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Does Israel Need to Convince the Palestinians That It Wants Peace?

How to convince the Palestinians – and much of the rest of the world – that Israel wants peace is a question that stands behind the thinking of many Israelis who occupy the political center or center-left. Numerous friends of Israel internationally also ask the same question.

Various answers are provided. For example, Israel could show goodwill and seriousness by releasing more prisoners and halting settlement construction. Other proposals involve unilateral withdrawals by Israel. Marc Goldberg, a regular columnist with the Times of Israel and Harry’s Place, wants to withdraw all Israeli civilians from the West Bank and leave the IDF in place to prevent disorder and terror. If order ensues, this will be followed by IDF withdrawals and the handover of larger areas of control to the PA.

This is a variation of the approach proposed by Ami Ayalon in Israel and Cary Nelson in the USA, for a unilateral phased withdrawal from the West Bank. Each successive phase of the withdrawal will be contingent on a peaceful Palestinian response to the previous phase. The aim is to withdraw in this manner from up to 85% of the West Bank, by which time, assuming good Palestinian behavior, the situation would be ready for a 2-State Solution to the conflict (for a full-scale destruction of this perspective, see The Folly of ‘Coordinated Unilateral Withdrawal).

An Alternative Question

Revealingly, frustrated advocates of the 2-State Solution and Peace Now have less interest in addressing a similar question to the other party to the conflict: what can the Palestinians do to convince Israelis that they want peace? The lack of curiosity on this point indicates that they consider that a solution to the conflict is in the hands of Israel alone and that nothing is required of the Palestinians.

Consequently, in the absence of thought on this matter, certain assumptions have been dominant. Specifically, as a recent article by Shlomo Aveniri points out (Haaretz 02 October 2015, nicely fisked by Richard Landes on his website, this involves a common misunderstanding of the Palestinian position. According to Aveniri, most Israelis view the conflict as a struggle between two national movements – Jewish and Palestinian. Amos Oz has frequently characterized this as a matter of right vs right, and justice vs justice. In this view, the conflict is between two sets of legitimate nationalisms, between two sets of equivalent rights.

The logic of this understanding is that it provides the basis in principle for an agreement to end the conflict by means of the 2-State Solution. However, not for the first time Aveniri challenges this view:

those Israelis who see the conflict in the framework of a struggle between two national movements assume that this is also the position of the other side
Unfortunately, this is an illusion.

According to the Palestinians’ view, this is not a conflict between two national movements but a conflict between one national movement (the Palestinians) and a colonialist and imperialistic entity (Israel)

Asymmetry of National ‘Rights’

In other words, he is saying that the Palestinian position does not agree with the assumption of mutual acceptance of an equivalent set of national rights. As a result, the reciprocation necessary for an agreement on the basis of the equivalence of national rights is absent. As Aveniri realizes, as long as Jewish national rights are denied, such a solution is impossible, as its reciprocal basis is non-existent. Yet denial of Jewish national rights is explicitly the Palestinian position. Aveniri states:

Moreover, according to the Palestinians’ view, the Jews are not a nation but a religious community, and as such not entitled to self-determination
Because of this, Israel – even in its pre-1967 borders (sic) – never appears in Palestinian school text books; because of this the Palestinians insist never to give up the claim to the right of return of the 1948 refugees and their descendants to Israel.

This is also the reason for the Palestinians obstinate refusal … to accept Israel as the Jewish nation-state in any way whatsoever.

It is also the reason, he says, why the Palestinians never refer to:

two states for two peoples

Aveniri’s two immediate conclusions

Having identified the fundamental Palestinian objections to Israel, Aveniri highlights two immediate conclusions. The first concerns the response to failed negotiations by those who maintain the assumption that their vision of equivalent national rights is reciprocated by the Palestinians:

When negotiations fail, the recipe advocated is to tinker with some of the details, hoping that further concessions, on one side or the other side, will bring about an agreement.

This is, of course, precisely what many in the international ‘community’ also profess. For example, The Economist regularly asserts that everyone knows the solution to the conflict and that the parties were only this little bit apart during the Olmert-Abbas talks. So all that is needed is to squeeze more effort into bridging the narrow gap. This generally means more pressure on Israel.

In contrast to such wishful-thinking, Aveniri’s second insight is that the real rather than imagined positions of the Palestinians means that:

..there are not going to be meaningful negotiations with the Palestinians in the foreseeable future.

Demon settlers and demon right-wingers

Although Shlomo Aveniri’s description of the explicit and standard Palestinian denial of Jewish national rights may be a revelation for many, it is common knowledge elsewhere. In fact, chapter and verse can be found in several articles on this blog (for example, The Israeli Demand that Palestinians Accept Israel as a Jewish State).

Unfortunately, there is a strong tendency in certain quarters to remain ignorant of the actual positions of the Palestinians, at least formally, or to apologetically belittle their importance or even deny them altogether. Instead, they prefer to categorize those who correctly identify fundamental Palestinian and Arab hostility to the existence the non-Arab and non-Muslim state of Israel with disapproving names such as right-wing or settlers. But this merely substitutes what is meant to be a contemptuous name in place of analysis.

In parallel, there is a further assumption in common democratic and liberal usage: that conflict resolution means an agreement reached by compromise that gives each side something but not necessarily all of what it wants. However, the word solution can be used in the sense of a zero-sum solution where the winner-takes-all. In this meaning, there is no getting-to-yes by means of a negotiation embodying give-and-take compromise.

The common aim of Hamas and the PA

Sadly, neither the Palestinian narrative nor the Palestinian rulers in the West Bank and Gaza subscribe to such a compromise approach. Not a single Palestinian leader or party, whether belonging to the PA or their Islamist opponents, is remotely interested in a liberal and democratic win-win solution to end the conflict. Denying any legitimate Jewish national rights on what they consider to be exclusively Arab/Muslim land, they are not primarily opposed to the boundaries of Israel or to its behavior, but to its existence. For them, 2-States for 2-Peoples will not be a happy or reasonable resolution of the conflict, whatever the borders, it will be an act of treason. In short, the Arab/Palestinian view is the exact opposite of the 2-State Solution.

Many understand that the explicit aim of Hamas to dismantle Israel leaves no room for the compromise of the 2-State Solution. Yet they continue to view the PA as a partner for peace. This fails to grasp that the PA rejection of Israel as the legitimate expression of Jewish national self-determination is the equivalent of the straightforward Hamas rejection. In reality, this means that notions of a win-win solution to the conflict are untenable.

This is extremely difficult and uncomfortable for many to stomach. It means a dead-end to the dreams and hopes of the 2-State Solution in which so much time, energy and emotion has been invested. The understandable desire for an apparently fair compromise to end the conflict, has misled them to assume that this is possible for no other reason than that they prefer it to be possible.

The insistence that Israel must make peace with its enemy is a fine aspiration but unachievable if the enemy has not abandoned the aim of destroying Israel. The core problem is that the exclusivity of Arab/Palestinian national claim continues to be the driving force of the conflict in which concessions are never made to Jewish historical links to the region or to Jewish national claims.

This exclusivity extends far beyond the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to a denial of all non-Arab national claims, such as Kurds and Amazighs (Berbers) – the two largest national groups in the world without a state. Not only do such deep-seated cultural and historical attitudes create constant instability in the Arab world, they also present a permanent threat to ethnic and religious minorities.

Further, the combination of a supremacist Islamic theology with historic and ingrained tribal values has produced an identity and world-view that despises compromise and concession as weakness and betrayal. Consequently, a prolonged struggle lies ahead if the Arab world is ever to accept non-Arab and non-Muslim nation states in the Middle East.

Future prospects

Given the Palestinian perspective that the conflict is not between two sets of equivalent national rights, the prospect for 2-States for 2-Peoples evaporates. Furthermore, there is little reason or pressure for the Palestinians to desist from this view. They have Allah on their side, an exclusive sense of Arab nationalism, a historical example of lengthy struggles to expel the Crusaders, and a history of Muslim rule over hundreds of years.

They also enjoy a huge hinterland of Arab/Muslim and other international support, an abundance of fanatical young men, brought up with a lifetime of anti-Jewish indoctrination in a society where the public criticism of Islam is impossible, with the backing of an imminently nuclear-armed power, and clear signs of weakness in Israel and international support for Israel.

These are not compelling reasons to abandon the struggle and reach what to them would be an unnecessary and humiliating agreement. After all, why reach an agreement with what they consider a historical aberration that is doomed in any event? Therefore, as long as this continues to be the case, any agreement can only be an interim, unstable and dangerous phase in their on-going attempts to eliminate the Zionist entity.

The question posed in the title (Does Israel Need to Convince the Palestinians that It wants Peace?) is irrelevant. The Palestinians don’t want to make peace with Israel, they want to get rid of it. Their chief internal rivalries are over strategy to achieve this. Therefore, the real question is how Israel should respond.

A continuation of the view that regards the conflict as a struggle between two legitimate national movements means that a concessions-based policy is bound to be continued in an attempt to reach the assumed mutually acceptable compromise. Naturally, when this view of the conflict is not reciprocated, there is no prospect for the success of this strategy.

By contrast, the recognition that the Palestinians see only one legitimate nationalism – their own – means that a rights-based approach is necessary by Israel. International awareness of Palestinian denials of the rights of national self-determination to Jews that they assert exclusively for themselves needs to be far more widespread. This will weaken pressure on Israel and increase it on the Palestinians.

Therefore, considerable movement by Israel in its diplomatic and hasbara positions is essential.

Jon Dyson

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