ze lo y’gamer im lo n’daber
This won’t stop if we don’t talk
It is probably unimaginable to think of Hamas and Israel actually talking civilly but getting to the negotiating table is the only answer. Here are some thoughts on doing that.
The above phrase in transliterated Hebrew is going around Israel. It means “this will not stop if we don’t talk” and it appears on protest signs, news stories, and casual conversation. It rhymes in Hebrew. Truer words have never been spoken. The issue is not how to talk to each other or what form those talks should take, the issue is getting to the table. All of our knowledge and skill at communication, dialogue and deliberation, is wasted and unavailable if you cannot get the two parties to the table. If Hamas or Israel insists that the other side must be destroyed or their incompatibilities are irreversible and there’s nothing to talk about, then the violence and conflict will simply continue.
At the moment I’m concerned about getting to the table. Essentially, this is the issue of “ripeness” which you can read more about here. Ripeness refers to the right time or the belief that the conditions are best for talking and solving problems. Right now no one would consider the time “ripe” for conflict management between Israel and Hamas for example. The time might be necessary or the most urgent given the violence but the situation is not ripe. “Ripeness” is a delicate matter because it is a little subjective and difficult to know when exactly is the “right time.” One can move too early, too late, too fast, or misjudge the other. Moreover, conflicts usually have more than one ripe time.
But I do not advocate sitting around waiting for the ripe moment. Participants in a conflict sometimes avoid ripe situations because they get more out of prolonging the conflict. Hamas always says it has “time on its side” because the status attributions it receives from war with Israel outweigh any benefits of negotiation and talk. One question becomes then how you create ripeness, how do you construct conditions that will increase the chances of bringing two sides to the table? Here are some strategies:
1. Third parties are always good sources of incentives. The Middle East has been most calm and in control when there is a significant international polity (the Ottoman Empire, the British Mandate, the United States,) that can provide incentives for talks. Actually, anytime a third-party is willing to intervene and try to mediate the conflict it is a good indication of ripeness.
2. The second strategy for getting people to the table, although a less pleasant one, is waiting until things are so bad that negotiation becomes attractive. As the saying goes, “sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better.”
3. Sometimes it’s possible to get people to the negotiating table by promising them more than they expect. Perhaps some symbolic recognition that was earlier denied, or a tangible resource.
4. New ways to be interdependent that benefit both sides are always strong strategies. Interdependence creates common interest and overlapping concerns and the two parties will talk if the reward possibilities are sufficient.
5. Pre-negotiations or “talking about talk.” Finally, it is sometimes useful to get the two parties to talk about how they would organize and develop dialogue or deliberation. Don’t engage in actual discussion and deliberation and do not term the conversation as official negotiation or discussion. But get the two parties together and have them imagine what the process would look like. This should move them closer to the actual experience of problem-solving deliberation.
Persuading the two parties to talk and find a way to negotiate a settlement – to get them to the table – is typically more difficult than constructing an actual settlement package. There are lots of solutions and proposals to end and contain the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many of them are understood and accepted by both parties and not very controversial. But none of this matters if the two parties do not talk.
How Many More Decades Do We Have To Watch This Silly Shuttle Diplomacy between Israel and Palestinians? It doesn’t work!
How much longer do we have to watch an American diplomat shuttle back and forth between Israel and some neighboring country? From Henry Kissinger in the 1970s to John Kerry it’s all the same process. The tennis match image comes to mind and I would use it if it were not such a cliché. I’m increasingly coming to the conclusion that it’s all pointless and that comes from somebody who believes in talk. Even though I recognize that talk is slow and there’s nothing magical about it, there comes a point when you have to ask yourself whether it’s all worth it.
When talk fails it is usually for one or a combination of three reasons. One, it’s the wrong kind of talk. Two, the wrong people are talking, or three the structural conditions are interfering. All three are at work in the Israel-Palestine shuttle diplomacy. It’s the wrong kind of talk because the two sides are unprepared to have serious political conversations when they need more authentic mutuality. The wrong people are talking because there should be more conversational work at the civil society and interpersonal levels. The structural conditions could be improved to increase democratic forms of communication, inclusion, and more creative and grassroots routes to problem-solving.
Palestinian supporters often boldly claim that resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict is the key to bringing greater peace to the region and although this is an exaggeration supporters have been successful at turning the conflict into the symbolic prototype for all the world’s problems. I think about the ugliness in Syria, the savagery of militant groups, rising religious authoritarianism, escalating economic inequality, Iran and the spread of nuclear weapons, and then discover that serious people in Washington want to talk about West Bank Palestinians!
Of course the conflict must be resolved or at least managed into agreement. But the biggest beneficiary of any resolution is going to be Israel. How long can Israel continue to occupy the West Bank? How long can it remain a security state? How long can Israel maintain its successful democracy and market economy if it has to oversee 2 million Palestinians?
There will not be peace between Israelis and Palestinians – real peace when barriers can be removed – until it emerges from democratic impulses born in civil society. When Palestinians demand more of their own rights from their own leadership they will be in the position to demand rights from Israel. America should be supporting Palestinian political infrastructure by working on the economy, improving governance and civil liberties, and expanding business practices that can rationalize relationships and serve as a foundation for future democratic relationships. But the conflict remains intractable and diplomats like Kerry are operating at the wrong levels.
Muslims and the Jews tell two different stories both of which are fueled by media and policy decisions. Israel tells a story of historical oppression and discrimination culminating in the Holocaust and the creation of the state of Israel. Jews feel vulnerable and threatened. Muslims feel disrespected by the West and the victims of media biases that portray them as fundamentalist and inherently backward, not to mention violent and religiously extreme.
These narratives produce tensions between Islam and the West and are decisive. They make for a cultural divide which results in polarization of identity issues, adversarial framing of historical matters, and rejection of any sense of shared responsibility for conflict. US policy and world media circulate these images and messages to the detriment of any sense of complementarity between the two.
In my opinion, there are two things that can happen: the differences between these stories can be emphasized, which will lead to increased intensification leaving the disputants to be trapped inside their own threatened identity. And the macro level of official contact will continue to founder. Or, these narratives can be reframed in order to seek points of convergence where it is possible to formulate cooperation and mutual affinities that direct them away from a “conflict-saturated” reality. Rather than rival narratives, Jews and Muslims can avoid the drift toward polarization and begin to tell a new story, one that affirms a distinctive identity while acknowledging the “other.” I choose this direction.
There is only one solution to the current fighting in Gaza and that is some sort of negotiated agreement. It sounds naïve I understand but until that time we will have little more than the standard conflict resolution mistake of “more of the same.” Deliberation in any form is impossible until the two sides are sufficiently willing and we are certainly not there with respect to the Israelis and Palestinians, especially the Palestinians in Gaza. But if that day ever comes the deliberative conditions below will be important.
Deliberation is a powerful normative ideal to strive for and in its heart it is concerned with the careful and balanced consideration of alternatives under conditions of democratic fairness. To transform the deliberative ideal into actual communication is essentially to operationalize deliberation and lower its level of abstraction. It is to take a theoretical ideal and convert it to symbolic behavior. But this operationalization is never easy or direct. Deliberative democracy is also primarily concerned with democratic decision making, whereas deliberative communication is, shall we say, messier. Deliberative communication includes broader intersubjective meaning creation and is inclusive of many forms of discourse and linguistic structures. Moreover, the polysemic nature of communication, where messages can take on a variety of meanings depending on context and other factors, makes identifying qualities that make communication “deliberative” even more difficult. But as I have noted in other places, deliberation is not one big philosophy seminar characterized by rational argument only. It must include the possibility that judicious argument and sound decision making can take many communicative forms. In general, deliberative communication has the following five characteristics.
(1) There is a confrontation of perspectives and argument is the primary communication mechanism for adjudicating differences. Argument takes the form of reasoned opinion where a speaker is required to support reasons and defend against critique. This includes evaluating materials, judging the quality of sources, and defending background assumptions. It is also true that some forms of reasoning maintain ideological dilemmas.
(2) There is a relational component to deliberation whereas participants respect the other and genuinely listen to their perspectives. Participants actually engage one another and avoid monologues that do not take up the perspective of the other. Participants acknowledge autonomy and mutuality in a civil and respectful manner.
(3) Consensus is the goal to strive for. This includes will formation such that the collective is ultimately committed to decisions. In order for consensus to be a goal deliberators must be concerned with disagreement. Disagreement is an indication of the diversity that is inherent in divided groups. Deliberative communication should include participants having their own views critically examined because of the presence of disagreement. This improves the quality of opinions. Consensus is a goal but lower levels of agreement are acceptable.
(4) The position of authorities, tradition, and power are up for discussion in deliberative communication. Participants must meet the objective of the meeting but other foundational assumptions are acceptable topics for deliberation. As Young explains, “Truly democratic deliberation must not rule out self interest, conflicting interests, or relatively emotional or intuitive expressions. . .” (p. 472) (Young, 2000).
Deliberative communication must allow for equality and symmetrical power relations as much possible. People must be on equal footing and no one should unfairly dominate the interaction. Reciprocity would be an important indicator of equality. These forms of communication are specifically suited to diversity and pluralism that are consequences of ethnopolitical divides.
For more detail see Donald Ellis (2012). Deliberative Communication and Ethnopolitical Conflict. Peter Lang Publishers.
In May and June of 2011 I wrote about the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. The two sides have been jockeying for political positions for the last few months and have not been able to agree on a structure for the new unity government. But just last week the two sides broke the political impasse and agreed to make Abbas that the head of the proposed unity government, a government that tries to join the secular Fatah party with the Islamist Hamas party. Abbas will be both president and prime minister and the current Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad will move on because he is so disliked by Hamas who consider him to be far too pro-Western. There is much work to be done yet before these two groups actually reconcile or form what might be legitimately called a unity government, because these two groups have a history of disliking each other pretty intensely.
But a more intriguing question is “what should the role of Israel be or the attitude of Israel be about the proposed unity government?” Publicly, Israel holds its nose at the whole thing. They consider Hamas a terrorist organization and will have nothing to do with them. Netanyahu is on record as opposing the formation of a government reconciling Fatah and Hamas. In June of 2011 I wrote the opposite, that such a reconciliation might be a good thing because Hamas will be forced to moderate itself. Some certainly considered my position naïve but I will hold my ground by maintaining that no progress cannot be made without unity between Fatah and Hamas and without Hamas doing its share of moderating.
The received Israeli position is that Hamas is a radical movement guided by an ideology directed toward the elimination of Israel. Moreover, inclusion of Hamas in any negotiations would simply make it easier for them to reject a proposed resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is also fear that rather than Hamas moderate itself, Hamas will bore itself into the Palestinian authority and contaminate its ideology. If this happens there has been lots of saber rattling about what damage this will cause to the Palestinian Authority. But such damage will be minimal because there is no peace process anyway, and the maintenance of the Palestinian Authority is in the interest of both Israel and the United States.
There are some very good hard-core reasons to deal with Hamas: Hamas controls the Gaza Strip and if you want to do business in the Gaza Strip, if you want to sign agreements regulating political behavior, then you must do business with Hamas. Too, there is a good chance that the “Arab spring” will help usher in Muslim political parties and consequently enhance Hamas’s power. As more countries integrate Muslim political parties into the governing body, the more groups like Hamas take on legitimacy. Egypt has already taken a softer attitude toward Hamas and this is assumed to be the result of successful elections for the Muslim Brotherhood. Any movement towards solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is going to be gradual and include partial and limited agreements. A reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah will more than likely facilitate a gradual process, where small and limited agreements can flourish, rather than hinder conflict resolution. A unity government encourages progress – small as it may be – that does not require Hamas at this point to recognize Israel, nor Israel Hamas.
Increasingly analysts and pundits have argued that engaging Hamas will have the desired moderating effect. It will encourage moderates on each side and stimulate more debate. But Israel remains a problem, as does Hamas, because it still refuses to deal with Hamas. And this might be a particularly difficult problem because of Netanyahu who seems bent on preventing a two state solution and can use the recognition of Hamas to his advantage. This plays directly into the hands of the Palestinians who believe that Israel’s rejection of unity between Hamas and Fatah is part of a grander plan to prevent the two state solution.
Unity is still far off. And the loss of Mr. Fayyed is considerable because he was more oriented toward Western values. But a shift in the center of gravity for the Palestinians is coming. Let’s hope the shift is in the right direction.
There are important differences between Syria and other Arab Spring countries but they all share one thing in common – failing repressive governments. This is particularly true of Syria and I believe we are seeing the beginning of the end. It probably will not come any time too soon but before long the Syrian state will either fail or radically revise itself, and I doubt the latter. The Syrian regime is telling itself and the world a story: it’s a story of foreign backed troublemakers causing problems for the Syrian government and stirring up revolt. The Syrians claim to be opening up more liberal possibilities similar to Jordan and promising reforms. Moreover, they claim that outsiders are trying to destroy the country and that the strength and power of the protest movement is exaggerated by a hostile press. It is true that Syria has initiated some limited reforms, but it is all far too little and transparent.
The story will just not hold. The regime has slowly been coming apart and its political structures seem to be weakening. Other Arab nations have lost confidence in Syria and have little influence with the executive leadership of the country. One reporter claimed that the military was weakening and losing its will to fight the protest movement. There are more reports of Syrian soldiers deserting the army. Syria could certainly produce enough troops to put down resistance but to what end?
One thing that allows Syria to hold on is the support of various elite groups. These groups depend on and have been rewarded by the leadership of the country. Benefits and privileges flow to these groups and they will continue to defend their interests. There also seems to be evidence that the Baathist party is weakening and if this continues then the jobs they provide will disappear and thus further debilitate the regime. There is considerable economic pressure on Syria and it appears as if it will continue. Like most authoritarian regimes Syrian leadership has awarded sweet contracts to individuals for public utilities such as telephones and the operations of power and electricity. This way elites are rewarded and maintain their allegiance to the authoritarian leadership. But social unrest has interfered with trade and market exchanges with other countries such as Turkey. Increasing economic pressures could lead to more rapid decline in Syria.
Assad, like many of his counterparts, has accommodated religious groups because he fears religious extremists. He even claims that the dissidents are motivated by extremism and religion. But most analyses of Islam in Syria explain that the Muslim Brotherhood is not very powerful and certainly not as organized as the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Apparently religious extremists are hard to find and the average person is far more oppressed by the Syrian regime than any religious group. Peter Harling of Foreign Affairs has argued that resistance is broad based and cohesive and increasingly sophisticated. He believes that the resistance has been contained so far by violence and thuggish behavior but that will not last long.
The international community seems confused and even though the Arab League began acting decisively they have not been doing so recently. There does seem to be a consensus supporting regime change but no one knows how to go about it. The US does not want to intervene directly and is even hesitant to lead from behind. There is also the problem of those groups and states that support the Syrian regime such as Hezbollah and Russia. Russia fears the rise of religious extremists and is supportive of forceful military action against protesters, and they also fear democracy advocacy by the United States. Syria has not suffered or been isolated as severely as it could have been because of its close associations with Russia and China both of which have protected Syria from more severe circumstances.
Harling is also pessimistic about any opposition in exile. Such groups often play an instrumental role in positive regime change. They often lead the way forward and act as a liaison between their oppressed kinsman and the modern world. Moreover, they can also play an important role in the reconciliation process when the time comes. But the Syrian diaspora seems to be squabbling over minor issues and competing for recognition.
The Syrian leadership still seems to be operating under the assumption that the troubles will all go away, or that it will endure for a while and then slowly disappear. This could be true but it seems unlikely. A military defeat does not seem likely and neither does international intervention. The outcome is, I believe, in the hands of the protesters.
If there were a moment in time when I was going to pay particular attention to what’s going on in Egypt, and trying to predict how its future will develop, it would be now. It’s a Monster’s Ball and the only couple dancing is the military and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). I and others have been warning about the coming Islamic tide and what happens in the next few weeks could be the deciding factor. The elections are today. The public and the protesters in Tahrir square seem to have strong democratic impulses coursing through their veins. They are calling for the military to leave power, civilian control of the military, and limitations on the MB. At the moment, the military seems to be the biggest problem. They have tried to assign themselves special powers and protections under a Constitution including refusing civilian control of the military. How far beyond high school civics does one need to go before they understand the importance of civilian control of the military? Violence against protesters must cease, and security must come under clear civilian rule.
Both the MB and the military are naturally conservative and hierarchical. If Egypt is not careful they will end up with some version of Saudi Arabia – religious conservatism and authoritarian politics. The Central Security Forces have overreacted when trying to clear some protesters and incurred the wrath of many. The protesters have reason to be fearful. The military has been particularly recalcitrant and difficult mostly because they believe they have the support of the Egyptian people, but that support is waning. The military’s attempt to grab sweeping powers and maintain independence above the law is inconsistent with the Arab Spring. Still, the Egyptian “silent majority” may make it possible for the military to prevail. The protesters may have the strongest democratic impulses but their numbers are exaggerated by media coverage.
The MB clearly holds the upper hand and is easily the most influential political party. Their new Freedom and Justice party is well organized and financed and ready to reap gains stimulated by the brotherhood’s outreach and efficient organization. The MB can certainly be hierarchical and conservative but Islam is woven into the fabric of Egyptian society and no future state can ignore it. The brotherhood wants quick elections so that they can consolidate their strengths and begin to work on the nature and structure of the new constitution.
But the future of Egypt will not be represented by the military or the Central Security Forces and certainly not by a dominant controlling Muslim party. If the birth pangs of a new Egypt in Tahrir square are going to bring forth anything viable, than the protesters and the liberal political parties must have sufficient influence when writing a new constitution. The liberal parties want the military to delegate decision-making and to establish a temporary civilian government whose job it will be to put itself out of business; that is, the temporary civilian government will be charged with maintaining order and beginning the process of transitioning to the permanent government.
The structure of today’s elections is one problem. Many liberal voices will be drowned out by the rules of the elections. Groups representing women and minority rights have been pushed to the background and election officials in Egypt have denied the United Nations and other groups access to the election that could help guarantee fairness. The party list technique will mean that smaller groups such as Coptic Christians and liberals will be overwhelmed by larger groups such as the MB. Even smaller Islamic parties, which are often more liberal, will be silenced. Moreover the election reserves a certain number of seats for “workers and farmers” which means that even if smaller more liberal groups managed to win elections they could be sidelined because their seats are guaranteed to other constituencies. This is an election manipulation that has been used in the past to manipulate results.
American historians often point out that the period after the American Revolution is most important because that is when the infrastructure and foundation of America was established. Revolutions are quick, violent, and ideologically eruptive but the legislative processes that follow determine the true nature of the political culture. The same will be true in Egypt. Keep your eye on what is happening now.
The curious might speculate about why
Gilad Shalit was released now. He was captured by Hamas in 2006 and has been
held for 5 years in Gaza. The prisoner exchange – one Israeli soldier for more
than 1000 Palestinian prisoners – has been a point of discussion for a long
time. Yes, there were disagreements about who should be released and what
should happen to them after release. Hamas wanted Marwan Barghouti (a brutal
terrorist) released but Israel refused. Other released prisoners were required
to leave the area and settle somewhere other than the West Bank or Gaza. Still,
The exchange is actually quite
significant and expected to reshape various relationships in the area not to
mention the image of Benjamin Netanyahu. Gilad Shalit had become quite a cause
célèbre in Israel. His parents and tens of thousands of Israeli citizens
petitioned the government to do something about his imprisonment and organized
a large and successful social movement around gaining the release of Gilad. I
can remember once being stuck in a particularly nasty traffic jam on the road
to Jerusalem because of a protest march designed to draw attention to the
plight of Shalit. But as the intensity of the support for Shalit increased, so
did his value to Hamas. The more Israel wanted him returned, the more it was
going to cost them. I suspect that Hamas bided its time until Gilad reached
maximum value. Perhaps the rising tide of support for Shalit’s release ended up
extending his stay in the Hamas jail – although it probably saved his life.
Netanyahu was under considerable pressure
to do something about Shalit. His parents requested audiences with Netanyahu
and poured their hearts out in the media. Netanyahu commands respect amongst
Israelis, and his morally unambiguous and fluent English serves him well in the
United States. But Netanyahu is also seen as harsh and conservative by many and
one who does not care sufficiently about the failure of government to help
people: to improve housing and job opportunities. Gaining Shalit’s release on
his watch gave Netanyahu a serious boost. I suspect that Netanyahu figured it
was time to accept as many Hamas demands as he could stomach. It is also true
that the continual protests demanding Shalit’s release were gnawing at Netanyahu
and diminishing the image and effectiveness of this government.
The “Arab Spring” and the
turmoil in the region also play a hand in this game. Turkey who helped broker
the deal is apparently closer to Hamas then we thought. Although Turkey has
been clearly distancing itself from Israel, its connection to Hamas is
surprising. However, Hamas’s political base in Syria is tenuous given the
protests and perhaps Hamas is looking to Turkey for future relations. The
future of the relationship between Egypt and Israel is cloudy. If the Muslim
brotherhood increases its power Egypt will certainly be less congenial. Perhaps
Netanyahu and his conservative government figured it had something to gain by
Finally, Hamas gets to look like it
cares about all Palestinians. The tense relationship between Hamas and the
Palestinian Authority is real. Hamas flatly rejects the existence of Israel and
the Palestinian Authority tries to negotiate with Israel; Hamas disagreed with
the United Nations declaration of statehood move by the Palestinian Authority;
yet, the Palestinian Authority gained the admiration of many Palestinians by
standing up to the Security Council and rejecting the American request to
withdraw the application.
It turns out that this particular moment
in time, this particular confluence of events, created a perfect storm of
issues such that both sides thought it was in their best interest to negotiate.
And that is just what conflict management is all about.
The commotion over Obama’s mention of 1967 lines was fabricated and perpetrated mostly by those who either oppose a Palestinian state out right or who are unfamiliar with the issues. For an explanation of how the borders can work go here.
The Israelis and the Palestinians are
together at the UN and something good should develop. Let’s look at a variety
of solution alternatives that ultimately lead to the selection of the two-state
solution as the only viable possibility. If both Netanyahu and Abbas are
serious about the peace they spoke so eloquently about then they should do
something about it now. The Israelis and Palestinians should go hand-in-hand to
the United Nations and seize the moment by both agreeing to support the other.
Consider some of the options advanced in the past but continue to drain the
energies of each even though they are not realistic. I will dispatch with a few
of these options quickly because they are nonstarters with no chance of serious
to Palestine: This is the Palestinian fantasy that
Israel goes away and historic Palestine is reconstituted. Hamas would support
such a position and seek the goal of an Islamic Palestinian territory free of
the alien contamination of the Jews. No one can imagine Israel simply packing
up and leaving and an insistence on such a position would result only in
to Judea and Samaria: This is the settler fantasy of
greater Israel. It’s the opposite vision of the one above where the
Palestinians disappear. It calls for Israeli control of all territories in the
Jewish state composed of a minority group that are not citizens. The
Palestinians would return to Jordan and receive Jordanian citizenship. This is
equally as naïve since Palestinians don’t see themselves as Jordanian citizens
and, even more problematic, the Jordanians don’t want them. The solution would
leave many Palestinians homeless, with essentially no place to go. It’s a
recipe for mass confusion and violence.
Binational State: this is a position supported by
many on the left – the outskirts of the left – where both Palestinians and Jews
live together happily in a state composed of two dominant groups, Israelis and
Palestinians. This would mean the end of the Jewish state called Israel and of
course would not be a Palestinian state either. Israelis and Palestinians would
form a joint government and political institutions. This solution is also
supposed to solve the problem of Israel’s democracy. Israel cannot call itself
a fully articulated democracy when about 20 % of its citizens are
disenfranchised. The solution also has the problem of eliminating Israel as a
Jewish state. Those who believe any political culture associated with ethnicity
or religion is a remnant of ancient tribalism, from which we have evolved away,
are sympathetic to this position. This solution would probably exacerbate the
problem rather than resolve it. The disagreements and conflicts between the two
cultures would intensify and probably result in violence. This solution is
equally as naïve. It means the loss of a Jewish state as well as no state for
the Palestinians. The issues of Hamas in Gaza would be very difficult to
imagine. Israel also worries about the demographic factor; that is, over time
the population of Palestinians would overwhelm the Jewish population.
None of these solutions are realistic or
even in the realm of possibility in some cases. The two state solution is crucial
and the answer to the problems of both cultures. Neither side will get
everything it wants, but that’s how compromise and conflict resolution work.
The peace process has disintegrated, the spirit of Oslo has dissipated, and the
two sides engage in continual mistrust and blame. If the two state solution is
not implemented soon Israel will continue to be at a disadvantage with respect
to the demographic argument, international opinion, and security. True, there
is much yet to be worked out such as refugees, borders (see below), and rights of
return but this is what renewed peace talks must take up.
Should Happen: Israel must reverse course and support
the Palestinian aspirations. But do it on some preconditions. The first
precondition is that Palestinians return to the table and begin final status
discussions. Secondly, the Palestinians must agree to bilateral negotiations.
Third, both states must be recognized; that is, Israel as Jewish and Palestine
as the home of the Palestinians. Once issues such as refugees have been
resolved, and once the Palestinians accept a two state solution, they should
have no trouble recognizing Israel as “Jewish.”
The two state solution should affirm the
right of self determination for both Jews and Palestinians, and all historic
claims, and agree on territorial swaps and security arrangements that satisfy
both parties. Israel should assist the Palestinians with further security
developments in the West Bank, and settlement development, and freeze
construction of the security wall. The Palestinians should refrain from
international campaigns against Israel and reject the extreme positions
associated with Hamas.
Two states – one Jewish and one
Palestinian – are inevitable. It’s the only solution to the problem and the one
accepted by the majority of both Israelis and Palestinians. Israel should
support the Palestinians and get on with it.
Two posts ago on September 6, I wrote
that the Palestinians were frustrated and expressed a certain amount of
sympathy with his frustration. Numerous commentators and pundits have made
the same point. Yet it remains the case that the UN resolution to declare
Palestine a state is seriously problematic and going to cause more trouble than
it’s worth. The list below just briefly highlights the potential problems:
- It will void the Oslo agreement,
which held that all decisions must be the result of bilateral negotiations
between Israel and Palestine. Even though Oslo is moribund, it provides a
framework for discussion and expectations. Sets of agreements that have
stimulated cooperation (such as security) will be in jeopardy.
- It will inflame both the Israelis
and the Palestinians (albeit for different reasons) but could still result in
violence. The proposed Palestinian state will be like no state imagined by
Israelis. It will make it difficult for Israelis to control their own religious
sites, settlement blocs, and various other resources. This declaration could
create a very difficult atmosphere that triggers an Israeli or a Palestinian
- Whatever borders the resolution
declares will automatically define Israel as an occupier with no jointly
recognized outlets for resolution. But on the Palestinian side it would fix
their boundaries and make future boundary negotiations difficult. A unilateral
declaration of any boundary is by nature illegitimate.
- The Palestinians will give up
their claim of being a stateless people, a status that has benefited them. The
Palestinians lose their international moral standing if the conflict becomes one
of simply border disputes. The PLO, according to one Palestinian consultant,
will lose its legal status as a representative of the Palestinian people. After
a state is declared refugees outside the boundaries of that state would be left
- There is at this moment minimal
unity between Hamas and Fatah and hence the Palestinian state will include
about 40% of the West Bank. This leaves portions of the West Bank, East
Jerusalem, and Gaza, in the hands of Hamas. This is nothing but a combustible
situation that could explode at any time.
- Interestingly, it is the Israelis
who have typically been blamed for acting unilaterally. It is now the
Palestinians who are acting unilaterally and if they set expectations that
cannot be met and the situation will be even worse.
- The current security on the
ground is a real success for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is essential
for any progress and has been the result of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation. If
the UN resolution results in the loss of this cooperation, then everyone’s
efforts will have been in vain.
- It’s curious that in 2003 the
Palestinians were offered the opportunity to establish the state first, and
negotiate final status agreements later. They rejected this proposal because
they figured that they would lose negotiating power by establishing a state
without final status issues being resolved. Now, they have reversed course and
are pursuing this very goal but doing it outside the confines of agreements
with others. This seems to be to their own disadvantage.
- The majority of Israelis support
a two state solution. The two state solution is very important and the only
sensible solution which can guarantee the national identity and dignity of both
sides. But such a solution must be the result of direct negotiations and
agreements between Israelis and Palestinians. This unilateral action
jeopardizes the two state solution, and might cause an Israeli diminution of
Israel puts its friend the United States in a difficult position and increases
the alienation and isolation from the Arab world. But the Palestinians are also
alienating a potential friend in the United States. Currently, the US is more
supportive of Palestinian interests than ever before. This unilateral
resolution interferes with the Palestinian US relationship.
Palestinian frustration with Israel –
Netanyahu in particular and the right-wing coalition – is justified. And the
two state solution is the only way to preserve the idea of real peace. It’s
crucial that the two states be established and Israel begin the process of
developing itself as a Jewish state alongside the Palestinians. The existence
of two states serves the interests of both parties – not to mention the
positive implications for the Middle East and the world. The two sides must
find a path back to negotiations, paths that cross one another and do not head
off on their own.
Next week, a modest solution proposal.
Let me describe a few realities and you
tell me the common explanatory factor. First, the Israeli Embassy in Cairo is attacked
and the Israeli government sends jet fighters to evacuate the ambassador and
his staff members. Protesters stormed the Israeli Embassy and significantly
damaged the building. Turkey has expelled the Israeli ambassador and used the
flotilla incident as evidence of its damaged relationship with Israel.
Netanyahu presides over and intransient right-wing coalition that has paralyzed
him. He cannot maintain his government unless he placates this coalition and
that prevents him from conciliation, negotiation, and movement toward the two-state
solution. The Palestinians are going to the United Nations to have the UN declare
the Palestinian state. It seems as if no amount of pressure from the United
States will stop them. Israel is increasingly isolated and the declaration of a
Palestinian state by the General Assembly is likely to cause violence,
confusion, and release a hornet’s nest of attacks on Israel as the Palestinians
gain access to United Nations resources such as the International Criminal Court.
The declaration of a Palestinian state –
even an observer state – will be nothing less than deadly for the peace
process. Israel will not recognize the conditions of the state and a half
million Israelis who live outside the recognized boundaries of Israel proper, but
inside the geography of the new Palestinian state, will be classified as
occupiers. As the relationship between the PLA and Israel deteriorates, and
their mutual security agreements fail, the PLA will slip into the hands of Hamas.
This cascade of events will result in an even worse situation in the Middle
East than is presently the case. What explains it? It is explained by the
coming Arab Muslim Empire.
The tumult in Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria,
all of which is supposed to be associated with an Arab Spring, has offered a
reality in striking contrast to expectations and images of a fledgling
democracy. Whether it be Yemen, Bahrain, Egypt, Syria, Libya, or Tunisia it is
possible in every case to result in the rise of Islam. And even if dictators
and brutal leaders in Egypt, Libya, and Syria needed to be ousted the
alternative might not be very satisfying. And the not so invisible hand of Iran
is in the shadows of the background.
We have seen this all before: military
leaders enriching themselves; a few elites pulling the strings of power; inept
and incompetent state institutions; whining blame reserved for other cultures,
mostly Western; and the humiliation associated with the Palestinian situation.
In the earlier part of this century revolutions led to dictatorial leaders,
emancipatory political ideologies such as Marxism, and military rule. But this time
it is going to be Islam that is the big winner. Mark my words, Egypt is not
going to be ruled in the future by the enlightened young Facebook intellectuals
responsible for the revolution and who looked good on television. These people
do not fit the model of traditional communities; they will be out maneuvered by
stronger and more organized religious forces.
As Robert Malley and Hussein Agha argued
in the New York Review of Books,
“Islamists of various tendencies are coming in from the cold.”
Islamists are the largest group in all of these cultures and the best
organized. They have been silenced and repressed in the past but a little
democratic air will allow them to breathe more freely. There was an outcry when
Hamas won democratic elections in Gaza in 2006, but the same is true of
democratic elections as is freedom of speech – in for a dime, in for a dollar:
If we’re going to accept democratic elections as legitimate expressions of the
polity then we have to accept outcomes we don’t prefer. Islamic groups played an
important behind-the-scenes role in Libya, Egypt, and in Syria. They provide a
moral code that speaks to the population and will certainly be the primary
warrant for arguments about the political future of these cultures.
And Islamic parties will probably play
it smart. They will have learned that presenting themselves as Jihadists would
be a mistake and will likely do the opposite; that is, explain to the world
that they are the best defense against Jihadism. The US has dreamt of
democratic forces taking a stronger foothold but we will be mostly
disappointed. And even though the liberal democratic culture of the United
States is quite divergent from conservative Islamic cultures, we will be in a
better position than Israel to curry favor with these new developments. Still,
our political and democratic sympathies lay with Israel whose future in the
Arab world will be beset on all sides by the forces of difficulty.