The Real Reasons Behind the Arab-Israeli Conflict
By Tawfik Hamid
The Arab-Israeli conflict has repeatedly been resistant to negotiated solutions. Despite peace treaties such as the Oslo Accords, hatred toward Jews and Israel has risen to unprecedented levels in the Palestinian areas and continues to rise in much of the Muslim world. This consistent lack of progress should lead us to think anew about the underlying causes.
The view that solutions for the Arab-Israeli conflict have failed because of what some in the Muslim world call the "expanding and colonizing ideology of Zionism" is unfair and devoid of truth. Israel proved its dedication to peace when it withdrew from Sinai, Lebanon, and Gaza in hope of peace with its neighbors.
What, therefore, are the real factors causing the repeated failures of negotiated attempts to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict? What perpetuates the stalemate?
One of these factors is that Palestinians do not accept the existence of Israel.
Until Palestinian leaders, in both Arabic and English speeches, declare that Israel is their legitimate neighbor whom they no longer will strive to overrun, their participation in negotiations is fake, hypocritical, and doomed to fail. It is impossible to negotiate with a partner about borders if this partner does not accept your existence to begin with.
The second factor blocking progress is the selfish mentality of the Palestinian leadership. Palestinian leaders seem to be interested in proving their "merit" by destroying Israel than in gaining a better life for their people. True leaders must be ready to make concessions to ensure a better life for their people.
Until Palestinian leaders are ready to make such concessions to the Israelis, the problem will not be solved.
A third factor is the international community's naive belief that less radical Palestinians are "moderates." Fatah is not much different from Hamas in its refusal to accept that Israel is an established country with the same right to exist as any other country in the world. Fatah is also virtually identical to Hamas with regard to its promotion of extreme anti-Semitic and anti-Israel propagandist incitement.
Considering the Fatah leadership as "moderate" because they are less radical in terms of their Islamic practices is like considering stage III cancer as a "benign" tumor because it is less malignant than stage IV cancer.
The fourth reason that makes things worse is that the Palestinian leadership prefers to live and to make their population live in delusions rather than in reality.
Just recently, an official Palestinian report claimed that a key Jewish holy site Jerusalem's Western Wall has no religious significance to Jews. It is impossible to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict if the Palestinian leaders insist on living in such delusions instead of admitting the archeological reality that Jerusalem's Western Wall is Jewish. Problems are not solved by living in fabrications and lies but rather by facing and admitting realities.
The fifth factor that aggravates the inability of Palestinians to participate as serious partners in peace discussions is that the Palestinians of Gaza who elected Hamas have not had to pay the price for their choice.
Hamas was elected on the promise of the Muslim Brotherhood that "Islam is the solution." Allowing Palestinians to see that Hamas is unable to fulfill its promises would weaken radical Islam in the area. European and American economic support for Gaza under the banner of humanitarian aid masks the realities of the radical group's poor governance and enables them to survive.
With Hamas still strong, Gazan Palestinians have zero interest in cooperating with peace arrangements negotiated by the West Bank's PLO leadership. To the contrary, their version of Islamic doctrine forbids any accommodation with the Jewish state.
What about Israel's role in the stalemate? What mistake does Israel continue to make?
The fifth factor inhibiting progress has been insufficient use by Israel of negative consequences, perhaps in part because their American and European "allies" would balk at such tactics.
Israel, for instance, could announce that it will build a certain number of new West Bank towns every year, or will annex land in the West Bank each year, unless and until Fatah and Hamas accept the minimal principles necessary for Israel to participate in any further negotiations.
These principles would include:
- Declaration of the right of the Jewish state of Israel to exist;
- Cessation of both verbal incitement and physical violence against Israeli civilians and;
- Implementation of all previous agreements between Palestinians and Israelis.
President Obama's pressure on Netanyahu to make further concessions to recalcitrant Palestinian leaders adds yet another obstacle to peace. Concrete evidence shows that unilateral concessions from the Israeli side without significant concessions from the Palestinian side are counterproductive.
Unfortunately, given the mentality of the Palestinian leadership, a strategy by Israel and its allies of negative consequences is probably the only strategy with potential to, at last, give peace a chance.
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