A Site devoted to Israel and the Clash of Civilizations

 The Peace Process: the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate

The name, “Peace Process”  obscures the reality that much of the process has been diplomatic shadow boxing devoid of real intent.  To many observers the conventional timeline* of high-profile initiatives represents a testament to the failure of the contestants to arise above the strategic constraints set by their respective histories and agendas, and to the impotence of the global community.

Assuming for the moment the mantle of “impartial observer”, the fundamental outlines of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle can be very simply stated. In the late 19th century a small band of mainly secular Jews  from Eastern Europe initiated a remarkable project of national renewal based on broadly democratic-socialist principles. Arising out of their own socialisation within the embrace of Jewish culture and history they focussed their attention on the small strip of land alongside the Mediterranean from which sprung the biblical origin of the Jewish nation.

Over the next few decades in a stuttering process of successive aliyas, bands of idealistic Jewish youth arrived to create the “new Jew” in the unfamiliar harsh environment of swamp and rock between the Mediterranean to the West and  the Jordan river to the East. Contrary to the comforting slogan of “a land without a people for a people without a land”, the area was indeed occupied by Arab-Muslims in what was a neglected and backward part of an Ottoman Empire in a state of decline and imminent collapse.

It was not ideal, but in the real world of hard choices it could have been worse. The land was relatively empty and impoverished and the majority inhabitants were mainly small peasants, traditional farmers and nomads organised in a traditionally clan-tribal configuration  with a small middle-class of educated Arabs plus a few grander families with political ambitions. Ideas of statehood and modern peoplehood were largely (not entirely) absent and the chief organising political principles were the Islamic religion and clan loyalties.

As conflict in Europe worsened over the first half of the 20th century so did the position of the Jews. What had begun as a relatively small number of idealistic pioneers seeking national transcendence in the land of their forefathers, became a deluge of Jews seeking escape from rapidly deteriorating conditions. This was no scaremongering as the Shoah demonstrated with unparalleled ferocity. The die was cast: necessity came into conflict with obdurate resistance.

There seems little purpose attempting to assign guilt to any of the parties involved at this point in the evolution of the conflict. Neither emerge as angels, but the Jewish-Zionist imperative of a secure homeland for a Jewish state was unacceptable to the regional Arab-Muslim majority, long accustomed to the subservient position of Jews (and other non-Muslims), and desperately seeking self-affirmation in the catastrophic  aftermath of the collapse of the Ottoman empire and the obvious technological-military superiority of Western nations.

This central dynamic has continued to drive the actors to the current impasse. In fact the positions of the chief protagonists have become clearer over time. Israel has grown into a diverse, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural state with a thriving innovative, technologically advanced economy within a robust democratic system. While many social problems and internal inequalities exist, the position of Israel on international ratings of health, democratic institutions, freedom of expression, rule of law and economic performance are comparable to advanced Western democracies and way out of the range of her neighbours.

The Palestinians on the other hand continue to reflect much of the dysfunctionality of the region: corruption, pervasive and virulent anti-Semitism, random and Jihadist-inspired violence, low social trust and the absence of a binding ideology beyond that of victimhood and resistance. The consequences of this cultural-religious-political complex has destabilised the region and has threatened the rest of the world with mass migration and Islamist-inspired  terror.

The normal Jewish obsessions with security and identity are reinforced by these developments while, at the same time, they sharpen intra-Jewish conflict with a minority wedded to universalist positions on social-political issues. Also the progression of the Arab-Muslim world towards meltdown has sharpened the ability of extremist  groups to scupper reform and pragmatic political initiatives within the Palestinian camp. Interference by outside actors has ranged from the well-meaning but inept to the positively destructive. These political realities are reflected in national narratives, policies and attitudes which obstruct any progress towards a common ground.

The main losers under these conditions have been the Palestinians specifically and the Arab-Muslim community more broadly but this unresolved conflict poses great danger to international stability and polarises internal intra-state ideological differences. For the present, peace is a distant mirage and the two-state option has no hope of implementation by either party in a form acceptable to the other.

It may be argued that chaos is a better place to look for opportunity than unrelenting stalemate. So this may be the time to seek opportunities in the violent flux of events and perceptions to nudge on-going political developments and Jewish-Arab relationships  into more productive paths. If there is a special Jewish gift for combining creativity with pragmatism this may be the time to take it out of mothballs.

*Conventional Timeline:

  1. UN Security Council Resolution 242, 1967
  2. Camp David Accords. 1973 (Sadat, Begin, Carter) which produced 2 “agreements”
  • Framework for Peace in the Middle East – never implemented
  • Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel – still viable
  1. The Madrid Conference, 1991 (US and Soviet sponsors. Jordan Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Egypt invited). This may have laid the ground for the eventual peace treaty with Jordan in 1994
  2. Oslo Agreement, 1993 (Clinton, Rabin, Arafat) Never fully implemented but followed up at Taba in 1995, Wye River in 1998 and Sharm el-Sheikh in 1999)- unsuccessfully.
  3. Camp David, 2000 (Clinton, Arafat, Barak) failed with follow-uo at Taba, 2001
  4. Arab Peace Initiative, 2002
  5. Roadmap 2003 (US, EU, UN, Soviets) Aimed at phased implementation – failed so far.
  6. Geneva Accord, 2003 (Informal – Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo)
  7. Annapolis, 2007 (Bush, Omert, Abbas and many others) failed
  8. Washington 2010 (Obama, Netanyahu, Abbas and others)failed

Mike Berger

Written in response to a request. Tell me if anyone finds it a useful guide.


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