The Human Factor: Can Peace Ever Happen?

Left to Right: Ehud Barak, Bill Clinton, Yasser Arafat at Camp David (July 2000). Photo Credit - William J. Clinton Presidential Library. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

The Human Factor reflects back on three decades worth of American efforts to reach peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

I don’t know if timely is the right word but The Human Factor‘s expanded release comes at a time when more fighting has broken out been Hamas and Israel. The American negotiators in the film have first-hand experience in helping to negotiate peace. Will peace ever be possible? I would certainly like to think so. However, it’s also so cyclical in nature and as long as Likud is in power, peace seems unlikely. The other thing to factor in is that Hamas is a terrorist organization in control of Gaza. There are so many things to factor in to the point in which social media is not the right place because many conversations lack nuance.

What Dror Moreh does has a filmmaker is take things back to where it begin from an American perspective in the early 1990s. James Baker would not see things to the end because President George H.W. Bush did not get re-elected. When President Clinton came into power, the efforts at peace didn’t end. They continued and would also result in the historic Oslo Accords. Oslo also would not be the end of efforts. It was a historic day when Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat signed the Declaration of Principles in Washington, DC.

Before leaving office, President Clinton made a final effort with the Camp David talks in 2000. No deal was agreed upon and as we all know, Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Al Aqsa Mosque would spark the Second Intifada. It’s been 20 years and peace seems very unlikely anytime soon. And yet, all we can do is keep hoping.

“When Clinton would get mad, he would just lose it,” Martin Indyk, a former U.S. Ambassador to Israel, said.

“This agreement gave Clinton a sense of confidence that if you put me in a room with an Israeli and a Palestinian who are even remotely interested in cutting a deal, I could cut that deal,” Aaron David Miller, a former Deputy Special Middle East Coordinator to Dennis Ross, said of the agreement signed by Netanyahu and Arafat.

Clinton wrote about the failure of the 2000 accords in his memoir, My Life. You can see the sour mood reflected in the photos. Longtime Middle East advisor Dennis Ross “felt physically sick” and bore the responsibility.

I cannot say it enough. The 2000 summit was the best chance at peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The Palestinians said no to the deal and that was it. Peace has been an obstacle ever since negotiations failed. Sharon’s aforementioned visit certainly didn’t help matters. But even now, peace is impossible as long as Hamas controls Gaza.

In January 2001, Arafat called up President Clinton before he left office to say that he’s a great man. Clinton’s response: “I’m not a great man. I’m a failure. You made me a failure.” Harsh.

Towards the end of the film, there’s also a short montage that takes viewers from Arafat’s death through President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binjamin Netanyahu staring off at each other. There’s no shortage of references to the many unfortunate cases of violence.

Martin Indyk:

“It’s a history of missed opportunities and the missed opportunities were not just as the Israelis often believe it’s just the Arabs and the Palestinians that missed the opportunities. Israel and the United States missed the opportunities, too. It’s a tragedy. It’s a terrible tragedy that we couldn’t get the Syrian deal and we couldn’t get the Palestinian deal.”

Upon looking back, Miller would take the word peace and replace it with another word. “I would not use it now because it creates false expectations and it creates a level of aspiration that we can’t achieve.”

Robert Malley speaks about the differing views of keeping the process alive. He also goes as far as saying that if we keep bringing them together and they don’t make a deal, it’s a farce.

“The whole Middle East might have been different if you had peace,” Dennis Ross said. It’s wishful thinking but we’ll never truly know.

Gamal Helal, a former senior policy advisor, does not think a two-state solution is possible. “I doubt it. I really don’t think it’s there.”

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Dror Moreh speaks to six American negotiators who have dealt with the Middle East for many years in their professional life. They are candid in their interviews, which sometimes appear as voiceovers as we see rare photos from their peacemaking efforts. They’ve had the time to reflect on what they could have done differently if anything at all. When it came to the Americans at the table, it would not be an unfair statement to say that many of them were acting as lawyers for Israel. Could they have done better at having the Palestinian interests at heart? Maybe. Probably. But as Dennis Ross said, the entire Middle East would have been different!

The conflict is so complicated to talk about. I’m hopeful that The Human Factor will help open up people’s eyes to what happened in negotiations. It’s seemingly impossible to have anything as far as a nuanced conversation on social media. Speaking for myself, I always lose Twitter followers when I speak out against antisemitism while gaining them when I speak out against transphobia. This week, I have had to check in with so many loved ones just to see if they are doing okay. Nobody should have to spend their nights in a bomb shelter. The violence needs to stop.

The Human Factor takes us behind the scenes and delivers a must-watch film about the attempts at reaching peace.

I’ll leave you with a line from Yeshayahu – Isaiah 2:4:

לֹֽא־יִשָּׂ֨א ג֚וֹי אֶל־גּוֹי֙ חֶ֔רֶב וְלֹֽא־יִלְמְד֥וּ ע֖וֹד מִלְחָמָֽה:

Nation shall not lift the sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.

DIRECTOR: Dror Moreh
SCREENWRITERS: Dror Moreh, Oron Adar
FEATURING: Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk, Gamal Helal, Aaron David Miller, Daniel Kurtzer, Robert Malley

Sony Pictures Classics released The Human Factor in theaters on January 22, 2021 for an awards-qualifying run. The film is expanding following a May 7 re-release.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.