ROCKPORT – In midsummer I took a two-week trip to Palestine and Israel. It was my sixth trip to the region but my first visit in nine years. I retired in 2005 after 20 years as director of the Washington Office for the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers).

Although my previous trips left me discouraged about the prospects for a just and enduring resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I have never before sensed so deep an impasse with no credible way forward to a viable peace agreement as I did on this trip.

It is not possible to convey the heartbreaking reality of Palestinian life today without criticizing the Israeli policies that put them under such pressure and humiliation. I wish it were not so, but it seems essential to render an honest account of what I saw and heard. Palestinian experience has almost no coverage in U.S. media, while Israeli views and policy perspectives dominate our press and public discourse.

The clash between Israelis and Palestinians involves a collision between two national narratives that hauntingly echo each other in many ways, each rooted in a suffering and courageous people. Jews have long experienced vulnerability and victimization culminating in the massive atrocity of the Holocaust. Coming to ancestral lands in the wake of World War II, Jews created a vibrant society and culture rich in scholarship, the arts and humanitarian impulses.

Yet the modern state of Israel was created upon a land already inhabited by an equally ancient people — the Palestinians. Some terrible alchemy in the post-Holocaust generation coming to Israel transformed “Never Again” into “Ours Alone.”

Alas, too few on either side have developed a respect for the narrative of the “other,” as was urged by some of the wisest founders of Israel. There are many inspiring Israelis and Palestinians who are living examples of mutual respect, but such mutuality between the two societies remains a distant goal. Drawing upon the analyses of the Palestinians and Israeli Jews with whom I spoke, I have to say that the larger political context for Palestinians has never been more bleak.

Palestinians now live under a cruel Occupation in the West Bank and endure unequal treatment as citizens of Israel. Although some aspects of Israeli control in the West Bank have lessened, both the daily lives and deepest aspirations of Palestinians there are held in bondage to Israeli power and military pressure exerted at whim and with impunity.

None of those who shared their assessments with us held out any hope for the long-running “peace process.” Negotiations have been a dead end since Benjamin Netanyahu became Israeli prime minister.

I was repeatedly told that the last nail in the coffin was the U.S. veto of a U.N. resolution in February, which asked for cessation of Israel settlement expansion in Occupied Territories since such settlements were illegal under international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The content of this resolution had been declared U.S. policy in the decades after the 1967 war, but not in recent U.S. administrations.

Given the vast disparity in power, the only recourse Palestinians have to defend their lands and their rights is international law. Without it they are helpless to halt the relentless dispossession.

By contrast, Prime Minister Netanyahu is now triumphant in his hardline positions, as indicated by the overwhelming support he received from the U.S. Congress even as he delivered the most intransigent speech ever given there by an Israeli leader.

With the “peace process” a dead end, Palestinian leaders are at the United Nations to seek a vote to recognize Palestinian statehood in belated fulfillment of the U.N. dual resolution that launched statehood for Israel in 1948-1949. Most Palestinians described this endeavor as a last effort to break out of the deadly stalemate under which their oppression deepens day by day.

The Obama administration has already announced that it will block the Palestinian move at the U.N. with yet another veto. Palestinians will have one last door slammed in their face. I was told by Israelis and Palestinians that the result will likely be further despairing turmoil and renewed violence, possibly a full-scale Third Intifada.

This would be a tragic and unnecessary outcome. Thoughtful commentators both in the U.S. and in Israel have urged cooperation with the statehood resolution.

To do so would not undercut Israel. Instead, it would respect international law and establish a measure of parity between Palestinians and Israelis that would facilitate negotiations toward a durable peace accord.

Otherwise there will be a major diplomatic and political train wreck in coming days that no one seems willing or able to prevent.

– Special to the Press Herald