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 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.


4 responses to “ The Peace Process: the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate

  1. david saks August 25, 2016 at 9:00 am

    It seems to me that pressurizing the Palestinian leadership into making even minimal symbolic concessions is a dangerous game. Once backed into a corner, they have no choice but to reveal their real end-game, which is essentially a variant of the PLO’s notorious “Three No’s” of 1968 – no recognition of or peace with the illegitimate Zionist Entity, at least not as a long-term aim. This they do by instigating fresh waves of terrorist violence, while intensifying incitement against the Jewish state and Jews in general. Under the circumstances, maintaining a fragile de facto peace – albeit one underpinned by smouldering hostility and occasional terror outrages – might be a safer option than pushing one side towards a peace deal they are ideologically and psychologically incapable of embracing, thereby provoking yet another eruption of mad-dog barbarism.

    Liked by 1 person

    • solarplexuss August 25, 2016 at 9:26 am

      I agree. What I mean by creative pragmatism is not to rush things but to see whether in the changed configuration/conditions of a “post-Arab Spring” there may be an opportunity to find a “novel” solution which can be lived with by both sides. This may require considerable participation by other Arab (Sunni?) neighbours and right now I cannot see anything on the horizon. All this may be wishful thinking and it might just come down to who outlasts the other.


  2. solarplexuss August 24, 2016 at 11:34 pm

    I was a little sloppy in my wording when I wrote ” this unresolved conflict poses great danger to international stability…”. I had a broader target in mind than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in isolation which I see as a localised manifestation of the general state of much of the Islamic world in the MENA region and beyond. Having said that I would take you up on a few points. The main one is that I am not at all sure that all Islamist terror can be attributed to a coherent theology of world domination under the aegis of a caliphate. For some philosophical types it may be true but for the ordinary Jihadist it is a whole mix of toxic psychological-sociological reasons under the broad umbrella of a self-righteous Islamic religiosity. I’m not sure that makes it any better or easier to deal with but it is probably more accurate judging from the evidence available. All versions of Islamist ideology from the most intellectual to the most primitive are totalitarian in nature and incompatible with any Western idea of a decent life or a decent society. But it finds a ready audience in the Islamic, backward, tribalised, closed societies of the MENA region and in sections of the Muslim Diaspora in the West and even elements of the Western population itself. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a great rallying cry and diversionary tactic for those Islamists and Western do-gooders who can sweep the blatant incompatibility of Islamist ideology with their own professed beliefs under the carpet by harping on their alleged victimhood as represented by Israel. The ability of elements within the West to entirely divorce obvious Islamist terror and totalitarian extremism from the parent religion of Islam and to see the Palestinians as simply victims with no links to the extremist philosophies of their neighbours is amazing. But no group is wholly divorced from reality and eventually one hopes that the manifest failure of the fundamentalist mindset will strengthen more pragmatic moderate elements within Islamic society. Furthermore questions of sheer necessity may well lead to opportunities for Israel to establish bridgeheads into Islamic societies. The walls are not as impregnable as they may appear at times and Israel is already achieving some success.It is in Israel’s interest to try to hang loose despite the enormous pressures and sense of injustice – often well-justified. Sorry for the length of my reply..


  3. Cjharles Smith August 24, 2016 at 9:40 pm

    Michael – a quick comment from a quick glance: I refer to this note: “…..this unresolved conflict poses great danger to international stability….”
    My impression is that it is very popular in the western world, from the Middle East westwards, to throw out verbally and in the media, the Israeli-Palestine problem as the root of all trouble in the world and therefore a danger…etc. I see this as a result of incredibly successful diplomatic and propaganda work by the small Palestinian leadership – infiltrating every possible forum and pushing their narrative brilliantly and effectively to a highly receptive audience.
    For various reasons that narrative has fulfilled many needs for many countries’ leaderships.
    I don’t believe that this tiny local quarrel poses any real danger to world peace. It’s an illusion, spread, accepted and blown up for ulterior motives – just one of the myriad of farcical, fabricated stories/narratives running around the wild communications media today while nobody can be honest enough to call the king’s no clothes bluff.
    The great underlying force to which this phenomenon gives small but loud expression, is the Islamic extremist drive to convert the entire world to its ways, if necessary destroying any resistance slowly but surely by whatever means is necessary – in this case destroying Israel as a first step. Meanwhile that force is building up and has by-passed stubborn Israel and is carrying on the world struggle further west. For them it is a religious imperative. Israel-Palestine is a by product.



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