One of the common mistakes done when discussing the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is in setting peace as the goal of the political process. It is not only wrong, but also counter-productive, and in the end, serves mainly those who which to maintain the current state of affairs. This is not to say that we shouldn’t wish to end all hostilities between the two sides, but rather that to do so, we must change the way this story has been framed since the beginning of the nineties.
First of all, we should be realistic. As we learned in Gaza, an Israeli withdrawal does not promise an end to the violence. Both sides still have conflicting interests which might lead to the use of military power, and in both sides there are elements that will try, at least in near future, to sabotage any agreement by violent means. It’s clear that the more good faith Israelis and Palestinians show today, the easier it will be to stabilize the region, but more than forty years of occupation will inevitably leave plenty of bitterness on the Palestinian side even after the last soldier leaves and the last settlement evacuated; the evacuation of settlements on the Israeli side bring its problems, and the huge socioeconomics gap between Jews and Arabs on such a small territory won’t help either. So we shouldn’t promise that public something that will be hard to deliver.
Even more important is the image created by all these talks about peace. for many people – and this is something I’ve noticed especially in the US – it seems as though there are two equal parties, almost two states, who are entering a diplomatic process to sort their on-going differences. But there is only one state here. Israel is negotiating – when there are negotiations – with the people who are under its own control, and for which it is refusing to grant civil rights.
In other words, talking about peace hides the real nature of the problem, which is the occupation. When we set peace as our goal, it means that the absence of peace – meaning the violence – was the problem. This is true for the Israeli side, but it’s only partly true for the Palestinians. Their main concern is the lack of civil and human rights. For them, the violence that they suffer is only the result of the initial problem, which is the occupation. By talking about peace and peace only, we are accepting the Israeli definition of the problem as well as its solution.
When we discuss peace, only the two state solution is acceptable, since that’s how you make peace – between states. On the other hand, if it’s a human or civil rights problem, we can also think of other solutions, such as a confederation, or “one person, one vote”. These ideas are totally unacceptable for Israel, so again, by returning to the idea of “the peace process” the world actually chooses the Israeli narrative over that of the Palestinians. I even think that by this endless talk of the would-be-Palestinian state, we almost tend to believe that such state exists, or that at least the Palestinians are running their own lives, when in fact, the army’s control over the West bank has never been tighter, and the measures against the Palestinians have never been harder. Not many people notice that, because in order to understand what’s going on now, when there is no apparent violence, we must ask questions about rights, not peace.
Israeli governments have understood this long ago, and that’s way they never had a problem to enter negotiations with the Palestinians (at least not in the last twenty years). As long as we discussed national security and containment of violence, these endless talks only increased the international legitimization of Israel’s presence in the Palestinian Territories. Advocates for Israel became experts at finding evidence for “incitement” and “propaganda” on the Palestinian side, which served as proof that the other side doesn’t want peace, so we can and should go occupying their land and running their life forever. But ask Israelis and their supporters why Palestinian civilians are tried in military courts without due process for more than 40 years – or any other question concerning civil rights – and you start get funny answers.
That’s why I hate these debates, so common in both Israeli and Jewish politics, on whether or not the Palestinians really want peace. it never gets you anywhere. Each party holds an elaborate theory on why everything is the other side’s fault, with all sorts of historical “evidence” to back it up. This whole concept of a “national desire” for peace is absurd. How can you measure such abstract notion? But these debates do serve the current Israeli interest well; much better than talking about civil rights, which is a simple concept that anyone can understand, measure, and even worse – identify with.