Going it alone to leap over the peace block
Boycotts and threats ultimately hurt the Palestinian cause
Ron Pundak, Bitter Lemons
A few days ago, hundreds of left-wing Israeli peace activists met to discuss the big issue: what to do? Should the focus be social or political? Is there a political solution? One state or two? And how to generate a center-left majority in the next elections? This time around, we looked at an additional topic: the influence of a peace process vacuum on the capacity to actually carry out activities involving interaction between Israeli and Palestinian societies.
Since 2000, people-to-people and cross-border dialogue activities and informal political meetings have suffered a series of fatal blows. Failure of the Camp David negotiations, escalation of violence by both sides in the territories, and the reoccupation of the West Bank in 2002 led each public to conclude that the other is not interested in reaching a genuine peace and to lose faith in the motives and aspirations of the other.
Ever since, each public’s cognitive image of the other has only worsened as the two sides have become increasingly indifferent to one another. A near-total severance of the two populations has been generated by two developments: the fence/wall and regime of permits that prevent Palestinians from entering Israel on the one hand, and the military directive that prevents Israelis from entering areas under Palestinian control on the other. The inevitable outcome is an accelerated process of ignorance, disinterest and relegation of dialogue to those who prefer to denigrate one another and argue that “there is no partner.”
Nevertheless, dozens of Israeli and Palestinian organizations have persisted in holding activities dedicated to advancing peace, dialogue and reconciliation–involving youth, economists, artists, journalists, sport, medical research, capacity building, humanitarian and political issues, demonstrations against the fence, and many other issues. Many of these organizations network under the umbrella of the Palestinian-Israeli Peace NGO Forum, whose objective is to create synergy among them for the greater good.
Throughout the years, there were always some on the Palestinian side who opposed any dialogue whatsoever with the Israeli side. These are not necessarily parties who oppose a two-state solution; rather, they argue that the occupation must end before they can talk with the occupier. These parties began as a negligible minority, but since 2000, their voice is increasingly heard.
In recent years, particularly since official Israeli-Palestinian negotiations ran aground following the removal of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the return of Binyamin Netanyahu to the premiership, this “anti-normalization” line has succeeded in preventing many joint activities. More and more Palestinians are joining the boycott of such activities without distinguishing between Israelis who support legitimate Palestinian rights and those who actively or passively seek to prolong the occupation. In parallel, some doubtful Palestinian actors are exploiting this reality for personal political ends, based on the assumption that extremism attracts supporters and anti-Israelism means popularity.
The outcome is dangerous. Palestinians are, to fall back on a familiar cliche, throwing the baby out with the bathwater. If the intention is to demonstrate to Israelis that Palestinians are justifiably fed up with the ongoing situation, this can only fail: the broad Israeli public is totally uninterested in a Palestinian initiative that essentially hurts only those activities that are fostered by the Israeli peace camp. Indeed, if Palestinians want to signal their anger and frustration to the Israeli public, the best way is actually to expand the dialogue in order to present their views and persuade Israelis to act democratically against their government’s policies.
Lately, this phenomenon has taken a turn for the worse. Not only have Palestinians “crashed” joint meetings and threatened both participants and the owners of Jerusalem hotels where meetings were planned, but they have attacked Palestinian journalists who have ties to Israeli counterparts. One of these Palestinian journalists responded by asking how anyone can expect to see creative solutions to ending the occupation and the conflict if there is no free communication between the two sides.
Some Palestinians argue that joint activities such as those directed against the occupation are legitimate, whereas joint activities like sports and art are not. This takes me back to that recent meeting of the Israeli left, during which a leader of one of the more prominent Israeli organizations that work intensively on ending the occupation and establishing a Palestinian state related that his interest in the issue began years ago when, as a youth, he was involved in a meeting of Israelis and Palestinians who played classical music together.
Palestinian civil society must learn to distinguish between the Israeli governmental system that distances us from peace and Israeli civil society that is the vehicle for change. Palestinians should know that Israeli peace organizations and activists are their natural allies and that, despite their painful frustration, by exercising influence over the Israeli public they can hasten peace and the establishment of a state.
In the course of the past 20 years, the Israeli public has altered its views radically, to the extent of recognizing the need to end the occupation and achieve a solution based on two states and two capitals in Jerusalem. Much of this change can be traced to dialogue and cooperation activities. Severing contacts, threatening and boycotting will ultimately only boomerang against the Palestinian public.
Ron Pundak is chairman of the Palestinian-Israeli Peace NGO Forum
Proposals Include Widening Talks and Unilateral Moves
By Nathan Guttman, Jewish Forward
16.05.12 in issue of May 25, 2012.
WASHINGTON — Once seen as heresy, proposals for bypassing the Middle East peace process — or even jettisoning a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — are increasingly making their way into mainstream discourse while the peace process itself remains mired in a deep freeze.
The spectrum of ideas now being voiced in prominent and respected political quarters range from unilateral steps to be taken by either side, to abandoning the two-decades-old peace process altogether.
Many of these concepts have been around for years. But the long impasse in the peace process and lack of real negotiations is moving them slowly but steadily into the arena where mainstream activists and prominent politicians conduct their debates.
“These are cries of desperation by people who really want peace,” said Robert Danin, who headed the Jerusalem office of the Middle East Quartet, a multinational group tasked with keeping the peace process alive. Now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Danin believes that those calling for drastic measures need to be patient. “Even if the status quo is flawed, it doesn’t mean we just need to do something,” he said.
But for some, the nonexistent peace talks — long suspended over conflicting Israeli and Palestinian demands and preconditions — underscore the notion that the time is now ripe for bolder actions beyond just tweaking the existing process, which dates back to the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords.
“By maintaining what everyone sees as a failed process, we will only increase the conviction that it is futile,” said Robert Malley, program director for Middle East and North Africa at the widely respected International Crisis Group. Malley, who was a special assistant to President Clinton on Arab-Israeli affairs, sees a “groundswell of voices that say we need to change strategy.”
A member of the Clinton peace team at the failed 2000 Camp David summit between Israel and the Palestinians, Malley is co-author of a high-profile ICG report, released May 7, [see post above] that attempts to address what he sees as a “collective addiction” to a peace process that has failed in its actual mission of bringing about peace.
In its detailed research paper, the ICG, which counts Israeli President Shimon Peres among its senior advisers, critiques the Middle East peace process more aggressively than any mainstream institution in recent memory. “The peace process has become low-intensity management of the conflict masquerading as the only path to a solution,” the report states.
Among other options, the ICG proposes a new, broader approach that would incorporate key elements left out of the current process. Instead of focusing solely on establishing two states to address the problem of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza following the 1967 Six Day War, the report suggests putting on the table Arab acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state, as Israel’s current government demands, and resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue, a key Palestinian concern.
In line with this, the ICG report calls for reaching beyond the peace process’s longtime constituencies to draw in nationalist Orthodox Israeli settlers and members of the Palestinian refugee diaspora.
The ICG report also urges the Palestinians to consider the pros and cons of adopting strategies beyond diplomacy within the Oslo framework; among these, popular non-violent resistance and application for admission to international bodies.
The paper pointedly suggests expanding the peace process’s sponsors beyond the so-called Quartet — consisting of the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union — which the international community has tasked with moving the two sides towards a final resolution of their conflict.
“Can it be done? I don’t know,” Malley told the Forward in a May 11 interview. “A lot will depend on whether we can break with the current model.”
Yet another challenge has been mounted by a group of former senior Israeli officers and diplomats whose organization, Blue White Future, advocates “constructive unilateralism” as a temporary substitute for the peace process. The group’s central proposal is a series of measured Israeli steps to ease the pressure on Palestinians in the West Bank and help settlers voluntarily relocate to Israel proper. The suggested steps include a temporary border to be set by Israel that will allow the establishment of a Palestinian state with provisional boundaries, pending ultimate resolution of the border question in final-status talks.
All of Blue White Future’s proposals include at least a temporary bypass of the negotiation track and do not require talks between the sides, which so far have yielded no results.
“Frustration is not a work plan,” said Ami Ayalon, one of the group’s founders, in a telephone interview. Ayalon, a former head of Israel’s Shin Bet, the country’s domestic security service, and ex-commander in chief of Israel’s navy, said that Washington, Jerusalem and the Palestinians are “locked in an unrealistic paradigm,” referring to the current peace process. He is scheduled to present his ideas in Washington on May 17.
But so far, the Obama administration shows no signs of giving up on the peace process paradigm. “The U.S. still believes this issue has a lot of resonance in the Arab world,” said David Makovsky, director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He argued that the lack of movement on the peace process should be seen as an election-related hiatus that could end in 2013.
“This is more of an intermission than the end of the play,” Makovsky said.
Danin said that even in its current state, the peace process has its advantages: “It could have been much worse, and one of the reasons it’s not much worse is that there is maintenance, that we are doing damage limitation.”
For all their heterodoxy, most of these new approaches still focus on ultimately achieving a two-state solution. But in Republican circles, some are now advocating one state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. Illinois Republican Rep. Joe Walsh, a prominent congressional leader of the conservative Tea Party movement, recently called for abandoning what he referred to as a “myth” of two states. Instead he suggested one state, which will be under Israeli sovereignty. Walsh blamed the Palestinians for the failure to obtain two states after almost 20 years of diplomacy.
The Palestinians “will trade their two corrupt and inept governments and societies [in the West Bank and Gaza] for a stable, free and prosperous one,” he said. The Republican National Committee and the Republican dominated Florida state House of Representatives have approved nonbinding resolutions supporting this goal, as well.
Ahmed Qureia, a senior official of the Palestinian Authority who has long been deeply involved in the Oslo process, has also recently spoken out in favor of moving toward a one-state solution — albeit not a Jewish one. Given the lack of results via the peace process, he said in an interview with the British paper the Guardian in April , Palestinians should consider a one-state solution “despite the endless problems it embraces.”
“A one-state solution is not a solution, and neither is dissolving the Palestinian Authority,” Danin responded. “There are no shortcuts.”
Contact Nathan Guttman at email@example.com