from I can only commend you. One day Israeli and Palestinians will have to live together in the land between the Jordan and the sea.

      Reply to Comment
    28. AYLA

      DScheindlin–I’m just now coming in on this series. Thank you for it! I love the composite of Real People voices, as well as the concrete questions and consequently concrete answers regarding what to DO.
      Dahliaot 🙂 : I love the following: 1) We need to discuss a vision of peace, before we try to figure out how to make it happen. 2) the reiteration of Obama’s point: the security and prosperity of Israel is inextricably linked to security and prosperity and independence and freedom of the people who live around us, first of all Palestinians, and then all the others. 3) The desire/yearning to return to an older Middle East in many respects (in relation to your grandfathers story); that’s a yearning many of us share with Palestinians, and that yearning, if articulated, can help contribute to a shared vision. 4) I also love the idea for cooperation with Iran on nuclear energy simply because it is new and fearless. Thank you.

      Reply to Comment
    29. AYLA

      p.s. It’s important that the Vision preceding How To is not an additional part of a process that slows things down. Rather, the vision is necessary in order for people to have faith and trust, and practically it gives us a big picture destination on which to remain focussed. I realized on a 972 thread where we were discussing a One State Solution that we were actually collaborating on a vision in dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians and Jews and Palestinians in the diaspora. It was so much more fun than talking about Two States, I realized then, because any discussion about Two becomes a discussion governed by “mine” vs. “yours” and cutting things up unnaturally, whereas, I realized, any dialogue about One becomes a creative collaboration based on Yes and mutual preservation and sharing a land that is not ours not to share.

      Reply to Comment
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