Only Comprehensive Peace Can Work
WASHINGTON -- In the course of intensively shuttling between and within enemy groups in the Arab-Israeli conflict in the last two years I have noticed a pattern on all sides: the tendency of even the peacemakers and diplomats to create alliances against someone to be excluded.
"Divide and conquer" is not just an imperial strategy, it is human nature. We tend to be compelled to think in terms of enemies and allies, as the noted psychoanalyst Vamik Volkan has taught in his classic works. An alternative approach must be that no one is left out who can then become a spoiler. Everyone must benefit so that the radicals in each camp will not have a political leg left on which to stand.
Let's be clear on what you can no longer do. You can no longer cut a deal with Palestinian secular elites that has no demonstrable benefit for the Palestinian masses. Everyone rushes in to support them with militant programs: the Syrians, the Iranians, the refugee Palestinian community, really, just about everyone in the Arab and Muslim world.
You cannot ignore the Palestinians and cut a deal with Syria. Iran and Hizbullah will not allow it and, as Bashar Al Assad said recently, you will simply create a Palestinian insurgency inside Syria. You cannot even cut a deal with Syria/Lebanon and the Palestinians, because Iran is determined to be a spoiler. To think that you can simply divide and conquer the Syria/Iran axis without Israel and the US paying a price in return is to treat enemies with intellectual contempt.
You also cannot cut a secular deal that does not address the way in which this conflict is framed and supported by millions of Muslims worldwide, not in the age of Al Qaeda and Salafism. You cannot cut a deal with resident Palestinians that leaves out the refugees.
You cannot get the Israelis to the table without the US Congress and presidency, and you cannot divide them from the State of Israel because the American Jewish community will not let that happen. And you cannot cut a deal with secular Israelis hoping that nationalist religious Israelis will just go away and not resort to violence.
Instead, peace must be about the enticement of all parties away from the waste of destructive human relations.
The secular Palestinian leadership and moderate Israeli leadership got very close to what they needed from each other at Camp David and Taba in 2000. What was not included were Syrian needs, Iranian needs, needs of the Palestinian poor, needs of Muslim conservatives, needs of Israeli Arabs or Palestinians, and needs of the Israeli and Jewish hardliners.
Those who were missing at Camp David did very well in destroying the progress that was made by a variety of violent and political means, including settlements, suicide bomb funding, a worldwide campaign of Jew hatred, clever sidelining of the American Congress and presidency from any constructive role, endless provocations on the ground, and insults to Palestinian dignity. The recent war in Lebanon simply confirmed the awesome power of the spoilers.
Here is what is needed for any future plan to work:
1. Both the Palestinians and the Syrians must be at the table at the same time. Moderate Syrian leadership wants political victories such as the return of the Golan and a return to legitimacy on the global stage. The spoilers in Syria want the status quo of violent control and corruption, but they would be powerless before a serious inclusion of Syria by America, Israel, and the Europeans.
2. The Iranians want security guarantees from America in exchange for giving up their genocidal rhetoric regarding Israel and their nuclear arms ambitions. This is the only way to sideline the extremists and bring back the moderate clerics into power. The only way to know if this would work, however, is to negotiate with them, develop mutual steps of confidence building, and verify the results.
3. Poor Palestinians need evidence that this process will tangibly and immediately change their lives for the better during the process. There will have to be a series of agreements between the sides on how to react to spoilers and their provocations without holding the Palestinian masses hostage to revenge and collective punishment.
4. Conservative Muslims need to be persuaded by evidence that both Israel and Palestine will be places in the future that respect and care for Muslim families and their needs, their holy places, and their dignity. Any peace process of the future must have a social, economic, and cultural component that builds confidence in this new reality.
5. The Jewish community, hardline Israelis, and especially religious nationalist Jews need to be convinced of one thing as they are asked to give up territory - a far greater sense of safety, security, and acceptance in the Arab and Muslim world. They will need evidence that is also a part of this new form of peace process.
6. Palestinian refugees need compensation; they need acknowledgement; they need a serious stake in the new Palestine; and I believe that they need some symbolic welcome to, at the very least, visit their old homeland inside Israel. The two-state solution may be a necessity, but ultimately Jews and Palestinians need to feel welcome and equal in each other's lands.
7. Israeli Arabs need absolute equality, culturally and economically. They are the living symbol of whether the Arab world sees the possibility of Israel in the midst of Middle Eastern culture or not. This equality need not impinge on the Jewish quality of life in Israel. It simply must be that Israeli identity is multi-cultural and non-racial in every sense.
Any future process must offer concrete steps that will both entice all seven of these actors, but also test all these actors; hold their feet to the fire, evenly and fairly, in order for the remaining spoilers to truly be isolated and silenced politically, morally, and psychologically.
Marc Gopin is the James Laue professor of world religions, diplomacy, and conflict resolution at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. This commentary was provided by the Middle East Times.