The Oslo Peace Process
The Oslo Peace Process
The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict
Some years ago, most Middle East experts and politicians thought that peace between Israelis and Palestinians was within reach. But as expectations were rising, the Oslo process collapsed almost unexpectedly, and violence and despair replaced hope and optimism. As violence increases and more victims are falling daily on both sides of the conflict, international efforts to calm the situation and revive the peace process are fading. Such a development raises several basic questions, noted among them:
1. What is wrong with the Oslo peace process and why did it collapse?
2. What are the current dynamics of the conflict, and what are options do that the concerned parties have at this time?
3. What should the great powers, especially the United States and the European Union, do to reverse the cycle of violence and achieve peace in the Middle East?
The Collapse of the Oslo Peace Process
Many Middle East observers seem to agree that the Oslo process has reached its limit and is no longer capable of achieving peace. In fact, some people felt back in 1993 that the Oslo process was badly conceived and the Declaration of Principles it produced was flawed. They thought that it produced neither a solid basis for negotiations nor a realistic outline for a mutually acceptable peace settlement. Some even felt that the Oslo process had failed to define its point of departure and, more importantly, its destination.
My first reaction to the Oslo agreement after reading it in the New York Times , months before the signing ceremony at the White House, was, „This agreement as is will only lead to creating a Palestinian administration for continued Israeli occupation.“ Consequently, I wrote a few articles suggesting certain modifications to make the Oslo process work. I wrote, for example, „The momentum and enthusiasm generated by signing the Israeli-Palestinian DOP do not relieve us from the responsibility to analyze the agreement, criticize it, and make suggestions to overcome its weaknesses…The DOP contains no binding principles to facilitate further negotiations and guide peacemaking.“ But the euphoria that accompanied the signing of the agreement at the time made it hard for people on both sides of the conflict to listen to what I and others like me had to say.
When the Palestinians agreed in 1993 to postpone the core issues of the conflict to the final stage of negotiations, they implicitly and unwittingly agreed to consider those issues negotiable. Such issues included the borders of the Palestinian entity that is supposed to emerge at the end of the peace process, the rights of the Palestinian refugees who were subjected to ethnic cleansing in 1948 and forced to leave their homes in what is now called Israel, the future of Jerusalem and its political status, the fate of the Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, and the Palestinian right to self-determination. These issues constitute the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and therefore are largely non-negotiable.
This Palestinian failure has given successive Israeli governments the impression that Israel can control the peace process and determine the shape of its outcome. Shimon Peres, emphasizing Israel's disregard for international law and UN resolutions, said, „We are not negotiating with the Palestinians; we are negotiating with ourselves. The question is how much are we willing to give them. They have no leverage over us.“ The Israelis, employing their military force and the sheer power of occupation, have used every opportunity to buy more time to create new facts on the ground, confiscate more Palestinian land and expand Jewish settlements, tighten Jewish control over Palestinian life, and delay the implementation of every interim agreement they signed with the Palestinians. In fact, no Israeli government has honored a single agreement with the Palestinians, not even the Jericho-Gaza First, which the DOT provided for back in 1993.
For example, instead of implementing the DOT regarding Gaza and Jericho in 1994, Israel increased the Palestinian land it had confiscated in the Gaza Strip by 40% before turning the rest of the land over to the Palestinian National Authority. And since the eruption of the Intifada in September 2000, Israel has confiscated more land in Gaza, destroyed tens of Palestinian homes, and uprooted thousands of trees to enhance the security of Jewish settlements. As for Jericho, Israel changed maps to limit the size of the ancient city to that of a little town, while keeping the water resource on which the whole economy of Jericho depends under full Israeli control.
According to the interim agreements signed by both parties since 1993, 60% of the West Bank was supposed to have been transferred to the PA by May 1999. By December 2001, only 20% of the West Bank had been turned over to the Palestinian Authority. In fact, no redeployment of Israeli forces has been initiated since 1998 and most promises made by successive Israeli governments to both Americans and Palestinians remain unfulfilled. Meanwhile, instead of freezing the expansion of Jewish settlements after signing the DOP, Israeli governments accelerated the pace of expansion, causing the number of Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza to increase from about 250,000 in 1993 to more than 400,000 in 2000. The final stage of negotiations, which was supposed to have been completed in 1998, has yet to start. Consequently, the Oslo process was transformed, through Israeli manipulation and American acquiescence, from a supposedly conflict resolution process into a conflict management scheme.
When former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak made the so-called „generous“ offer to the Palestinian Authority at Camp David in July 2000, the offer fell short of Palestinian expectations and hopes for freedom and independence; it also violated UN resolutions regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict and the rights of the Palestinian refugees. Barak's offer, which was not made in writing, included continued Israeli control of the Palestinian borders with both Egypt and Jordan, annexing at least 80% of the Jewish settlements built illegally and in violation of international law in the occupied Palestinian territories, keeping control of Jerusalem, and giving the Palestinian Authority control over some 70% of the land of the West Bank and Gaza, divided and scattered into small cantons that lack contiguity. As for the rights of the Palestinian refugees that call for return and compensation under international law and according to UN resolution 194, Barak declared, „There are no rights and no return.“
In fact, neither Mr. Barak nor any other Israeli prime minister has ever made a written offer to the Palestinians to settle the conflict and achieve peace; Israeli officials have only expressed ideas to test and gauge Palestinian reactions. Likewise, neither the PLO nor the PNA has ever made a written offer to the Israelis to settle the conflict and achieve peace. Each party knows that the maximum it could offer under current circumstances would not be acceptable to the other, and that no matter how little it may offer its adversary, the offer is certain to face strong opposition from the radicals and extremists on its side. And since no Israeli or Palestinian politician would want to be accused of treason, neither party has made a written offer for a political settlement. Israeli claims to the contrary are mere fabrications meant to deceive the world public opinion and make the Palestinian Authority look like a radical organization not interested in peace.
On July 19, 2001 Mr. Barak gave a speech at the Washington Institute in which he outlined some of his ideas regarding the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations. He said that Israeli leaders should be „tough enough and determined enough to shape a border for Israel within which we will have a solid Jewish majority for generations to come, in a way that will secure and assure Israelis about their direction, their identity…To announce that we are going to shape the future borders of Israel in a way that will include more than 80% of the settlers, a certain strip along the Jordan River that will be needed as a basic security zone, and certain sites on the mountainous ridge for communication and intelligence. But all of these together should not cover more than, at most, 20% of the whole territory.“ And by not mentioning Jerusalem, Barak assumed that Israeli sovereignty over the holy city is not negotiable and that the city, which has been expanded to encompass more than 20% of the West Bank area, will be an integral part of the Jewish state. In light of this „generous“ Israeli offer, Palestinian hopes for peace and freedom began to disappear and be replaced by despair and anger.
What is Wrong with the Oslo Process
The Oslo peace process started in 1993 at a time when both the Israeli government of Yitzhak Rabin and the PLO leadership were facing serious problems that threatened their political survival. Although the problems affected the Israelis and Palestinians in different ways, both parties realized that they needed each other to survive and that there was no military solution to the conflict. The Oslo process gave both antagonists a good excuse to recognize each other and a timely opportunity to start a process of negotiation to settle their differences. The major problems, which forced both Israelis and Palestinians to accept the principle of compromise and seek mutual recognition, included:
The eruption and intensification of the first Palestinian uprising, or Intifada, which began in December 1989 and continued through 1993. The Intifada , while exposing the cruelty of Israeli occupation, especially in light of Rabin's policy of „beating Palestinian children and breaking their bones,“ helped the Palestinian people regain self-confidence and resolve to end Jewish occupation and colonization of their land.
The United States recognition of the PLO and the opening of a dialogue with it in 1989. US recognition of the PLO signaled to all parties concerned, especially to Israel, that the US considers the PLO the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and an indispensable partner in the search for Middle East peace. Consequently, Israel felt that it had no choice but to follow the US lead, recognize the PLO, and seek accommodation and negotiation with it.
The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War. During the war, Iraqi missiles were able to fly over Jordan and hit their targets inside Israel, exposing the limits of territory as a guarantee for security. This led enlightened Israeli politicians to realize that territorial compromise, not territorial expansion, is the way to enhance Israeli security. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians lost their jobs in the Arab Gulf states and were forced to return to their homes in Jordan and Palestine. And this, in turn, led many Israeli Jews to realize that most Palestinians had no place to go besides their own Palestinian homeland, and that no alternative Palestinian homeland existed or was possible outside the historic borders of Palestine.
The failure of the Madrid peace conference and the working groups it created to make meaningful progress towards resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The support extended by the PLO to the Iraqi leader during the Gulf crisis caused Mr. Arafat and his organization to lose the sympathy and financial support of the Arab Gulf states. By the end of 1992, the PLO was on the verge of collapse and the Intifada was getting weaker while its leadership was slowly losing control. This led the PLO to accept the Oslo framework as a possible solution to its own dilemma, and as a way to translate the sacrifices of the Palestinian people into tangible political gains on the ground. Israel, on the other hand, saw in a much-weakened PLO a disoriented player to manipulate. The Oslo agreement, moreover, provided Israel with the means to monitor PLO movements and put its leadership under constant Israeli control and surveillance.
The Oslo process, therefore, was a framework to facilitate mutual recognition and negotiations, which the circumstances had forced upon both Israelis and Palestinians alike. Both the PLO and the Israeli government needed the Oslo process to weather the storm of the Intifada and the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War. And while the Israelis saw the Oslo agreement as an experiment in peacemaking, the Palestinians saw it as a foundation to end Israeli occupation of their land, regain long confiscated rights and freedom, and build an independent Palestinian state.
The Israeli negotiators, who negotiated the Oslo accords and the interim agreements that were to follow, were able to outsmart the Palestinian negotiators; the Israelis had more knowledge and experience, more information, and much better legal advice than their Palestinian counterparts. The Israelis also had the American mediators on their side, constantly intimidating and pressuring the Palestinians to make one compromise after the other. Consequently, the Israelis managed, to their detriment, to ignore UN resolutions, overlook the principles of conflict resolution, and manipulate the Oslo process. By manipulating the peace process the way they did, the Israelis outsmarted not only the Palestinian negotiators, but also themselves.
As successive Israeli governments continued to confiscate more Palestinian land and build new Jewish settlements, the settler population grew and so did Palestinian radicalism and Israeli insecurity. During Mr. Barak's short tenure in office, for example, the settler population increased by 13,000, while no land was transferred to the PNA, not even 1%. This fact alone should serve to expose Mr. Barak's hypocrisy regarding his intentions to make peace with the Palestinians. Today, no Israeli government seems capable of abandoning the Jewish settlements, even for the sake of peace; and no peaceful settlement with the Palestinians is possible without dismantling, at the very least, the majority of the Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. On June 1, 2001 the Economist of London criticized the Israeli settlement policy saying, „The settlements negate all chances of Israeli-Palestinian peaceful co-existence.“
Professor James Ron of The Johns Hopkins University wrote, „If Israel is ever to dismantle settlements, withdraw from East Jerusalem and relinquish its grip over Palestine, it must first undergo a traumatic internal upheaval,“ which no Israeli government seems willing to risk. The Israelis, by adopting and diligently pursuing an expansionist, colonialist policy in the occupied territories, have created a frightening ghost whose very existence drives the Israeli public toward more radicalism and polarization and deepens its fear and sense of insecurity.
Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza present today the most difficult problem facing negotiators; they complicate the search for peace, encourage extremism on both sides, and give the Israeli army an excuse to harass and constantly punish the Palestinian people for loving their land and trying to defend their homes. In the name of security and the need to protect Jewish settlers, the Israeli army continues to restrict the movement of Palestinians, build more roads on confiscated land for the exclusive use of Jewish settlers, and vastly undermine the capability of the Palestinian economy to grow. Jewish settlers, meanwhile, have been allowed to carry arms, intimidate Palestinians and disturb their lives, and rampage freely through Palestinian villages and neighborhoods, smashing windows and setting fire to Palestinian shops, cars, crops and trees.
As a result, the suffering of the Palestinian people has continued to increase and intensify, causing their hatred of occupation and mistrust of Israelis in general to grow and deepen. Professor Shlomo Avineri of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem said on November 28, 2000, „The Oslo process was aimed at creating confidence-building measures. We now have less confidence than we had the first day after Oslo.“ On August 10, 2001, Avineri was quoted in the Washington Post as saying; „We remain in a neocolonial relationship with the Palestinians, which forces us to do things that are incompatible with being a democracy. It coarsens Israeli life, making us all racists. Every time we see an Arab, we assume he's a terrorist. And it is utterly demeaning for the Palestinians, who are lined up and searched like cattle every day. We need to get out of each other's hair.“
Mistakes made since the start of the Oslo peace process were not committed by Israel only; the Palestinians and Americans have also made serious mistakes and share the blame for the collapse of the Oslo process. The Palestinian Authority, for example, has accepted interim agreements, such as the Hebron agreement, that should never have been accepted. For the sake of some 50 Jewish families living as settlers in the city, one-third of the population of Hebron was put under Israeli military control and denied the freedom and dignity they are entitled to. The PA, moreover, has largely ignored the Israeli and world public opinions and failed to address their concerns and explain its case and commitment to peace. The PA has even failed to expose the failure of Israeli governments to honor their political commitments as stated in the Oslo accords and in the subsequent interim agreements signed by both parties. And when it became obvious that the American team of mediators was biased and could not be trusted, the PA could not muster enough courage to ask president Clinton to appoint a different team.
Nevertheless, the most damaging mistake the PA has so far made is its failure to take the initiative and offer a visionary proposal to settle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the basis of international legitimacy. By limiting its actions to mere reactions to vague Israeli offers and rejecting most of them, the PA appeared to the outside world as a force of rejectionism not interested in peace. Meanwhile, the PA allowed itself to drown in political and economic corruption, damaging the Palestinian image worldwide and in the process, losing the confidence of most Palestinians and Arab and non-Arab donor states.
While the Oslo peace process allowed the Israeli government to buy more time and manipulate the situation on the ground, it gave the American administration a veil to hide its real face, continue to support Israeli actions and inhumane policies, and protect the Jewish state against international criticism, while claiming to be an honest broker. The Clinton administration in particular committed several mistake in dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict, noted among them:
1. It abandoned previous American pronouncements as it ignored the US-coined „land for peace“ formula and stopped referring to UN resolutions 242 and 338 as the proper frame of reference for negotiations and peacemaking;
2. It accepted the pace of negotiations dictated by Israeli leaders, particularly Barak, and refused to apply pressure on the Jewish state to honor its commitments regarding the implementation of the interim agreements;
3. It refused to condemn the Israeli settlement policy; it even stopped calling Jewish settlements illegal or even an obstacle to peace;
4. It provided no new ideas to help bridge the gaps that separated the Israeli and Palestinian positions, and refused to allow other parties to lend their experience, particularly the Europeans; and
5. It entrusted the entire peacemaking process to a biased Jewish-American team that lacked stature and never hid its commitment to defending every Israeli policy, including its expansionist settlement policy.
The first American team to meet with the PLO leadership in Tunisia following the signing of the DOP in 1993 included, among other Jewish-Americans, Dennis Ross, who was later appointed head of the American mediating team, and Martin Indyk, who was later appointed US ambassador to Israel. Because of their unyielding commitment to the Jewish state and its expansionist policy, the PLO was unable to have a rational dialogue with either Ross or Indyk. Instead of asking the American team to help facilitate negotiations with the Israelis, the PLO had to ask its friends in the Israeli Labor party to help negotiate with the supposedly unbiased American team.
The Dynamics of the Conflict
Despite the cease-fire brokered by CIA director George Tenet in June 2001, violence has continued. Sharon's demand that a total cessation of violence for one week must precede any talks with the Palestinians has effectively killed all chances of stopping the attacks and counter-attacks and resuming the search for peace. In an editorial published August 2, 2001, the Washington Post noted that Sharon's „government has never stopped its assassination operations---making its own condition [for a cease-fire] impossible to meet.“ And as violence continues, the economic, political and security conditions on both sides of the conflict worsen. For example, the Israeli economy has stagnated, causing unemployment to rise substantially and tourism to decline dramatically. Israeli exports have dropped by about 60% since September 2000, and foreign investment, a sign of international confidence in Israel's economy and political stability, has also declined substantially. Meanwhile, Jews are leaving Israel in large numbers for the United States and Europe, and more settlers are either leaving the occupied Palestinian territories or expressing their desire to leave if the Israeli government would help.
Mr. Barak's misguided policies regarding the peace process, on the one hand, and the ascendance of Mr. Sharon to power, on the other, have led to the disintegration of the Israeli peace camp. Consequently, political and ideological polarization within Israel has deepened. In light of the Intifada , the Israeli attacks and Palestinian counterattacks, security has worsened and fear among Israelis has spread. The loss of Jewish self-confidence is probably the worst damage the Israeli society has suffered so far. No Israeli man or woman today feels secure enough and confident enough to lead a normal life and entertain long-term dreams. Repeated Israeli assassinations of Palestinian activists and Hamas's suicide bombings in retaliation have worsened the security situation in Israel/Palestine and hardened feelings on both sides of the conflict.
As for the Palestinians, the conditions under which they live today are much worse than those prevalent in Israel. Palestinians are governed by a cruel military occupation that makes hell look attractive to many of them. Since September 2000, the Palestinian economy has contracted by more than 30% and unemployment has risen to some 60% in the Gaza Strip and to more than 40% in the West Bank. Poverty, as a result, has spread and deepened, creating conditions conducive to crime and lawlessness. And to end their misery and avenge humiliation, many Palestinians are being driven to kill themselves and their Israeli torturers.
In light of these developments, all parties to the conflict, including the US, seem to have lost the options they may have had in the past. While Mr. Arafat may be able to reduce the level of violence, it is doubtful that he can stop the Intifada . Even if he could, ending the Intifada would mean losing the last and only bargaining chip he currently has to pressure the Israeli government and hope to extract some concessions from it.
Mr. Sharon seems to be driven by the „Greater Israel „ idea that calls for expanding, not freezing, Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. Meanwhile, his harsh policies towards the Palestinian people have proven counterproductive. „It seems increasingly obvious that Israel's long-term policy toward the Palestinians isn't working,“ wrote David Ignatius in the Washington Post on December 8, 2001. „The Palestinians aren't intimidated by the threat of retaliation, and they aren't encouraged by the promise of peace. Instead, they grow bolder and more desperate year by year. And Israel grows less secure.“ Mr. Sharon, as the tragic events of the last year have demonstrated, is neither capable of providing the Israeli public with the security he promised, nor can he entice more Jews to settle in the occupied territories. In its December 3, 2001 editorial, the Washington Post referred to Sharon's policies and concluded that his „tactics such as the invasion of Palestinian cities and the assassination of Palestinian militants, while weakening Mr. Arafat, do not stop terrorism or make Israelis more secure.“
The only option that a growing number of Israelis and Palestinians seem to think they have today is to commit more violence and cause the other to pay a heavier price. But in pursuing such a strategy, both parties have found themselves marching further and deeper in the dark alleys of radicalism and fatalism. Prince El Hassan Bin Talal said recently, „We have moved from a peace process, interrupted from time to time by surges of violence, to a state of endless violence that has gained an unexpected momentum.“
The United States under President Bush has also lost its options; in fact, Mr. Bush came to power determined not to have an option. The US administration's apparent decision to disengage from Arab-Israeli peacemaking on the one hand, and its continued support and protection of Israel on the other, have led to the widest and deepest anti-American feelings in the Arab world. The United States does not only supply the Jewish state with the weapons to kill and maim Palestinian children, it also supplies the armored bulldozers Israelis use regularly to destroy Palestinian homes and unearth their trees and crops. The United States gives Israel today, as it has for the last 20 years, an average of $10,000 per minute, $600,000 per hour, and almost $14 million a day. Since the day the United States committed itself to protecting Israel's security and maintaining its military edge over Arab states, the United States ceased to be a third party, or an honest broker. It actually became a party to the conflict, supporting the Jewish state and denying the Arabs the opportunity to regain their rights.
Between September 2000 and December 2001, the number of Palestinians killed by the forces of the Jewish state has averaged about 60 a month. Since the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza is only about one-hundredth of the American population, the 60 Palestinians killed every month amounts to 6,000 Americans, almost double the number of the American victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. The Palestinians, consequently, have to endure a September-size massacre every other week at the hands of the forces of the Jewish state.
The Bush administration, by focusing „its sights on the domestic politics and the sensibilities of a pro-Israel congress,“ as the Washington Post noted on August 1, 2001, „has lost its ability to develop a Middle East regional policy.“ On the other hand, American policy toward Iraq and the proposed „smart sanctions“ are destined, if they are to be implemented, to enable the US, just like Israel, to outsmart itself. A regime of sanctions as envisioned by the Bush administration would more likely be forced on Jordan and Turkey but not on Syria or Iran. Such a development, while worsening Iraq's relations with some of its neighbors, is more likely to create new causes for conflict among Iraq's neighboring states. And this, in turn, is certain to deepen anti-Americanism in the region and cause regional instability to become structural.
Today, while violence goes on and radicalism on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict claims more followers and legitimacy, the international community seems unable to do anything to arrest the deterioration. The German Frankfurter Rundschau noted on May 22, 2001, „ Never before has the world stood so helplessly by [while] peace in the Middle East could be buried under the victims of suicide and missiles attack.“ The Mitchell Report, which calls for stopping violence and freezing the expansion of Jewish settlements, does not and cannot provide a solution to the problem. It promises both antagonists, if they were to implement its recommendations, that the search for peace would be resumed. And since the Oslo peace process has already collapsed, the Mitchell promise is nothing more than a detour to take the antagonists back to a process that promises more failure and despair. The Financial Times of London said that the Mitchell report has „no timetable and no mechanism for implementing the steps to peace.“
A general feeling seems to have emerged that Israelis and Palestinians are unable to work together and make peace without outside help and pressure. The French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine said on July 7, 2001 in Rome that „the outside world is becoming convinced the Israelis and Palestinians are no longer capable of resolving their differences on their own…We cannot leave the Israelis and Palestinians alone in this atmosphere of growing hate and panicky fear.“ The Washington Post wrote in an editorial on July 21, 2001,„The Bush administration, faced with this difficult and deteriorating situation, appears at a loss about what, if anything, to do. The dilemma the administration faces is that if it leaves the Palestinians and Israelis to their own devices, the situation will only grow worse.“
Nevertheless, in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the US, the Bush administration recognized that there is a link between the US Middle East policy and the terrorist crimes. On October 7, 2001, president Bush said that his administration had been working on an outline for an Arab-Israeli peace plan that envisions the establishment of a Palestinian state. Weeks later, Secretary of Sate Colin Powell talked about Palestinian suffering and the need to end occupation. No doubt a call for ending occupation and supporting the establishment of a Palestinian state are music to the ears of all Palestinians. However, talk remains mere talk until a plan is developed to translate it into a program to crate a new reality on the ground. The war on terrorism, described by President Bush as a huge long-term undertaking that requires patience, perseverance and Arab cooperation, provides both Americans and Arabs with a unique opportunity to envision a new US Middle East policy committed to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict in its entirety and to helping the region recover from decades of conflict and hatred.
Having failed to settle their differences, most Israelis and Palestinians seem also to have concluded that their only hope is to have the international community conceive and „impose“ a settlement on them. Two Israeli cabinet members have expressed such a wish confidentially to visiting European and American experts. Israeli defense minister Ben Aliezer said on July 22, 2001 that he would accept a foreign force to monitor the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories if such a force were to be imposed on him. This simply means that he would accept an internationally ‘imposed' settlement to end the conflict. Uri Avnery wrote on October 6, 2001 in the Israeli paper Ma`ariv , „at this time only foreign intervention can put an end to the violence and promote the peace.“ Several Palestinians have also expressed their conviction that the only way out of the current dilemma is to have an internationally ‘imposed' settlement before radicalism and fatalism transform the conflict into an existential and self-destructive war.
The July 25, 2001 joint declaration by Israeli and Palestinian intellectuals and political activists calling for an end to violence and a return to negotiations is another indication that enlightened people on both sides of the conflict see no alternative to peace and peaceful coexistence. The signatories stated, „We refuse to accept the ongoing deterioration in our situation, the growing list of victims, the suffering, and the real possibility that we may all be drowned in a sea of mutual hostility…In spite of everything, we still believe… that a negotiated solution to the conflict between our people is possible.“
The Role of the Great Powers
In light of this sad reality, the only option that the Arab and Israeli antagonists seem to have today is to have the international community develop a comprehensive peace plan to resolve the conflict in its entirety and create an effective mechanism to implement such a plan. The great powers, the US and the EU in particular, should use all the carrots and sticks they have to persuade the parties concerned to accept an internationally sanctioned plan to end the conflict, restore stability and security, and achieve peace. Although peace in the Middle East is not a guarantee that terrorism will end, peace will certainly delegitimize the forces of political radicalism and religious extremism that underpin terrorism in most Arab and Muslim countries. The September tragedy has made it crystal clear that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians, nor the Americans will have peace and security until peace prevails in the Holy Land.
While neither the United States nor the European Union is capable of producing a comprehensive settlement by itself that stands a good chance of being accepted by both Arabs and Israelis, the parties most involved in the conflict are capable of producing such a plan. Over the last two decades, more that 50 Israelis and Palestinians have participated with distinguished Americans, Egyptians, Europeans, Jordanians, and Russians in numerous dialogue groups and political and academic forums to narrow the gaps that separate Arabs and Jews in general and to reconcile Israeli-Palestinian differences in particular. A small group of such Israelis and Palestinians, aided by an equal number of Americans and Europeans, should assume responsibility for developing a comprehensive peace plan to be presented to the world community at large, and challenge the great powers to back it and use whatever leverage they may have to entice or even force all concerned parties to accept it and implement it in a timely manner.
After such a peace plan is developed, the American and European governments should cooperate to secure UN Security Council approval and proceed to present it to the concerned parties on behalf of the world community. Meanwhile, internationally renowned intellectuals, journalists and former politicians would be asked to support and promote the plan. Such a concerted effort is certain to increase the pressure on all parties concerned and make it difficult for either party to reject the proposed peace plan.
In fact, it would be almost impossible for any Israeli government to reject a peace plan that America stands firmly behind; no rational Israeli politician would risk alienating the United States and angering the American people who have already suffered more than their fair share of international terrorism. The Arabs likewise would find it extremely difficult to reject a plan that enjoys European backing and risk losing Europe's sympathy after having lost America's. Furthermore, an internationally sanctioned peace plan that enjoys the full backing of both Americans and Europeans would give leaders on all sides a legitimate excuse to accept the proposed plan and override the objections of the radical forces within their ranks and among their populations.
Dr. Rabie is a professor of political and economic studies at Al-Akhawayn University in Morocco. He has lived and studied in 4 continents and has published 20 books. He has written more than 50 academic papers, taught or lectured at more than 30 universities, and participated in some 70 conferences throughout the world. His writings, interests and institutional associations reflect a deep commitment to peace and freedom and dialogue among different peoples and cultures. His latest book, „The Making of History“ was published August 2001.