2. What history can teach us – if we start to let it
3. Stop bringing ‘democracy’ to the Middle East
4. Iran – how the common threat unifies Israel with the Arab world
5. Why the current situation might be better than it seems
6. Conclusion – The solution to the conflict: Let them be
7. Some final and clarifying remarks
The international community’s hopes rested on Barack Obama, the new political course he would introduce and his promise to create a less violent world, free of nuclear weapons, with peace in the Middle East. But reality showed that even the American President is not almighty, and that the Nobel Prize Committee’s decision to award Obama with the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2009 was most likely rather precipitate. This is hardly Obama’s fault, but still he did not succeed in keeping his promise. The latest peace negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian officials failed once again and not even the powerful United States could have done anything to prevent that.
Considering the numerous efforts to reach an agreement between the conflict parties and that all of them failed sooner or later because of specific issues in which none of the parties is ready to compromise – namely Jerusalem, settlements in the West Bank, refugees and the nature of a Palestinian state – one could start to assume that peace will never be reached in the Middle East, especially not in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That assumption however is based on the wrong attitude towards the whole region and the conflict in general. Western societies tend to devolve their own mentality and culture on other world regions and expect the same outcome as they produce in Western cultures. That is not only arrogant but also impossible: The Middle Eastern culture and mentality is completely different than ours and even if one could argue that at least the Israeli state is Western-orientated and comparable to Western democracies, that is definitively not the case for the Arab and Muslim states in the region. Once we realize and accept that those states’ mentality is completely different, we should ask ourselves whether it is really the best way to force the conflict parties to negotiate with each other or to try to impose our values and structures on them. The past has shown that this behavior rather produces a negative outcome and can even exacerbate the situation.
In this paper, I argue that it would be the best for all parties involved if the Western democracies and the U.S. in particular would stop trying to resolve this conflict. We should stop to hammer out plans for a one/two state solution because Western politicians clearly do not understand the dynamics and forces of this conflict. Instead of thinking about how we could help to solve this dilemma, we should lean back and let the concerned parties try to figure it out by themselves. It took Europe centuries to become a peaceful and democratic region. This shows that peace is not easily installed, it takes time. Moreover, I think the current situation is not as bad as it seems to be, and it is definitely better than portrayed in Western media.
2.What history can teach us – if we start to let it
The failed peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the past have shown one thing in particular: Even though the dependence of Arab states on the U.S. is growing and even though Israel has been dependent on U.S. support for a long time, America cannot perform magic either.
There have always been phases of rapprochement between Israel and the Palestinians, but they were almost always followed by a renewal of tensions and a phase of increased violence: During the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, certain interdependence between Israel and the Palestinian territories began. The Palestinians became more and more dependent on Israel, economically and as a job provider; they came increasingly to Israel to seek employment, they used (and still use) the Israeli currency in the territories and get their electricity, water and gas mostly from Israel. In return, the Israeli economy started to depend on this cheap labor and Israel also exports goods that are considered ‘not good enough’ for the European or U.S. market to the territories. But the 1980’s are also a time of increased settlement activity by Israel and a Jordanian disengagement from the West Bank. King Hussein did not really want to have to deal with the Palestinians, although the majority of the Jordanian population is of Palestinian origin and many Palestinian refugees live in Jordan. Combined with a leadership vacuum in the territories (Arafat was in Tunisia at that time) this lead to the firstIntifadafrom 1987 until 1991.
After that the Oslo process started: Secret negotiations between Israelis and Palestinian on Norwegian territory. This time, the U.S. was not involved and maybe as a result of that, the two conflict parties were able to agree on the Declaration of Principles in 1993, a framework for further peace negotiations and the creation of a possibility for other Arab leaders to move towards an own peace agreement with Israel (Barnea 2006: 78). The following Camp David II negotiations in 2000 in contrast failed because Yassir Arafat and Ehud Barak could not agree on the question of the right of return for Palestinian refugees. As a consequence, violence increased again and culminated in the outbreak of the secondIntifada.
Western, and especially U.S., influence tend to not help the efforts to reach peace at all. In contrast, they rather tend to aggravate existing polarity. For example the U.S. attempt to introduce democracy to the Palestinian territories in 2006: The PLO had refused to hold elections in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip because they feared that the Hamas might win these elections. But the Bush administration insisted on democratic elections, convinced that the Hamas would not succeed in winning. The consequence was a clear victory of Hamas, followed by the refusal of the PLO to accept the elections’ outcome. The PLO refused to let go of their power what established an illegal regime in the West Bank and led to acoup d’étatby Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Instead of leading to better conditions for peace, the U.S. created a new problem: It divided the Palestinians ideologically – in addition to their geographical division into West Bank and Gaza strip. It did not facilitate peace negotiations; it complicated them because now Israel would have to negotiate with two Palestinian leaderships. Apart from that, Hamas is not even willing to negotiate, they do not even recognize Israel’s right to exist. That means if a peace treaty was going to be reached at some point in the future it would only be valid for the West Bank. Already before this incident it was very difficult to talk about a one or two state solution because of the incompatible interests of the two parties. Now there are three parties with incompatible interests – that means a two state solution can no longer be an option. Theoretically, now there can only be one or three states.
The latest peace negotiations were doomed to fail because it was clear from the very beginning that positions in the core issues – Jerusalem, refugees, territory – were incompatible. Relations between Israel and the Palestinians had ameliorated before the talks, there was trade between both parties and Israel still provides the territories with water, electricity and gas. In contrast to public opinion and media portrayal it is indeed possible and – with the necessary permission – easy to cross the border between the West Bank and Israel as a Palestinian to study or work in Israel. A friend of mine, who is from California, visited the West Bank once and he told me that at the checkpoint, it took him less time to get into the West Bank and back to Israel than at the checkpoint at the Mexican-U.S. border to get back into the U.S.
The problem with the latest peace negotiations is that they were trying to work out the framework before they had even agreed on peace in general: they started on the wrong end. According to Elliot Chodoff, teacher at the University of Haifa International School and major in the IDF reserves, they tried to agree on the price for something before they had even decided whether or not to buy it. But it is very important to decide to “buy” peace before you start trying to agree on its “price”. This is why negotiations with Egypt and Jordan succeeded in a peace treaty and those with Lebanon, Syria and the PLO failed.
The peace with Egypt did not start with signing the treaty in 1979. It started when Sadat came to Israel and declared that there would be no more war with Israel. He had realized that Israel was not a threat to Egypt. Moreover, Egypt was the ‘number one’ amongst Arab states and it could count on the U.S. to compensate for the loss of financial support from the Gulf monarchies after signing the peace treaty. Jordan did not support the PLO or the Palestinian case in general and King Hussein was rather interested in solving more urgent issues like water scarcity and economic problems. He knew that peace with Israel would assure his country financial support from the U.S. and that it would probably attract or at least create better and more stable conditions for foreign investment. Moreover, a peace treaty with Israel and participation in the U.S.-led attempts to overthrow Saddam Hussein were the price for King Hussein’s rehabilitation after Jordan’s neutrality during the Gulf War in 1991 (cf. Adoni 2000: 79). The Hashemite regimewantedpeace because it could only benefit from it.
The Syrian and Lebanese cases are different. Syria has always made the return of the Golan Heights a precondition for negotiations whereas Israel insisted on the creation of a demilitarized security zone in the Golan Heights and full normalization of relations before returning the Golan Heights. This led to an impasse that could not be solved. Under the Rabin government, Israel had tried to reach a compromise but the insistence on both sides on a territory of only a few meters around Lake Tiberius prevented an agreement (Murden 2000: 32f). Syria insisted on having access to the lake but Israel did not want Syria anywhere near the lake’s surface because apparently, the Syrians have plans to channel sewage into the lake as soon as they gain access (Elliot Chodoff), which would destroy a desperately needed source of fresh water. Moreover, Syria has always been Eastern-oriented: As long as the Soviet Union still existed, it had always sided with this superpower and had also received enormous financial and military support. Especially when Egypt had signed the peace treaty with Israel, Syria saw itself as the new ‘number one’ actor in the resistance against Israel. Although it was forced to behave a bit more moderate and to create loose ties to the only remaining superpower, the U.S., and the West in general after the collapse of the Soviet Union because of economic problems, it also maintains close ties to Iran. Because of the Syrian influence on Lebanon, the partial control it exercises over the weak state, and its support of Hezbollah, it does not only prevent a Syrian-Israeli but also a Lebanese-Israeli peace treaty (Murden 2000: 33).