The Arab Spring did not bring, as of yet, stability to any country in which it occured, but it did bring forth a new gospel that’s impossible to ignore – the gospel of “The democracy of the masses, and not necessarily of the majority.” Mideast nations suddenly realized their strength and their ability to cause coups and change regimes. The public realized that if there’s a critical mass of displeased people – even if they are not, by definition, a majority – the regime will struggle to rule.
Even a brief scan of the situation makes it clear that all conditions are there for a Palestinian mass to rise up. Enormous tensions and frustration are building up within Palestinians who feel their land is being taken away from them, who see new settlements built every day, and who realize that the state they so wish for is moving away. They can’t even take much solace in the economy anymore. Feelings of oppression and discrimination intensify as rage sets off over the incessant abuse of Price Taggers and their accomplices.
But in my experience, the most dangerous of all is the ever spreading impression among Palestinians that “there is no future, only a past.” The past has nothing good in it, and the future – surely the shared one – no longer exists.
Deep social change is a slow process, which takes place throughout many years and under the radar of Intel and research elements. These have always had a hard time spotting them in time and mainly comprehending what the consequences will be for a generation of Palestinians that was “replaced” (70% of Palestinian population is under 35 years old), a generation that sees the Arab Spring storming in the Middle East, that recognizes the weakness of its own regime, who feels the personal consequences of an economy suffocating under the occupation. This is a generation with a very high percentage of university graduates, but with a rampant percentage of unemployment. Thus, hundreds of thousands of more-or-less educated youth, who grew up under the Israeli occupation, bitter, enraged, frustrated and mainly hopeless, are seeking for a target to be unleashed upon – and it’s easy to guess what that target will be.
We mustn’t forget that Israeli society itself contains complicated tensions between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority – Christian or Muslim – and those tensions can easily feed on what is happening and will happen between us and the Palestinians. Past experience has proven that Israeli Arabs show solidarity with their Palestinian brethren; as they have in October of 2000, in the vast protests during Operation Cast Lead, in incidents at Temple Mount, etc. Therefore, we must take into account this affinity.
All these make up gas fumes in ever rising density – until they reach a level where it will take only spark for them to explode.
Getting out of hand
Such a spark can be a car accident (the trigger for the first Intifada in December, 1987), a Jewish terror attack against Arabs, a rally dispersal gone wrong due to some inexperienced soldiers; maybe even a spreading rumor that won’t be refuted quickly enough.
Palestinians or Israeli Arabs taking to the streets en masse is a completely likely scenario and not at all extreme. It has happened before here and in the last two-three years in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, Turkey, and Iran. Therefore, we must assume it can happen here, as well.
It is in the nature of such events to get out of hand. Even Marwan Barghouti, who was the main instigator of the events that eventually led to the Second Intifada, did not plan in advance that taking to the streets in September, 2000 will turn into an intifada lasting years, with suicide bombings and thousands dead and tens of thousands wounded on the Palestinian and the Israeli sides. He planned for a few days, or weeks, of protests; but the sequence of events, the responses to incidents and the responses to the responses, has driven the situation out of control and deteriorated into a wave of terror which raged for nearly seven years.
Near the point of no return
Can we exit this one way street leading to an infinite conflict? First, a few basic premises are needed for focus.
The two states for two nations strategy is the leading Israeli strategy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I’m a staunch supporter of this strategy, but I believe we are very near the point of no-return from which the implementation of this strategy will be impossible.
The majority of the conflict’s essential problems are centered in the West Bank and in Jerusalem.
The most complicated issues are: Territorial solutions, the right of return, the Jerusalem issue – mainly Temple Mount and the Holy Basin – and the eastern border, the Jordan Valley.
The split in the Palestinian Authority between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip is a critical problem hindering the ability to negotiate and reach a full and final agreement.
The current political map in Israel does not allow for an implementation of an agreement with the Palestinians.
The lack of trust between leaders will make reaching an agreement (such as former agreements) very difficult.
The public atmosphere on both sides is not conducive to building, let alone applying, an agreement.
Any agreement must include a sustainable and long-standing solution of the security issue.
And finally, a question relating to all these points: What would make an agreement effective over time?
Interests to strengthen the agreement
Since the issues on the table are intricate and difficult to solve, our first aim must be peaceful coexistence that will create the infrastructure for a long-lasting, powerful peace. This coexistence must be set on a solid ground of common interests, shared by several circles of “interested parties.”
These interested parties are countries that even in the age of the Arab Spring and the Iranian threat have the most significant interest in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Turkey, and of course, the US, the EU, Russia and other countries. These interested parties contain several circles that can strengthen one another and stabilize the agreement over time.
The first immediate circle must include those who have the largest interest in a lasting agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, as they will reap the most benefit from it: Israel, the Palestinians, Jordan, and Egypt. Involving Jordan and Egypt deep into the negotiations early on is pivotal to the success and future of any agreement that will eventually be reached. Egypt and Jordan’s deep involvement will also provide Abbas with an infrastructure of Arab legitimacy which so matters for him to make crucial decisions.
In order to turn these countries into real, interested parties, during the talks a tapestry must be carefully woven out of the parties’ common interests: Security, energy, water, transportation, economy and agriculture. This tapestry, translated into a series of long-term agreements between the players of the first circle, can create a healthy codependency among them all. Israel, who has strategic access to gas, water desalination, and advanced agricultural technologies, can be a central and influential player on each of those aspects.
The second circle should include Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the Gulf states, which have the financial and diplomatic abilities to support an agreement and aid in its stability. The third circle should include the US, Russia, Europe and other countries that have a clear interest in settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They must create positive incentives, both diplomatic and financial, to all involved parties to reach an agreement.
Only the weaving of a tapestry of shared interests turned into regional agreements can ensure the survival of the future peace deal and the sides’ commitment to it over time. Furthermore, a deep commitment stemming from a deep partnership of Jordan and Syria in the agreement, with clear gains for each country, can promise that both countries will leverage their interests vis-a-vis a future Palestinian state, thus guaranteeing its lasting commitment to any signed agreement.
This commitment is based on the dependency of each country on the other for its existence and its stability as a country, as unhinging this stability can affect neighboring countries as well.
Since the issue of the split between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank is unsolvable in the near future, and since the most critical problems exist in the West Bank, such a settlement must begin in the West Bank through a series of significant, trust building moves right away, that will help create a solution-conductive atmosphere.
This is how to create hope
How can such a process be started when the distrust on both sides is so profound? We must create hope. We must dissolve the Israeli and Palestinian public’s sensation that there’s only past, and make them believe there is also a future. Much like an economy in crisis, the very existence of hope may grease the wheels and aid a process of growth and coming out of the crisis. How can it be done?
First, we must firmly believe in the way and mean it with out very hearts, first of all those we chose to lead us who declare their support of the two states solution.
Second, in order to send a clear message that our leaders do mean peace, we must create a dramatic change in the Israeli political map, which means setting up a new coalition of parties supportive of a peace agreement. The coalitional political map as it currently exists means there is no chance to lead a move towards peace in the Israeli public.
Third, building personal trust between the leaders, as all diplomatic processes between us and the Arabs were built on trust created between our leaders or their representatives.
Fourth, pursuing negotiations as secretly as possible with minimum leaks until an actual outline is formed.
Fifth, changing the atmosphere by leaders on both sides by addressing and talking to the
Israeli and Palestinian societies.
Sixth, to extend generous gestures in order to strengthen hope and trust in the public that something is indeed changing. Two gestures can contribute greatly to strengthening hope:
The first and most important one is the immediate freeze of all settlement construction anywhere outside of the main settlement blocks.
The second is prisoners’ release. Despite my absolute disapproval of releasing prisoners under blackmail for kidnapping soldiers or civilians, I support releasing prisoners as a government gesture to promote a peace process. A gesture such as this, due it its huge sensitivity in Israeli society, must happen at an optimal time and in a way that will maximize its goals.
Seventh – at the right time – making bold moves by Israeli leadership, such as appearing in Ramallah in front of a forum of senior Palestinian officials, or inviting Abbas to address the Knesset – in order to promote peace.
Eighth, VIABILITY FOR LAND. This is the negotiation formula whose purpose is on the one hand to allow for a sustainable Palestinian state and on the other hand to narrow down territorial exchanges as much as possible. Such assets can be, for example: A port or access to sea, partnership in desalination or water supply facilities, committing to provide electricity and gas, starting joint industrial areas to promote economy, and creating jobs.
I believe only the combination of brave leadership, strategic thinking, expectation coordination, creating hope, thinking outside the box and public dialogue on both sides, may lead to a turn that will veer us off the lane which leads us almost inevitably to the next conflageration.