The weight of the evidence of so many scholars, observers, pollsters and monitors make it almost impossible to mitigate, not to mention ignore the enormity of finding a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
When one grasps the duration of the conflict and its roots, when one fully faces the depth of animosity towards Israel and the antisemitism that permeates the Arab world from the political, religious and intellectual elites down to the grass roots, the sheer magnitude of the challenge for peacemakers becomes painfully apparent.
When one admits the implications of Palestinian society’s behavior – the repetitive pattern of over 90 years of rejectionism on the diplomatic front and a penchant for terrorism against civilians, the ‘readiness’ of Arabs for co-existence and the chances of a breakthrough assume their true proportions.
The unwillingness to accept Israel as a legitimate non-Muslim political entity is epitomized by the Palestinians asymmetrical demands for the Right of Return of all Palestinian refugees to the Jewish state coupled with a demand that the West Bank and Gaza be cleansed of all Jews.
So, where do we go from here? Is there no way out?
One cannot artificially narrow the scope of the conflict. One cannot duck the tough issues – whether in the Palestinian camp or the Arab world as a whole. Western leadership that is ‘Staying above the conflict’ out of fear that demanding Arabs to ‘walk the talk’ will jeopardize one’s status as an honest broker has not and will not bring peace.
True peace cannot be based on a lie: There has never been ‘a cycle of violence’. Resorting to such neutral terminology requires the United States to acquiesce to and perpetuate a gross misrepresentation of reality. Putting Israel and its neighbors on the same footing totally ignores the asymmetry of the history of the conflict and something as fundamental as ‘cause and effect’. The truth is – one side has been the aggressor time-after-time. The Arabs have been the initiators of more than five major wars, political and economic boycotts and unbridled incitement. The Palestinians have launched wave-after-wave of terrorism against Israelis and other Jews and made hate the fuel that directs and runs their society. All this began before there was a State of Israel, before there was an ‘occupation’ and it continues unabated to this day.
In response to these onslaughts, Israel has not demanded reparations for the horrific causalities it has sustained in its fight for survival against repeated Arab aggression; it has only asked that it be allowed to live in peace with recognized and defendable borders and to develop according to its own Jewish ethos. This is hardly an excessive demand.
Attempts to cajole the Arabs to seek compromise and failure to put a price on intransigence and intolerable behavior has only perpetuated the conflict; encouraged further bloodshed and hardened Arab demands. It’s time to call a spade a spade and demand some concrete ‘concessions’ from the Arabs, not just Israel.
American leaders need to have the courage to change course – to admit that without reciprocity and responsibility on the part of the entire Arab camp, there can be no genuine peace. It is time to demand that the Arab states own up to their complicity in the conflict and demonstrate in practice that they are dedicated to reconciliation and an end to the conflict. If the Arabs are serious about peace what is needed is deeds, not more words – beginning with an end to state-sponsored incitement and an end to using refugees as a weapon.
Minimizing the Conflict Doesn’t Work. One of the historic flaws of past peace-making efforts is that they have been artificially limited in scope. Only a few decades ago attempts at ending the Arab Israeli conflict focused on bringing the Arab states to the negotiating table, assuming the Arab states could then dictate realities to the Palestinians. Then came Oslo. It took the opposite approach – assuming that the Palestinians hold the key to peace in the Middle East – that if an accommodation between Jews and Arabs in Israel, and the Territories can be reached, everything else will fall into place. Both paths artificially reduce the conflict to ‘manageable size’, while true peace hinges on a comprehensive settlement both in terms of the parties and the issues.
For a real peace to evolved, it must encompass the entire Arab world, not just Palestinians vs. Israel. Comprehensive means one cannot leave rejectionists and extremists – be they Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia or Hezbollah and Hamas – free to follow their own anti-Israel agendas and call it ‘peace.’ Moderate Arab states do not have to embrace Israel as a bosom buddy, but comprehensive peace does mean squarely facing a host of unsettled issues peacemakers prefer to turn a blind eye to as long as there is no open warfare. Among the substantive issues that can no longer be ignored:
· Arab countries of the Middle East – the ‘outer rim’ and close neighbors continue to arm themselves with weapons designed to destroy Israel – including weapons of mass destruction.
· The Arab world remains a global hub for antisemitism and a hotbed of vicious incitement and demonization of Israel. Even those with peace treaties with Israel continue to reject Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state or pursue polities that will ensure Israel remains a Jewish state.
· Arab countries presumably at peace with Israel have increasingly crossed the line between a ‘cold peace’ and unacceptable behavior. Using Palestinians as a ‘proxy,’ and encouraging Palestinian terrorism and impractical demands of Israel, can hardly pass for ‘peace.’
Sweeping Tough Problems Under the Carpet or ‘Saving them for Later’ Breeds Dangerous Illusions. A comprehensive peace must avoid the pitfall of Oslo, Wye, Mitchell, Tenet, Zuni, Camp David II, and the Road Map, accords that suffered from the ultimate of anomalies. More than a decade of negotiations and interim agreements ‘drained the peace process of content’ while at the same time ‘gaining momentum.’ A momentum that resulted in an unprecedented wave of terrorism with over 1,500 Israelis murdered.
How does it work? Time-and-again the tough issues – the ‘land mines’ on the road to peace with the Palestinians, have been ‘conveniently overlooked.’ Every time an issue of substance has resurfaced, the parties have pass over the loaded ‘land mine’ to prevent an impasse that would bring down the peace process … carefully reburying these time bombs ‘down the road.’
Thus, the peace process ‘went forward,’ interim agreement after interim agreement, until all the land mines, such as Jerusalem and the Right of Return, came to rest – ready and waiting to explode ‘on the threshold of peace.’ The folly was assuming that the so-called momentum created by the ‘process’ would ultimately allow the parties to jump over these barriers in the last minute of the game at Camp David when Arafat and Barak came to hammer out a final status agreement in July 2000. That did not happen, could not happen, because objectively, in terms of substance, for seven years, the process of conflict resolution between Palestinians and Jews has been confined to small increments and a host of issues of marginal importance.
Illusion of process and progress. This has been the core essence of Oslo: the peace process’ most lasting legacy has been the creation of an illusion of ‘process’. The illusion of ‘progress’ has not merely left Washington and Jerusalem disappointed. It was responsible for raising the ‘Return’ expectations among Palestinians to a fever pitch.
This mistake should not be repeated. Yet, today other forms of ‘removing the land mines and burying them further down the road’ continue to surface: One is the road map which makes a Palestinian state a forgone conclusion, independent of solving the refugee problem and final borders – one of the latest ‘creative solutions’ being floated in the marketplace of ideas. A road maps for further strife down the road, not reconciliation. The ten year Oslo experiment in limited Palestinian autonomy under the Palestinian Authority has produced but another Arab dictatorial polity rift with civil rights violations that is as much a danger to its people as its neighbors; an independent Palestinian state will create just the kind of rogue state that the United States is in the process of eliminating elsewhere.
Peace-makers must deal with the fundamentals – including the substantive issues that concern both Israelis and Palestinians and those that concern the Arab world as a whole. A world that has been left in abeyance or swept under the carpet. If these substantive issues cannot be solved, one must accept this reality – not call it peace.
· The barrier to peace is not borders or territory. It is the refusal of the Arabs to accept the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state and the right of Israel to resist solutions that are designed to compromise its ‘Jewish nature.’
· The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the core of a much larger conflict between Israel and the Arab world. One cannot settle for less than an integrated solution – one that spans the entire Arab world of which the Palestinians are only a part. The objective of peacemakers cannot be less than a genuine ‘just and lasting peace,’ not cosmetic stop-gap measure that require Israel to make concessions while leaving explosive issues ready to flare up in the future.
· Israel did not start this conflict nor does it perpetrate it, unless one accepts the premise that Jews have no right to be in their ancient homeland and should all go back to Poland and Baghdad. Incitement must end. Hatred can’t be left to fester while pretending to ‘cement a peace.’ Resolution of both Arab and Israeli refugee problem must be a pillar of any genuine peace process.
Israelis accept that there must be a compromise. They seek ‘accommodation’ although they are deeply divided over the extent of concessions and risk-taking Israel should agree to. Palestinians, on the other hand, do not seek accommodation but ‘justice’ – a quality which they frame in absolute terms, refusing to even consider that their adversaries – the Israelis – might also have ‘just rights’ that need to be addressed.
Arab states must accept a solution to the conflict that do not undermine Israel’s right to live as a Jewish state. Acceptance of Israel’s Jewishness requires the Arab states play an active and positive role in resettling the Arab refugees they helped to create – resettling them within the vast area of the Middle East.
What has stymied a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is the unwillingness of Arabs as a whole and Palestinians in particular to recognize the legitimacy of Jewish claims and rights, along side Arab claims and rights – a breakthrough without which there can be no talk of ending the conflict.