Peaceful prospects: Israeli-Palestinian conflictby Aroni Anirban
If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy…
IN THE modern history of humankind, religion and nationalism have always been two of the most vital ideological constructs that have led men to shed blood. Let’s take the case of Israeli-Arab/Palestinian conflict for instance, where wars between the Arabs and the Israelis have taken place since the land of Israel was established within the Palestinian region in May 1948. The series of these short and separate wars can be accurately seen as one continuous religio-political conflict, when studying it from a historical perspective. In reality, this everlasting conflict has yet to declare a clear distinction between ownership, (Bregman, 2010). Furthermore, there has also been a long peace process aimed to achieve a resolution by the parties, with America playing the role of an external mediator. Although there have been several failed attempts at establishing peace, the possibility refueling the peace talks resumed in 2010, with push from US senator and secretary of the state, John Kerry. But how plausible is the potential for peace between these two regions in conflict? In order to answer such question, an analytical look at the history of the peace process is required and the previous failures need to be noted.
As mentioned, the American involvement in the peace process has been crucial and without a doubt is neither simple nor straight-forward. Divided into two schools of thought, the American policy makers have either been ‘even-handed’, or taken the ‘Israel-first’ stance (Shlaim, 2009). From the ‘even-handed’ point of view, the US has vital interests in the oil rich Arabian Gulf, and therefore standing too close to Israel would jeopardize such US interests in the face of Arab leaders. However, for the ‘Israel-first’ group, the Jewish state of Israel stands as a democracy trying to survive in the middle of a hostile sea of authoritarianism; therefore America boasting itself as the champion of democracy feels an obligation to support Israel.
Dennis Ross was the architect of Bush senior’s Republic administration’s policy towards the Arab-Israeli conflict and the chief Middle East peace negotiator in the two terms of Bill Clinton›s presidency. His approach to peace-making was based on a rather strong ‘US-Israel relationship’. Although he projected that peace needs to be established between the two parties, his philosophy was that Israel must feel secure as a pre-condition if it was to tread on the ‘risky’ path to peace. There were three main problems with such philosophy (Shlaim, 2009). First, with such an outlook was that it put higher importance over the security and interests of Israel rather than the Arab apprehension for justice. This made the Arabs feel that Ross and the US were more inclined and biased towards Israel›s agenda and naturally they became more skeptical and critical regarding the role of America. Second, the concept of Israel›s security was so blown up and heavily one-sided that it denied the legitimate security concerns of the Palestinians. Thirdly, the idea that Israel can absorb any amount of American support without reciprocal compensation to the Arabs seemed like an approach that could be heavily abused by Israel. Ross was naïve in his assumption that a confident Israel would rise on the road to peace (Shlaim, 2009). Prospects for peace during that period were missed not because Israel felt insecure, but the fact that the US failed to implement substantial pressure on Israel to return the territories it conquered in 1967. However, Ross did point out that while the Israeli concerns focused more on practical and highly detailed matter, the Palestinian calls on the other hand were more general and broad, such as the return of their land, and an end to violence and war, and since it’s Israel who forcibly occupied their land, it was left to Israel to start the peace process.
With Yitzhak Rabin in power of Israel in 1992, the American negotiators saw the opportunity for peace when Rabin took the approach of the ‹Syria-first› peace strategy. However, when the terms offered by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad fell short of Rabin›s expectation, he joined the secret talks in the Oslo Accord. The Declaration of Principles were eventually signed and witnessed by Clinton, and a year later Rabin surprised the world by presenting a peace agreement with Jordan. Unfortunately, another year later, the assassination of Rabin created a shattering blow to the ongoing peace process with the Middle East, thereby raising doubts concerning the possibility of peace in the years to come. Benjamin Netanyahu won the election in Israel in May 1996, and while in power, his poor judgment, immaturity and refusal to respect agreements strained the hopes for any further peace talks between the Arabs and Israelis alike. Not to mention that he also strained relations with Jordan for no significant reason. Ehud Barak›s 1999 victory over Netanyahu raised significant expectation of both Israelis and Palestinians as well as the Clinton administration. Although Barak was initially more enthusiastic to settle differences with Syria and not so keen on the Palestinian cause, the abrupt failure to come to terms with Assad led Barak to resume negotiations with the Palestinians. However, Barak refused to fulfill Netanyahu›s commitment to further troop withdrawal from the West Bank, which undermined Palestinian confidence in him. Barak then called on a summit which Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader at the time, thought was a bad idea. However, with pressure from the Clinton administration, the meeting was convened at Camp David during 25 July 2000. Unfortunately once again, Camp David was a failure. To be fair, Barak did bring a set of ideas to the table that touched upon the most sensitive issues of the conflicting core, such as the Palestinian statehood, borders, Jerusalem and refugees (Shlaim, 2009). His drawback was that he was worried that Israel would come under pressure and compromise too much, ending up getting nothing in return. He was rather pessimistic and saw everything on extreme terms. He would not accept anything that he did not directly hear from Arafat, yet he refused to meet Arafat and in the two weeks of the summit, the two leaders did not have one face-to-face talk that was substantial or serious. They could not come to terms and Arafat did not lay down any counter-proposal. Clinton lost his patience on both sides and concluded the summit as a failure and broke his promise by mostly blaming Arafat for. This raised support for Barak›s version of truth to gain ground in Israel and the United States, projecting that Israel made the most generous offer at Camp David, only to be let down by Arafat. Dennis Ross supported this version in his famous ‘The Missing Peace’ (Shlaim, 2009). This version is simplistic, self serving and selective and did not help the situation.
The situation did not improve when George W. Bush assumed presidency in 2001. In comparison to his predecessors, he showed little interest in mediating the conflict and left the two sides to settle differences themselves. To make it even worse, Bush cold-shouldered Arafat and established close relations with Ariel Sharon, the right wing Israeli leader at that time. On top of all this, the 9/11 event just added fuel to the fire, as the tragic incident shook the dynamics of international relations, particularly between America and the Arab world.
Now once again, with Obama’s regime, a new administration in power, old questions rise. The dispute is yet to be resolved. It is evident that the alternative to a two-state solution is not the implementation of a one-state resolution, but more chaos. Although the two-state solution lost much of its appeal and legitimacy after the failure of the peace process after seventeen years since the Oslo Accord, it still remains as the relatively better and practical solution to the conflict (Susser, 2012). Given the turnout of events, it is apparent that if Palestinians and Israelis settled for a one-state solution, which itself is based on the very assumption that both sides were willing to do so, which is far from the truth, Palestinians would inevitably be the exploited section of the population and the defenseless minority, given Israel’s sheer economic, military and political superiority amongst many other factors and its powerful alliance with the US. It would only be in Israel’s incentive from a self-serving strategic and not a moral perspective, to dominate the Palestinians in several ways: politically, economically and culturally. It is very naïve to assume that under the one-state agenda the Israeli leadership will embark upon a morally structured road to peaceful coexistence, especially after such long history of conflict and bloodshed.
The wounds of war take time and generations to heal. Such possible domination by Israel eventually would only lead to violent retaliation from the oppressed Palestinian side, not only in the occupied territories but across the Green Line and in mainland Israel as well. Coercive tactics used by militant organisations such as Hamas for the past two decades only make such probabilities more apparent and possible reality. Not to mention that the dispute in leadership between the Hamas and the PA in terms of representing Palestinian front, makes it more difficult by further complicating the conflict, bringing in internal clashes within the bigger conflict. At the same time, the current increase in Israeli settlements by Netanyahu’s administration in the occupied territories of West Bank makes it difficult for the Palestinians to find any confidence in Israel. This move by Israel will only create a blow to any potential for peaceful resolution. The leaders in Israel need to understand that such moves make their position seem double-standard and portrays the image that it is up to Israel’s advantage to delay peace as long as possible, because this allows it to exert more dominance in the scenery of war and violent resistance due to their economic and military superiority and alliance with the USA.
In such a situation, the role of the external actor remains a crucial one but only in accordance to the local democratic interest. In this case, there has been an exaggeration of the ability of the external actors to influence the attitude of the local players. Concurrently, there was an underestimation of the capacity of the local players with their own political cultures, traditions and objectives. As Aaron Miller puts it, ‘..an outside power can play a positive role, but it is at a distinct disadvantage. In conflicts where memory, identity…a great power – especially from far away – has far less stake in a particular outcome than does a small power in the heart of the contested region…Smaller nations will do just about anything to survive and are not inclined to listen to or even trust advice offered by a distant power whose political and physical survival is not at stake.’ (Susser,2012). Clearly in this particular scenario, the role of an external actor in the mediation process is imperative, especially due to the asymmetry in power between Israel and Palestine, and US holds that role. Since it is the US that has the capacity to effectively pressurise Israel, it is unjustified for the US not to exert such leverage for attaining peace.
Generally speaking, it would be advisable for the US to make a genuine effort to start off by seeking the key issues concerning the temporary local interests. The US also needs to involve other international powers and players in the conflict in an effective manner. Countries such as Jordan, Syria and Russia as well as the UN need to step forward and increase the capacity of their roles as mediators in a manner that will not contradict with local democratic interests. Involving other actors might provide a balance within the mediators’ section by ensuring that the US cannot run a monopolistic role over the conflict mediation and negotiations. Some international relations experts believe that if a permanent solution cannot be accomplished at the moment, then commencing of step by step temporary solutions is better than nothing at all. After the 1948 war, the armistice agreements between the Israelis and Arabs lasted for about 20 years. Had the 1949 Rhodes negotiations focused on just the broad and general aim of ending the conflict at the time, they probably would have achieved nothing at all. Another example is the acceptance of Jordanian annexation and citizenship by the Palestinians in the West Bank. It was a temporary solution that provided many Palestinians with better living standards and it was legitimate due to its portrayal as a temporary arrangement. This temporary arrangement was substantially positive as it lasted for 60 years. Moreover, both sides in theory could engage in ‘parallel unilateralism’ through which Israelis might withdraw independently from certain areas, without indulgence on other issues of principles such as refugees. Meanwhile, Palestinians would develop their institutions of independent rule and statehood without the imposition of Israeli preconditions. This idea was laid out by Ahmad Khalidi, the Minister of Justice of the Palestinian National Authority in 2005 (Susser, 2012). Having said that, eventually both parties need to come together and reach a permanent solution to successfully resolve their long term conflict.
As Mandela’s words put it right, peace cannot be achieved if both sides do not compromise and work together. Narrative-invalidating claims made by the two sides had been pointless in the peace process and will remain futile in the future. The Palestinian side needs to solve its internal conflicts before it can attempt to solve a larger conflict with Israel and resorting to violent forms of resistance will bring no outcomes but lead to loss of life, destruction of infrastructure, environment, economy and overall standard of living of survivors. The Palestinians also need to make their claims more specific and less general, focusing on issues that deal with specific aspects of the problem first. For Israel, it needs to learn to respect the notion that the Arab states and many Palestinians see it justified for Israel to return to the pre-1967 borders. Above all, it actively needs to stop expanding further settlements in Palestinian regions before a solution is achieved. With Israel’s current prime minister Netanyahu’s hawkish stance in the peace process, alongside with US administration’s ever biased support and tolerance for Israel’s oppressive activities, there remains substantial skepticism about any prospect for peace. In reality much is yet to be done effectively to conclude this conflict.
Aroni Anirban is a graduate from York University and works as a fundraiser in Toronto for Canadian Cancer Society, Heart and Stroke Foundation.
Bregman, A (2010). Israel’s Wars (A History Since 1947). London: Routledge.
Shlaim, A (2009). Israel and Palestine: Reappraisals, Revisions, Refutation. London, New York: Verso.
Susser, A (2012). Israel, Jordan & Palestine: The Two-State Imperative. Waltham, Massachusetts: Brandeis University Press.
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IN THE modern history of humankind, religion and nationalism have always been two of the most vital ideological constructs that have led men to shed blood. Let’s take the case of Israeli-Arab/Palestinian conflict for instance... Full story