The barriers to a lasting peace in the Middle East can be overcome if a two-state settlement is pursued, contend the authors, an Israeli and a Palestinian. An excerpt.
To judge by the historical record, the most ardent proponents of a negotiated peace between Israel and the Arabs are neither Israelis nor Arabs. Instead, would-be mediators--foreign governments, voluntary organizations, and well-meaning individuals--display the greatest impatience for a peace settle ment. Between the two protagonists most directly involved, there has been an abstract desire for peace, but there has generally been far less enthusiasm for negotiations.
A two-state settlement provides the only viable basis for resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian--and hence the Israeli-Arab--conflict. There is, of course, no way to prove or disprove the belief that returning, more or less, to 1949 boundaries and setting up a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza is valid. Nonetheless, experience and reason strongly indicate that even the most determined effort by either side to pursue more ambitious objectives will produce, at best, continuing political stalemate and, at worst, greater damage to both sides.
Opposition to a negotiated peace under any circumstances was the prevailing attitude on the Arab side until the late 1960s, when various Arab spokesmen began to speak of conditional acceptance rather than categorical rejection of peace with Israel. Although some fundamentalist and nationalist organizations still maintain a rejectionist posture, the situation has evolved to the point where principled rejection of peace through compromise is not the declared policy of any major Arab government or of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
For all practical purposes, this obstacle no longer exists--at least at the formal level. However, doubts remain on both sides about real intentions and hidden agendas. Among Palestinians, there are those who still believe that Israel is programmed to expand at the Arabs' expense and that Israeli statements about a willingness to negotiate are not credible. Similarly, among Israelis there are those who believe that Palestinian conciliatory statements are not to be trusted and that even if an agreement were achieved, it would not be honered, or, alternatively, that a two-state settlement is unstable and would collapse regardless of the intentions of the other side.
To some extent, these attitudes reflect a resigned fatalism that gives more weight to inscrutable forces of history than to human agency and betrays introversion and cynicism. Such attitudes shut doors to creative policy-making and become self-fulfilling prophecies of doom.
The Israeli skepticism about the possibility of peace is also due, in part, to a tendency to equate peace with some idyllic vision of harmony, where there are no resentments, no animosities, no disputes and no contradictions. This is a view of history and politics that bears no relation to reality, even for countries like those in Western Europe, among whom the idea of war has become virtually unthinkable.
Peace is not the absence of conflict, but rather a state of affairs where conflicts that do exist are resolved, or at least managed, without the threat or use of force. Goodwill may encourage people and states to maintain this state of affairs over time, and goodwill may, in turn, be reinforced by the habit of peaceful coexistence, but the main factor in determining whether peace prevails is self-interest.
A two-state settlement would not eliminate all grievances or satisfy all claims, but its overall parameters would meet many essential needs and create many constituencies whose interests would be jeopardized by a belligerent policy. It is thus highly probable that rational Palestinian governments would not risk the loss of all that had been achieved to pursue more ambitious objectives that would have little chance of being realized.
No contractual agreement can immediately transform the Israeli-Palestinian or Israeli-Arab relationship from one of intense animosity to one of great affection and intimacy. Peace, at least in the early years, should be viewed as a mechanism for damage limitation through coexistence rather than as the realization of a vision of brotherhood and goodwill.
And yet, while it may be utopian to expect Jews and Arabs to love each other (even the British and the French have not yet reached that stage), it is not unreasonable to hope that the experience of a qualitatively different relationship will put an end to the negation and demonization of the past.
1991 by the Foundation for Middle East Peace. Reprinted with permission from Hill and Wang.