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What makes Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives fail?


"The current impasse in the Israeli-Arab conflict" is an almost ideal all-purpose title for an analysis essay, as it could have been used almost any month in the last 62 years.

The prospect of peace between Israelis and Palestinians is so attractive to most people, the need seems so urgent and solutions seem so obvious, at least to outsiders. Why then, have repeated attempts at resolution failed so miserably? (for example, see The Peace Process is dead, long live the peace process).

The gallant and well meaning quest for peace in the Middle East of the Obama administration, and previous American administrations, variously known as the Oslo process, the "peace process," the Clinton initiative, the Bush road map and the Obama initiative, has foundered once again. It has allowed itself most recently, as usual, to be ensnared in demands that are impossible to meet and issues that are designed to be incapable of resolution. Instead of focusing on core problems, the "peace process" has once more been diverted to a sterile and hopeless debate about an issue that is a symptom, not a cause. This essay explores the background of the problem.

Since November 29, 1947, there has only been a single real issue in the Arab Israeli conflict: The willingness to implement, in principle, UN General Assembly Resolution 181, which partitioned the land into a Jewish state and an Arab state. This issue breaks itself down into two components:

1. The willingness of Palestinians and Arab states to recognize the right of the Jewish people to self determination and to live in peace with a Jewish state.

2. The willingness of Israelis to recognize the right of the Palestinian Arab people to self-determination, and live in peace with a Palestinian Arab state to be created in those territories. After the Six Day War, the issue of withdrawal from the conquered West Bank was added, but the principle is the same.

The Arabs of Palestine have always refused to comply, or expressed willingness to comply that was really a refusal. They have steadfastly refused to recognize the right of the Jewish people to self-determination, refused to recognize any Jewish rights in "Arab" East Jerusalem, and refused to give up the "right" of "return" for descendants of Arab Palestinian refugees. Most recently they made a point of turning down a quiet U.S. request to give up right of return, publicly and quite bluntly.

The Israelis expressed their willingness to comply in principle. However as the years wore on, policies wavered. After the end of the Israel War of Independence, it became less certain that Israel would accept an Arab Palestinian state in practice, but there was no problem as long as it was certain that they would not have to do so. In the 1980s, it was the declared policy of the Israeli government that there must not be a second state between the river and the sea. This changed following the Oslo accords, but Benjamin Netanyahu continued, until recently, to formally reject the principle of a Palestinian Arab state.

In the abstract, both the principal parties declare repeatedly that they want peace. As the "danger" of a peaceful resolution becomes more "threatening," both sides load their abstract declarations with conditions and complications that make peace impossible.

All sides have managed to completely obscure the issues, so it is not surprising that at every turn attempts to bring peace founder on this or that red herring that is raised by one or the other sides. The Arabs and the Jews, the UN and the United States, as well as some other parties, have each introduced totally extraneous demands, "rights" and requirements into their considerations that complicate the issues and either put the negotiations off track or mire them in irrelevancies and in attempted solution of issues that were deliberately designed to be impossible of solution.

The Americans, since the 1975 manifesto of Harold Saunders, declared that "...the Palestinian dimension of the Arab-Israeli conflict is the heart of that conflict," have had a messianic view of the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The solution of the conflict, in that theology, is the holy grail. It is key to solving all problems in the Middle East, and not just the Arab-Israeli conflict. After it is solved, there will be no more disputes or problems of oil supplies, legacies of colonialism, abridgment of human rights in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, or pressing problems of human rights and development in Middle Eastern countries. There will be no more water shortages, and the climate of the Middle East will become like that of the San Francisco Bay area. Perhaps the oceans will turn into pink lemonade and a non-denominational Prince of Peace will descend from the heavens to rule over a Middle East where people have the benefit of eternal life and unlimited wealth. This view is often found in Arab world analyses as well.

Perhaps it is the attraction of this eschatological vision that drives the United States government to don its shining armor and stage its gallant but risky and ill advised forays into the battle for Middle East peace, with much more determination and valor than wisdom or discretion. Perhaps also, the understanding of the sides that the Americans are so interested in peace creates a sellers' market, and forces up the price demanded for that peace. The Americans want peace in the worst way, and they are going about it in the worst way possible.

To satisfy obscure and unacceptable religious considerations, the UN created the unworkable issue of internationalization of Jerusalem, which it never seriously tried to implement. Neither party to the conflict wants such a solution, there is no way to enforce it, and no reason for it. That did not prevent the UN from passing numerous resolutions condemning Israel for violating the fictitious internationalization decrees, though no such resolution was ever passed condemning Jordan for equal violations in the period prior to 1967, when they occupied East Jerusalem and other areas that were to have been part of the international "Corpus Separatum." The United States, along with other countries, have exacerbated the internationalization aberration, to the absurd point where the United States will not register an American child born in Jerusalem - any part of it - as having been born in "Israel." This is supposed to lend legitimacy to the extinct internationalization proviso, but in fact it lends legitimacy to Arab claims on Jerusalem.

The Arab states also harnessed the UN to perpetuate the unique Palestinian refugee problem, which still exists because the Arab states refuse to absorb the descendants of Arab Palestinian refugees of the 1948 Arab-Israel war in the same way as Israel absorbed Jewish Refugees who became homeless as a result of the conflict. No other refugees in the entire world have the same "rights" as the Palestinian Arab refugees, thanks to special UN treatment of this problem.

The Arab states invented a "right of return" for these refugees and made it a condition of solution of the conflict. Of course, implementation of the "right" of return would flood Israel with descendants of refugees and make it impossible to implement Jewish self determination, the original intent of Resolution 181. The Arabs have steadfastly refused to recognize that there is a Jewish people, and pretend that there is only a Jewish religion, and that the demand for a Jewish state involves creating a state based on a religion. This complaint is somewhat absurd when it is made by states like Egypt that declare that Islam is their official religion. What is the Islamic Republic of Iran if it is not a "state based on a religion?" Does it not have a seat in the United Nations?

The Palestinians, abetted by the UN, falsely construed the "right of resistance" to occupation - a right intended to be exercised against enemy soldiers - as giving them a license to slaughter Jewish civilians, men women and children, anywhere in the world, including hi-jacking of airplanes and ocean liners.

The Israelis for their part have now elected a government that refuses to let go of sufficient territory in the West Bank to allow creation of a state for the Arab Palestinians, and have devised a "right" to build settlements in the territories of the West Bank. It is questionable whether settlement of Jews in those territories, especially settlement of Jews in places from which they were ethnically cleansed in 1948, is "illegal" under international law. However, everyone can agree that there is no guaranteed "right" of a state or its citizens to settle people outside the internationally accepted boundaries of that state, and that massive and ongoing settlement activities are not going to improve the chances for eventual surrender of the territories to a Palestinian Arab state.

Both Israel and the Palestinians have made unjustifiably exaggerated claims regarding East Jerusalem that, like other claims in the conflict, are deliberately designed to be mutually exclusive in order to make any resolution impossible and to inflame sentiment on both sides. Israel has annexed a large area to what it calls "United Jerusalem." The Palestinians have begun to insist that the Jewish people have no national rights whatever in East Jerusalem (which they sometimes call "Arab East Jerusalem"), that no Jews ever lived there before 1967 and that there was no Jewish sovereignty in Jerusalem in ancient times.

Into this morass, the Americans have charged repeatedly. Instead of focusing on the core issues that are causing the disease of the Middle East conflict, they decreed that these should be relegated to the limbo of "creative ambiguity." No major issues were ever addressed during most of the peace process since the Oslo Declaration of Principles. The Israelis were free to proliferate settlements and the Palestinians were free to entrench their demands for return of refugees and for a Palestinian-state-with-its-capital-in-Jerusalem and to continue with "resistance," which was used both by the Hamas and by the PLO to sabotage the Oslo accords. If there is a right to resistance while a people are struggling for freedom, that "right" cannot be construed as providing a license to kill civilians and to violate and invalidate signed agreements that are part of a process intended to give a people who are under foreign rule their national rights. Nor is it a legitimate "peace" platform to insist, as the Hamas and Islamists do, that the only "just" solution to eliminating foreign rule of one people, is to substitute for it the enslavement or genocide of another people.

The current US-Israeli spat over the "settlement freeze," which will be discussed separately (see What makes Barack Obama and his Israeli-Palestinian peace Initiative fail?) is just another instantiation of the principles of hopelessness that have guided all Israeli-Palestinian "peace" initiatives.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000770.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 3 comments

In starting to read this article I thought it was smart and objective. Half way through it became obvious that it was biased and pro Israel, minimizing the inhumanities of Israeli actions and stressing only those of Hamas. Sorry I wasted my time.

Posted by Celia Kingman @ 08/06/2009 06:50 PM CST

post ipso facto legitimising of theft.the victim is required, in that stacked deck of a process, to acquiesce to the theft or he is being unreasonable.this situation has become the rallying point of militant islam.i am an australian,had we been invaded by japan for instance,as seemed possible and was intended,would we valiiant freedom fighters or terrorists??,in resisting.?the winners version of history prevails,agenda and alignment and spin and guns prevail to redress a perceived theft,injustice.from half a world away i hope it can be resolved peacefully with no more people dying.on either side.

Posted by thomas vesely @ 08/07/2009 06:41 AM CST

our own aborigines,in accepting the circus apology/treaty,the priministerial "sorry" have legally endorsed the status quo.but that's just another story...........

Posted by thomas vesely @ 08/07/2009 06:59 AM CST

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