Israel’s Religion of Peace
Following months of stagnation, indirect dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian Arab leaders have opened up through the US brokered Proximity Talks. The US envisages that this first step of communication will lead to direct talks, creating an atmosphere that will enable it to place its own plan for peace on the table.
It seems that at least temporarily, the surface ice is melting. In a rare direct address to the Israeli public on Sunday, chief Palestinian Arab negotiator Saeb Erekat reiterated the PA’s desire for a just peace with Israel, based on the two-state solution.
However, the feeling of DéjÃ vu is just too strong for many; especially those that witnessed past efforts fail first hand. Veteran negotiator Aaron David Miller recently penned a 4500 word essay for Foreign Policy magazine entitled The False Religion of Mideast Peace- and why I’m no longer a believer. In the article he says that religion “is driven by propositions that bind or adhere the believer to a compelling set of ideas that satisfy rationally or spiritually, but always obligate.”
Looking back at his time at the State Department, he outlines three underlying propositions of the Religion of Peace first, pursuit of a comprehensive peace was a core, if not the core, U.S. interest in the region, and achieving it offered the only sure way to protect U.S. interests; second, peace could be achieved, but only through a serious negotiating process based on trading land for peace; and third, only America could help the Arabs and Israelis bring that peace to fruition.
Miller now strongly challenges these tenets and advocates the management of expectations. Over the phone he told me that “no agreement can be reached and we must search for an alternate approach that is both credible and serious.” He referred to Obama as the latest convert to the false religion of peace, expressing concern that he has raised the bar of expectations way too high.
Miller further clarified to me that these propositions are limited and narrowly focused on reflecting US interests in the region, ignoring existential or other threats that Israel may face. There are however a number of other general assumptions in the Israeli manifestation of the Religion of Peace that must be challenged and soberly scrutinized from the perspective of Israel’s interests and policy.
1. The assumption that the Arab-Israel conflict is territorial and not ideological. This assumption has many practical implications. Will for example, a higher standard of living for Palestinian Arabs reduce terrorism?
2. The assumption that Palestinian Arabs would be satisfied with independence and a state of their own within limited borders. How much territory will they be satisfied with? There are certainly strong indications suggesting that a Palestinian Arab state would serve as a stepping stone for further territorial demands and a launch pad for military incursions.
3. The assumption that the negotiating leaders correctly represent the positions of their constituencies. Can Abbas or Erekat speak on behalf of the Palestinian Arab populace? What if an agreement is negotiated and they are subsequently removed from their positions, either democratically or otherwise?
4. The assumption that the solving the Palestinian Arab issue will minimize other threats. Assuming that some agreement can be reached with Palestinian Arabs, would Hezbollah, Syria, Iran Al Qaeda and others be marginalized?
Miller soberly concluded our conversation declaring that “my best analysis strongly suggests that there is no solution,” explaining that an attempt to manage the situation may be the best bet.
Maybe from a US position management is a good idea, but is it the best solution for Israel? Can Israel accept a constant state of war as a default position? With so many young Jews already leaving the country for greener pastures this may strongly affect the already delicate demographic balance in the Holy Land.
Honest critical analysis and detailed assessments must be made of the above assumptions as it may be imperative that Israeli leaders break out of the box, challenge the status quo and start looking for new solutions.
The Author is the director of the Algemeiner and the GJCF and can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org