Making peace between Israelis and Palestinians, is it time to take a different approach?


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The May 2021 violence between Israelis and Palestinians was the latest deadly eruption in a decades-long conflict that has proven immune to attempts to forge a comprehensive peace. We asked two Middle Eastern experts to assess what can be done now to promote peace. Academics Raslan Ibrahim, assistant professor of political science and international relations at the State University of New York at Geneseo, and David Mednicoff, chair of the Department of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, both imagine that there is a way forward, although their scenarios are very different.

A human rights-based peace plan – Raslan Ibrahim

Following the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas after the Gaza conflict, the international community became more interested in promoting the peace process between Israel and Palestine.

So far, however, the traditional approach to conflict resolution has failed to achieve peace in Israel / Palestine. But as an expert on human rights and Middle Eastern politics, I believe it is possible that a different approach, which uses a human rights perspective for conflict resolution, could produce what the old approach couldn’t.

Human rights are practically absent from the peace agreements that have been reached over the years between Israelis and Palestinians, despite the role of human rights violations in the causes and consequences of this conflict. The Oslo Accords, signed in 1993, and subsequent peace processes demonstrate an almost complete divorce between the concepts of peace and human rights.

Multiple factors explain the exclusion of human rights in the Oslo accords.

First, Israel’s relative power and its interest in security and stability – not human rights and justice for Palestinians – influenced the peace accords.

Second, the Palestinian Authority, which serves as the Palestinian government in the occupied territories, tends to focus more on the Palestinian state and the right to national self-determination and less on other basic human rights, including civil rights. and political and economic, social and cultural rights. Strikingly, the Oslo peace process ultimately led to the establishment of Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and Gaza that violate the human rights of their own people.

Third, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is generally defined as a territorial conflict. This leaves human rights as a national issue that would not be addressed in the negotiations.

Finally, mediators have apparently adopted the traditional approach to conflict resolution which sees human rights as irrelevant or even at odds with conflict resolution practices. Obviously, this prospect did not succeed in ending the conflict.

On the other hand, what are the main elements of the human rights approach?

The human rights approach affirms that the principles and practices enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Covenants – including equality and non-discrimination; participation, inclusion and accountability; and the importance of the rule of law – should guide all stages of the peace process. The principles of human rights also provide clear and objective criteria for monitoring the implementation of a peace agreement by the Israelis and the Palestinians.

This approach calls for inclusiveness and participation in the peace process, not only of elites but also of others, such as victims of conflict, women’s organizations and non-governmental organizations.

The human rights approach aims to achieve a particular type of peace that would include negative peace – the absence of war and violence. It also seeks positive peace by addressing the root causes of the conflict and putting in place institutions and structures that create and maintain peaceful relations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Finally, this approach seeks accountability and redress for victims of the conflict through a variety of mechanisms, including truth commissions, reconciliation, criminal prosecutions and reparations. Human rights violations and past injustices must be tackled to achieve legitimate and lasting peace. Otherwise, untreated grievances can be manipulated for future conflicts.

The human rights approach to conflict resolution is not a panacea. But it has distinctive advantages that facilitate the negotiation process and can bring lasting peace, security and human dignity to Palestinians and Israelis.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, US President Bill Clinton and PLO President Yasser Arafat at the Oslo Accord signing ceremony in September 1993.
Vince Musi / The White House

A “good deal” – David Mednicoff

The recent outbreak of the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict shows both that the problem is not going away and that the prospects for real progress remain bleak.

Thoughtful commentators argue that long-held hopes of separate independent states for Palestine and Israel have been dashed by the growing presence of Jewish-Israeli settlers in the West Bank and the lack of will or ability of leaders on both sides to work towards a two-state agreement. .

Many experts argue that the only way forward is to assume the two-state solution is dead and pair it with pressure to improve the economic and political status of Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

But can Palestinian rights really improve in the face of the power of the Israeli state and the inaction of the world?

US President Joe Biden’s unexpected tendency to dig deeper into domestic politics at least suggests the merit of considering a different and more ambitious approach to the Palestinian-Israeli dispute: a large market.

This idea seeks to broaden the political scope of diplomacy to address the Palestinian issue in tandem with long-term goals shared by many states in the Middle East and around the world. These include regional stability, economic growth, conflict reduction, especially in Yemen, and resolving the Syrian refugee crisis.

In return for diplomatic relations with many states in the region, Israel would negotiate major material improvements and, ideally, a territorial home acceptable to the Palestinians.

Specifically, a large market would mean Arab countries would establish relations with Israel, and Israel would provide real political autonomy and facilitate investments and economic improvements for the Palestinians. The wider region, hopefully including Iran, could focus on developing trade, long-term growth and improving human security.

Current regional policy opens the door to such an approach. For starters, the new Israeli government following the electoral defeat of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could benefit from accelerating stable economic and political ties with other countries in the region, which is only likely if conditions for Palestinians are right. discussed. Major Arab states, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, would be better off if they could openly continue their relations with Israel. Such a change is possible due to the opening of official relations in 2020 between Israel and several other Arab states, including the United Arab Emirates.

Meanwhile, the power best known to be a thorn in the side of Israel and Saudi Arabia and other powerful Arab states, Iran, may simply be willing to tone down its more aggressive militarism in the Middle. East if trade and other economic benefits of diplomatic standardization were on the table.

A large negotiation approach is risky and labor intensive, as working with a range of parties requires special attention to more issues and diverse perspectives.

Yet the shift among Arab governments in Israel’s acceptance in the region, Biden’s openness to large-scale politics, Iran’s relative global vulnerability, and the global wave of opinion against Israeli treatment. Palestinians could constitute sufficiently favorable conditions to make this idea an innovative alternative to the dismal status quo.

A grand negotiation approach could be initiated by the combined efforts of the United States, Europe, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council states and would also likely require the engagement of Russia, Turkey and even China.

Certainly, it would be a difficult and uphill battle to get this range of countries to gain the support of prominent Israelis, Palestinians and others for major change. Yet a truly multilateral coalition might have the diplomatic ties and credibility to get the parties to work in a large market.

Could the promise of greater global stability and large-scale global economic aid enable the major players to think broadly and coherently towards a major regional accord?

Governments in the Middle East are significantly hampered by the fragile security, economic challenges, and high military costs associated with Palestinian and other regional conflicts. Besides the direct loss of Israeli and Palestinian lives due to the violence, the region as a whole is highly militarized and has lost billions of dollars as a result of the conflict. One of the benefits of the recent rapprochement between several Arab states and Israel is that more economic and political elites than ever are working together and may have reasons to prioritize regional prosperity over conflict.

As a specialist in Middle East politics, I guess the odds of a big deal in the Middle East are slim. Yet the Palestinians have sought to internationalize their plight precisely because they are caught between a dead Oslo process and a vision of a one-state solution, in direct contradiction to the idea of ​​many Israelis of a state. Jewish.

Certainly, a significant initiative from a wide range of parties would be required to get this idea off the ground. Yet a grand market strategy, no matter how difficult, offers hope for improving the long-term human security prospects of Palestinians, Israelis and others by favorably resolving their current dilemma, which could be categorically paraphrased. like going big or no house.

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