The unspeakable tragedy that has unfolded in the sixth Israel-Arab
war should force us to focus on what peace might look like. The
building blocks are clear, but they are threatened particularly by
those who stop thinking when it is most needed. The building blocks
(1) UN General Assembly Resolution 194 and UN Security Council
Resolution 242 demanding the return of Palestinians who so wish and
the withdrawal of Israel to the pre-June 1967 borders.
(2)The resolution by the Palestine National Council of November 15,
1988, thereby accepting a two-state solution.
(3)The proposal by Saudi Arabia in 2002 that Israel withdraw to the
1967 borders in exchange for recognition by all Arab states.
Putting the building blocks in place, we get two states side by
side, with East Jerusalem and most of the West Bank reverting to
Palestine (Israel has already withdrawn from Gaza), the Golan
Heights to Syria, and some minor border problems solved, sometimes
through creative adjustments. It is not a big revolution; it only
takes common sense.
But there are also minimum and maximum demands on both sides.
Palestine has three minimum, non-negotiable demands:
* A Palestinian state in line with (1) and (2) above, with
* East Jerusalem as the capital, and
* The right of return - as a right, the numbers to be
Israel has two minimum, non-negotiable demands:
* Recognition of the Jewish state, Israel,
* Within secure borders.
All five goals are legitimate and compatible. The Palestinian
legitimacy rests on continued residence, and the Jewish legitimacy
on territorial attachment in their cultural narratives, and their
residence in the past. It does not rest on their suffering at
German and European hands. Any territorial bill on that basis would
have to be placed at the feet of Germany.
The demands are compatible because they can be bridged by a
two-state solution alongside the 1967 borders, to be elaborated
Maximalist Positions - How Strong?
But there are also maximum goals: on the Israeli side, an Eretz
Israel - defined by Genesis as lying between the two rivers: the
Nile and the Euphrates. On the Palestinian/Arab/Muslim side, no
Israel at all - that it be erased from the map. These two extreme
positions are obviously incompatible. And they are also
illegitimate. There is more than a de facto basis for the existence
of a Jewish state.
How strong are the maximum demands? A major tragedy is that the war
has not just increased the hatred on both sides; it has also
strengthened the maximalists. On the Israeli side, some will now
feel that the borders between them and their neighbors cannot be
far enough, at least where the disarmament of anyone hostile to
Israel is concerned. And their numbers increased by the day as the
war stretched on. On the Arab/Muslim side, some will feel that the
solution to the Israel-Arab problem is to have no Israel at all.
Their number is no doubt also increasing.
The two maximalist positions are emotionally and intellectually
satisfying: they are simple, easy to understand - and spell nothing
but endless war. The Arabs have to accept the state of Israel, but
not the overextended, belligerent state of today. And the Jews have
to understand that settler colonialism and occupation and continued
expansion will never bring Israel secure borders. The road to
security passes through peace. There is no road to peace that
passes through a security that is expected to be achieved by the
elimination of the popularly supported Hizbullah and the
democratically elected Hamas. What might perhaps work against
smaller and less firmly rooted groups, will no longer work with
And new groups will be emerging all the time. Governments may be
bribed or threatened into acquiescence; the people never. Israel is
supported by increasingly hesitant Western governments, some of
them out of a sense of settler colonialist solidarity, like the
U.S.A., the UK, and Australia. Palestine is supported by the Arab
and Muslim worlds - perhaps 1.3 billion and increasing, as against
a decreasing 0.3 billion among the former.
A Search for a Meeting Point
Hence, a middle position leading to peace must be made equally
compelling. There is the possible meeting point of the 1967
borders, with mutually agreeable modifications, and the idea of two
states with their respective capitals in a Jerusalem that could
become a confederation of two cities: East and West. But two
demands will still have to be met: the Israeli demand for security
and the Palestinian for the right of some-limited-return.
However, Arab recognition is only a necessary, not a sufficient
condition for positive peace. Sovereign states may recognize each
other and still go to war. They must be woven together in a web of
positive interdependence making sustainable peace desirable to
Since Israel wants secure borders, why not focus on the border
countries: Lebanon, Syria, a recognized Palestine, Jordan and
Egypt? Imagine a scenario where the five border countries and
Israel start considering a Middle East Community, along the lines
of the European Community, as a major carrier of sustainable peace
in the region, using the highly successful formula that
accommodated Germany to accommodate Israel.
There would still be the problem of Palestinian return, with close
to half a million in Lebanon alone. And there is also the problem
of some parts of the West Bank forming part of the Israeli
narrative of the past. So why not make an exchange? Some Jewish
cantons in a West Bank under Palestinian sovereignty in exchange
for some Arab cantons inside a sovereign Israel? Both states could
become federations rather than unitary states, which are relics of
the past anyhow.
The latest Camp David negotiations were non-starters because they
fell short on three rather major points:
* East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine;
* A non-negotiable right of return with negotiable numbers;
* Making borders reasonably secure in a peace community, like the
Nordic Union, the European Union, and ASEAN (the Association of
South-East Asian Nations).
Again, this is no big revolution; it is compelling because it is
common sense and is obvious. But not obvious to some Israeli and
Western leaders traveling down the Vietnam trail. The U.S. did not
win in Vietnam and had to withdraw. The same happened to Israel and
will happen again next time. Further down that trail of mad
stupidity lie 9/11 and Iraq (and possibly Iran). Hizbullah is a
part of Lebanon like the Vietcong were a part of Vietnam. And arms
are available and producible.
There was the indiscriminate killing of civilians, in line with the
two points made by the Israeli army chief of staff, General Dan
Halutz: to bomb ten buildings in the Shiite district of Beirut for
each Katyusha missile launched against Israel, and the threat to
"bomb Lebanon 20 years into the past" (El Pais, 28/7; Haaretz, and
the Jerusalem Post). Hizbullah also killed civilians, but the
Israeli ratio was more like 10:1. During the war in Lebanon, much
bigger parts were the victims of collective punishment than Lidice
in Czechoslovakia, Oradour-sur-Glane in France and Kortelisy in the
Ukraine. Are Israeli lives worth that much more than Arab
There is the naïve idea that violence will disappear if
Hizbullah is disarmed in accordance with UNSC 1559. But 1559 makes
no sense without 194 and 242. Israel cannot pick and choose the
resolution it wants, relying on the U.S. forever controlling the
UN. And Hizbullah will be reborn.
A Middle East Community
There is a conflict; the conflict cries for a solution, and the
solution is a Middle East Community along the lines of the
Everybody should work for real peace as a political complement to a
ceasefire. Helping Israel stumble down the Vietnam trail is blind
solidarity, not an act of friendship. Friendship is to help Israel
become a "peacefare" (as opposed to"warfare") state.
Europeans could mobilize the talent and experience of the European
Union to help achieve a sustainable peace, and not for escalation
and endless warfare. This would be an act of true friendship.
And what about Israel itself? The coming generation might do well
to question the wisdom of the major right-wing Zionist ideologue,
Vladimir Jabotinsky, who has inspired Menachem Begin, Binyamin
Netanyahu, and now Ehud Olmert. For Jabotinsky, only two options
seemed to exist: either "impotent, humiliating self-sacrifice or
militant, invincible rage" (Jacqueline Rose, "The Zionist
Imagination," The Nation, June 26, 2006). Jabotinsky considered the
Jews had been humiliated and shamed by violence, and the answer was
militancy and violence. This vision, apart from making violence a
cornerstone of human existence, excludes the third option: peace
proposals, negotiation, settlement, peace.
Another Possibility:Dar al-Ahd:
And the Arabs, the Muslims? They have similar views, but Islam
opens the way for a third possibility-not only dar al-Islam and dar
al-harb (the house of peace and the house of war). There is also
dar al-ahd, coexistence with the infidels, possibly in a community,
not too close, nor too distant; or possibly as an Organization for
Security and Cooperation in the Middle East. The coming political
generations would do well to elaborate this concept in more detail
and without delay.
When will such generations come to power? How far have we been set
back? It is difficult to tell. The three building blocks for peace
have been there for some time. But nothing seemed acceptable to the
Israelis. They never allowed them into their collective mind and
public space. And outside pressure will only confirm the stark
Jabotinsky dichotomy. If Israel wants security, mainstream Israel
must learn to want peace.
That leaves us with the maximalists. Their strongest argument
against the moderates is "Your line doesn't work." And the
strongest counter-argument, as in the case of ETA and the IRA, is
to prove them wrong.