The territorial conflict between the Jewish state of Israel and the region's mostly Arab Palestinians has raged for generations, frustrating mediators and diplomats. How could one person make a positive difference? Gregory Levey tried, and titled the book about his effort, "How To Make Peace In The Middle East In Six Months Or Less Without Leaving Your Apartment."
Gregory Levey is an unlikely peace-maker. The Canadian Jew - now a professor of communication at Toronto's Ryerson University - was a law student with no experience in diplomacy when he was hired in 2005 to write speeches for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He says the year he spent in the Middle East was a transforming experience.
"When I got to Israel I thought it was an optimistic time. By the time I left, I became way more pessimistic," Levey says. "As I learned more and more about the conflict, I realized it's not just black and white. There are millions of shades of gray. As result, I became a lot more cynical about looking forward for peace, unfortunately. I also grew tired of the extremists on the right and the left, Israelis and Palestinians, everyone just yelling at each other."
At that point, he says, he decided to stop the yelling by acting as a "freelance diplomat" resolving the problem himself.
"I spoke to people from all over the political spectrum, from really the right wing to pretty far left wing, Jewish paramilitary extremists, former advisor to Yaser Arafat, and a former advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu - on the same day, actually," he says. "I spoke to former Mossad officers. I spoke to lobbyists, politicians, journalists. Beside them, I also spoke to a guy who thinks he's a superhero, named 'Peaceman.' He wears a cape with a peace sign on it, and has a castle. He spends a lot of money, trying to help the Middle East conflict. He's well intentioned, just a little strange."
Levey discussed the issue with Jewish grandmothers and Palestinian shopkeepers. Levey chronicles these experiences and conversations in "How To Make Peace In The Middle East In Six Months Or Less Without Leaving Your Apartment." In the course of his research, Levey found it was possible to at least work for peace without leaving his apartment- by negotiating through the virtual reality of cyberspace, where the Middle East conflict seems to be alive and well.
"I spoke to people who claimed to have witnessed an on-line suicide bombing, which doesn't even make sense to me because there is a second life, which is a virtual life where there is now a virtual Israel and virtual Palestinians," he adds. "They've sort of taken the conflict on-line, which is a bit bizarre to me because in real life, land is limited. The conflict is about land. In the second life, land is unlimited, yet they are still fighting. So they managed to find a way to pull the conflict even there."
He says almost all his conversations about ending the conflict ended the same way.
"A lot of people said they've given up on it. That's very sad. Eighty percent of the people I interviewed just don't want to talk about it anymore," he says. "Those are the people who are engaged in it. Yaser Arafat's former advisor said he was moving to Amsterdam. So to me, to see this sheer pessimism across the spectrum is eye-opening because what hope do we have?"
Levey remains a skeptic, but says it's important to cling to optimism, and try to find a path to peace before it's too late.
"I'm definitely not an expert," Levey says. "If anything, I feel I know less now than when I started because you see more complexity to the situation, the more you delve into it. So I certainly don't have a plan, but the best case scenario is that we can get is a two-state solution where both nations have rights and responsibilities before it's too late. In other words, before, say, there is a huge regional war, which changes everything, before the demographic situation makes it impossible for there to be a Jewish State in the Middle East or before the facts on the ground from the Israeli settlers in the West Bank make it impossible to have a Palestinian State. We need to get there. How to get there? I have no idea."
Although he could not make peace in the Middle East in six months without leaving his apartment, Gregory Levey is satisfied with his attempt. At least he tried, he says, and his voice was heard above all the yelling.