Reflections Towards a New Path to Peace in the Palestinian/Israeli Conflict

by: Luis Fleischman

The Trump Administration is now exploring the possibility of renewing the Palestinian-Israeli talks. This is a noble goal and consistent with U.S policy in the Middle East in the last 43 years.

U.S President Richard Nixon and then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s step-by-step process produced interim agreements between Israel and Egypt and enough confidence for then Egyptian President Sadat to pay a historical visit to Jerusalem to seal a peace agreement a little over a year later under the auspices of president Jimmy Carter. The Madrid initiative, launched by President George H.W. Bush, succeeded in producing a dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians that eventually led to the Oslo peace process, which was initiated in September 1993 under the auspices of U.S President Bill Clinton.

The Oslo process was supposed to build confidence between Palestinians and Israelis and produce a peace agreement after five years. The process failed to deliver its goals. Almost six years after the launch of Oslo, the Palestinians rejected an Israeli offer at Camp David in the summer of 2000. Two months later, an organized armed uprising was launched by armed units of the ruling Fatah as well as the radical Islamist Hamas and Islamic Jihad against Israelis, including civilian targets. Still under fire, Israel accepted a new peace formula proposed by President Clinton, known as the “Clinton Parameters,” which included Israeli concessions even larger than those offered by Prime Minister Ehud Barak at Camp David. The Palestinian leadership retreated.

A few years later, the traditionally hawkish Prime Minister Ariel Sharon unexpectedly declared that keeping the West Bank and Gaza under Israeli control could create a demographic problem for Israel in the long run, which could threaten the country’s Jewish character. Thus, Mr. Sharon proceeded to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip, dismantle all the Jewish settlements there, and transfer its Jewish population from the area. Furthermore, Sharon also removed several Jewish settlements located in the heart of the West Bank. Yet, Palestinian violence continued as Hamas and other groups bombed Israeli Southern populations and carried terrorist attacks from territories vacated by Israel.

In 2008, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered another concession to the Palestinians, this time even more generous than the Clinton parameters. Again, there was no response from the Palestinian leadership.

Interestingly, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama insisted on continuing this path of bi-lateral Palestinian-Israeli negotiations despite its multiple failures. The most astonishing and resounding fiasco took place under President Obama, who was convinced that Jewish settlements constituted a key obstacle to achieving peace. The fact that the Palestinians rejected peace offers multiple times and placed unreasonable demands such as the “right of return” of 3 million Palestinians to Israel proper (which would destroy the Jewish character of the State of Israel), did not seem to be too relevant to the Obama team. Thus, Obama proceeded to apply heavy pressure on Israel to freeze settlements. Furthermore, Obama’s two Presidential terms were dominated by tensions between the president and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even though the latter was elected in 2009, after almost 10 years of consistent Palestinian intransigency in the negotiations.

Ironically, despite Obama’s overtures and sympathy for the Palestinians, he found rejection on the part of the Palestinian leadership. The PA discredited the U.S.-sponsored peace process and sought to replace the friendly approach of President Obama with the United Nations, a body with minimal power and legitimacy to move the peace process forward.

Therefore, we ought to question why all this happened and whether it would be wise to continue in the same path of negotiations.

The reason for the negotiations’ collapse is not merely because there are differences of opinion between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Rather, it is because the Palestinian Authority’s political capital, as well as its might, is limited by two key elements: first, is the internal crisis of legitimacy. The PA is perceived as a selfish and corrupt entity which does not enjoy sufficient legitimacy among its own people. The victory of Hamas in the 2006 parliamentarian elections confirms this assessment. This problem is further aggravated by the eruption of rebellions against authoritarian regimes across the Arab world, which have made the Palestinians more and more aware and enraged about the corrupt and oppressive nature of the PA.  The second factor, and no less important, is the threat the PA faces by dissident armed groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and others. These groups have the capability to sabotage the government of a newly Palestinian independent state. In fact, the bloody coup d’état carried by Hamas in 2007 against the Palestinian Authority in Gaza confirms the nature of their menace.

In other words, a Palestinian state would require the leadership to govern, a task they cannot undertake as they lack legitimacy and capability to impose the monopoly of force. Under these circumstances such state is likely to collapse to anarchy and violence. This would be a real curse for a leadership that feels safer with the status quo, where its security is ironically protected by the security arrangements made with Israel and the funding it receives from the international community.

But this is not the end of the problem. The PA’s inability to control those dissident groups such as Hamas forces the Palestinian leadership to appease them and often join them. Thus, the PA increases its systematic incitement and propaganda against Israel through official institutions, including schools, the media, in public statements and in the form of honoring terrorists. These actions are not just a reversible, temporary tactic; this attitude has a dynamic of its own that affects the peace process in the long run. The propaganda campaign against the Israelis has been aggravated to the point that it no longer delays the peace agreement, but instead destroys its chances altogether.

There are psychological and sociological consequences to these actions. This anti-Israel hatred and hostility indoctrinates not only this generation of Palestinians, particularly the youth, but it also has negative consequences on the generations to come.

Indeed, scholars Nico Voigtlander and Hans Joachim Voth’s research found that the effects of Nazi indoctrination had consequences on the intensity of contemporary anti-Semitism in Germany.[1] The research found that anti-Semitic attitudes are more well pronounced among those who were born between 1930 and 1939 regardless of education or economic position. The study also suggests that “Nazi indoctrination in schools and youth organizations successfully instilled strongly anti-Semitic attitudes in the cohorts that grew up under the Nazi regime, and that the differential effect is still visible today, more than half century after the fall of the Third Reich.”[2] The authors explain that these individuals were five and six years old while they were being indoctrinated with Nazi ideology and racial hatred, showing how schooling and propaganda were so effective in shaping anti-Semitic attitudes among the youth and the long-term cultural effects of this phenomenon.

Thus, what else could be expected from the young generation of Palestinians, if not to live with the deep resentment that such indoctrination would inevitably cause? Can the peace process really survive in such a climate?

The continuous incitement and systematic propaganda campaign in Palestinian territories has created a hegemonic process that is difficult to reverse. A June 2014 survey commissioned by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy showed that fewer than 30 percent of Palestinians support a two-state solution and a clear majority of those interviewed in the West Bank and Gaza  (more than 60 percent) pointed out that the final goal should be to “reclaim all of historic Palestine, from the river to the sea.”[3] Two-thirds said that “resistance should continue until all of historic Palestine is liberated.”[4] The survey showed that the majority supported land takeover in stages. Likewise, the Anti-Defamation League published a report in 2014 showing that 93 percent of the adult population in the West Bank and Gaza holds anti-Semitic views.[5] This is hardly surprising if one carefully follows the generational consequences of brainwashing and indoctrination, which as scholar Jacques Ellul has pointed out, it is “no longer to change adherence to a doctrine, but to make the individual cling irrationally to a process of action.”[6]

Therefore, this situation has created a problem for the Palestinians themselves.  Historically, Palestinians have been mobilized by different streams that included Pan-Arabism, Nationalism and Islamism. Such militancy incubated in Palestinian refugee camps for decades and now, under Palestinian rule, it has extended deeply into the West Bank and Gaza. This permanent state of mobilization is being fed through incitement and unreasonable hopes that Palestinian refugees and their descendants will ultimately return to those areas of historic Palestine, which are now part of Israel. Thus, as conflict is perpetuated the situation of permanent revolution turns the Palestinians into a society whose identity, upbringing and individuality is defined by conflict. Thus, the Palestinian people have been deprived from the chance of conducting a regular and normal life, determined by their individual needs and aspirations.

It can be concluded that it has become virtually impossible to achieve peace through the Palestinian Authority. Therefore, the PA should no longer be a primary negotiating partner or the key to the solution.

Perhaps this is the time, as Israeli scholars Benny Morris and Asher Susser have suggested, [7] to revive ideas such as the Palestinian-Jordanian Confederacy. In February 1985, Jordan and the PLO signed an agreement proclaiming that “Palestinian self-determination was to be exercised through the formation of “a Palestinian state in the occupied territories that would be linked to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in a political confederation”. [8] The Arafat-Hussein agreement stipulated that Palestinian self-determination would be exercised through a Palestinian state on areas occupied by Israel but linked to Jordan in the form of a political confederation. Although this idea was eventually discarded by King Hussein in 1988, early in 2016 it surfaced again. Indeed, in May 2016 former Jordanian Prime Minister Abdelsalam al-Majali visited the West Bank and announced that such confederation is good for both the Palestinians and the Jordanians. Majali proposed a confederation that would have a ‘joint legislature and joint government with equal representation whereby the upper authority will have three main missions –security, economy, and foreign affairs-and the rest will be the jurisdiction of the joint government”. [9] By the same token, a delegation of 350 Palestinian notables was sent to Amman to call on the Jordanian King “to protect the West Bank and reactivate the confederation”. [10]  Furthermore, a poll showed that 42% of the Palestinians support this idea while 39% oppose it. [11] It is not a large margin but it confirms that the idea of order and safety begins to take priority in Palestinian eyes.

Jordan has a historical connection to the Palestinians (who comprise a large part of the Jordanian population), and contrary to the Palestinian Authority, is a viable authority. It can exercise governability, negotiate with Israel and provide Palestinians with the possibility of living normal mundane lives.

Furthermore, as Susser has pointed out, relations and ties between Jordanians in the East Bank and the West Bank have existed for a long time. These ties even involve multiple bonds of marriage between Palestinians and Jordanians.

A Palestinian/Jordanian confederacy would allow a Palestinian autonomous political entity to have a link to a larger economic entity and thus reduce Palestinian dependency on Israel and other foreign contributions.

It would also be ideal if the Jordanian/Palestinian Confederacy can include Gaza. However, given the geographical constraints, the possibility that Egypt could make Gaza part of Egypt should be considered as well.

It is not clear whether there is a Trump peace plan. We know that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering a limited Palestinian autonomy. It is not clear what Netanyahu has in mind. However, if such autonomous entity were to be created, it should be connected to a larger Arab entity. However, such solution cannot be accomplished without the support of the Arab League, especially Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. American and Israel’s cooperation with these countries has increased lately to unprecedented levels. This momentum should be seized to pursue a solution to a conflict that has been devastating for the Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Achieving these solutions will not be simple and some of these ideas will meet heavy resistance.  However, President Trump should reevaluate the premises of the Oslo Process and place a team that can think creatively and originally about a new path to peace.

 

[1] Voigtlander, Nico and Voth, Joachim, “Nazi Indoctrination and anti-Semitic beliefs in Germany,” Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 112, No 26, June 20, 2015, http://www.pnas.org/content/112/26.toc (retrieved on July 1, 2016).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Pollock, David, “New Palestine Poll Shows Hardline Views But Some Pragmatism Too,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, June 25, 2014. http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/new-palestinian-poll-shows-hardline-views-but-some-pragmatism-too.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “The ADL Global 100: An Index of Anti-Semitism,” May 2014 http://global100.adl.org/.

[6] Ellul, Jacques, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, Trans. Konrad Kellen & Jean Lerner, Vintage Books, New York, 1973. Page 25.

[7] Morris, Benny, One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel-Palestine Conflict, Yale University Press, New Haven.

Susser, Asher “Israel, Jordan, and Palestine: One States, Two States or Three?” in The Yale Papers: Antisemitism in Comparative Perspective, Charles Asher Small (ed), Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy, New York, 2015- 485-496, p. 486

[8]  Tessler, Mark A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1994, p 655

[9] Al Sharif, Osama “Why confederation with Palestine  is suddenly a hot issue in Amman”, Al Monitor Pulse, May 31, 2016, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/05/palestine-jordan-confederation-abbas-dahlan-israel.html (retrieved on 09/06/2016)

[10]Al Sharif – ibid

[11] Al Sharif- ibid