by Kobi Michael
Just when it seemed that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had reached the bottom of the abyss and things couldn’t get any worse, we were confronted with Hamas’ bloody takeover of the Gaza Strip. Fateh crumbled before the ideological, organizational and religious fervor of Hamas, and left Gaza under its sole control.
The defeat of Fateh, which lead the national-secular camp, brought about a new reality resulting in the transformation of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians into an interlocking conflict between three political entities: Israel, Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Fateh in the West Bank. However, within this interlocking conflict at least two additional conflicts are intertwined: the confrontation between Fateh and Hamas in the West Bank, and the confrontation between the territorial-political unit in the West Bank and its counterpart in Gaza. Therefore, according to the concepts of Prof. Louis Kreisberg, we face a complex combination of two complex conflicts: interlocking and crossing conflicts.
There are those who see the new chaos as an opportunity to overturn the status quo by deepening the division between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank by strengthening Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). At the same time, there are those who advocate the necessity for the international community to play a role, and even the need for immediate international intervention in the conflict. However, it appears that the enthusiasm for the new turn of events is obscuring the immense difficulties that the new situation presents.
The deployment of an international force in the Gaza Strip is extremely unlikely because of Hamas’ opposition to the idea, Egypt’s opposition to the deployment of such a force along the Philadelphi route, and no less important, the international community’s strong reservations about the potential spilling of their soldiers’ blood. As for the West Bank, the deployment of an international force could not be carried out without the agreement of the parties. Such an agreement is not on the horizon, and even if an agreement were reached, it is extremely unlikely that it would be implemented.
The current reality demands a fundamental change in the accepted paradigms for handling conflicts and in the role of international intervention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No one can guarantee that such an intervention would improve the current situation, but it is clear that without it no improvement is possible.
The paradigmatic change must take place on at least two levels: 1) the strategic objectives of a diplomatic process based on negotiations; and 2) the manner of international intervention in the process. The manner in which Israel and the international community are ignoring the situation in the Gaza Strip will not serve the strategic purposes of any process in the West Bank — perhaps the opposite. It is therefore necessary to engage in opening up the paradigm to enable controlled management of the conflict in the two arenas simultaneously, aiming to reunite the two areas into one political entity, even without territorial contiguity. Each arena requires parallel but separate strategies, and the parameters of the international intervention in each area will differ.
Logic Reversal in the Name of Humility and Historical Reality
The Oslo process, built on the strategy of stages, was meant to bring about the settlement of the conflict by identifying points of agreement as a basis for interim agreements, which would lead in turn to the creation of areas of common interest while improving trust between the sides. These principles are meant to lead to a basis for dealing with the foci of major disputes prior to permanent agreements. The historical evidence proves that this strategy has failed. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak attempted, after seven years, to overturn the strategy of stages by focusing on the core problems (refugees, Jerusalem and borders). This strategy was promoted at Camp David in 2000 but proved as unsuccessful as its predecessor. The conflict spiraled into a vicious cycle of violence, in which it remains to this day. During this period the international community has been unable to come up with a creative intervention and has let the United States run the show, then eventually under the auspices of the Quartet.
The Palestinians continued to evade their responsibility for their actions and fate by adhering to the principle of absolute historical justice, and deceiving themselves into believing that violent struggle could precipitate the achievement of political objectives. Israel played its part by ignoring the importance of the political arena and by adopting the strategy of unilateral conflict management, which peaked with the completion of the disengagement from the Gaza Strip in September 2005.
It seems that the time is ripe to recognize some basic facts of life, the most important of which is the two sides’ total inability to reach an end to the conflict at this time — in the absence of historical maturity and the inability to bridge the gaps in the historical narrative, and in the absence of legitimacy for alternative narratives among both the Israeli and Palestinian public. Two further impediments have been added to this basic limitation: The first is the division that has erupted within Palestinian society and politics and the PLO leadership’s lack of legitimacy to lead a diplomatic initiative that would obligate the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip as well. The second is the weakness of the political leaderships on both sides, most importantly the weakness of the Palestinian leadership under Abbas.
Flour sacks arrive at an UNRWA food distribution center in the Gaza Strip.
(Photo by UNRWA)
It would therefore seem necessary to adopt a measure of humility and conclude that, in the absence of achieving an end to the conflict, the objective should be to accomplish limited political arrangements whose clear purpose would be to bring the Palestinian Authority as close as possible to a state entity. The establishment of a Palestinian state, even with provisional borders, would change the asymmetrical dimension of the logic of the confrontation and would transform it into an inter-state conflict, which is acted out according to the rules of states in the international community. The establishment of a Palestinian state, at the first stage in the West Bank, is likely to lead to the development of various cooperative areas of interest to Israel and Palestine and bring about a dramatic rise in the quality of life of the citizens of the Palestinian state.
The international community has a decisive role to play in such a scenario. However, neither it, nor Israel, nor the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank can ignore the Gaza Strip. At the first stage Israel must cooperate to find the suitable apparatus that will allow the Palestinian entity in Gaza to run itself without setting off a severe humanitarian crisis. Differentiation between the Strip and the West Bank — yes; deprivation and neglect in Gaza — no. In fact this is not possible — unless one also seeks to torpedo the small chance of any settlement in the West Bank.
The process of reuniting the two Palestinian entities must be an evolutionary process, driven by internal Palestinian motives. An intelligent differentiation between the two entities could precipitate the process and lead to unification on the basis of the model and principles developed in the West Bank. Israel and the international community must find the appropriate formula for designing two separate courses of action that would induce change, but both should avoid “social and political engineering” of Palestinian society.
The guiding principle for the courses of action should be based on the idea of creating an opportunity for Palestinians to make their own choices. The political and social transformation of Palestinian society should be implemented by Palestinian “social engineers.” Israel and the international community must aid the Palestinians by providing the possibility and opportunity to effect the change, but the responsibility for effecting the change devolves solely on the Palestinians themselves. They will choose their way and their method with the knowledge that this time, in contrast to the course of history up until now, the responsibility will be entirely theirs. Without responsibility there is no governance; without governance there is no state.
The Role of the International Community and Possible Principles for a Peace-Support Operation
A much more robust and significant international intervention than those implemented so far should be considered in the West Bank. This must be agreed upon by both involved parties and based on the concept of a peace-support operation, with robust components of state-building as well as traditional peacekeeping components.
The purpose of the mission is to guarantee security stability, which will in turn make it possible to lay the groundwork for social, economic and political change, meant to serve the hoped-for transformation in the nature of the conflict. Here it is important to differentiate between the need to influence and enable the change, and being actively involved in the change itself or imposing it on the Palestinians. Both Israel and the international community must learn from accumulated experience and free themselves from Western ethno-centric attitudes, which assume that Western values are universal and relevant to every place, time and context.
The security component of the international intervention must ensure orderly separation by Israel from the Palestinians leading to a coordinated disengagement procedure, with the international task force taking responsibility for the evacuated Israeli area, then handing it over in controlled stages to the Palestinian side while implementing agreed-upon security arrangements. On completion of the handover and the deployment of the task force, the latter assumes a peacekeeping role charged with stabilizing the security situation.
After the initial phase of stabilizing the security situation has been effected, the second objective of the task force comes into operation — the building of the Palestinian state. The major effort in this field is the civilian, social and economic component, which includes robust policing to ensure law and order and the training and strengthening of the Palestinian law enforcement agencies. The stabilization of the security situation will create the basic necessary conditions for the operation of the civil and police apparatuses within the West Bank. The two missions (security and civil) need to be implemented in parallel — the security-military mission is carried out in the areas of contact with Israel, and the civil-police mission is carried out within the area.
In order to ensure success, the criteria for assessing the accomplishment of the operations need to be defined. The monitoring and verification apparatus must be ready to demonstrate determination when it demands that the two sides comply with the commitments that they undertook. Any latitude allowed for non-compliance could carry a heavy price and doom the mission to failure.
It is important to ensure that the mission is based on a clear mandate from the United Nations Security Council, in order to significantly increase its chance of success. It is imperative that the Council grant the task force the power to enforce its mandate. Additional requirements are:
* The task force mandate should be for a period of 3-5 years, as any shorter period would not be effective.
* The integrated task force should include military forces, police forces, civilian experts and instructors, who will help build the Palestinian institutions and instruct the civil servants.
* There should be a prominent presence of representatives of European Union states, similar to the composition of the UNIFIL II force in Lebanon. Alongside the EU should be a strong American component and a coalition of moderate Sunni Arab and Muslim states.
* The basic concept of the mission should be civil, social and economic.
* A coordination and liaison apparatus should be set up with Israel and the PA, which would serve as the basis for a tri-lateral liaison unit.
In parallel with the international intervention in the West Bank, an additional, different intervention apparatus must be set up for the Gaza Strip. There most of the responsibility will fall on the international community, which by means of the intervention apparatus will establish a link between Israel and the Hamas leadership without the two sides having to coordinate directly, at least for the foreseeable future. Most of the efforts in this arena will be humanitarian and will depend on Israeli and Egyptian efforts to allow the subsistence of the Strip — until the two Palestinian entities are unified under a leadership that chooses to live alongside Israel and not in place of it, and that prefers diplomatic logic in place of the familiar chaos, devoid of any responsibility for the citizens, neighbors and the international community.a