It’s not about peace

Posted: February 28th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Left, The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments »

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.

7 Comments on “It’s not about peace”

  1. 1 TAl said at 2:12 am on March 1st, 2010:

    SO what do you suggest? You put down the process, but you don’t suggest an alternative. Israel is clearly in the wrong here, but granting “equal civil rights” to the Palestinians won’t be helpful – they want their own country (understandably so), not rights to vote in Israel. Israel could give them all the food they have and grant them access in to Israel for jobs, but that won’t change the situation. What do you propose?

  2. 2 Dr. Jeffrey R. Woolf said at 1:00 pm on March 1st, 2010:

    I am really sorry, but you’ve got it backwards. The problem is much deeper. It lies in a fundamental religious and cultural disconnect between the Muslim world and the Jews. The Muslims cannot, and principledly will not, accept the presence of non-Muslims on what they see as their land. This was true before 1967 and will continue to be true until Islamic culture shifts its emphases, something that only they can do.

    To foist Western concepts upon them is, I regret to say, paternalist (at best ) and racist (at worst).

  3. 3 Carlo said at 2:27 pm on March 1st, 2010:

    Dr Woolf’s claim of a cultural disconnect is incorrect and outdated. The Arab League peace intiative (Beirut, 2002) offered to normalize relations between Israel and the Arab world provided Israel agreed to settle differences with the Palestinians based on UN resolution 194. The offer was reindorsed at the Riyadh summit in 2007.
    It’s not a question of “foisting Western concepts” on anybody but of the occupying power, i.e. the State of Israel, respecting its obligations under international law.

  4. 4 Sydney said at 6:20 pm on March 1st, 2010:

    This is a VERY insightful essay. It is right on. The issue is justice. Peace may or may not follow (It probably will in time since most people who do not feel that an injustice is foisted on them will be less willing to fight.) It should be widely read and discussed.

  5. 5 Pax R. said at 8:54 am on March 10th, 2010:

    Peace is what I stand for (hey, its my name) but I wholeheartedly agree with Sydney. A very important essay that should be read and discussed. Civil dialogue and respectful debate pave the road to the future. Can a simple cardboard robot succeed where world leaders and educators have failed? Tune into Pax101 on Facebook or follow @Pax_101 on Twitter and decide for yourself. It’s an experiment in Israeli-Palestinian peace (ok, justice)-brokerage and social media. Keep debate and conflict resolution going.

  6. 6 Mira said at 9:40 am on March 12th, 2010:

    I cannot agree more!
    This may be the most important essay that I’ve read about the Conflict in a long time. Thank you.

  7. 7 Daniel Chaim said at 10:15 am on March 12th, 2010:

    So under the rubric of “other solutions” you wrote, “a confederation, or ‘one person, one vote.’” Seriously?.. These are the best options you can come up with? Did you get them in the late memo from Arafat, or is it one of the suggestions you decided to heed from Nasrallah? Either of these becomes disastrous for Israel within two generations, likely less. But yes, the article does, have that sense of being imbued with the most enlightened, penetrating and worthy of everyone’s attention insight. Too bad it has to offer only sophistry and naivete.