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Conspiracy theories, paranoia about Israel hold back peace process

  • PalestiansThrowRocksIsrael.JPG

    April 2, 2013: Palestinians throw stones at Israeli soldiers after the death of Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh in Israeli jail in the West Bank city of Hebron. (AP)

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    Nov. 30, 2012 -Palestinian protester holds placard in front of Israeli soldiers during a demonstration in the West Bank village of al-Masara near Bethlehem. (AP)

  • Obama Israel Anaysis_Cala.jpg

    FILE: March, 5, 2012: President Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C. (AP)

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    Feb. 21: Palestinians hold posters during a demonstration in solidarity with Islamic Jihad member Khader Adnan, who has been on hunger strike for two months, in the West Bank city of Nablus. (AP)

What do remote-controlled man-eating sharks in Egypt and spy-agency trained birds have in common? One, they’re both fictitious and two, these are conspiracy theories told about Israel.

While these may make for great fodder for "The Colbert Report" they are emblematic of a serious problem, one that is at the forefront of setting the political process between Israelis and Arabs back.

This atmosphere, this culture of paranoia and conspiracy theories, is one of the biggest obstacles to peace between Israelis and Palestinians. If Israel is always at fault, if there is always some dark, sinister, ulterior motive, the Palestinian people will never accept living peacefully next to the Jewish state.

If Israel is always at fault, if there is always some dark, sinister, ulterior motive, the Palestinian people will never accept living peacefully next to the Jewish state.

Moreover, what do these ridiculous allegations say to the Israeli public? We are not geopolitical foes separated by thousands of miles; these are not the hateful ramblings of some far off dictator. These are our neighbors, and how they see us, how Palestinians view Israelis and vice versa, is as important, if not more important, than any peace treaty.

Former President Ronald Reagan, in his dealings with the Soviet Union, would constantly refer to an old Russian proverb, “Trust, but verify.” 

The Palestinian people, aided and egged on by irresponsible leadership, have two problems when it comes to viewing their Israeli neighbor. 

One, they never show an ounce of trust. But more importantly, nothing Israel does, no finding, no investigation, no study, however objective, will change their minds. 

If the distrust is so deep, they have no need to verify, as nothing Israel says or does can escape the prism of propaganda and malevolence. 

This is no bridge for peace. This is a recipe for the abyss.

The general feeling among Israeli citizens is that everything that comes out of Israel, whether from the highest political office or a small study by an NGO, is cast aside by Palestinians purely on the basis of its origin. Facts become an inconvenient truth which must then be molded into propaganda so as not to clash with their deep rooted assumptions about Israel.

Of course, it would be hypocritical for an onlooker to blindly point the finger at President Abbas or Prime Minister Fayyad. Their statements did not start this new wave of conspiracy theories, but they missed an important opportunity to quell the public’s outrage and instead take a logical, thoughtful, and pragmatic approach. 

Their decision to throw fuel onto the fire to score some populist support was reckless and disappointing. This is even more important now, when American efforts are underway to regain trust between both sides and restart negotiations, in light of President Obama's successful trip to Israel.

While a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no doubt the final, or one of the final steps to ensuring a long lasting agreement, this can only be achieved if there is a real societal and cultural change on the ground. 

A two state solution, which is now endorsed by a majority of Israelis, will only be possible if there is trust.

Israelis who study ornithology, who place GPS trackers on birds to study their migration patterns, aren’t secretly working with government forces to spy on its neighbors. 

The fact that there is a dedicated section on Wikipedia called “Conspiracy theories involving Israel,” the fact that these theories are mainstream, everyday facts among the next generation of Palestinian leaders is a terrifying omen to the future of possible reconciliation.

Ambassador Ido Aharoni is the Consul General of Israel in New York.