In a conflictual environment, where the stakes are higher than usual, each word, each line and name on a map, each gesture matters. Standing on opposite sides of the divide, antagonists argue, voice claims and counterclaims, sometimes even apply coercion – all to enforce their will and prove how right they are and how wrong the other side is. A zero-sum strategy often produces cycles of violence, casualties, and destruction, accompanied by fear, pain, and trauma.
That has been the reality of Israelis and Palestinians and why their struggle is so invasive and intractable. Since its creation in 1948, Israel has not overcome being a country in conflict. Palestinians have longed for independence and statehood for decades. Their experiences have not engendered hope or justice. The negative images of the 1947-49 Al-Nakba (Arabic for “catastrophe” or “disaster”) and its resultant dispossession, and subsequent events such as the June 1967 War and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, the First Intifada (1987-1993), and the Second Intifada (2000-2005) – all influence their worldview and pervade their lives.
There have been many missed opportunities for peace. While there are serious differences between Israelis and Palestinians, many actions and excuses have been used to justify positions and policies. Israeli leaders rush to create one fait accompli after another without genuinely envisioning a State of Palestine as a legitimate neighbor, and Palestinian leaders are consumed with redressing past injustices, with some not truly envisioning a future with Israel in it. Others sit on the boundary, become proponent of the party line, or espouse maximal demands and undertake aggressive actions.
This special issue of the Journal of South Asian and Middle East Studies contains seven analyses on the challenge and prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. A particular emphasis is placed on peacemaking and peacebuilding, as both are necessary for the successful resolution of protracted conflicts and the creation of a sustainable culture of peace. Another relates to the issue of Palestinian rights in the pursuit of national self-determination versus the issue of Israeli security. A third pays attention to the role of other actors (e.g., the United States and Arab countries) in Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking.
Daniel Kurtzer, the S. Daniel Abraham Professor of Middle East policy studies at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, presents the components of Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking. In his view, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolvable and the contours of a fair settlement are embedded in the minds of a majority of Israelis and Palestinians. Although this is a protracted conflict, substantial progress toward a resolution has been achieved since the 1990s. Ultimate success will depend on the parties reaching a reasonable middle ground on the core issues; the methodology for the parties to engage and negotiate; the local politics, regional dynamics, and international environment conducive to creating a supportive atmosphere for taking the risks associated with peace; the ability of both societies to withstand the risks and shocks associated with peacemaking, and to not be deterred by the opponents of peace and spoilers who try to derail the process; and leaders who have the vision, will, strategy, ambition, and influence to navigate the course toward peace.
Approximating the ideal has been extremely difficult. Most Palestinians and Israelis know that those involved in peacemaking are not always on target. Salam Fayyad, former prime minister of the Palestinian Authority and currently a Visiting Senior Scholar and Daniella Lipper Coules ’95 Distinguished Visitor in Foreign Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, sees the causes of failure in the peace process as deeply rooted in basic design flaws in the overall framework within which it was pursued. From his perspective, that framework came to formally enshrine preexisting asymmetries and used a transactional approach to conflict resolution that predominantly favored the Israeli side, while not fully acknowledging Palestinian rights, including their pursuit of “a meaningful empowerment agenda.”
Sam Bahour, Palestinian American businessman and entrepreneur, highlights the struggle for national self-determination. For him, this struggle cannot come at the expense of the struggle for rights and vice versa. These two processes are simultaneous dynamics: one process focuses on the rights of the individual (political, human, and civil rights), while the second focuses on the rights of the nation (national rights, specifically self-determination). The mutuality of these processes – rights and politics – are two asynchronous and inseparable tracks. He argues for leveraging the extensive support of civil society throughout the world to urge countries to act, politically and otherwise, in support of the Palestinian “just and internationally aligned struggle for freedom and independence.”
An Israeli perspective on a national strategy for peace is given by Gilead Sher and Adelaide Duckett. Sher, currently the Isaac and Mildred Brochstein fellow in Middle East Peace and Security at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, and Duckett, a political science student at the University of Chicago who interned at the Institute for National Security Studies during summer 2019, working under Gilead Sher and the Center for Applied Negotiations, argue that Israel has not consistently pursued a structured, strategized peace policy. Due to multiple pressure and security concerns, it has been inclined to prefer stalling progress in favor of the status quo. Consequently, the discourse on peace in Israeli society seems to have reached a stalemate, where the hope for change, and more particularly for an Israeli-Palestinian co-existence initiative, no longer has any place on the public agenda. Prospects for a renewed commitment to peace efforts could be improved by political leadership trust-building initiatives, effective mediation and leveraging of aid by the United States, and grassroots efforts to alter both the public mindset and the Israeli political climate to support peace endeavors.
A specific case that complicates the Israeli national security agenda and the prospects for peace is no other than the Israeli settler project, which is explained by Sarah Yael Hirschhorn, Assistant Professor of Israel Studies at Northwestern University. Over the past 50 years, she writes, the settler movement has evolved from an “accidental empire” to a seemingly permanent apparatus in the West Bank. The constituency has also changed dramatically – from a handful of Jewish-Israeli religious activists inspired by a messianic imperative to live in whole of the land of Israel (with tacit government support) to a fully state-sponsored securitized suburbanization movement comprised primarily of economic settlers. The Green Line has essentially been erased and the enterprise normalized in Israeli discourse. While the settler movement is actually less ideological than in previous years, which could offer new alternatives in a disengagement strategy, the future of the two-state solution, especially the Trump peace plan, looks increasingly dim.
The challenge of peacebuilding is examined in two subsequent articles, with the first on the Israeli peace camp and the second on the role of education in peace. Galia Golan, Darwin Professor emerita of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where she was chair of the Political Science Department, looks at Israeli civil society efforts that are focused on peace. Fully active in some of them over the years, she explains how there have been many, quite varied organizations since the 1967 war. These appealed to different audiences, employing different tactics and, sometimes, within quite different organizational frameworks, for example, women's groups and bi-national groups. She addresses these differences, including the goals, while also relating to changes over time (in response to contextual developments), difficulties encountered, and conclusions drawn by some, as well as prospects for the future.
Saliba Sarsar, Professor of Political Science at Monmouth University and guest editor of this special issue, studies education and peacebuilding in Israel and Palestine. After reviewing the environment in which learning occurs, he presents the institutional and organizational frameworks through which varying perceptions of peace and peacebuilding materialize. He then analyzes facets of the competing historical narrative issue in order to discover “the truth” and arrive at common ground, which is essential if dialogue, peace, and reconciliation are to grow. He calls for seeking a common language for dialogue and for having our words, actions, and interactions become inclusive and meaningful. These are critical as Israelis and Palestinians meet each other anew, as equals, acknowledging their shared vision and mission.
This special issue would not have been possible without the invitation and guidance of the staff of this journal, specifically the Rev. Kail C. Ellis and Ms. Nadia H. Barsoum, as well as the authors for their interest and valuable contributions. Heartfelt thanks to all.
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