A Director’s Clash

The reception to the film Eshtebak (“Clash”) could not have been further apart within Egypt and abroad. When the film was selected to premiere at a sidebar screening for the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, it won instant critical acclaim. It was later submitted to the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 89th Academy Awards but failed to earn a nomination.  Back at home, the backlash was severe, causing the film’s commercial release to be delayed and its director to be publicly accused of being a traitor on national television. Ultimately, the strong reaction caused by the film mirrored Egypt’s fraught political climate.

Eshtebak—screened at the American University in Cairo (AUC) in the spring—delivers a hyper-realistic and gritty portrayal of the social divisions following the deposal of then-President Mohammed Morsi. The camera does not leave the confines of the eight-meter-square police truck, which quickly fills to capacity. From the mix of detained protestors found inside this single-moving stage, the main tension develops between Muslim Brotherhood and pro-army supporters.

The film captures this politically divisive and polarized time in Egyptian history when revolutionary sentiment following the 2011 uprising had dissipated into a contested political game between the military leadership and the Muslim Brotherhood. Despite all the controversy it caused, “this film is actually about coexistence and anti-hysteria,” explained director Mohamed Diab, who also directed 678, a hit feature film about sexual harassment in Egypt. Diab delivers a powerful critique of polarization and hate through the film’s depiction of a society riven by political disagreement in post-revolutionary Egypt. Although the film never stakes out a specific political position, the narrative implies a potential for an alternate reality in Egypt. “My job is to dream,” he added, “We, as filmmakers, are not politicians. We need to preach the idealistic approach.”

The film, however, drew overwhelming reactions from pro- and anti-government groups within Egypt. “The way the [viewers] reacted was a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Moez Masoud, one of the film’s producers present at the screening, said. “We lived through a time when we had one hegemonic narrative, and after 2011, we have two hegemonic narratives.”

During production, the crew encountered numerous hurdles, including financiers pulling their funding and difficulties passing the censorship board. Some even risked their personal safety and reputation—Masoud, for instance, was deemed a traitor in the media by both sides of the political spectrum, of which he quipped: “I couldn’t be a traitor to both sides at the same time, it is just logically impossible, yet there it was.”

The film’s heavy emphasis on the fractures within Egyptian society makes the fleeting moments of humanity more profound. The budding love interest between a young teenage nationalist and a veiled Muslim Brotherhood supporter points to a shared human bond. Singing well-known songs, debating Egyptian soccer, and sharing memories of the revolution exemplify collective social cohesion.

Diab, who co-wrote the script with his brother Khaled, originally ended the film by crashing the truck into the Nile River, causing all of the characters to drown. Instead, a more ambiguous ending thrusts the characters into the mercy of a mob of protestors that tries to aggressively enter the truck. The audience is left uncertain of the characters’ ultimate fate. “I think people are going to learn to live together when they realize that they are all in that car together,” Diab said. “And if we go to the wrong direction, we are all going to drown together, or we’re all going to survive together.”

Oriental Hall, etc.

Omar Robert Hamilton has chronicled the Egyptian uprising in many forms: essays, films, and even video footage. He added fiction to his oeuvre with his debut novel, The City Always Wins, published in June 2017. The HUSSLab, a research initiative focused on promoting public humanities in Egypt and the Global South, held a discussion with the novelist and filmmaker at AUC Tahrir’s Oriental Hall, who explained that his novel attempted to capture “a psychological access to a point of time.” “The novel gained that knowledge trajectory of what life feels like,” he added, especially during the 2011 uprising and the events of 2013. The poignant and psychological qualities of Hamilton’s novel caused it to resonate not only with Egyptians, but also with those who watched the uprising from afar. “Those years don’t just matter to us. The revolution was actually an event of major world importance.”

In 2014, the Kurdistan Regional Governorate in Iraqi Kurdistan and Iran began negotiations on a pipeline that would export Kurdish oil to the Persian Gulf via Iran. The new pipeline could bring Iraqi Kurds one step closer to economic and national independence, but will most likely foster greater division among Kurds, who have different allegiances with Iraq, Turkey, and Iran, argued Cameron Bell, former aide to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in a lecture hosted by AUC’s Middle East Studies Center called “Redrawing the Map: Pipelines and Politics in the Kurdish Quest for Independence.” “Within Kurdistan, there is a nasty fight over access and power and monetization of these assets,” Bell said. “Rather than uniting the Kurds, their oil assets have divided them.” Bell also highlighted other regional implications the deal could trigger such as greater dependence on Iran, pushback from the central authority in Baghdad, and possible tensions in Kurdistan’s relationship with Turkey and the entire region.

Remembering Nubia

Government plans to begin construction on Egypt’s High Dam in the early 1960s decided the fate of the Nubians forever. About fifty thousand Nubians were to be relocated, and their long, straggling villages along the Nile River banks drowned under a massive reservoir created behind the dam. Suddenly, scholars and academics woke up to the urgency of salvaging what they could of the endangered Nubian life, culture, ruins and monuments, and estimated four-millennia-old civilization. Anthropologist Fadwa El Guindi was on one such mission.

At 23, she left Cairo for Nubia to conduct salvage ethnography on an expedition organized by the Social Research Center at the American University in Cairo (AUC) beginning in 1960. The Nubian Ethnographical Survey, which spanned fifteen years and produced five major studies of Nubian communities, culture, and social organization, was intended to serve as a handbook for Egyptian resettlement authorities.

But it did not. The government moved Nubians en masse into dense settlements near the upstream, sleepy sugar-refining town of Kom Ombo, almost forty kilometers north of the city of Aswan. Others migrated to urban centers in Cairo and Alexandria. Over the decades, the Nubians had to cope with the consequences of forced displacement writ large by what they endured from marginalization and alienation, to dashed hopes of ever returning to their villages, and an Atlantean loss of culture, language, and memories of home. Stationed for a year among the Metokki-speaking Kenuzi Nubians—also known as Kenuz—El Guindi caught a glimpse of Nubian life before it was permanently altered by the move.

At a talk at AUC, the distinguished professor of anthropology and AUC alumna spoke of what the government can learn from social scientists. “Looking back, the Nubian Project is one of the largest, most successful of anthropological data-gathering expeditions worldwide,” she said, “The government needs it more than academics, and it is very relevant to development in Egypt today. When you hear about situations of Nubians being unhappy when they got relocated, go back to the knowledge that was built.”

When El Guindi arrived to Dahmit, a narrow Nile Valley stretch in northern Nubia, in October of 1962, evacuation of the hamlet was earmarked for less than a year later. El Guindi quickly got to work: every day until midnight, she wrote copious field diaries, translated material collected in Arabic to English, and attended night meetings with her boss, Charles Callender—an “eccentric” American anthropologist, who dressed in translucent gallabeyas and spilled coffee on her field notes.

By establishing a close relationship  with Dahmit women, she soon came to an important discovery. The Kenuz believed that the Nile River is inhabited by sheiks, angels, or people, whom they extolled as “masters of […] fertility, of cultivation, of marriage, and of health,” El Guindi wrote in a paper she later authored. The river inhabitants played a vital role in the ceremonial and ritualistic life of the Kenuz, but more importantly, they represented the strong relationship they had to the Nile. She wrote prophetically in her paper: “As I became aware of the many cultural traditions and social practices which link the people and the river, I have wondered whether this pervasive attachment may not be a factor hindering adjustment of the Dahmitie after resettlement, for their new villages lack direct access to the river banks.”

Today, after struggling with sixty years of forced assimilation, many Nubians want to return to their homeland. Even though the latest Egyptian constitution grants them the right of return, a scramble for the last-remaining stretch of Nubian land—already designated as a restricted military zone—makes it nearly impossible.  Some of its plots have been earmarked for auction to the highest bidder in President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s desert reclamation megaproject. Protestors organizing under the banner of return have been repeatedly arrested.

For El Guindi, any solution will require the full participation of the Nubians. “It is their right to preserve their traditions and language that can only enrich Egypt, which must integrate them in national projects,” she wrote the Cairo Review in an email interview. The desire of Nubians to return home, she added, should not clash with the nation’s appetite for megaprojects, and the Egyptian government should find a way to make sure both benefit. She proposes the formation of a governing body consisting of Nubians, which would study Nubian responses to the current situation and submit a report to discuss in parliament. “The Nubians themselves must lead their own change at their own pace,” she wrote, stressing that: “they will know how to do it.”

Back at AUC, El Guindi took the lectern to call for an update to the Nubian project: “The generations of Nubians today whose parents and grandparents were moved and relocated: what is happening to them? We need the building of that knowledge. We need to know about these generations.” This time if the government chooses not to listen to anthropologists and academics, she said, it could risk repeating mistakes of the past.

Televising Egypt’s History

Waheed Hamed is a self-proclaimed anti-radical. The widely acclaimed screenwriter has focused his five-decade career almost entirely on fighting the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism in Egypt. In June 2017, the second season of the television serial Al-Gamaa (“The Brotherhood”)—which traces the evolution of the Muslim Brotherhood from the death of its founder Hassan El-Banna through the late 1960s—ignited controversy for portraying Gamal Abdel Nasser as a member of the now-banned Islamist group. Rather, Hamed’s true intentions, he clarified in a beleaguered TV appearance, were to denounce the Brotherhood’s actions and reveal “the truth about them and the poison they injected in society.”

Raised in Sharqiya, Lower Egypt, Hamed, 74, is the son of illiterate farmers. He started writing short stories in 1960s Cairo before switching to radio dramas upon the advice of novelist Yusuf Idris, who took notice of Hamed’s dramatic flair. His cinematic career took off shortly after one of his radio dramas highlighting Egypt’s flawed criminal justice system, Sad Night Bird, was turned into a hit movie. Since then, he has written more than seventy films, TV serials, radio dramas, and plays. His 1992 black comedy Terrorism and Kebab became a cultural landmark of the Mubarak era, portraying one man’s hapless battle against Egypt’s corrupt bureaucracy and poking fun at the government’s inability to deal with terrorism. His controversial works have made Hamed the target of criticism, lawsuits, and even personal threats. Today, Hamed is in the constant company of a personal bodyguard.

Cairo Review Associate Editor Nadeen Shaker interviewed Hamed at the Grand Nile Tower Hotel in downtown Cairo on September 11, 2017.

CAIRO REVIEW: Are your television dramas a political project?
WAHEED HAMED: They’re a societal project first. That’s their origins. Some serials aimed to combat terrorism, which is a societal question anyway. Where is terrorism? Just today all the newspapers were talking about nine [terrorists] in Imbaba. There’s penetration into society, and after all the aim of TV drama isn’t to address terrorists, but to address the people, to make them aware of this danger. I’m [targeting] the entire Egyptian mentality, alerting it, and saying, “Listen everyone, there’s danger. There are people whose minds are closed. Not just that, they want to impose their sway.” What does it mean to set up the Islamic caliphate? Is there an Islamic caliphate? Was it such a great thing? When you look into the history of the caliphate from Muawiya onwards, you’ll find just one small exception like Omar Abdel-Aziz. If we bothered to read history properly, we’d discover the debauchery, cruelty, and abandon of the caliphs. Take the caliph, I don’t want to get his name wrong, who had four thousand slave girls. Madness!

CAIRO REVIEW: Can you tell us about your move to Cairo in the 1960s?
WAHEED HAMED: Well, I left the village and the towns of the countryside, and I knew nothing other than the village and the local administrative center, Menya Al-Qamh, and Zagazig, the provincial capital. That was my relation with cities. While I was living in Zagazig for secondary school, I would come to Cairo as a visitor. I’d either go to the Story Club, which was on Qasr Al-Aini Street, or to the 23rd of July celebrations and hear the speech by President Abdel Nasser. They helped make it easy to attend by making the train free and we, as country folk, longed to come to the bright lights of Cairo anyway.

I carried on writing short stories and frequenting the Story Club and things like that. I found out where Naguib Mahfouz’s salon was held and I started attending. I sat at the back. I was still a fallah (a farmer), and even till today, despite my age, close friends still shout out to me “ya fallah,” meaning that lots of things about me haven’t changed. From the salon I learned, and I went assiduously. Naguib Mahfouz, God rest his soul, was a very courteous man. He never embarrassed anyone at all, but helped and encouraged others. He would ask us youngsters, “What are you up to?” To those who said they wrote short stories he would say, “Okay, bring a story next Friday and we’ll have a look.”

The group included Gamal Al-Ghitani, Ahmed Hashim Al-Sharif, the critic Abdel-Rahman Ouf, and Ezzat Awwad, and the idea kept growing in my head. I heard a really important thing from Naguib Mahfouz in this context. He said, “If I had known I would be a writer,”—he was a graduate of the Faculty of Arts, but I’m not sure which department—“I would have studied literature.” So I thought, “No I’ve got to study literature.” I headed off and studied it and joined the faculty. If my family had known what I had done . . .

CAIRO REVIEW: How did you get into cinema?
WAHEED HAMED: At that time, and in parallel, I had started my activity as a short story writer. When my first collection came out, the head of the Book Organization was the late poet Salah Abdel Sabbour, it came out as part of a new series of young writers. The critics took a great deal of interest in the series of new books and I saw that each new short story collection was celebrated. My book was largely ignored and came at the end and there wasn’t much interest. Even the late critic Farouk Abdel-Qader attacked it and said it was rubbish.

I had given it to Dr. Yusuf Idris. I saw him out having lunch, and I thought I’ll go and ask him what he thought. He greeted me and asked me to sit down and have something to drink in a very friendly way. But he didn’t mention the short story collection. He didn’t say it was good or bad. He said, “Look behind you.” I was sitting there and turned round. He said, “What can you see?” I said, “Nothing, just a television.” He said, “That’s the place for you. You have a real sense for drama.” So I moved into radio drama and wrote for the radio. I made some really famous series until Sad Night Bird, which caused a real sensation on the radio. After the seventh episode, a cinema producer came and said that they wanted to buy the story of the serial from me to turn into a film and that they would get a scriptwriter.

CAIRO REVIEW: How did cinema change in the Nasser period, particularly after the nationalization of the film industry?
WAHEED HAMED: The cinema flourished in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. We were making up to eighty films a year. Not all of them were good, but—the Public Cinema Organization made some very good films, serious films. During that period in general, the film movement and the cultural movement in general was flourishing. In the 1960s, the slogan of the Ministry of Culture was “A book every six hours.” If you walked on Emadeddine Street, the theaters were all lit up: Al-Hakim, Al-Hadith, and Al-Gayb. It was a big thing.

The culture started to come under siege at the beginning of the 1970s, from the early days of Sadat and the start of the spread of the Islamist current, which Anwar Sadat cultivated. With the spread of the Islamist current, there was a contraction. A war began. We began hearing that cinema was forbidden. That’s to put it very briefly. Are you familiar with the theory of opposite reactions? In an atmosphere of strict puritanism, the cinema took on another form. Something called contract films emerged, purely commercial. The funding came from Saudi Arabia, which had no cinemas, so why was it funding films? To distribute them on videotapes to Saudi Arabia for sale. So the funding came from there. Cheap films were made, of course to Saudi taste, entertainment and comedy. But the source was . . . not from here. Cheap productions have their market and those films and that period had an effect on the mentality of viewers, damaging it.

CAIRO REVIEW: When did terrorism and Islamic radicalism become a major theme in Egyptian films?
WAHEED HAMED: True cinema draws its subjects from society. For example, in the 1960s and 1970s you find most films dealt with two issues: either the issue of housing, the housing crisis facing people, or the issue of drugs. When terrorism came along, it imposed itself, and the cinema had to address this new problem. Those who say that such works were the result of directives from the state are big liars who know nothing. Rather, I affirm that such films resulted from the real desire of their makers, whether writers, directors, or even producers. Nobody came and said to me that I should write the films Birds of Darkness or Terrorism and Kebab, or a film like Blood of the Deer, all of which are against terrorism, or the serials The Family or Al-Gamaa [The Brotherhood]. No one ordered me to do those things. It was me who wrote and found a producer.

I want to say something very important. Any artistic work that is not written according to your conscience and what’s inside you, I mean anything made according to instructions won’t succeed. Even if someone comes and says, “Write a song for the president,” it will fade away, whatever it is. Where are those songs? They’ve gone. Look at all the songs produced about Gamal Abdel Nasser or Sadat or Hosni Mubarak, or even El-Sisi. Don’t they all disappear? After some time they die, because they’re fake. But something from your heart, from your awareness, something that comes out of the social environment, that’s what can have an influence on people.

CAIRO REVIEW: How do you see Egyptian cinema after the 2011 revolution?
WAHEED HAMED: Cinema currently is in an extremely weak condition. There are films, but cheap films, so we only celebrate a small number of good, or even so-so films, and really celebrate them. Let’s take this year’s cinematic output. [There are] five or six films, and the rest are violent movies, action, cheap comedies or dance movies. Cinematic production rests on a neighborhood, a dancer, and a petty squabble. That’s not good enough.

CAIRO REVIEW: Why is that?
WAHEED HAMED: Corruption of public taste and the cheapening of the culture, that’s all. If you put out rotten products, you’ll find those who buy them and accept them. Serious works, nobody . . .

CAIRO REVIEW: What was the impact of Gulf money and tastes on film production in Egypt
WAHEED HAMED: First, it’s been a tragedy, because Gulf society was funding, and therefore imposing its conditions. For example the slogan “Clean Cinema.” What does that mean? No kissing, nothing, you know. Not censorship, but you are making a film for a specific viewer according to the taste of the financial backer. What was the result? That’s a major reason why the Gulf as a whole has imposed its culture on us. And we listened and obeyed, and that damaged Egyptian society. I did not have enough freedom, not the kind of freedom where it’s the state that prevents me, no it was the producer himself. I remember once that a Gulf producer met with four writers, me and Bashir Al-Deek, and the late Muhsin Zayid and the late Osama Anwar Okasha. He asked us that when we wrote, if a character had a problem we shouldn’t have him go to some dive bar and get drunk as was usual in films, but he should go to the mosque and pray. Stuff like that. We had directives.

CAIRO REVIEW: Let’s talk about another form of interference, like the interference of censorship in the film The Innocent Man.
WAHEED HAMED:  Now that’s another story. The censorship system is innocent, as innocent as the wolf was of Joseph’s blood! The censor cleared the film in its entirety without a single cut. Then we had a private view. Lots of people were invited. One of them was an official, a second- or third-tier official with ambitions. When he saw the film, the ending had Ahmed Zaki, the innocent man, opening fire on the tyrannical people and he says one line: “What an idea! Every soldier has a rifle in his hands. What would happen if they opened fire on everyone?” Then we saw Military Intelligence come over. In those days there were two important people: the director and the writer, that is Waheed Hamed and Atef Al-Tayyeb, and the matter caused a big commotion.

But there was a weak party. That weak and devious party was the producer, who was worried about his money. The film might get banned or whatever. It was decided that the film had to be seen by four ministers. Who? Four heavyweight ministers, the late Abu Ghazala, the late Ahmed Rushdi, the minister of culture, Ahmed Heikal, and I don’t remember the fourth. Of course because of their status, they were the ones who set the date. They said we’ll see the film at the studio on Tuesday all together. So we were waiting for them to come and watch the film and then for us to discuss it, the director, the writer, and those with the power to decide. They decided when to come, except the producer had told us they were coming on Wednesday. I was sitting with Atef Al-Tayyeb and we were working out how to confront those big shots when all the while they were watching.

So we were tricked. But the producer carried out an even bigger crime of his own devising. Before the ministers turned up, he took the film and cut out all you could imagine. Even, say, when [actor] Ahmed Zaki wonders how a kilo of apples can cost 25 piasters. He removed it. He turned the film into . . . We had nothing to do with it. Plus, when Abu Ghazala saw the film, he asked why they had bothered to bring them in to see it. So the deception was by the producer. Censorship had nothing to do with it.

CAIRO REVIEW: Was it self-censorship then?
WAHEED HAMED: From the producer, worried about his money. He’d spent a lot on the film and if it was banned, it would be a massive loss. I’d like to complete answering the question. I personally did not have run-ins with the censor, because I understood the censorship laws very well.

CAIRO REVIEW: When did your interest in writing about extremism and terrorism begin? Was there a turning point?
WAHEED HAMED: No, it was my human and patriotic sense. I saw there was a problem that everyone was scared to deal with. Terrorism was supposed to be confronted. You raise people’s awareness by every means, and I volunteered, it wasn’t anything.

CAIRO REVIEW: When did your interest in writing about those themes start?
WAHEED HAMED: In the 1990s. By the way, I mean a fact we have to state, nothing is easy. When I wrote the serial The Family for TV, they rejected it and told me, “We can’t provoke terrorism. Terrorism exists and we don’t want to make them angry. We want them to keep quiet. There’s no call for goading them.” Then when terrorism increased and got worse, they came and asked for the serial. The [state] TV produced it and a repeat just finished last week.

CAIRO REVIEW: Does your stance against Islamic extremism affect your work?
WAHEED HAMED: No, look, after The Family I had a bodyguard. Permit me to use an expression I saw in an American movie. Having a bodyguard was like someone walking with a monkey on his back. I had bodyguards, but I told them to keep some distance. I wanted my freedom. For example I like to go to the supermarket, but I can’t do that with someone covering my back. It would be wrong. You see? But your idea, no. It just made me enemies. All extremists are personal enemies of mine. They use foul language against me, the Muslim Brotherhood and others. Even their vocabulary is vulgar and very rude. That wouldn’t come from a true Muslim, because being polite is inherent in Islam.

CAIRO REVIEW: Did you expect the series Al-Gamaa to cause so much controversy?
WAHEED HAMED: Ultimately, and as we speak, I’m the winner. The problem is, if you’ll allow me, so as not to offend anyone, the rush toward ignorance, nobody reads. When you decide to pass judgment on something, don’t base your judgment on the emotions, or zeal, or affiliation. The problem started with whether Gamal Abdel Nasser was Brotherhood or not. More importantly at this moment is that all of them agree that Abdel Nasser was in the Brotherhood. People say he was in the Brotherhood for a bit. Okay, I’m not wrong. The man was in the Brotherhood. Okay, so why did you make such a fuss? If they had been patient, they would have known that the series was fair to Gamal Abdel Nasser and defended him. It portrayed him in a very respectable way. So much so that Abdel Nasser’s children, his son, asked for me personally and was very happy. He even called in to a program and went on air. But there are people who like to cause storms. Okay, read carefully. For me to know whether Gamal Abdel Nasser was a Brother, you can’t imagine how much effort that takes. He wasn’t a Muslim Brother, but there were various testimonies that he’d joined the Brotherhood. [Prime Minister] Ibrahim Abdel Hadi summoned Abdel Nasser to his office to accuse him of being in the Brotherhood and the Army. In the end, there is nothing in Al-Gamaa, part two specifically, that isn’t true.

CAIRO REVIEW: Series like Al-Gamaa are historical dramas. Do you rely entirely on research or do you fictionalize events for the plot?
WAHEED HAMED: No, no you can’t. It doesn’t matter for the plot. There’s only one thing that changes. The dialogue. We didn’t hear the conversations, we weren’t there. So when Abdel Nasser meets with Al-Hudaibi to discuss something, I don’t have the exact dialogue. He said and I said. What’s the aim? Do you accept it or not? You’re writing it, but I didn’t hear them. It’s the same with all historical drama, even the history of Islam. Did we live with the non-believers? Did we hear what they said? All of that is a question of writing. But you can’t change a fact. It would be over. The proof is something in part two of Al-Gamaa which we were very worried about. The torture scenes. We did them and did them explicitly. Some people said that the series was to the benefit of the Brotherhood because of the torture scenes. But you have to give the truth. Otherwise, if you denied it or brushed over it and didn’t include it, people wouldn’t believe you. Fairness requires it goes both ways.

CAIRO REVIEW: How can art and cinema flourish in a country like Egypt where freedom of expression is limited by censorship and law?
WAHEED HAMED: To get to the point, creativity, art, and general culture are closely linked to society. Art will be of high standard when the chaos rife in society ends. When society becomes stable and economic life revives, there will be . . . Look, everything is connected. Currently, society is not balanced and the culture has changed. The greater crime committed by the Muslim Brotherhood, which it worked hard for, was to damage the Egyptian personality and take away its particular features. That is the greater crime.

CAIRO REVIEW: What is your hope for Egypt?
WAHEED HAMED: I’m now 74 years old and have a heart disease. I say, “Please God, don’t let me die before I see this country in a good way.” I often sit and think about this carefully. It preoccupies me. Look, death means distance from life. I feel that when I’m in the other world, I’ll still be worried about the country. It’s like someone dying and leaving behind a young child without anyone to look after them. That’s my feeling. I hope to die with my country doing well.

CAIRO REVIEW: How would you compare Egyptian historical dramas with those produced elsewhere in the Arab World?
WAHEED HAMED: We have a sense for artistic and dramatic value. We are better in that respect, but in terms of production, they’re better because they spend money. Our poor material capabilities make us . . . For example, you need one hundred extras, but you get twenty. You want a palace. I don’t want to tell you the trouble I went through to get the president to agree to us filming in Abdeen Palace. . . . If it hadn’t been like that, I wouldn’t have made the serial. We are affected by the weakness of production, but we could, if these issues . . . We have great artists in terms of writing, directing, and acting, and nothing will stop us.

Lord Balfour’s Burden

Read this essay in Arabic.

This year, our nation marks one hundred years of the Balfour Declaration. Lord Arthur Balfour was a British foreign secretary who decided to change the identity and fate of Palestine, a land that he did not own, by promising it to the Zionist movement, and dramatically altering the history of the Palestinian people. On this somber anniversary, it is important to recall some key historic facts, which remain relevant for achieving a just, lasting, and peaceful resolution to a century of injustice.

To this day, the United Kingdom evades its historic responsibility by refusing to apologize to a nation still living in exile and under occupation as the result of their politicians’ unethical undertaking. In 1917, Palestine had a robust population of over 700,000 inhabitants living on almost 28,000 square kilometers. Palestine had a well-established society, proud of its history and cultural heritage, and the centuries-long tradition of coexistence and tolerance among its inhabitants. The city of Jerusalem—built by the Jebusites, a Canaanite tribe—the ancient ports of Jaffa and Haifa, the biblical cities of Gaza, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Hebron and Nablus, as well as one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, Jericho, alongside the Dead Sea and the fertile Jordan Valley, all stood witness to this rich civilization. Palestine had several educational and cultural institutions, newspapers, and an economy that included the export of citrus and a thriving service industry such as tourism. It was a country inhabited mainly by Arabs, mostly Muslims and Christians, but also with a small Jewish minority.

Disgracefully, the text of the Balfour Declaration referred to the vast majority of the population as the “non-Jewish communities,” in a deliberate attempt at setting the foundation and basis of denying them any future political rights. Balfour was fully entrenched in colonial ideology with no respect for the deeply-rooted presence of Palestinians, Christians, and Muslims. In 1922, he wrote: “Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs and future hopes of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.” It was a glaring dismissal of the presence, history, and rights of the population that had inhabited the land for centuries. Examined against the backdrop of the current debates in international politics, Balfour could have easily been referred to as a “white supremacist.”

The Balfour Declaration of 1917 symbolizes the international role in the Palestinian catastrophe and exodus, the Nakba of 1948. A century after this infamous declaration was drafted, it is long overdue for the international community to assume its legal, political, and moral responsibility to fulfill the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. This prolonged injustice continues to test the credibility of our international system and to undermine the laws and human rights frameworks that are fundamental to its longevity and to peace and stability within and among nations.

Balfour’s Bitter Legacy
The Balfour Declaration, despite its great impact on our destiny as a nation, was never a matter of consensus among British politicians. The declaration continued with a British Mandate of Palestine that soon proved to be entrapped between Lord Balfour’s folly and the reality on the ground. In the following years, British colonial rule grappled with the contradictions of its promises to the Jewish and Arab peoples. Several British commissions wrote back to London in efforts to make their government realize and understand that there was already a well-rooted people in Palestine. In 1922, the British Parliament rejected the British Mandate of Palestine precisely because it included the fulfillment of the Balfour Declaration as part of its goals. In fact, it was the only Jewish member of the British Cabinet, Sir Edwin Montagu, who expressed his rejection in these strong terms: “I would not deny the Jews in Palestine equal rights to colonization with those who profess other religions, but a religious test of citizenship seems to me to be the only admitted by those who take a bigoted and narrow view of one particular epoch of the history of Palestine, and claim for the Jews a position to which they are not entitled.”

Balfour’s perfidy anticipated the international community’s disrespect for the rights of Palestinians after Israel’s founding. Thirty years later, on November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted Resolution 181 (II) calling for the partition of Palestine into two states. Again, this decision disregarded the wishes, aspirations, and the very rights of the indigenous population of Palestine. The Palestinian leaders spared no effort in communicating the voice of the people, visiting London countless times, as well as several other world capitals, asking for the rights of the Arab-Palestinian people to be respected and calling for the fate of Palestine to be decided through democratic free elections that would reflect the will of the Palestinian people. This was totally ignored by the British government, guided by the Balfour agenda of denying our nation political rights.

The world voted for the partition of Palestine, but its people did not. The international community was willing to support the Zionist desire to build a state in Palestine, but did not have the determination to supervise the implementation of their resolutions, leading to the Nakba (catastrophe), which led to over two-thirds of the Palestinian people becoming refugees, including myself. My hometown of Safad was totally ethnically cleansed of its Arab Muslim and Christian populations. Just like Safad, at least 418 Palestinian villages were ethnically cleansed, forcibly depopulated, and destroyed.

The international community failed to fulfill the implementation of the UN Partition Resolution 181, a resolution that unquestionably did not allow or call for the forcible displacement of the Palestinian population. It also failed to implement Resolution 194 (III) to restore Palestinian refugees to their homes. In fact, the United Nations’ recognition of Israel was conditioned on Israel’s implementation of this resolution. Similarly, disappointingly, the international community has failed to implement the countless UN resolutions that call on Israel to end its military occupation that began in 1967, including its colonial-settlement project. This failure has entrenched Israeli impunity, prolonging the conflict and the suffering and injustice being borne by the Palestinian people.

From Balfour to 2017: One Hundred Years of Impunity
The Israeli occupation that began in 1967—occupying the remaining 22 percent of Palestine, comprising the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem—initiated a systematic, multidimensional policy of colonization of occupied territory that has not ceased for over five decades, seriously impairing the prospects for a political solution. Even though the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), in a historic and painful compromise, recognized Israel in accordance with the relevant UN resolutions and declared the State of Palestine only over 22 percent of historic Palestine, Israel continues to deny the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to freedom and self-determination.

The presence of illegal settlements all over the occupied territory of Palestine has threatened to make the two-state solution impossible to realize. This is clearly the goal of the current rightwing Israeli government that does not shy away from hiding such intentions. It has become widely acknowledged that Israel’s prolonged occupation and its colonial-settlement project has virtually destroyed the prospects of the internationally endorsed two-state solution on the 1967 borders, thereby solidifying the reality of one state, Israel, controlling all the land of historic Palestine, while imposing two different systems: one for Israeli-Jews and another for Palestinians.

As far back as 1993, the PLO recognized Israel’s right to exist and agreed to participate in several rounds of negotiations in the Middle East peace process aimed at achieving a comprehensive peace agreement. After more than twenty years of negotiations, it is clear that the Israeli government is not interested in peace. For Palestine, the peace process is a means for the implementation of international law and realization of justice; the process is not an end in itself, but the Israeli government has constantly used it as such and exploited the “negotiations” as a smokescreen for further colonization of the Palestinian land, including East Jerusalem, aimed at entrenching its control of the entire territory.

The internationally endorsed two-state solution is not accepted by any of the political parties that compose today’s Israeli government coalitions. Their leaders continue to incite and spew hate speech against the Palestinian people and inflammatory rhetoric against Palestinian national rights and aspirations. This has included the dangerous use of religion to justify war crimes and human rights violations, which is something that we believe is of paramount gravity and consequence to regional and international peace and security, and have thus consistently warned against Israeli attempts to turn a solvable political, territorial conflict into a religious war.

Just as Likud, the party of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reaffirmed its political program that negates any possibility of the creation of a Palestinian state, on the ground Israeli settlers and occupation forces continue to act with hatred and aggression toward the Palestinian people, further diminishing the prospect of peaceful coexistence. Attacks continue against Palestinian civilians and properties, in Christian and Muslim holy sites, and homes continue to be demolished, forcibly displacing our people to pave the way for more colonial-settlement expansion.

The one-state reality imposed by the Israeli government could not be possible without the impunity it has received from the international community. The Israeli colonial-settlement enterprise in Occupied Palestine could not succeed without international markets being opened to illegal Israeli settlement products, without free trade agreements welcoming these products, without international companies and the Israeli economy mutually profiting from this systematic denial of Palestinian rights, and without the commitments of several governments that no matter the violations and crimes, Israel will continue to enjoy full impunity.

Make no mistake: Palestinians have learned the lessons from Balfour’s colonialism. We recently witnessed the steadfastness of the Palestinian people in Occupied East Jerusalem in rejection of Israeli attempts to change the historic status quo of the Holy Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound.  This beautiful demonstration of popular nonviolent resistance echoed in every corner of the world. Just as our youth and elders, women and men, Christians and Muslims, and members of all political factions came together to defend Jerusalem, we cannot but remember those who opposed British policies in the remarkable national strike of 1936, or the Israeli occupation in the First Intifada in 1987. Palestinians have showed the world and many Israelis that the colonial “fantasy” of talking about peace and coexistence while systematically denying the rights of a people under an oppressive military occupation can never succeed and that the right of a people to self-determination and freedom can neither be crushed, nor dismissed, nor negated.

Our Vision for a Just and Lasting Peace
The steadfastness and resilience of our people should serve as a message to the entire world, and particularly to Israel, that there will be no peace in our region without the fulfillment of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. Our vision of peace is one of great compromise and is based simply on what we are entitled to under international law and UN resolutions: a sovereign and independent state that fully ends the Israeli occupation that began in 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital, while ensuring at the same time that Jerusalem could be an open city between its eastern and western parts. We envision our sovereign control over our natural resources, airspace and maritime borders. We envision and will continue to demand the freedom of all our political prisoners, victims of the Israeli occupation and the systematic negation of our national rights. With almost one million prisoners since 1967, the case of our political prisoners painfully reflects the overall situation of our whole nation.We also reiterate that in order to end claims with Israel, there must be a just solution for the seven million Palestinian refugees based on the choice of every refugee. Our nation, the largest refugee group in the world and the most protracted refugee plight in contemporary history, has the right to the respect and fulfillment of its rights, including through the implementation of UNGA Resolution 194 and the Arab Peace Initiative.

A  just and lasting peace is possible. It requires the full implementation of the long overdue inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. We envision a new reality where our families are no longer divided by racist laws, such as the Israeli citizenship law; where our young talents will not be forced to leave their country because of a suffocated economy and lack of opportunities. We envision a state that can welcome the innovation and talents developed by our successful diaspora. Wherever they have migrated to, whether the United States, Latin America, Europe, Australia, or the Arab World, Palestinians have proven to be successful in various fields and positive contributors to their respective communities. We envision a reality of peace where those millions of people, successful doctors, engineers, bankers, sportsmen, artists, clergymen, teachers, students, workers, politicians, and social activists will finally be able to make Palestine their home.

Recognize Palestinian Rights—With an Apology
That the Balfour Declaration ever happened is a reminder that Palestinians must have their voices heard and respected within the international community. An important step undertaken for redress in that regard has been the pursuit of international recognition of the State of Palestine, including our new status of “non-member state” at the United Nations, achieved on November 29, 2012. This status has enabled us to  accede to numerous international treaties and conventions and to join several international organizations. These stand at fifty-five as of now, ranging from the Geneva Conventions to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

After decades of Israeli control over our lives, it is important not to fall into desperation and to keep hope alive. We will continue to build on our achievements of state-recognition and accede to international treaties, including our right to seek justice for the Palestinian people at the ICC in the face of this ongoing criminal occupation. This too is a confirmation of our respect for international law and readiness to uphold our obligations and responsibilities in that regard. Concurrently, we will continue our endeavors to achieve a just and lasting peace with Israel on the 1967 border. It is our right to use all diplomatic, political, and legal avenues to protect our nation, achieve justice, and fulfill our long overdue inalienable rights.

This process must go hand-in-hand with efforts to secure more bilateral recognitions for the State of Palestine. There is no justification not to recognize the State of Palestine. How would recognizing Palestine harm the chances of peace? How would it harm negotiations? Our right to self-determination has never been up for negotiation; the International Court of Justice, in its landmark Advisory Opinion in 2004, explicitly affirmed this to be a right erga omnes, meaning “valid for all.” It is therefore an international responsibility to stand tall for the fulfillment of our right, not a call to dismiss or shy away from. Thus we will continue calling upon those who allegedly support the two-state solution to recognize two states, not only one.

At the same time, we shall keep the doors open for the possibility of a resumption of negotiations seeking to end the Israeli occupation and fulfill our rights. Just as we supported the French efforts of the Paris Peace Conference, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping and many other world leaders for this objective, we welcome the efforts of the U.S. administration in what President Trump has referred to as the “ultimate deal.” We don’t see any contradiction between negotiations and continuing to seek justice through the legitimate tools and instruments available under international law. It is our right to undertake all peaceful means to end the torment of our people and to fulfill their inalienable rights and legitimate national aspirations.

The Palestinian leadership understands the urgency, as well as the dangers, of the current situation, and we will continue to demand that the international community assumes its responsibilities, including providing protection for our people, as per international humanitarian law, and in working collectively to end Israel’s impunity.

Our goal remains to achieve a two-state solution on the 1967 border and freedom and justice for our people. However, we understand that the Israeli government is doing everything possible in order to make the achievement of an independent State of Palestine impossible. In addition to that, we must contend with the lack of political will from the international community to take any meaningful steps that will enforce international law and UN resolutions in Palestine.

As I said last month during the UN General Assembly Debate, we know that freedom is coming and that the occupation will eventually end: if not by achieving the two-state solution on the 1967 border, with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security, it will inevitably come through the fulfillment of equal rights for the inhabitants of historic Palestine, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean, Christians, Muslims, and Jews. No people on earth could ever accept to live as slaves or under an apartheid regime. History has so vividly and painfully taught us that. As we mark one hundred years since the Balfour Declaration, the British government has reiterated how proud they are of this infamous document that translated into the Palestinian catastrophe, with all of its regional and global repercussions. They are even going to celebrate it. Instead of organizing a celebration for one of the darkest episodes of British colonialism, the United Kingdom has the historical and moral responsibility to apologize to the people of Palestine. At the same time, we call upon the British Government to assume without delay reparative actions, by recognizing the State of Palestine on the 1967 border with East Jerusalem as its capital and taking concrete steps to contribute to the realization of the political rights of the Palestinian people, the very rights that were denied by Balfour a century ago.

This will not repair the countless detrimental consequences of foreign colonialism in our region, and particularly in Palestine, but it would serve as an example for the rest of the international community to rise to their responsibilities to do what is necessary for a just and lasting Palestinian-Israeli peace, and for broader peace in the Middle East to become a reality, changing the course of our future, individual and collective, for the better for our coming generations.

Mahmoud Abbas is the president of the State of Palestine, and chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). He served previously as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority in 2003, and before that was head of the PLO’s Negotiating Affairs Department. Devoted to restarting peace negotiations with Israel, President Abbas was instrumental in the negotiation and conclusion of the Oslo Accords in 1993 and 1995. In 2011, he submitted Palestine’s bid for membership in the United Nations, which led to UN recognition of Palestine as an Observer State in the UN General Assembly and as a full member in several UN Agencies and international treaties, and to the international recognition of the State of Palestine by up to 138 countries. He is the author of Through Secret Channels, The Road to Oslo.

Israel at a Crossroads

The Arab defeat in the 1967 war brought Palestinians under Israeli occupation. A half-century later, Palestinians have tried it all—from civilian resistance to armed uprisings, from suicide terrorism to missile warfare, from peace negotiations to international diplomacy—to no avail. Nothing has stopped the expansionist drive of the occupier; Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands beyond the so-called Green Line, which demarcates the Jewish state’s pre-1967 borders, continue to grow. A Palestinian state in the West Bank looks less and less viable.

The question is today inevitable: does Israel want peace? Forward-looking Israeli governments under Ehud Barak and, later, Ehud Olmert, came close to meeting the core requirements of Palestinian nationalism, but were defeated by a combination of domestic opposition and Palestinian intransigence on issues like the right of return and the status of Jerusalem’s holy sites. In recent years under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s priorities have clearly shifted away from reaching a comprehensive settlement with Palestinians. While Netanyahu did undertake negotiations at different points during the Barack Obama presidency, he was never willing to come close to the proposals that had been made by previous leftwing Israeli governments, which the Palestinians had anyway rejected. Netanyahu also introduced the pre-condition of asking the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state—which they could not accept—in order to both neutralize the demand for a Palestinian right of return and eventually derail the whole peace process.

Much of the failure to make peace between Israelis and Palestinians has to do with the tragic inconsistencies of the 1993 Oslo Accord upon which the entire peace process was built. Essentially built on the unequal relations between the occupied and the occupier, Oslo was bound to crash into the rock of conflicting national dreams.
Settlements are an Israeli march of folly that goes not only against international law but also against Israel’s moral and political interests. Yet it is not too late to reach a settlement: 80 percent of Israeli settlers are still concentrated in blocks of settlements adjacent to the Green Line. The conventional premise has always been that these could be annexed to Israel provided they are swapped with land on the other side of the Green Line. Both the Barak and the Olmert governments proposed such swaps.

Oslo’s Blind Alley
The incremental nature of the Oslo process left wide open the shape of the final agreement in the perception of the Israelis, and hence encouraged successive governments to persist in their policy of creating a grand fait accompli in the occupied territories: a dense map of settlements in the West Bank that narrowed the living space for the Palestinian people, and destroyed their faith in the peace process.

The hallmark of the post-Oslo years was the fatal symmetry between settlements and terrorism. Loyal to the old Zionist philosophy according to which the last kindergarten also defines the political border, the Israelis tried to influence the nature of any final agreement with a hectic policy of settlement expansion into Palestinian lands. The Palestinians responded with terrorism.

The negotiating process for a final settlement fell victim also to the conflicting interpretations as to what exactly were the exact premises upon which it was built. The Israelis came to the negotiations with the conviction inherent in the letter of the Oslo Accords that this was an open-ended process where no preconceived solutions existed. For the Palestinians, they represented a simple, clear-cut process of decolonization based on “international legitimacy” and “relevant UN resolutions.”

Neither Yitzhak Rabin nor Shimon Peres ever thought that the peace process would usher in a full-fledged Palestinian state. Constructive ambiguity facilitated an agreement in Oslo at the price of creating potentially irreconcilable misconceptions with regard to the final settlement. The Israeli negotiators of a final status agreement at Camp David and Taba came to solve the problems created by the 1967 war, and were surprised to discover that the intractable issues of 1948, first and foremost that of the refugees’ right of return, were now high on the Palestinian agenda.

A Two-State Trap
Unlike peace efforts with the Arab states, especially in the case of Egypt and Jordan, which have been strictly political undertakings based on restitution of territory, peacemaking with the Palestinians is not just a matter of land in exchange for peace. It is an attempt to almost break the genetic code of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and perhaps even of the Jewish-Muslim dispute, by touching upon religious and historical rights of ownership.

Even so, why has peace in Palestine been such a tragically elusive enterprise? Almost every opinion study in both Israel and Palestine has always shown an unequivocal support for the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum. Yet, at the moment of truth when reasonable solutions—the Clinton Peace Parameters of 2000, and Ehud Olmert peace proposals of 2008—were on the table, the delusion of some better deal in the future prevailed. Today, while Israel drifts rightward and away from peace initiatives, Palestinians lack leadership and a legitimate partner for peacemaking.

The tragedy of the Israeli-Palestinian peace conundrum is that while the two-state solution is where the salvation of both national movements truly lies, it is at the same time highly unattractive to them. A mini-Palestinian state would be sandwiched between two skeptical neighbors, Israel and Jordan, both deeply suspicious of its future evolution. Nor would the Palestinian state that Israel could agree to be able to satisfy the Palestinian constituent ethos of the Right of Return and its quest for justice. Hence, such a state might be seen as illegitimate even among sizable segments of the Palestinian nation at home and in the diaspora.

The Palestinian national movement lacks today a coherent and cohesive sense of purpose. The two-state idea is not a constituent article at the root of the national Palestinian narrative; its political father and its major source of legitimacy, Yasser Arafat, is no longer there to give the necessary cohesion to a movement that has lost its way, that is fragmented, and whose political spinal cord, Fatah, the party that led the shift to the idea of partition, is broken, practically nonexistent. The carriers of the two-state idea, the Oslo leadership, represent the monumental deception that came with it, and they suffer from a very dangerous deficit of legitimacy.

As for the Israelis, a two-state solution would mean a return to what Abba Eban, not exactly a hawk, defined as Auschwitz borders. Moreover, such a settlement would entail a sociopolitical earthquake of untold dimensions, for it would require a massive evacuation of settlers, and might lead to civil strife and military disobedience in an army replete these days with national-religious officers and troops intimately attached to the settlement movement in Judea and Samaria. And all this in order to go back to borders nobody has a special nostalgia for with a neighbor nobody truly trusts.

The Israelis do not believe the Palestinians would be able to prevent Hamas from taking over the West Bank and becoming an outpost of Iran only a few kilometers from Tel Aviv. And neither believes that Israel will be able to dismantle and relocate more than 100,000 Messianic settlers who live beyond the so-called settlement blocs.
Nor can the old concept of a Palestinian demilitarized state satisfy Israel today because the new weapons can easily bypass any monitoring mechanisms. Given the lessons from Gaza, the security requirements of Israel will be extremely difficult to reconcile with the Palestinian idea of what is exactly a sovereign state.

Israel’s Fig Leaf
For too long, the peace process served as a curtain behind which Israel’s policy of practical annexation has flourished. The settlers movement continues as strong as ever. Settlers and their allies on the Israeli right are by no means alone in their conviction that Zionism always flew in the face of reality; it succeeded because it ignored reality and will continue to do so.

Underlying the very serious question of the settlements is a an even more serious problem that has to do with the involvement of the entire Israeli body politic in maintaining and continuously expanding a regime of coercion and discrimination in the territories. This is a regime of dominance that has the drive and traits of permanence. It would require a truly historic leadership to dismantle and get rid of.

But Israel’s reluctance to invest in peace, and the increased space that this affords for rightwing settler movements as a result, did not spring up overnight. It was the Second Intifada that should be seen as the fatal watershed that destroyed Israel’s peace constituency and radically shifted popular opinion to the right and far right. Exposed to indiscriminate waves of suicide terrorism, the Israelis lost any hope of a negotiated settlement and in their despair succumbed to a new self-defeating political religion, that of unilateral disengagement. Humiliated by Israeli retribution, with the backbone of their society broken, and in response to the sad vicissitudes of deficient governance, the Palestinians embraced the militant organization Hamas as a legitimate option.

The Intifada forced the Israelis to turn their back to the Palestinians, erase them from their consciousness, imprison them behind impenetrable walls while keeping for themselves the essential parts of the land required for their settlements and rising security needs. For the Israeli right, particularly under Prime Minister Netanyahu, the peace process is now about how to achieve such expansionist goals under the mantle of the peace process’s two-state solution.

That the Israeli right reconciled itself with a “peace process” of sorts is not due to the wonders of the two-state solution, but to the need to delineate the geographic limits of Israel’s expansion. But, with no Palestinian partner willing to accept peace based on Israeli land grabbing, it was the specter of the loss of the Jewish demographic predominance in historical Palestine, an inevitable concomitant of the death of the two-state idea, that gave life to the concept of unilateral disengagement from populated Palestinian areas. Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Gaza disengagement and the wall he built in the West Bank were a response to the “demographic threat.” Sharon’s successor, Ehud Olmert, won an election in 2006 on what was then called a Convergence Plan, a unilateral withdrawal from great parts of the West Bank.

America’s Purblind Justice
Ever billing itself as the impartial broker, America’s attempts at peacemaking in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute are actually a defining failure. Its pattern of peace diplomacy—direct negotiations between the parties under U.S. guidance—has proved utterly inadequate. More recently, Washington’s weak-kneed attitude toward Israel has, whether intentionally or not, provided cover for Netanyahu’s rightward shift.

A successful peace diplomacy requires at times the transformation of the mediator into a manipulator and an arm-twister. The only exploits of American peace diplomacy in the Middle East—Henry Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy in the wake of the 1973 October War that led Israel into groundbreaking interim settlements with Egypt and Syria, President Carter’s historic achievement of peace between Egypt and Israel, and Secretary of State James Baker’s success in convening the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference against the will of the recalcitrant Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir—were all the result of a masterly combination of power, manipulation and pressure.

Somehow, all this accumulated wisdom has been absent throughout America’s peace efforts on the Palestinian front. Washington’s blunder stems from its perception of power and diplomacy as distinct and separate categories of foreign policy. Too frequently it acted as if the process of negotiation operates on its own inherent logic, independent of considerations of power and coercion. By delinking force from diplomacy, Washington gave the parties in the conflict the sense that American power lacked resolve and conviction.

America continues to be an indispensable actor in the Middle East and beyond, but it has lost the awe-inspiring drive of the past and its willingness to use coercive diplomacy in its quest for a new order. It no longer intimidates, not even allies and clients such as Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Now a new player has come to town: President Donald Trump, who has boasted that he “will get it done,” and that Israeli-Palestinian peace is “not as difficult as people have thought.” But the thought that the man responsible for the most farcical performance in American presidential history would put together the complex diplomatic architecture required for an Israeli-Palestinian peace sounds truly eccentric.

In this peace process no stone has been left unturned, no idea untried. The solutions are all there. The deal now depends on the diplomatic perseverance and resourcefulness of the mediators, and on the political will and courage of leaders to take unpopular decisions. And this is where the whole thing might blow up in President Trump’s face, as it did in that of all his predecessors. Unless both parties trim their conditions on key contentious issues, the Trump peace process would end in the normal, tragic anticlimax we have been used to.

A man of short fuses, Trump does not have the patience for details. But in the Israel-Palestine situation where historical narratives are so overwhelming, and geography so small, details do matter. No small narcissist himself, Trump would soon discover that the narcissism of minor differences that derailed previous negotiations would compromise his process as well.

The best Trump can reach is another day of reckoning on the Palestinian side and a much-needed shakeup of Israel’s political map. To abandon the comfort zone they have been living in, Israeli and Palestinian leaders must be confronted with both a tempting peace plan and the threat of a massive American and all-Arab pressure. Unless this happens, the parties would prefer, as they always did, to retreat to their normal refuge from unpopular decisions, the protective warmth of their moral consensus.

A New Paradigm for Peace
The United States needs to relinquish its monopoly on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. It should be clear by now that the United States cannot solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by itself just as it cannot solve single-handedly the Iranian nuclear dispute, the North Korean crisis, or the mega-tragedy that is the Syrian civil war.
In the last twenty years, Washington excelled in forming international coalitions for wars in the Middle East. For a change, it could now try to form an international alliance for Middle East peace. This would mean giving a greater role to the Quartet (the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations, alongside the United States) and to key Arab states like Egypt and Jordan.

The new paradigm needs to be that of an essentially international solution for Palestine. Why would the Iranian nuclear problem need a P5+1 forum of powers to lead the negotiations with Tehran, and the North Korea question the so-called Six Party Talks, yet the Palestinian question remain an American monopoly in spite of Washington’s proven incapacity to solve the problem single-handedly? An international solution is required also because of the political domestic constraints that inhibit Washington’s freedom of maneuver in its relations with, and almost unconditional support for, Israel.

The new paradigm means also that a peace plan based on the core principles that were understood time and again to be the foundation of a peace deal—two independent states along the 1967 borders with territorial swaps to accommodate Israel’s blocs of settlements, two capitals in Jerusalem, an agreed solution to the refugee problem and security arrangements—could be turned into a UN Security Council Resolution as the internationally accepted interpretation of what is a fair deal in this dispute. Led by the United States, the international community would then have to devise a strategy for the implementation of this peace plan.

The new paradigm requires broadening the scope of the peace process: the objective should no longer be only about Israeli-Palestinian peace but about a regional settlement between Israel and its Arab neighbors. This should be so if only because the future Palestinian state would be in no condition to offer Israel the kind of security it requires. Palestine is not the major security challenge for the Jewish state; it is the broader Middle East that explains Israel’s formidable military buildup, and it is through a settlement with it that Israel could get the security guarantees that it needs. That was very well understood by the initiators of the 2002 all-Arab Peace Initiative, which neither Israel nor the United States gave the attention it deserved.

One would have expected that the surprising strategic intimacy between Israel and the major Arab powers in the region—a result of the ill-fated Arab Spring, and the rise of the ominous threats of Iran and Islamist terrorism—would pave the way for the revitalization of the Arab Peace Initiative. Not only has this not happened, but Palestine was relegated from being the presumed epicenter of the region’s problems into a marginal consideration by the major regional actors. Whatever they might say in public, Palestine is now the least of Saudi Arabia’s worries. The same applies to the Sunni Gulf dynasties and Egypt, now in close security cooperation with Israel.

Netanyahu’s Spring
And even if this were not the case, Netanyahu is a well-placed conservative in revolutionary times. He would cite the failures of the Arab Spring and the ensuing anarchy on Israel’s borders as a preoccupation that precludes any serious peace initiative on Israel’s part. Netanyahu’s mentality, and that of his party where a strong Tea Party component has emerged lately, would lead him to “keep his powder dry” and wait for developments to unfold in the region before making risky moves on the political security front. To create a Palestinian state when existing Arab states seem to be crumbling and a part of Palestine is in the hands of Salafists and Hamas does not look to Israel’s ruling rightwing coalition as a particularly brilliant idea right now.

Netanyahu’s rejectionist strategy and Israel’s maneuver capabilities get powerful tailwind also from the evident decline in the vigor and sense of purpose of the Palestinian national movement. Split between the Fatah-controlled West Bank (with the occupier’s help) and Hamas in Gaza, Palestine is in a state of war with itself. That these are also the twilight days of the ailing President Mahmoud Abbas’s rule with all the uncertainties that this entails does not make the Palestinians’ situation any more edifying. Israel looks today far freer than in the past to ignore Palestinian rights and turn its back on the requirements of a genuine peace process.

Moreover, the Jewish state now enjoys a global clout unprecedented in its history. An Israeli foreign policy that was for years hostage to one single issue, Palestine, has acquired a maneuver space it hardly ever had. To future-proof itself against mounting popular pressure in the West, Israel has been looking elsewhere with extraordinary success for economic, and ultimately political, partners. It now does more trade with the once-implacably hostile Asian giants—China, India and Japan—than with the United States. Israel is now India’s second-largest supplier of military technology. Nor are Japan and China, Israel’s third-largest trading partner, anymore linking success of peace efforts to their economic ties with Israel, the “startup nation.”

Meanwhile, Israel’s strategic clout in the eastern Mediterranean has increased thanks in part to its status as a gas-producing power. A marriage of convenience has created a tripartite geopolitical bloc, a counterweight to Turkey, between Israel, Greece, and Cyprus. No wonder Nabil Shaath, a former Palestinian foreign minister, complained to Haaretz in January, 2017, of Greece’s “betrayal of Palestine.”

Netanyahu is also making strategic inroads into Africa—in his second trip in a year to the continent in early June, he addressed an ECOWAS-Israel Summit—and into Eastern Europe’s illiberal axis. As the prime minister himself edges Israel toward an illiberal democracy, Netanyahu trusts that the changing political balance in Europe will shield Israel against EU initiatives on Palestine. Indeed, it was thanks to the stance of that very illiberal East European axis that the recent EU directives on exports from the occupied territories came out far more attenuated than initially planned by Brussels.

But do Israel’s foreign policy opportunities solve its Palestinian predicament? Of course not—the problem was always about the fatally corrosive effects that the suppression of Palestine has on Israeli society. Nor can Israel’s new friends in Asia, or in the Middle East, replace its vital links with the West. The Asian giants do not share with Israel the same outlook on the world to a degree that is essential for a true strategic alliance.

The Palestinian quest for self-determination is then not the exclusive interest of the subjugated nation; in this conflict, the occupier’s very existence is imperiled as well. But this essential truth would acquire its meaning only once political change is produced in Israel and the Palestinian national movement recovers its unity and sense of purpose.

Israel’s Choice
Though dim, the chances of the two-state solution have not entirely disappeared. There is much truth in the Palestinian claim that Israel’s settlement expansion is aimed at making impossible the creation of a Palestinian state. Yet, a recent report by Israel’s Central Statistics Bureau has shown that 80 percent of the settlers are still concentrated in settlements adjacent to the Green Line, altogether consisting of no more than 4 percent of the West Bank. This would still allow a peace agreement based on land swaps between Israel and a future Palestinian state.
The alternative scenarios to a two-state solution are all dark and gloomy. Persisting in the current slide to a one-state reality would end up institutionalizing an apartheid-style situation, but one that would not be susceptible to South Africa’s peaceful resolution. Israel’s control of the levers of power including its military would allow it to never abdicate its predominance in a de facto binational state. Such a state would live in a permanent state of civil war. An affront to the international community, it would strain to its limits Israel’s capacity to resist outside pressure.

But even if forced to return to the two-state paradigm, it would be too farfetched to assume that any future Israeli government would accept going beyond the Clinton Peace Parameters and Olmert’s peace proposals; both were rejected by Palestinian representatives and even Mahmoud Abbas responded to the latter by saying “the gaps are wide.” Rejection by the Palestinians of the Clinton Peace Parameters was ultimately a tragic blow to the Palestinian cause. Saudi ambassador to the United States, Bandar Bin Sultan, even believed it to be a crime against the Palestinian people.

The Israeli side might then try to get away with unilateral moves that would help it salvage its international image, while at the same time responding to genuine Israeli concerns. The nature of these steps would greatly depend on the structure of the Israeli coalition at the time. Such an Israeli unilateral Convergence Plan would be utterly rejected by the Palestinians if only because this would turn the West Bank into a replica of the Gaza situation with Israel controlling all the outer accesses to the territories, first and foremost the Jordan Valley.

Essentially, one needs to bear in mind that Zionism, even rightwing Zionism as Ariel Sharon has shown in his unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, has always given pre-eminence to demography over territory. Whenever Zionism had to opt between more land and a less homogeneous Jewish majority, or less land with a Jewish majority, it opted for the latter. This was seen in its acceptance of the 1937 Peel Commission partition plan, in its endorsement in 1947 of UN Resolution 181, and in Prime Minister Ben-Gurion’s resistance to pressure from the military to invade the West Bank during the 1948 war. The same pattern was reflected in the concept of settlement blocs created by Labor Party after 1967, and its opposition to what Yitzhak Rabin called political settlements deep in the West Bank.

Conspicuously, Ariel Sharon’s construction of the wall in the West Bank was tantamount to a philosophical and political defeat for the Israeli right, for it meant a recognition that annexation of populated Palestinian areas in the West Bank was out of the question. In principle, unlike in the case of the Gaza disengagement, an Israeli unilateral withdrawal in the West Bank could be conducted in a more “constructive” manner. Israel could declare that it is willing to return to negotiations anytime and that it has no claims of sovereignty on areas east of the existing security wall/barrier and in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem. It could then advance a plan to evacuate thousands of settlers who live east of the barrier and relocate them within Israel’s recognized borders. Some 30 percent of these settlers have been polled to say that they would be ready to be compensated into moving to Israel proper. The hardline, ideological settlers would resist evacuation, and the battle would be far tougher than in the case of Gaza.

Unilateralism, however “nicely” conducted, should not be the preferred option. The battle for a bilateral peace should not be abandoned. Israel should not succumb to the settlers’ philosophy of living eternally by the sword as the occupier and the denier of the most fundamental national, let alone human, rights of a disenfranchised people.
In only one sense can the lessons of Ariel Sharon’s Gaza disengagement serve as an inspiration to those who still believe in a negotiated settlement. For, against the ominous predictions of the specter of civil war looming over Israel if a massive dismantling of settlements were carried out, the mostly peaceful Gaza disengagement proved to be anticlimactic. Especially shocking to the settlers’ community was the overwhelming support throughout the nation for the uprooting of the Gush Katif settlements.

The lords of the land for so many years, the settlers developed a hubris that was increasingly becoming out of tune with Israel’s longing for a normalcy that could only mean disengagement from Palestinian lands. The notion finally percolated through to Israelis that this Jewish republic of settlers on the golden sands of Gaza and the hilltops of Judea and Samaria has become an unbearable burden that has drained the resources of the nation and doomed it to a suicidal confrontation with the Palestinians. Once considered a patriotic vanguard, the settlers now became an obstacle that needed to be removed, an entanglement that needed to be untied, if Israel were to maintain its Jewish and democratic character. In the summer of 2005, it looked as though Israel was a society mature enough to face the formidable challenge of defining its final borders without cataclysmic upheaval. The precedent was established and, for the first time since 1967, the State of Israel challenged Eretz-Israel and survived.

An Israeli-Palestinian peace, which is a vital necessity for the Palestinian nation, is no less so for the Israeli occupier. Occupation has diminished the moral credentials of Israel among the family of civilized nations. Practices applied in the occupied territories spill over to this side of the West Bank, eroding the foundations of Israeli democracy. Israel’s choice is simple and cruel. It either degenerates into an apartheid state where a Jewish minority oppresses the Palestinian majority in a state of permanent civil war, or it switches away from its rightward drift and works for a two-state solution, before it is too late.

Shlomo Ben Ami is an Israeli politician, diplomat, and professor of history. He served in Ehud Barak’s Labor-led government from 1999–2001, first as minister of public security and later as foreign minister. He participated in several peace talks, most notably the Madrid Peace Conference, the Camp David Summit, and the Taba Summit. He is the author of Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy and currently is vice president of the Toledo International Centre for Peace.

Palestine and the Law of Nations

In our contemporary world, the affected parties in the Arab-Israeli conflict are not only Palestine and Israel, or Israel and the Arab World. The international community as a whole is threatened by such egregious and blatant violations of the post-Second World War international legal order perpetuated by Israel’s fifty-year occupation of the Palestinian territories; it is a test of whether international law exists and applies to all states equally. Israel’s policies and practices in the occupied Palestinian territories contravene the Charter of the United Nations, alongside other principles of international law, governing military occupation, non-annexation of territory, and self-determination.

The legal history of the conflict is critical to appreciate the international community’s responsibility in addressing the major violations that characterize the prolonged Israeli occupation. The first consideration is understanding the legal history of the land and the right of Palestinians to self-determination and independence. The Palestinian territories formed part of a mandate entrusted to Great Britain by the League of Nations following the First World War. Britain was entrusted with administering the territory in a way as to give effect to its “sacred trust of civilization,” which was to uphold the principle of non-annexation and ensure the “well-being and development” of the peoples under the mandate “until such time as they are able to stand alone” as stipulated in Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations.1

On April 1, 1947, Britain announced its intention to relinquish its mandate over Palestine and called upon the United Nations General Assembly to decide the future of Palestine. On November 29, 1947, the General Assembly passed Resolution 181 proposing the partition of the Palestine Mandate into two independent states, one Jewish and one Arab, after a transitional period. Yet, the partition resolution remained unfulfilled following the outbreak of war between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Because an independent Palestinian state has not yet been achieved, the transition period referred to in Resolution 181 is still in effect. This transitional period serves as a legal nexus with the Mandate System and as such, it carries with it the responsibilities from the mandate to the present. In its 1971 Advisory Opinion on the Legal Consequences of the Continued Presence of South Africa in Namibia, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) held that the concept of the “sacred trust of civilization” applied to all mandated territories not yet independent and “cannot be presumed to lapse before the achievement of its purpose.” Thus, it remains incumbent upon the United Nations to prevent the annexation of Palestinian territory and promote the “well-being and development” of the Palestinian people. The United Nations’ special legal responsibility toward the fulfillment of the Palestine Mandate as a “sacred trust of civilization” cannot be considered complete until the transition period is ended following the self-determination and independence of the whole of Palestine.

The international community has repeatedly confirmed that Israel’s policies and practices of occupation, and de facto annexation, are a breach of its obligation to respect the principles of self-determination and non-annexation enshrined in Palestine’s status as a sacred trust. Self-determination is a principle enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations. It is a right or obligation toward all, erga omnes, that provides for a people to determine its own political economic and social order, according to its own practices and procedures of governance.2 United Nations resolutions have repeatedly reaffirmed the right of the Palestinian people to “self-determination, national independence, territorial integrity and national unity, and sovereignty without external interference.”3 Yet, the international community has failed to undertake serious action to honor the sacred trust conferred upon it by the Mandate System, thus undermining the credibility of the international legal order.

The prolonged occupation of territory is not accepted under the United Nations Charter or the relevant rules of international law. The ICJ has held that with respect to mandated territories “two principles were considered to be of paramount importance: the principle of non-annexation and the principle that the well-being and development of such peoples form a ‘sacred trust of civilization.’” Moreover, international law provides numerous obligations and responsibilities for the temporary military occupation of a territory. Under conventions such as the 1907 Hague Regulations and the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, an occupying power is prohibited from acquiring territory by force or from permanently altering the status of the occupied territory in such a way that prejudices the future exercise of the local population’s right to self-determination.4 The occupying power must also provide for the fundamental rights of the local population and maintain civil life and public order, while respecting the local laws and institutions.5

Legal Obligations Ignored
Israel’s actions during its five decades as an occupying power directly contradict these responsibilities and duties. After seizing the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem during the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel instituted a system of dispossession and oppression toward the Palestinian population. This system of occupation is inherently discriminatory, creates a new demographic reality, and severely fragments the Palestinian territory.6 Although the international community has repeatedly condemned the occupation, it persists. In reality, Israel’s policy of de facto annexation has advanced and expanded such that when an independent state of Palestine is created it will be confined to just 22 percent of historic Mandate Palestine. According to the 1947 UN Partition Resolution, which Israel has accepted, the Palestinian state was accorded 44 percent of mandated Palestine. The persistent expansion of Israeli settlements into Palestinian territory threatens the viability of a future Palestinian state. Today, there are approximately 600,000 Israelis living in settlements on Palestinian land.7 Over 50,000 Palestinian homes and structures have been demolished since the beginning of the occupation.8

Each territorial addition to Israel’s 1967 borders has been accomplished through the use of force, contrary to the dictates of international law. An interdiction on the “use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state” is enshrined in Article 2 of the Charter of the United Nations. Both the General Assembly and the Security Council have, with regard to the occupied Palestinian territories, made specific reference to the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” and called upon Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories. Just as Israel is under an obligation to terminate its breaches of international law, the international community must not recognize as legal any territorial acquisition resulting from the threat or use of force.9

The legal status of occupied Palestinian territory cannot be fully appreciated without an examination of Israel’s responsibilities to respect Palestinian territorial integrity, and to withdraw from the occupied territories. These obligations are based, in part, on Security Council Resolution 242 (1967), which is universally considered the basis for a just, viable, and comprehensive settlement. Resolution 242 is a multidimensional resolution, which addresses various aspects of the Arab-Israeli dispute. The resolution contained two basic principles defining the status of the territories occupied in 1967, and confirmed that such territories have to be “de-occupied.” The resolution emphasized the inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by war, thus prohibiting the annexation of the territories occupied in the 1967 conquest. It called for the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from the territories occupied in the conflict. On October 22, 1973, the Security Council adopted Resolution 338 (1973) which reiterated the necessity to implement Resolution 242 “in all of its parts.”10

Following Resolution 242 in 1967, Israel made several other legally binding and contractual undertakings to end the Israeli military occupation, while preserving the territorial integrity of the West Bank and Gaza. At the 1978 Camp David Accords, Israel agreed that the basis for a peaceful settlement of the conflict with its neighbors is Resolution 242 in all its parts. The Oslo Accord, signed September 13, 1993, between Israel and Palestine provides that “the two sides view the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a single territorial unit whose integrity will be preserved during the interim period.” The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, signed in Washington, D.C. on September 28, 1995, reiterated the commitment to respect the integrity and status of the territory during the interim period. In addition, Article XXXI (7) provided that “[n]either side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.” Thus, Israel undertook to carry out the following obligations: to withdraw in conformity with Resolution 242; to respect the territorial integrity of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; and to refrain from taking any step that would change the status of the West Bank and Gaza.

Israel’s Land Grab
The creation of the settlement enterprise and its associated infrastructure in the West Bank and East Jerusalem demonstrate Israel’s intent to permanently alter the status of Palestinian territory through prolonged occupation and de facto annexation. In 2004, the ICJ issued an Advisory Opinion on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. It ruled that the establishment of settlements and construction of a separation barrier in the West Bank and East Jerusalem constitute a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention because they were likely to create a fait accompli on the ground that was “tantamount to de facto annexation.”11 Most recently, in 2016, the Security Council passed Resolution 2334 calling the settlements “a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.”12 The future of a two-state solution and the exercise of the Palestinian right to self-determination is further threatened by the construction of an expansive network of settler-only roads and checkpoints that fragment Palestinian territory, contribute to demographic change,13 and severely “impede liberty of movement.”14

A new form of apartheid is practiced in the occupied territories. As an occupying power, Israel is prohibited from acting in a way that does not respect the rights and livelihood of the local population.15 According to Article 43 of The Hague Regulations, an occupying power is obliged to exercise its powers for the benefit of the occupied population and refrain from considering its own economic and social interests.16 However, from the beginning of the occupation, Israel introduced a variety of policies and actions that unfairly gave advantage to the Israeli population. Israel’s creation of a bifurcated legal system with separate rights for Palestinians and Israelis, and its appropriation of the natural resources of the occupied territory for the benefit of the settler population, institutionalized a discriminatory system of occupation. This contravenes the principle of equality enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which contends that all persons are “entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law.”17 The continuation of the Israeli military occupation and its discriminatory regime challenges the very norms recognized as fundamental to the maintenance of the international legal order.

The third issue requiring elaboration is whether military conquest and occupation provide title to territory. Under international law, military occupation is permitted only if it is temporary and based on military necessity. It is presupposed that belligerent occupation will end following the cessation of hostilities or upon the conclusion of a peace agreement. Any other outcome is precluded by the norms of international law, which prohibit the acquisition of territory through the use of force. The 1907 Hague Regulations and the Fourth Geneva Convention both prohibit the annexation of occupied territory, or undertaking actions that permanently alter its status.18 These principles are considered peremptory norms, known as jus cogens, that are regarded as fundamental to the maintenance of the international legal order and as such, no derogation is permitted.19 It is apparent from Israel’s actions since 1967 that it does not consider the occupation of Palestine as temporary. This is evident from increasingly vocal Israeli officials advocating the outright annexation of the West Bank and the government’s continued support of the settlement enterprise and the construction of the separation wall. However, based on the legal provisions prohibiting the acquisition of territory by force and the premise that military occupation must be inherently temporary, what has been occupied by Israel must be de-occupied.

Yet, the Palestinians continue to languish under an oppressive and prolonged occupation. Following the signing of various armistice agreements and peace treaties with its Arab neighbors, Israel’s continued use of force to maintain the occupation, now in its fifth decade of existence, is not justified by military necessity. Instead, the Israeli occupation’s administrative and legal regime underpin a policy of de facto annexation designed to permanently transform the status of the occupied territory, in violation of the rules of jus cogens. Israel has not given any indication that it plans to withdraw from the occupied territories, or transfer full control to the Palestinian Authority. In 1980, Israel purported to annex East Jerusalem, declaring a “complete and united” Jerusalem its capital.”20 In recognition of the inadmissibility of the annexation of territory by force, the Security Council censured this announcement by passing Resolution 478 (1980), declaring the annexation and any future acts aimed at altering the permanent status of Palestinian land invalid under international law.21 By virtue of its own Declaration of Independence, which Israel proclaimed on May 14, 1948 “on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly [181],” and according to the principle of estoppel (the legal bar to doing what is contrary to previous actions), Israel is legally barred from claiming territory in addition to the boundaries contained in the partition resolution of 1947.22 Therefore, Israel’s acquisition of significantly more land than originally allotted under Resolution 181 contravenes international law and its own declaration of independence.23

A Global Responsibility
Finally, what is the responsibility of the international community in ending the occupation? As articulated in its Charter, the United Nations is responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security “in conformity with the principles of justice and international law.”24 As such, it must uphold the rule of law by ensuring the non-recognition of any unlawful situation and cooperating to bring it to an end. Despite identifying Israel’s increasingly serious violations of human rights, humanitarian abuses, and breaches of international law as threats to peace, the United Nations has failed to engender a comprehensive and lasting resolution to the conflict. This is a dereliction of the international community’s responsibility toward the sacred trust of Palestine and a significant threat to peace.

In the fifty years since 1967, no other issue has witnessed as many international conferences, resolutions, and agreements made in its name than the question of Palestine. Similarly, there has been no other issue that has seen so many efforts yield so few results. Although the Security Council first called for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories in 1967, none of its resolutions and their corresponding obligations regarding the illegality of Israeli occupation have been implemented, fostering an environment of impunity. Unable to justify its policies and actions in the Palestinian territories, the Israeli position has been to distract and defame as it transformed the peace process into one of conflict management rather than conflict resolution.

Since the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference, Israel has successfully used the pretense of negotiations as a smokescreen to delay a comprehensive agreement. This practice has enabled Israel to advance a policy of occupation that is whittling away at Palestinian prospects for a viable, independent state. There are growing concerns that a two-state solution will not be feasible in the near future and the Palestinian Authority’s recent overtures toward the United Nations and its organs for recognition demonstrate a loss of faith in the traditional peace process.25 In the current context, the resumption of negotiations is a non-starter. For Israel, gaining time is a strategic objective. At present and in the absence of a credible peace process, Israel has made strategic use of time to change the facts on the ground through the expansion of settlements, the demolition of Palestinian homes, and the construction of a settler-only road system.

In the face of a crumbling two-state solution, it is necessary for the international community to end the culture of complicity and appeasement in favor of decisive action designed to bring an end to the conflict. The focus must be on ending, not managing, the conflict. To do this, a date for the end of occupation must be set. This remains the only way to achieve lasting peace and security. Occupation, as an illegal and prolonged situation, is at the heart of the problem.

The international community bears a legal, political, humanitarian, and moral responsibility to end the prolonged Israeli occupation, enabling both Palestinians and Israelis to live in peace and security. It must act to revitalize and steer the long-dormant quest for peace by overseeing the full implementation of each party’s corresponding obligations under international law. Members of the international community must exercise their collective influence to facilitate the establishment of a “just and lasting peace” based on the principles found in Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.26 The United States, as the only power able to influence the Israeli government, bears a special historic responsibility in this regard. This is necessary to end the suffering of the Palestinian people, bring about a peaceful resolution to the conflict, and prevent the weakening of the foundations of international law. Only once Israeli forces have withdrawn from Palestinian land and the occupation has ended can the ultimate objective of the sacred trust and independence of the Palestinian people be fulfilled. The responsibility to resolve the Palestinian problem falls squarely on the shoulders of the international community to carry out the United Nations collective security system’s first purpose “to take effective collective measure for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace.”

1 League of Nations (1919). Covenant of the League of Nations, Article 22. Retrieved http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/leagcov.asp#art22
2 International Court of Justice (2004). Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory; General Assembly (2005). World Summit Outcome. Retrieved http://www.un.org/womenwatch/ods/A-RES-60-1-E.pdf
3 General Assembly (1970). Resolution 2625 (XXV) Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations. Retrieved http://www.un-documents.net/a25r2625.htm
4 The Hague Regulations (1907). Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, Article 2, 42–56. Retrieved http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/hague04.asp; Fourth Geneva Convention (1949), Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Retrieved https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/applic/ihl/ihl.nsf/Treaty.xsp?documentId=AE2D398352C5B028C12563CD002D6B5C&action=openDocument
5 Ibid.
6 Amnesty International (2017). “Israel’s Occupation: 50 Years of Palestinian Oppression.” Retrieved https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2017/06/israels-occupation-50-years-of-palestinian-oppression/
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.
9 General Assembly (1970). Resolution 2625 (XXV) Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations. Retrieved http://www.un-documents.net/a25r2625.htm
10 Security Council (1973). Resolution 338 of 22 October 1973. Retrieved S/RES/338 (1973).
11 International Court of Justice (2004)
12 Security Council (2016). Resolution 2334. Retrieved S/RES/2334.
13 Fourth Geneva Convention (1949). Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, Article 49.
14 International Court of Justice (2004).
15 Ibid.
16 The Hague Regulations (1907). Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, Article 43.
17 General Assembly (1966). International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Articles 2, 26.
18 The Hague Regulations (1907), Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, Articles 2, 42-56; Fourth Geneva Convention (1949), Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, Articles 55, 56, 59 and 60; United Nations (1945). Charter of the United Nations, Article 2.
19 Although Israel is not a formal party to the 1907 Hague Convention, its regulations are now considered to be customary law and thus are binding on all states. Israel became a party to the Fourth Geneva Convention on July 6, 1951 and so, is legally bound by its provisions governing the actions of an Occupying Power.
20 Knesset (1980). Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel. Retrieved https://www.knesset.gov.il/laws/special/eng/basic10_eng.htm
21 Security Council (1980). Resolution 478. Retrieved https://unispal.un.org/DPA/DPR/unispal.nsf/0/DDE590C6FF232007852560DF0065FDDB
22 General Assembly (1947). Resolution 181(II)Future Government of Palestine. A/RES/181 (II); Declaration of Establishment of State of Israel (1948). Retrieved http://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/foreignpolicy/peace/guide/pages/declaration%20of%20establishment%20of%20state%20of%20israel.aspx
23 Monem Said Aly, A., Feldman, S. and Shikaki, K (2013). Arabs and Israelis: Conflict and Peacemaking in the Middle East. London, UK: Macmillan Education, 118.
24 United Nations (1945). Charter, Article 1.
25 Scheindlin, D. and Shikaki, K. (2017). Palestinian-Israeli Pulse: A Joint Poll. Retrieved http://www.pcpsr.org/en/node/696
26 Security Council (1967). Resolution 242 (1967) of November 22, 1967. Retrieved S/RES/242; Security Council (1973). Resolution 338 (1973) of October 22, 1973. Retrieved S/RES/338

Nabil Elaraby is an Egyptian diplomat and lawyer. He served as Secretary General of the League of Arab States from 2011–16. Prior to his appointment as Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs in March 2011, he served as Egypt’s permanent representative to the United Nations in both New York and Geneva and participated in several peace talks, notably the Camp David Middle East Peace Conference and the Taba dispute negotiations. Previously, he was a judge at the International Court of Justice.

A European Call for Palestinian Independence

No other issue has been more discussed and negotiated by the international community than Palestine. The so-called “question of Palestine” has been an ongoing subject in the diplomacy of the last century. Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire and after the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement, Palestine was included as a priority issue in the international agenda. The British historian Margaret MacMillan in her history of the Paris Peace Conference Peacemakers recalls an anecdote related to Great Britain’s geopolitical appetite to control the Middle East and what the Prime Minister Lloyd George thought about Palestine. MacMillan describes how Arnold Toynbee, an advisor to the British delegation during the Paris conference in 1919, had to deliver some papers to the prime minister. To his delight, Lloyd George had forgotten his presence and had begun to think aloud: “Mesopotamia  . . . yes . . . oil . . . irrigation . . .we must have Mesopotamia. Palestine . . . yes . . . the Holy Land . . . Zionism . . .  we must have Palestine.” Lloyd George’s mutterings reflect how, all throughout history, this land has attracted the interest of many external powers to rule the Promised Land.

November 2017 marks three historic milestones related to Palestine. A century ago on November 2, Lord Balfour addressed the famous letter to Lord Rothschild; in it he expressed that “his Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the attainment of this object.” That letter was the beginning of what would be known as the Nakba or catastrophe for Arabs and Palestinians, and the origin of the State of Israel. Since then the region has been beset by wars, conflicts, and crises, many of which are still ongoing today. The second anniversary on November 29 marks seventy years since the adoption of the General Assembly Resolution 181 in which the United Nations approved the partition plan of Palestine into two states. November 22 marks the third milestone fifty years after the approval of UN Security Council Resolution 242 that put an end to the Six-Day War and enshrined the principle of “land for peace.”

The three anniversaries symbolize the quagmire of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If we could now reengage in a serious and efficient diplomatic process, we could even imagine finding a final and just solution. If Security Council Resolution 242 is finally implemented, it could open the way to make the “two-state solution” a reality, thus resulting in a new historic milestone by which the Balfour Declaration could be celebrated by all parties once Israel is recognized on the same terms as Palestine. That should be Europe’s role.

The main European countries currently involved in trying to solve a crisis that had its origin in European hegemony and colonial expansion, Great Britain and France, were the two main colonial powers competing to control Palestine. After long and difficult negotiations, Great Britain secured the international mandate from the League of Nations. Though the decision to allocate Palestine to the British was secretly agreed in the Sykes-Picot treaty, it was formally recognized in the San Remo Conference in 1920. Nevertheless the truth was, as referred to in Jonathan Schneer’s book The Balfour Declaration, that Mark Sykes persuaded François Georges-Picot that neither Britain nor France should govern Palestine, but rather an international condominium. Palestine was not “a twice promised land,” as some wrote then, but rather thrice-promised: to the Arabs, to the Zionists, and to a prospective international consortium whose members were to be determined.

Unfortunately, Palestine hasn’t been a “promised land” for any of its people but a land of suffering. A century of conflicts, wars, violence, and unsettled disputes is proof of this sad reality. It is the unfortunate history of a prosperous territory and a wise and dignified people. From the beginning, Europe has been trying to facilitate the negotiation of a peaceful resolution to the conflict. After the Suez War involving France, Britain, and Israel against Egypt in 1956, the role of the European powers faded away.

One hundred years later, the time may have come to revive the European role toward a more active reengagement in the diplomatic process. It would be wise to recall in the latest chapters of this frustrating peace process Europe was not considered as one of the main third parties to facilitate a final settlement. Nevertheless, the paradox is that European foreign policy has always been inspired by and connected to the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

It was in the “Venice Declaration” in 1980 that European leaders, gathered in this Italian city, decided to declare their support to the right of self-determination of the Palestinian people, thirty years ahead of the United States and the UN Security Council resolutions.

The Golden Years of the Peace Process
The consequences of the first war in Iraq in 1991 forced the international community to acknowledge the urgency of solving the Israeli-Arab conflict. Under the leadership of the first Bush Administration, the United States called for the convening of the Madrid Peace Conference in October 1991. The Madrid conference marked the end of a period of wars (the Suez crisis in 1956, the Six-Day War in 1967, and the Yom Kippur in 1973) and succeeded where more than fifty-two secret and formal peace plans had failed to achieve any progress. Madrid launched the beginning of the so-called “peace process” and its terms of reference were very clear: “land for peace,” which entailed Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied territories and that the Arab countries should sign peace agreements with Israel. Unfortunately Madrid did not bring the “olive branch of peace to the region.” It is true that it gave for the first time a genuine hope that peace was possible, even if Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir declared in the Spanish capital that we would have to wait at least ten years. At that time we thought that ten years was too much time to satisfy peace aspirations and put an end to the sufferings and grievances of so many people.

The Madrid conference was followed several months later by the signing of the first Oslo Agreement. The announced breakthrough in the secret negotiations channel was unanimously received as a golden gift for diplomacy, and the actors well deserved the Nobel Peace Prize.

Today, with the benefit of historical perspective, there can be no denying the sense of deep disappointment with the Oslo process. Nobody can deny the positive psychological impact achieved by this agreement through mutual recognition. That recognition, however, was asymmetrical and the “step-by-step” methodology of this process—which was probably the only approach possible at the time—proved to be insufficient with negative consequences for the cause of peace. There was no end goal; the final status issues that were identified didn’t include the recognition of a Palestinian state. President Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)recognized the State of Israel, but the Israeli government merely gave recognition to the PLO but not the State of Palestine.

Nevertheless, the process launched in Madrid and consolidated in Oslo initiated the “golden years” of the Israeli and Palestinian peace process. There was hope, enthusiasm, and trust among the parties. Even with some setbacks and disappointments, the process was progressing.

The assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995 was a strategic shock for the process. Trust between the two leaders, Arafat and Rabin, was high when the Israeli prime minister was killed. At that moment, the momentum that both leaders had provided disappeared. The call for early elections by Prime Minister Simon Peres resulted in Benjamin Netanyahu’s assumption of the premiership and a fundamentally different Israeli approach to the Palestinian question.

These were years of great difficulty in maintaining the legacy of Madrid and Oslo. It was also a period reflective of the positive impact of European diplomacy on the peace process. European efforts succeeded in keeping the process alive; the European Union appointed a Special Envoy, a position which I was honored to be the first to assume. As part of a collective European diplomatic effort, we convinced the main actors, in particular the United States, to uphold the past legacy of the peace process. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s first term could be considered constructive. Israel signed the Hebron protocol and a Likud government accepted for the first time to divide Judea and Samaria, its holy land. At the end of his first term Netanyahu signed the Wye River Agreement which was the last positive development before the new election in Israel. The Labor party came back to power and Prime Minister Ehud Barak was received as the “hero” who could solve all tracks of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

History will judge with objectivity the reasons for the collective failure to reach a final agreement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet with some hindsight I remain convinced that the parties involved: Israel, the Palestinians, the United States, and the international community, missed a “great opportunity.” The successive negative developments that followed the collapse of the Camp David Summit in July 2000 are well known: an unsuccessful attempt to reach a final agreement in Taba in Egypt, the victory of Ariel Sharon in the Israeli elections, the onset of the Second Intifada and the collapse of the twin towers in 2001. The golden days of the peace process came to an end and we entered a long and thwarted process without any serious negotiations.

International diplomacy tried its best in the following years, but the process stagnated. In 2002, the European Union under the Danish presidency, proposed the “Road Map for Peace.” The EU joined in the establishment of the “Quartet” together with the Russian Federation, the United States and the United Nations, but nothing of real substance was negotiated. The last efforts of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert could be considered the final attempt to reach an agreed settlement. Political circumstances on both sides did not allow for reaching an agreement and since then, peace efforts have remained in a sort of limbo.

The Road to Peace
Today, even with the current stagnation of the peace process, the EU could have one of the keys to relaunching the political negotiations: a European recognition of the Palestinian state. Instead of waiting for “Godot,” that is to say the U.S. plan, Europeans should use their diplomatic instruments to revive the process. The best leverage that Europe can employ at this moment would be the formal recognition of the state of Palestine. The approach should proceed on several tracks. The Arab Peace Initiative should be implemented with European support. This should proceed with the understanding that mutual recognition of Israel and Palestine by the whole international community should be the only game in town. If Israel and the United States recognize Palestine, the Arabs and the Islamic states will recognize Israel. Europe could be the mediator in this process, taking the lead to accelerate this solution. Already in May 1999 in the Berlin declaration, Europeans committed themselves to “recognize the Palestinian state . . . in due course.” The “due course” is now.

We should tell our Israeli friends that if there is no progress in the political negotiations during a reasonable period of time, the EU will declare its recognition of the Palestinian state. That would be a logical and legitimate approach, since it is a reflection of Europe’s commitment to uphold the “two-state solution,” and the imperative to preserving peace in the region.

It has been a dramatic and mistaken trap to accept the premise that the creation of a Palestinian state can only come about as the result of Israeli-Palestinian negotiation. We should ask ourselves how we reacted when we recognized the State of Israel. We should recall how Israel’s Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, on the night of May 14, 1948, announced the establishment of the State of Israel. Nobody asked him to consider negotiating its recognition with the Palestinians or the Arab states. We, Europeans, rightly recognized Israel and we did it in good conscience, aware of all consequences. Now the time has come to recognize Palestine in order to facilitate a peaceful settlement between Israel, the Palestinians, and the Arab states. Maybe with this commitment we could correct the intent of Sykes-Picot. Palestine will be not a territory controlled by France, Great Britain, or by an international consortium but by Palestinians and Israelis living in peace and prosperity.

Miguel Ángel Moratinos served as former foreign minister of Spain (2004–10), former EU Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process (1996–2003), and Spain’s ambassador to Israel in 1996. During his premiership, he chaired the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europe and the Council of the European Union. He took part in the Madrid Peace Conference as Director General of Foreign Policy for Africa and the Middle East of the Institute of Cooperation with the Arab World. Since 2011, he has been teaching at Sciences Po.

Global Palestine

Very few people in our world today have not heard of the Palestinian problem. Whether it is referred to in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the question of Palestine, the Palestinian problem, the Middle East peace process, or whichever type of terminology is used to describe it (and there are many), the world is more than aware of this lingering conflict, and the inability to resolve it. The rights of the Palestinian people and the tragedy of the Palestinian refugee problem are internationally acknowledged as longstanding issues still in need of a solution. A prominent U.S. politician once remarked that in travels around the world two to three decades ago, the Palestinian issue would be raised by foreign leaders only in passing and infrequently. More recently, however, it would be at the top of the list of topics raised by diplomats, policymakers, and average citizens anywhere and everywhere.

The question of Palestine has undoubtedly provided the world with an international vocabulary that applies today to any number of different conflicts: the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war, occupation, deprivation, the right of return, the peace process, just and durable peace, resistance, illegal settlements, mutual recognition, and so much more. The Arab-Israeli conflict has provided the world with a host of UN General Assembly (UNGA), UN Security Council (UNSC), Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Arab League resolutions. UNGA Resolutions 181, 194 and UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338 have become household terms for millions around the globe. The land-for-peace formula and the two-state solution have provided the substance for peace conferences, public (and not-so-public) negotiations, accords, agreements, understandings, and misunderstandings.

The past five decades have seen numerous international initiatives to end the conflict. Many of these initiatives have been put forward by statesmen, diplomats, and policymakers: the Rogers Plan, Henry Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy, the step-by-step approach, the Reagan initiative, Bush’s “linkage,” the Clinton parameters, the Obama plan and the John Kerry-led engagements in 2013–14, and, nowadays, President Donald Trump’s plan for an “ultimate deal,” are only but a few. Other initiatives have been associated with international capitals and cities that now bear their names from Geneva and Camp David in the 1970s to Madrid, Washington and Oslo in the 1990s, and Wye River, Annapolis, Aqaba, and Taba in the first decade of this millennium. These are merely the main initiatives and processes out of tens of others.

Now, in 2017, one hundred years since the Balfour Declaration following Britain and France’s agreement to split the Middle East between them, seventy years after UNGA Resolution 181 and the Partition Plan of 1947, almost seventy years since the 1948 war, and fifty years since the Six Day War of 1967 and UNSC Resolution 242, the question of Palestine remains unresolved.

The world forgets that the Palestine issue needs to be addressed comprehensively, now—not just debated, analyzed, and studied. Everything has been tried: international peace conferences, direct and indirect talks, proximity talks, exploratory talks, secret talks, mediation, superpower shepherding, and so many other bold and creative attempts to resolve one of contemporary history’s longest conflicts. A sad reality today is that the Palestinian problem has become part of our daily routine—a common subject of debate and discussion, taught as a subject at schools and universities across the world; and the subject of innumerable books, publications, articles, reference material as well as academic conferences and seminars for decades. Undoubtedly, all of this is essential in order to keep awareness of the issue alive, but it should not be an alternative to practical steps to end this tragedy.

Admittedly, a comprehensive solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, at the core of which is the Palestinian-Israeli dimension, would certainly put the peace process “industry” out of business. What will some people write about if the question of Palestine is resolved and what will others protest for or against? It would be an exercise in futility now to go over why we failed, or why on so many occasions we were so close to the finish line, yet never able to cross it. It is also not useful to revisit the reasons for past failures, and what was missing in which initiative, as this has been the subject of countless narratives by the parties themselves and observers of the negotiating history between them. Rather, I aim to emphasize the centrality of addressing and resolving the Palestinian problem, and why it must remain at the forefront of international attention.

One must acknowledge that some traction was achieved, and much progress was made as a result of many of the attempts to resolve the conflict. Sadly, however, the progress made in past attempts was brushed aside whenever a new initiative arose or when new negotiations resumed. Even building on past agreements and understandings was totally rejected by new players who claimed, at different junctures, that they are not bound by past agreements or understandings. The result was a series of vicious circles.

A major shortcoming of several negotiating processes over the past five decades is that they were either stillborn or doomed to be short-lived. In many cases this was because “complicated” issues were either left for a “later” discussion, or left out altogether. Simplistically put, this would be akin to negotiating a property deal while leaving the size and location out of the discussion! Leaving Jerusalem and refugees out of a new initiative is a recipe for failure even before one starts negotiating. Refusing to negotiate according to Resolution 242 and the principle of land-for-peace because this “preempts the endgame,” is essentially negotiating for the sake of negotiating without the will or intent to produce tangible results. Successive Israeli governments, including the current one, have resorted to this tactic to avoid concluding a deal. On the other hand, without the pressure of negotiations, Israel gets away with outrageous settlement building.

We, in Jordan, have always maintained that serious, direct, and time-lined negotiations with a clear and early emphasis on borders, right from the beginning, would resolve the discussion on sovereignty, and therefore the issue of the illegal settlements, and put an end to settlement building once and for all. UNSC Resolution 2334 of last December was crystal clear on the illegality of settlements, with which the international community concurs. While the world outlaws, condemns, and criticizes Israeli actions, it takes only a quick look at the horrendous geographic and demographic landscape of today’s West Bank to see the intensity of settlement policy over the decades. Israel has practically never stopped settling. Negotiations, even if at times protracted, tedious, and not totally productive, mean that the world watches and scrutinizes Israel much more closely during these negotiations than in their absence. Some settlement activity may indeed slip through the net while negotiations are ongoing, but far less than the frenzy of settlement building and settlement expansion that takes place away from negotiations. And again, when negotiations resume, they cannot be open-ended. They must adhere to a defined timeframe.

Progress during negotiations was indeed achieved on several occasions. In 2000, the Arafat-Barak negotiations broke a taboo previously imposed by Israel on any discussion regarding Jerusalem. Even without a formal agreement, it was a significant milestone. In 2008, the Abbas-Olmert negotiations crossed a second major hurdle by having a serious discussion on refugees. Moreover, Israel’s long-term insistence that its security in the “Jordan Valley” is paramount was effectively addressed with the active intervention by Jordan, which made it clear that the security of its border with the future Palestinian state is its own sovereign responsibility. Jordan, in effect, put to rest the “potential threat from the east” argument presented by successive Israeli governments as a pretext not to begin or conclude negotiations and agreements.

Jordan’s historic view is crystal clear: the establishment of an independent, sovereign, viable and territorially contiguous State of Palestine, and peace and security for the entire region. This vision is at the heart of Jordan’s national interests and security. Jordan is directly involved in, and affected by, all final status issues: it is the largest host of Palestinian refugees in the world; King Abdullah II of Jordan assumes custody over the Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, and the Jordanian Awqaf administers the daily running of these sites. Jordan shares the longest border with both Israel and the future Palestinian state; any discussion on borders by definition has to include Jordan. Lastly, the discussion on water, a scarce resource in the region, and a major source of controversy between Israeli and Palestinian interests, has to be not only bilateral or trilateral, but multilateral if it’s going to resolve the issues once and for all.

In light of these interests and the implications of the continuation of the conflict for its national interests and security, Jordan has a clear stake in the outcome of any negotiating process between Israel and the Palestinians. Yet Jordan does not negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians. It is well understood that the Palestinians themselves must negotiate the nature, shape, and dynamics of their own state, with our collective support. Nonetheless Jordan remains a major stakeholder given the implications for its interests. I was asked once if Jordan should be at the negotiating table during Palestinian-Israeli peace talks and my answer was that while Jordan does not actually have to sit at the table, it should certainly be in the room.

Negotiations succeed or fail when parties negotiate open-endedly without a timeframe and the result is, as King Abdullah II described it, too much process and no peace. When certain key final status issues are omitted from the substance of the talks, the discussion is obviously void and incomplete. The only way to close this circle is to put everything on the table, at the same time.

The notion that has often guided Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” indeed makes sense. Yet short of everything being agreed, one cannot scrap what has already been negotiated. The Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 gave Israel an offer it could not and should not have refused or ignored. The potential for normal relations with the entire Arab and Muslim worlds obviously did not appeal to certain Israeli decision-makers at the time. Ironically, nowadays Israeli politicians call for “expanding the circle” and front-loading relations with some Arab and Muslim states, not only ahead of the endgame but ahead of the negotiating process altogether. This would change the approach toward negotiations between Israel and the Arab states from inside-out to outside-in.

Global Interest Needed for Regional Peace
An overview of the history of the conflict shows that only at times of sustained global interest in resolving the Palestinian problem did all parties move closer toward a solution. It is this much-needed global conviction of the centrality of this conflict that rejuvenated interest, repeatedly, and kick-started new efforts as well as provoked new approaches. Historically, regional crises, like Yemen in the early 1960s, the Lebanese crisis of 1958 and the civil war in the 1970s, “the Arab Cold War” between “conservative” and “progressive” states, the Iran-Iraq War, and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, distracted the region and the world from the Palestine issue. Yet those crises, however severe and momentous, proved to be short-lived distractions that did not affect the centrality of this core issue, and in many cases reaffirmed its importance to stabilizing the region.

More recently, regional and global dynamics are challenging the historically undisputed centrality of the Palestinian problem. The “Arab Spring” has brought an enormous magnitude of human suffering to many Arab countries, particularly Syria. The political turbulence in Iraq since 2003 has witnessed the most horrific forms of terrorism in modern times, with a human cost not just in Iraq itself but across the region and further afield. Additionally, Sunni-Shia polarization has introduced a new dynamic to interregional relations. All of these developments have sidelined the centrality of the Palestinian issue.

Over the past two decades, only the efforts of prominent individuals, not necessarily the weight of events, have foregrounded the issue of Palestine to the center of regional and global politics, reminding the Middle East and the world that without a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, much of the instability that the region is witnessing will remain, mutate, and spill over beyond the Middle East. In the wake of the outrageous invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein’s regime, President George H.W. Bush immediately announced the launch of what then became known as the Madrid process. This process paved the way for the Jordan-Israel peace treaty, and the Oslo Accords and engagement on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks. In 1998 when the Wye River process was faltering, the late King Hussein of Jordan, who had dedicated his life to the pursuit of peace, left his sickbed to rescue the talks. Following the 2003 war in Iraq and all its repercussions, the world had almost completely forgotten the Palestinian issue; King Abdullah II reminded the world, in a speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress in 2007, that a solution to the Palestinian problem was a question of peace and security for the entire world, and not just Palestinians and Israelis. More recently, President Barack Obama mustered the weight and moral authority of the United States to launch a last-ditch major effort, and again it was leaders like King Abdullah II and former President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt who flew to Washington to show that although U.S. leadership is essential, Arab stakeholders in the region, as King Abdullah II put it, “have got to do the heavy-lifting.”

In the last few years, we are witnessing yet again the marginalization, of the Palestinian issue, as global and regional leaders are preoccupied with the “Arab Spring,” war-ravaged Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and the fight against terrorism—and even more recently North Korea. The centrality of the Palestinian problem is being seriously challenged, as the international impact of other regional conflicts resonate in Western countries, in terms of instability, terrorism, or refugees. For many today, the conviction that the Palestine issue is the key to resolving other conflicts and issues in the Middle East is either disputed or overshadowed by civil wars, refugee crises, terrorism, or sectarian polarization. The linkage and causality between these issues and the Palestinian issue is no longer visible, particularly to those in the West. This may be understandable given the urgency that comes with the immediate threats that current challenges pose, but the urgency of dealing with such extraordinary realities should not come at the expense of the Palestinian issue, which provides the fuel that feeds conflicts and radicalization. Radicalization feeds not only on conflicts but on their roots, especially political, social and economic deprivation. Deprivation always leads to despair and despair leads to extremism.

The world must come to realize, once and for all, that resolving the Palestinian conflict by necessity means understanding and emphasizing its centrality. Global leaders must resume collective work to bring about substantive comprehensive negotiations through direct talks to end this conflict, and allow this generation and future generations in the Middle East and the world to enjoy peace, security, and the chance to unleash the vast potential for prosperity. This is not simply a regional conflict. It is a global one. It is the root cause of much of the instability in the Middle East and the entry point to resolving so many other problems in the region and beyond. Maintaining the centrality of the Palestinian issue is the cornerstone to resolving it. Peace in the Middle East is peace of mind for the rest of the world.

Nasser S. Judeh was the deputy prime minister of Jordan from 2015–17 and foreign minister between 2009 and 2017. He is also a centennial fellow at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, and serves on the UN Secretary General’s High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation. Currently, he is a senator in the Jordanian Upper House. On Twitter: @NasserJudeh.

Palestine, an Arab Issue

The Arab-Israeli conflict, particularly its Palestinian dimension, is the longest ongoing conflict in modern history. It has witnessed the loss of invaluable human life and of vast resources beyond reason. This conflict has been the focus of numerous peace processes, with the record of failure far outweighing the few cases of success.

During the formative stage of the conflict, the adoption of the 1947 partition resolution by the UN General Assembly, and the establishment of the State of Israel at the expense of the Palestinians, the Arab region itself was undergoing major transformation. New leaders were confronting the challenges of nation-building as the era of European colonialism gave way to the establishment of new states and a new phase of nationalist politics. President Gamal Abdel Nasser is rightly credited for championing the Arab case against Israel while raising Egypt’s posture regionally as a leader of the Arab World and internationally as a co-founder of the Non-Aligned Movement. However, he is also held responsible politically for the debacle of the 1967 war, which broke the Arab World’s confidence and shattered its image. His successor Anwar Sadat took the courageous position of initiating the 1973 October War to recover Arab lands occupied by Israel, and to embrace a new direction for Egypt’s foreign policy that focused on negotiating with Israel. However, by signing a peace agreement with the Israelis, Sadat diminished the negotiating weight of the Arab side in the overall conflict, and thus derailed, or at least postponed, any possibility of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace. President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak succeeded in restoring Egypt’s position as the central actor in the Arab World, and reestablished a sense of stability and security, both in Egypt and the region. He did this in his first decade in office while safeguarding peace with Israel and upholding Egypt’s commitment to the ultimate goal of comprehensive peace. He did not, however, substantively contribute to widening the scope of Arab-Israeli peace, despite Egypt’s consistent role in hosting numerous Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, nor did he offer a clear vision for the future of the Middle East.

Leaders in Syria and Jordan, each for their own motives, supported Palestinian aspirations, especially when they coincided with their respective interests, which was not always the case. The Syrian government, the most vocal amongst the so-called rejectionist states, spoke loudly about a comprehensive peace, but never engaged seriously in the various peace efforts for addressing the conflict, beginning with the Geneva conference immediately after the October War. Rather than participate in a common Arab negotiating effort, Syria wanted the Arabs to join a Syrian-led rejectionist front against Israel. Having adopted the least constructive posture toward peace, Syria in fact undermined Palestinian efforts toward a negotiated settlement with Israel.

The Jordanian monarchy had the unique challenge of preserving Jordanian identity with a diverse population the majority of which was of Palestinian origin. That was an ever-present factor that limited Jordan’s political and diplomatic options vis-à-vis the conflict, often unable to reconcile the need to engage with Israel in peace negotiations to ensure the stability of the Kingdom, and the constant pressure of the Arab rejectionist front to adopt a more hardline approach toward Israel.

A House Divided
As a result of this mix of competing, and often conflicting, Arab motivations, the story of Arab involvement in the conflict is replete with inter-Arab rivalry that distracted  and weakened the Arab negotiating position. The eviction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from Beirut under Syrian pressure during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the Jordanian-PLO confrontation of 1970–71 (befittingly known by the infamous label of “Black September”), and the near military confrontation between Syria and Jordan during that same period are only the most prominent episodes of the inter-Arab rivalries that undermined the Palestinian cause in the conflict with Israel.

Though Arab politics could have been more supportive of the Palestinian cause, under no circumstances does the onus for the failures we have witnessed fall solely on the Arab side. Israeli leaders from Prime Ministers David Ben-Gurion to Benjamin Netanyahu, and all of those in between, pursued opportunistic, mostly expansionist, policies based—almost without exception—on a balance of power philosophy.  This contradicted the very premise upon which the state of Israel was established by the United Nations. UN General Assembly Resolution 181 adopted seventy years ago this month envisioned the establishment of a Jewish state alongside an Arab state. The hallmark of Israel’s policy since then has been the adamant resistance to the creation of a Palestinian state on any portion of the land of historic Palestine between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Even the tentative moves by Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres to accommodate Palestinian aspirations were ambiguous at best and short-lived with the assassination of the first, and the political decline of the second. The onus for the failure of Palestinian-Israeli peace efforts falls squarely on Israel.

The Palestinians no doubt also bear their share of responsibility. The constant infighting between the different Palestinian factions was highly detrimental to their cause, and rendered them easy prey to their adversaries. Such a verdict should in no way detract from the manifest legitimacy of Palestinian claims, the justness of their cause, or the undeniable reality of Israel’s ultimate responsibility for the perpetuation of what is now the longest military occupation in modern history.

In their long and varied involvement, the superpowers also prioritized their own interests over the imperative of peace. This was true in equal measure for both the former Soviet Union and the Russian Federation today, and the United States, especially given the fact that the peace process has been a mostly U.S.-dominated affair since the late 1970s.

A Final Chance for Peace
As the decades passed and frustration accumulated, violence was the inevitable, if not justifiable, byproduct of Israel’s deepening occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip, its demeaning treatment of the Palestinians, and the repeated failure of the “peace process,” which served more as a cover for Israel’s occupation than as a genuine attempt at reaching a settlement. There were innumerable reasons for the failures we have witnessed, much of which can be attributed to the failure of both sides to the conflict and those outside powers that have sought to intervene on their behalf. The penchant for substituting double standards for principle, together with the massive imbalance of military and political power between Israel and the Palestinians, worked to undermine the prospects of a just and lasting settlement to the conflict.

Some progress was nonetheless achieved. Most notable in this regard is the creation of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza, the clarity with respect to the settlement of the core issues of Israeli-Palestinian peace (Jerusalem, borders, security, and refugees) as a result of countless rounds of negotiations, and the widespread recognition that the Palestinian issue remains at the heart of the region’s conflicts and instability, even if current regional crises continue to dominate the headlines in Syria, Libya, Iraq, and elsewhere. Whatever their merit, such achievements are in no way commensurate with the toll of human suffering, the numerous missed opportunities for advancing peace, or Israel’s relentless settlement drive that is gradually eroding the prospects for a two-state solution to the conflict. Perhaps the one “achievement” if one can use such a term given the grim reality, is that after decades of occupation, the human toll is much clearer today than ever before. No less stark are the alternatives to peace. We are at a crossroads between peaceful resolution or future generations of strife and conflict about identity and equality.

If we choose the path toward a peaceful, negotiated resolution for the conflict, then there is no viable solution except the establishment of two states, Palestine and Israel side by side. The Palestinian state will have to be based on the 1967 Arab borders with Israel, with minor exchanges of territory for the sake of unifying villages and contiguity between Gaza and the West Bank. Jerusalem will have to be the capital of the two states, with cooperative arrangements adopted for management of overlapping services or connectivity. The right of return or compensation of Palestinian refugees will have to be recognized by Israel even if refugee resettlement will be mostly, but not exclusively, within the territory of the newly established Palestinian state. And security arrangements for Israel and the Palestinian state will need to ensure against surprise attack, or use of territories as launching pads against the other. The time for incrementalism is over. Negotiations need to be undertaken with a clear time-bound approach to ensure implementation of commitments, and not recreate the conditions for failure of the Oslo process, where commitments were avoided, political balances changed, and where leadership changes resulted in radical policy shifts.

As farfetched as a two-state solution may appear today, it is the only peaceful option that preserves the unique national identity of both Israelis and Palestinians. This stark reality should be a clarion call for resolving this historic conflict once and for all.

Nevertheless, I am anything but optimistic. There is little clarity of purpose for the arduous task of moving toward peace; the political balance of power in the Middle East is further distorted; and the pressing issues of regional conflict and countering the threat of terrorism have diminished the focus on Arab-Israeli peace as a regional and international priority.

In light of existing peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, and the security coordination with the Palestinians, Israelis feel more secure, and thus are not inclined to confront the difficult choices for a final settlement with the Palestinians. New drivers of conflict in the Arab World, from within our societies as well as with our neighbors, have understandably shifted regional priorities. A decade of a unipolar world created global imbalances in favor not of Israel, but of the Israeli right, at the cost of the Palestinians. And the inconclusive Palestinian-Israeli peace efforts were detrimental to the credibility of the nascent Palestinian authorities established as the kernel of future governing bodies of the state of Palestine.

Obstacles to a Regional Solution
Slowly, calls for realism have started to infringe on the core tenets of the Arab-Israeli peace enshrined in UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, and the parameters set by the Madrid Arab-Israeli Peace Conference in 1991. Amongst the most apparent were the assurances given by U.S. President George W. Bush to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2004 that “it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949,” thus opening the door for Israel to continue its expansionist settlement policy in the occupied territories and in effect reversing Washington’s long-standing opposition to Israeli settlements. It is not coincidental that since then the number of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories has increased exponentially.

In the past few months, talk of creative regional approaches has come to the fore with very little detail. The assumption that Arab cooperation with Israel to counter extremist elements in the Middle East, and/or the hegemonic influence of Iran, will drive the Israelis to support a viable Palestinian state, lies at the core of the “regional” approach.

Regional approaches to peace are hardly novel. The Arab Peace Initiative, announced at the Arab League summit in Beirut in 2002, is one such example offering full Arab-Israeli peace and normal relations in exchange for ending Israeli occupation of Arab territory. However, current ideas about a “regional solution” seem to be premised on absolving Israel of the hard choices involved in reaching peace with the Palestinians, and thus shifting the burden of peace altogether on the Arab states. Needless to say, the viability of such proposals is dubious at best and no doubt elicit skepticism on the part of veteran observers of the peace process. Such skepticism is justified in light of the fact that it has become increasingly apparent that the present Israeli government does not believe in a two-state solution resulting in the establishment of a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. This opposition is inherently ideological, and not based on credible security considerations.

Much as I would like to see the Palestinian-Israeli conflict resolved, I expect that any effort to reach a peaceful resolution without creating a Palestinian state side by side with Israel will fail.

The alternative is that of a victor and vanquished scenario, one identity for the victor at the expense of the vanquished. That is what a one-state solution would mean, and this is not at all conducive to peaceful resolution or expressions of national identity. It will lead to the reemergence of violence, not only among nation states, but amongst the peoples themselves. This will also horrifically fuel the frustrations often taken advantage of to promote violence, intolerance, and human suffering.

Only the irrational or inhumane would have difficulty choosing the road to freedom.

Nabil Fahmy, a former foreign minister of Egypt, is the dean of the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the American University in Cairo. He served as Egypt’s ambassador to the United States from 1999–2008, and as envoy to Japan between 1997 and 1999. On Twitter: @mnabilfahmy.

Waiting for Uncle Sam

Is it still reasonable to believe that a peace settlement, brokered by the United States, is possible between Israel and the Palestinians? The historical record and conventional contemporary analysis would argue “no.”

Even a cursory examination of the history of the conflict and the U.S.-led conflict resolution process would suggest that all three parties today lack the leadership, will, and determination to take the risks and offer the necessary compromise concessions that might make a deal possible.

Indeed, history is replete with examples of failed plans, processes, and initiatives. In the early 1990s, there was a palpable sense that a breakthrough was possible. I recall Secretary of State James Baker telling the U.S. delegation—myself among them—on the way home from the Madrid Peace Conference that, after the 1992 U.S. presidential elections, he expected to intensify negotiations that he was sure would culminate in peace treaties. The United States and Russia had convened the Madrid conference that paved the way for bilateral negotiations between Israel and each of its neighbors, and a parallel process of multilateral talks on transnational issues that had been neglected too long, such as economic development, the environment, water, and even contentious issues such as arms control, regional security, and refugees. Arabs and Israelis met routinely and expanded the circle of peacemaking in a series of economic summits that brought together the public and private sectors.

Of course, Secretary Baker never had the chance to make that deal—nor did later two-term administrations succeed. The story can be told and amplified even more, but the conventional conclusion of most analysts is that a peace process between these two historical rivals—the Zionist and Palestinian national movements—cannot succeed, certainly not now when the Middle East region is more unstable than ever and in the throes of popular anger and civil wars. Part and parcel of this is receding American power, alongside historic American biases and failures.

I disagree, however, and believe that determined, persistent American leadership can change the calculus of the Israelis and Palestinians and move them toward a fair and conclusive peace settlement.

A Failure Assisted by Poor American Diplomacy
The reasons for failure of the Madrid and Oslo processes and of the efforts at Camp David, via the Road Map, following the Annapolis Conference and in the diplomacy of Secretary of State John Kerry have been well documented: Israeli leaders offered some far-reaching compromises, but each fell short of what the Palestinians insisted were their minimal requirements.1 Palestinians argued that they had made their most fundamental compromise in 1988 when they accepted the two-state solution on what would effectively be 78 percent of historic Palestine; that starting point and their particular sensitivities about Jerusalem and refugees often led their leaders to stonewall and not respond to what the Israelis had offered. The United States, ever-billing itself as the “honest broker,” proved to be too committed to Israel to offer honest compromises. U.S. negotiators either remained on the sidelines or, worse, repeated the failed and discredited practice begun in the 1990s of coordinating positions with Israel and then trying to market them to the Palestinians.

The accumulation of bad behaviors by the Palestinians and the Israelis, and the failure of the United States to monitor those actions and to hold the parties accountable, destroyed trust on both sides. Far from the confidence-building measures that were often contemplated, these actions were confidence destroyers. In addition to, or perhaps as a result of, these failures on all sides of leadership and negotiating acumen, the Israelis and Palestinians persisted in taking actions that undermined mutual trust. Israel’s settlement activities in the occupied territories expanded dramatically at the same time as negotiations were taking place over territory and borders. Israeli security requirements led successive governments to engage in onerous occupation practices, such as fixed or “flying” roadblocks, administrative detentions, and the like. For their part, Palestinians never stopped the violence and terrorism that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) had foresworn in the Oslo Accords, and the Palestinian Authority failed to act vigorously to contain the violence.

Significantly, even these setbacks did not conclusively end the search for peace. From the depths of the Intifada’s violence and counter-violence in the early 2000s emerged the Quartet-sponsored Road Map that offered a staged process of peacemaking. Following an empty conference of over fifty participants at Annapolis in 2007, Israeli and Palestinian leaders engaged intensively in final status talks. And after a succession of fits and starts in what I have labelled “billiard ball diplomacy”—that is, trying a less than well-thought out tactic until it encountered resistance and then trying another less than well-thought out different tactic—the United States launched a promising process in 2013 that seemed to be making progress until it collapsed in early 2014, and the administration called a “pause” in efforts at peacemaking.

Debunking the Peace Cynics
Given repeated failures, why does the search for a U.S.-brokered peace settlement continue? Why not throw in the towel and admit that some protracted conflicts do not have a neat and tidy resolution, and therefore engage in conflict management efforts rather than conflict resolution? This idea seems to be gaining currency, especially as the two societies and the United States produce leaders who lack vision, will, determination, and wisdom to strive for a diplomatic outcome.

In the United States, this leadership vacuum—which is a minimally-negative definition of U.S. leadership after the 2016 presidential elections—is exacerbated by a combination of factors that make it hard for any administration to act with determination as an honest broker. The U.S. public overwhelmingly supports Israel, and the institutional arms of the pro-Israel community have translated this political support into a formidable brake on an administration’s freedom of action in the peace process. This may be changing as the political divide within the American-Jewish community with respect to Israeli policy widens, but the immediate impact of these changes is negligible.

Equally important, the United States has too many other pressing priorities to devote significant capital to the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. Several of the most significant priorities are in the volatile Middle East, which makes for a strong argument against asking Israel in particular to take the risks associated with a peace process. A further complication—perhaps the most important of all—is that the current leadership in Israel is uninterested in moving toward a political settlement; and the current leadership in Palestine is too divided and too weak to contemplate a deal that would involve concessions on core issues.

Under these circumstances, it is alluring to try to make the case for managing the status quo. After all, there are things that can be done to mitigate the worst problems and, at a minimum, to leave the door open for the possibility of future progress. For example, a conflict management strategy could start with a variation of the Hippocratic Oath, that is, do no (more) harm. Israel could be asked to stop or slow down its settlement activities, reduce some of the more onerous occupation practices, allow more Palestinian workers into Israel, approve more building permits, and the like. Palestinians could be asked to take effective actions against those involved in violence and to clamp down on incitement in education and public media. There is a range of such activities, usually considered under the label of “bottom-up,” that is, improving the situation on the ground in order to create a better atmosphere for future progress toward a final settlement.

There are also “outside-in” possibilities in which regional states would agree to help the Palestinians more than they have in the past, for example, through targeted investment designed to create jobs, and engage with Israel on, for example, transnational problems whose remedies should not be put off until there is a peace treaty. These could include health and environment cooperation, and the like. This approach would build on the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which offered peace and normalization to Israel after the conclusion of peace with the Palestinians and Syria. In addition to these steps, the parties could be persuaded to treat each other more civilly and to take affirmative steps to build a culture of peace.

But there is a fundamental problem with “outside-in” or “bottom-up” approaches—they stand a chance of working only in conjunction with a serious “top-down” political process, that is, a political process whose aim is to reach a peace settlement. All the other steps are surely useful and necessary, but the degree to which they can be sustained is limited in time and subject to an array of outside pressures, the most pernicious of which are the actions of spoilers on both sides who don’t want the status quo to remain static. Spoilers try to make it impossible to sustain conflict management actions, and they have fertile ground on which to operate when there is no progress toward peace. Every time these steps have been tried in a political vacuum, they have failed—every time.

Ten Principles for Renewed U.S. Leadership
And yet, despite the cynical push for conflict management, and notwithstanding the analysis of past U.S. failures, peace today is possible—however conditional that statement is. While it may not be possible now to move expeditiously toward a final peace settlement, and while it may be impossible to rely on the parties themselves to do the right thing and to get serious about negotiations, it is possible for the honest broker, the United States, to take a number of steps that, at a minimum, can preserve the idea of a two-state peace settlement and also establish conditions that will provide an impetus to negotiations whenever they do resume. These proposed U.S. steps are a new “peace process ten commandments,” and they constitute a proposed American strategy that integrates the “top-down” along with the “bottom-up” and “outside-in” approaches, for a comprehensive process that, over time, can be implemented incrementally to achieve the two-state outcome. A significant part of this program is aimed toward rebuilding trust not only between Israelis and Palestinians, but toward the U.S. role.

I.  Lay out American parameters on core issues to be used as terms of reference for future negotiations.2 The parties have actually made some serious progress in past negotiations—at Taba in 2001, after Annapolis in 2008, and during Kerry’s diplomacy in 2013-14. Each side has a record of what was discussed and where differences were narrowed, but there is no agreed record of where the negotiations got to and what gaps remain. As such, when negotiations resume, each party will feel itself free to start from its most extreme position.

In 2000, President Bill Clinton tried to capture progress that had been registered until that point and to point the way forward in what became known as the Clinton Parameters. This was a U.S. paper, with a U.S. assessment of progress achieved, and a U.S. view of where the parties should head when they resume talks. Clinton (mistakenly, in my view) made the parties’ acceptance to negotiate on the basis of the parameters a condition for maintaining the parameters as a statement of U.S. policy. When both sides demurred and added killer conditions to their responses, Clinton withdrew the parameters.

Now is the time for the U.S. to lay down updated parameters as a statement of U.S. policy that, in Washington’s view, would serve as the terms of reference for future negotiations. There is no way the parties would “accept” the parameters now—in fact, if they are crafted wisely, both sides will find plenty to like and plenty to dislike but not enough to “accept” them as a basis for talks. And there is no reason to try to pre-negotiate them with the parties; indeed, if they could be pre-negotiated, there would be no reason not to restart substantive negotiations immediately. Rather, the parameters will stand as a statement of U.S. policy, and our diplomats will have a substantive agenda to argue for in dealing with the parties.

II.  Once the parameters have been issued as U.S. policy, the United States should present them to the United Nations with a view toward their adoption as a Security Council resolution. Since 1967, UNSC Resolution 242 has served as a foundation stone or basis for the peace process. It is time to update the internationally-agreed basis for a peace settlement, and the parameters would serve that purpose. It is unlikely that, even in the form of a UNSC resolution, the parameters would be accepted by the parties. But they would be there, enshrined as a statement of international legality and will for whenever peace negotiations resume. Patience here will be a virtue: it took many years before Resolution 242 was universally accepted.

III.  The United States should take the lead in developing and empowering an international support mechanism for the peace process. An international Quartet (the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations) already exists, but it has never been very effective. There is an Arab quartet (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates) created to follow up the Arab Peace Initiative, but this too has not been very effective. The point is to engage with others to develop a mechanism or a series of mechanisms that could play effective roles in advancing the prospects for peace.

IV.  The United States should establish a mechanism to monitor behavior by the parties that is detrimental to the peace process, should hold the parties accountable for their actions, and, if necessary, should exact consequences for bad behavior that continues. The United States should, at the same time, establish a menu of positive incentives to induce the parties to change their behaviors. Inducements and pressures are a natural and logical part of effective diplomacy, and should become an integral part of America’s approach to the peace process.

V.  The United States, in conjunction with others, should advocate steps that will begin to deconstruct the occupation in order to correct the economic imbalances it has brought about. These steps would have to be considered and implemented carefully by the parties so as not to create an economic crisis that could result from separating economic activities that have grown organically over time. But such steps, drawing for example on the work of the Aix Group, could be extremely important in helping the Palestinians develop the economic capacity to support independent statehood.3

VI. The United States, in conjunction with others, should advance and support steps that accelerate Palestinian institution-building. Former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad undertook an expedited program of institutional development in 2009–2011 that earned high marks from international institutions.4 More needs to be done, and whatever is achieved now will help ensure that the future Palestinian state will be successful.

VII.  The United States should announce its non-opposition to internal Palestinian reconciliation, with conditions. The existence of Palestinian disunity between traditionally secular Fatah and the Islamist Hamas has been used by some as a reason not to engage in peace talks. Let the Palestinians figure out how to deal with their internal political division. The position of the United States should be that it will continue to see Fatah and the government that results from reconciliation as a peace partner provided the PLO and the Palestinian Authority adhere to past commitments and agreements, especially relating to recognition of Israel and renunciation of terrorism. The presence of Hamas in such a government should not be a cause for the United States to stand in opposition, provided the government’s guidelines adhere to the historical conditions of the peace process. If Hamas, as a political party, does not adhere to those conditions, the United States would continue to refuse to deal with or engage in dialogue with Hamas.

VIII.  The United States should encourage and work with Arab states to begin to operationalize the Arab Peace Initiative, as a helpmate to the peace process, and not just as a prize for when the process results in peace. I speak from experience in noting how exciting it was in the 1990s to see Israelis and Arabs start talking about a range of issues that should not have been expected to await a peace settlement. These issues —health, water, the environment, education, and the like—are of direct benefit to everyone, and talking about them now would send a positive signal to the Israeli and Arab publics that peace can bring tangible benefits.

IX.  The United States should adopt policies that address and help resolve two issues that are at the heart of the Palestinian and Israeli narratives. The United States should extend diplomatic recognition to the State of Palestine and welcome its inclusion in international fora. And the United States should insist on universal acceptance of Israel as the national home of the Jewish people and of all its citizens. These actions by the United States would impact directly some of the deepest concerns and aspirations of the two parties.

X.  The United States should oppose strongly efforts by any party in any forum to use “lawfare” or other means to advance the delegitimization of Israel or Palestine.

In conjunction with these actions, the United States should also push for significant and impactful changes on the ground, so as to demonstrate tangible improvements to the two populations. This could include the transfer of parts of Area C to Area B, and of Area B to Area A, even before a final agreement is reached—in both cases enhancing Palestinian authority and the reach of Palestinian jurisdiction and responsibility. These moves would be further enhanced by Arab investment in Palestinian economic projects that create jobs. In so doing, the United States would be offering proof of the viability of an integrated approach that combines top-down, bottom-up, and outside-in measures. Indeed, these steps would not only reassert American leadership in the search for peace and re-establish American credibility as an honest broker for peace, but they would also constitute a vision of peace for the publics in the Middle East to contemplate.

The United States has demonstrated in the past that strong, determined, and fair leadership can advance the prospects of peace—witness the U.S. role in the disengagement agreements in the 1970s, the Camp David Accords and the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, and the Madrid conference in 1991. The assertion of renewed American diplomatic power, based on a strong, sensible, and coherent set of principles and tactics, will not only move the peace process forward, but it will also strengthen American capabilities of dealing with the broader problems affecting the Middle East. Now is the time for the United States to act with boldness and smart diplomacy.

1 See, for example, Daniel Kurtzer, Scott Lasensky, William Quandt, Steven Spiegel and Shibley Telhami, The Peace Puzzle: America’s Quest for Arab-Israeli Peace, 1989-2011 (Cornell University Press, 2013) and Ilan Goldenberg, “Lessons from the 2013-2014 Israeli-Palestinian Final Status Negotiations,” Center for a New American Security, March 2015. https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.cnas.org/documents/CNAS_Final_Status_Negotiation_web.pdf

2 An early version of such parameters can be found in Daniel Kurtzer, ed., Pathways to Peace: America and the Arab-Israeli Conflict (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

3 See a menu of ideas developed by Israelis and Palestinians, along with international experts, at http://aix-group.org/

4 “A Palestinian State in Two Years: Interview with Salam Fayyad,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 39, No. 1 (Autumn 2009), pp. 58–74. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/jps.2010.xxxix.1.58

Daniel C. Kurtzer served in the U.S. Foreign Service for twenty-nine years, retiring in 2005 with the rank of career-minister. He served as the American ambassador to Israel (20012005) and to Egypt (19972001). Instrumental in formulating and executing U.S. policy toward the Middle East peace process, he participated in the team that convened the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991. In 2008, he served as a foreign policy advisor to presidential candidate Barack Obama and subsequently served on the Obama Middle East transition team. He is currently the S. Daniel Abraham Professor in Middle Eastern Policy Studies at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Trump’s Toughest Deal

Since early 2017, a number of developments seem to have improved the odds of a positive breakthrough in Israeli-Palestinian relations. The most promising among them was the election of U.S. President Donald Trump who in a meeting with the New York Times editorial board on November 22, 2016 expressed his hopes of seeing his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, lead an effort to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.1 Subsequently, Trump charged his longtime associate, Jason Greenblatt, with engaging Israeli and Palestinian leaders in exploratory talks, some with Kushner’s participation.

Another potentially positive development was the seemingly greater interest of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the Emirates, as well as Egypt and Jordan in closer cooperation with Israel provided that the latter take steps to resolve its conflict with the Palestinians. Finally, on the Palestinian domestic front, Hamas has been showing increasing signs of realism and pragmatism, reflected in a modest amendment of its articulated goals as well as in what appeared as greater willingness to concede some dimensions of its control of Gaza in the framework of a broader reconciliation with Fatah and the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Yet these potentially positive recent developments have taken place on the background of a very sad reality. Indeed, rarely since Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem in June 1967 have conditions for resolving the conflict been worse than they have been during the past half decade. Moreover, in the absence of significant progress toward resolving the conflict, facts are being created “on the ground” that will make any future effort to negotiate and implement an agreement to resolve the conflict even more difficult, if not entirely impossible. With Israel continuing to control the entire area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, the slide toward a “one-state reality” will continue.

This essay will ascertain these challenges by contrasting them with the realities that allowed dramatic progress in Arab-Israeli peacemaking in 1991–95.2 It will then take note of the aforementioned more recent positive developments and evaluate their significance. Finally, it will assess whether these developments are likely to prove robust enough to overcome the adverse conditions that have characterized the past few years.

Waning Pax Americana
To understand the current stalemate, it is useful to reflect on a previous four-year period (1991–95) that constituted something of a “golden era” in Arab-Israeli peacemaking. That relatively short period witnessed not less than four significant breakthroughs: the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference, the 1992–95 multilateral negotiations, the 1993 Israel-Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Oslo Accords, and the 1994 Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty. These breakthroughs were made possible by a unique set of positive circumstances in the global arena, in the Middle East region itself, and in the domestic politics of the key protagonists.

In the global arena, the Soviet Union had just collapsed and the Cold War had just ended, leaving the United States as the sole superpower and thereby creating a global unipolar “American moment.” This, in turn, allowed the United States to design and implement a “Pax Americana” in the Middle East. At the beginning of this period the United States was led by President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker, both motivated to forge a new global order, and a new Middle East regional order, so that America could avoid a repeat of the Gulf War.

In the region, a U.S.-led coalition (that, importantly, included Syria as well as Egypt) had just defeated Iraq in the 1990–91 Gulf War, tilting the balance of power against the rejectionists (Iraq, Libya, and Yemen) and in favor of the region’s more pragmatic players (Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the smaller members of the Gulf Cooperation Council). The Gulf War exposed both Jordan and the PLO to external pressures: both were seen as siding with Saddam Hussein, thereby earning them the wrath of their financial backers in the Gulf. Jordan had also angered Washington for the same reason, enabling the Clinton administration to persuade King Hussein that he needed to take a dramatic positive step in Arab-Israeli peacemaking if the U.S. Congress was to be persuaded to allow renewed financial assistance to his country. Finally, the United States at that time enjoyed considerable leverage with Israel, because the collapse of the Soviet Union had brought a million new Jewish immigrants whose absorption required $10 billion in U.S. loan guarantees.

The domestic politics of some of the key players also helped make this short period a “golden era” of Arab-Israeli peacemaking. In Israel, the 1992 elections brought the Labor Party, led by Yitzhak Rabin, back into power. Rabin was committed to reaching a peace breakthrough, and as a hero of the 1967 war, he enjoyed the requisite credibility: he was broadly trusted to make the right call as to what concessions Israel could make for peace without jeopardizing its safety and security. Jordan’s King Hussein and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat enjoyed similar standing in their respective polities, and both were motivated by the danger of financial ruin. In Arafat’s case, that was on top of the threat he was facing from rival Palestinian leaders (like Faisal Husseini) who continued to reside in the West Bank, Gaza, or East Jerusalem and whose standing was secured by their role in the 1987–90 First Intifada.

Given that the stars were rightly aligned in the global, regional, and domestic political realms, it is not entirely surprising that the early 1990s produced positive breakthroughs in Arab-Israeli peacemaking. Unfortunately, the opposite has been the case for most of the past decade and a half. Not surprisingly, very little if any progress toward peacemaking was made, allowing the slide toward a “one-state reality” to continue.

While the “American moment” lasted for more than two decades, U.S. efforts in the past fifteen years to utilize its global primacy to advance Arab-Israeli peace have been sporadic. Only at the end of its second term in office did the George W. Bush administration make its first serious attempt to help resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, with the launching of the Annapolis Process in November 2007.3 Yet even then, U.S. involvement in the talks was minimal, as it refrained from offering proposals to help the parties bridge the gap between their positions. Between March and September 2008, when President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert arguably made the most substantial progress in the history of Palestinian-Israeli permanent status negotiations, the Bush administration largely limited itself to taking note of the progress made, rather than capitalizing on it by offering the parties the “ultimate deal”—a grand bargain based on that progress.

The United States continued and, indeed, enhanced its involvement during President Obama’s two terms, as evidenced in the 2009 efforts led by former senator George Mitchell and the 2013–14 attempts orchestrated by Secretary of State John Kerry. In the first of these two efforts the president was personally involved at critical junctures, as were members of his White House senior staff. Yet even Obama refrained from building on the progress made in the context of the Annapolis Process, or using that progress as a point of departure for his own efforts. He also refrained from taking the step that was key to U.S. successes in Arab-Israeli peacemaking in previous eras—as implemented by Henry Kissinger in 1974–75, by President Jimmy Carter in 1978–79, and by President Bush and Secretary of State Baker in 1991—namely, the willingness to utilize U.S. leverage to press the parties to accept important compromises. President Obama leveraged his personal involvement in the process only once, when he pressured Israel to implement a limited settlement construction freeze—and that intervention was directed at improving the environment for negotiations, not at extracting Israeli or Palestinian concessions on any of the core permanent status issues. Afterward, the United States leveraged neither its security assistance to Israel nor its financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority to induce Netanyahu and Abbas to negotiate seriously during the ten months of the partial Israeli settlement construction freeze; nor did it mobilize Europeans to exploit their financial assistance to the PA, or their trade and other cooperative relations with Israel, for a similar purpose.

An Arab World in Turmoil
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict cannot be resolved without the active support of key Arab states. Jordan and Saudi Arabia have a direct interest in issues revolving around Jerusalem, and Morocco holds the Jerusalem file for the Conference of Islamic States. Similarly, the Palestinian refugee issue cannot be addressed without the help of key Arab states, as without them, no scheme involving the permanent resettlement of a considerable number of refugees in Arab states would work.

Yet the condition of the Arab World currently bears no resemblance to the circumstances that prevailed in 1991–95 or when the Arab League convened in Beirut in March 2002 to adopt what came to be known as the Arab Peace Initiative.4 Although  Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan remained committed to the Arab Peace Initiative while insisting that Israel must first formally accept it as a basis for future negotiations, they have been consumed by the domestic challenges that culminated in or resulted from the so-called Arab Spring. In the Egyptian case these include a faltering economy, along with unrelenting terrorism in the Sinai and, in the case of Jordan, more than 700,000 Syrian refugees. Moreover, since 2011 four countries—Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen—have been beset by civil wars and their attendant devastation. Under such circumstances, even the small number of Arab states that remained intact have had more urgent matters to deal with than helping resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The Arab civil wars have caused key regional players like Saudi Arabia and Egypt to view the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through a new lens. While remaining committed to the Palestinian cause, these players have been affected by the very heavy toll that the recent regional horrors have already taken. The six-year Syrian civil war alone has already resulted in more dead and wounded, and produced far more refugees and internally displaced persons, than the Arab-Israeli conflict did through its entire history.

Israel’s Rightward Drift
In the Israeli domestic arena, the most important driver of the long stalemate is the increasing rightwing tendencies among the electorate, triggered by five years of the Second Intifada (2000–2005) culminating in Hamas’s 2006 electoral victory. During the past eight years, Benjamin Netanyahu won three parliamentary elections. Israel’s prime minister, having now served in that capacity longer than any of his predecessors, cannot take any step that would end the stalemate on the Israeli-Palestinian front without risking the loss of his governing coalition. Netanyahu equally cannot change the composition of his coalition by replacing the parties to the right of Likud with center and center-left parties, without losing the ability to lead the right wing in the next national elections.

The demise of the Labor Party in the years following the 2001 elections has meant that Netanyahu does not face any serious challenge from the left and the center-left. Instead, the most significant political threats—real or imagined—that he faces are from within the political right. Netanyahu must continually prove his dedication to the right’s core values and objectives, and hence his legitimacy as an authentic leader of their cause. Israel’s prime minister is increasingly challenged by the likes of Jewish Home party leader and Minister of Education Naftali Bennett, who calls for abandoning any attempt to resolve the conflict and for annexing some 60 percent of the West Bank.

The dominant Israeli narrative about the consequences of Israeli withdrawals since 2000 presents another barrier to compromise. Israelis’ understanding is that their withdrawals from Lebanon in May 2000 and from Gaza in the summer of 2005 resulted in the strengthening of Hezbollah and Hamas, respectively—which led, in turn, to the 2006 Second Lebanon War and to three military confrontations with Hamas in 2009, 2012, and 2014. This belief has made it easier to frighten Israelis about the likely consequences of a withdrawal from the West Bank—the area adjacent to Israel’s center core, where the country’s main population centers are located and where some 80 percent of its gross domestic product is produced.

The carnage in Syria, and to a lesser extent in Iraq, Libya, and Yemen, since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the eruption of the so-called Arab Spring in late 2010, has had a similar effect on Israeli public opinion. As images of civil war and upheaval appeared in Israeli media on an almost daily basis, Israelis became even more persuaded that the Middle East is an unforgiving neighborhood, where taking risks could prove a major folly—and that instead they should “hunker down” and await better days.5 Furthermore, the Israeli Jewish public is relatively comfortable with the status quo and largely shares Netanyahu’s assessment that Abbas is not a partner for peace. While a slight majority of Israelis remain supportive of a two-state solution, the center and center-left are too weak to push the government to accept such a solution.

A Divided, and Occupied, Palestine
On the Palestinian side, the Islamist-nationalist division is deepening. At the same time, the fragmentation within the mainstream Fatah movement has now been affirmed by Fatah’s seventh convention, as Mohammed Dahlan, the former head of the PA Preventive Security Apparatus in the Gaza Strip, and other opponents of President Abbas have been expelled or marginalized. This crisis of leadership within Fatah is contributing to political paralysis, as Abbas seems to be increasingly consumed by threats to his rule—real or imagined—rather than by the challenges presented by continued Israeli occupation.

The Abbas-Dahlan conflict has significant ramifications on Fatah’s ability to successfully challenge Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Dahlan, who has strong grassroots support in the Gaza Strip, can easily split Fatah’s vote in half, thus facilitating a much easier Hamas electoral victory in that part of the PA. Moreover, the conflict between the two men has a regional implication. Major Arab players, most importantly the so-called Arab Quartet made up of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates, view Dahlan as a strong asset against Hamas and in any renewal of the peace process. Abbas’s refusal to reintegrate his rival in Fatah reduces the PA president’s ability to gain the confidence and trust of these major Arab players.

Without a genuine Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, Abbas will probably find it difficult if not impossible to hold new elections, to regain legitimacy, or to transfer leadership to another Fatah leader. Indeed, the crisis of succession within Fatah and the PA is already weakening the Palestinians’ capacity to present a coherent position in the conflict with Israel. This situation is exacerbated by the fragility and weakness of the Palestinian political system, which lacks electoral legitimacy, parliamentary accountability, and an independent judiciary.

The most distressing aspect of the status quo for Palestinians is that it is a dynamic state of affairs, bringing with it, on a daily basis, solid facts on the ground—primarily settlement construction—that make Israel’s occupation more difficult to reverse. Furthermore, occupation policies impose significant pain and suffering on the Palestinian public and constrain any sustainable development or economic growth. Indeed, most Palestinians believe that a system of apartheid is gradually being built around them, and that the international community is not doing anything meaningful to prevent it.

Nonetheless, most Palestinians remain committed to a two-state solution;6 hence, Palestinian public opinion is not likely to be an impediment to a peace agreement that Abbas might reach with an Israeli prime minister. But as is the case with the Israelis, the Palestinian public is not a force for peace: the overwhelming majority do not trust the Israelis and fear Israel’s long-term aspirations. And most Palestinians believe that the majority of Israelis are opposed to a two-state solution.7

“The Toughest Deal of All”
While the international, regional, and domestic circumstances are far from conducive for a positive breakthrough in Palestinian-Israeli relations, a number of developments that have taken place in more recent months have raised expectations in some circles that progress, while far from assured, is not inconceivable. The first is the election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States. Trump’s ascendance was seen as promising precisely because he is so different from any of his predecessors. And since these predecessors have all failed to bring peace to Israel-Palestine, it was not illogical to hope that an unconventional approach may succeed where all post-Oslo attempts have failed.

President Trump further nourished such hopes by repeating his commitment to give it a shot. On September 21, 2017, speaking at the outset of his meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Trump said: “We are looking seriously at peace and maybe ultimately peace for the whole of the Middle East and I think we have a pretty good shot, maybe the best shot ever. It’s a complex subject, always been considered the toughest deal of all: peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the toughest deal of all. I think we have a very, very good chance.”8

Trump’s impatience and inattention to detail might still prove to be assets in the peacemaking realm. His leadership style could diminish the odds that the United States would allow the protagonists to drown the peace process, and one another, in endless discussions of preconditions for negotiations and of the minute details of the issues at dispute. Initially, Trump also appeared highly unpredictable, causing Israeli and Palestinian leaders to fear his reactions, whether by possibly shaming them on Twitter or by punishing them by other means. Whether explicitly or implicitly, Trump leveraged these fears, leading Abbas to drop his preconditions for meeting with the Israeli prime minister, who yielded, in turn, to the newly elected president’s request that he wait “just a little bit” with plans for additional settlement construction. Netanyahu also avoided any negative reaction to Trump’s continuous failure to abide by his commitment to relocate the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Recent months have witnessed important changes in the Middle East that may propel key Arab states to play a bigger role in encouraging a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Paradoxically, the nuclear agreement reached between the P5+1 and Iran has only heightened the sensitivity of key Arab states to Iran’s meddling in the region—from Iraq to Yemen. This creates an unprecedented confluence of interests between these key Arab states and Israel. Recent signals of growing Arab appreciation of this change include: the first public meeting between Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Netanyahu; a statement by the ruler of Bahrain, King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa, to the effect that he would like to see an end to Arab states’ boycott of Israel; and public events in the United States involving the direct engagement of Saudi Arabia’s Prince Turki Al-Faisal with the American pro-Israel community. This may improve the conditions for Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the Emirates, as well as Egypt and Jordan signal their interest in closer cooperation with Israel provided that the latter take steps to resolve its conflict with the Palestinians.

President El-Sisi’s speech to the UN General Assembly on September 19, 2017, was an important sign of shifting attitudes among Arab leaders. Breaking from his prepared remarks in classical Arabic, El-Sisi addressed Israelis and Palestinians informally in colloquial Egyptian Arabic saying they “should take advantage of an opportunity that may not be repeated.” El-Sisi called on Palestinians “to unite behind a common goal and to accept coexistence with Israel in peace and security.” He also assured Israelis by citing Egypt’s long-established peace with their nation that lasted forty years, saying that this “amazing” step can be repeated with the Palestinians. “Do not hesitate,” El-Sisi said, addressing the Israeli public. “We are standing with you to make this step a success.”9

Changes in Israeli and Palestinian Leadership
On the Palestinian domestic front, Hamas has been showing increasing signs of realism and pragmatism. Responding to regional and international pressure, Hamas unveiled in May 2017 a new policy document, one that modified some of its traditional positions and principles articulated in its 1988 Charter.10 Most of these modifications, however, had already been articulated by the leaders of the movement during the past two decades. Nonetheless, walking a thin line between its moderates and hardliners, the movement sought to soften some of its positions on the peace process. Without abandoning its core traditional positions of rejecting the State of Israel and the Oslo Agreement, or its commitment to armed struggle, the movement affirmed its acceptance of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders and stated that the conflict with Israel is not religious, or with Jews or Judaism. The document also refrained from mentioning its links to the Muslim Brotherhood, thus increasing the chances for improved relations with Egypt, which in the aftermath of Mohammad Morsi’s ouster accused Hamas of meddling in Egyptian affairs.

In the same month, soon after the release of its new document, Hamas announced the election of its new head, Ismail Haniyeh replacing Khaled Mishaal. Hamas also elected a new leader, Yahya Sinwar, for its local Gaza Strip branch. The election of Haniyeh shifted the movement’s center of gravity from Doha, where Mishaal is located, to the Gaza Strip, where Haniyeh served between 2006 and 2014 as prime minister. Haniyeh is Hamas’s most popular leader among the Palestinian public and one of its most moderate and pragmatic figures. This development alters the weight of Hamas’s regional interlocutors, downplaying Qatar’s role and highlighting that of Egypt, while making the movement more sensitive to public concerns, particularly in the Gaza Strip. Moreover, the election of Sinwar, one of the top leaders of the movement’s armed wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, ensured the complete control of the movement’s political wing over the armed one and significantly widened the movement’s room for maneuver.11

These developments propelled Hamas to seek closer relations with Egypt, in the hope of improving conditions in the Gaza Strip. Accordingly, Hamas showed greater sensitivity to Egypt’s security concerns, particularly regarding the suspected role played by the Strip’s tunnels and smugglers in supporting ISIS terrorists in the northeastern region of Sinai. Improved security cooperation between the two sides paved the way to a political rapprochement and gave Egypt an added leverage over Hamas. This leverage translated into two steps that Hamas took within a period of four months. In June 2017, Hamas reached an understanding with Mohammed Dahlan, the most promiment Palestinian ally of President El-Sisi, allowing its former enemy to gain a foothold in the Gaza Strip in return for financial support from the United Arab Emirates, access to Egyptian gasoline, and the opening of the Rafah Crossing with Egypt.12 Hamas’s decision came in response to sanctions imposed by Abbas two months earlier, reducing Gaza’s access to Israeli electricity and reducing the salaries of PA employees in the Gaza Strip. These sanctions came in response to Hamas’s establishment earlier, in March, of an “Administrative Committee,” one that served as a de facto government for the Gaza Strip. The creation of this committee violated the terms that led in May 2014 to the formation of a single PA government, the “reconciliation government.”

Responding to further Egyptian pressure, Hamas agreed in September to dismiss its de facto government and allow the reconciliation government to assume control over the Gaza Strip. Abbas responded favorably, sending the PA government to the Gaza Strip to test Hamas’s commitment. He also sent his Fatah negotiators to Cairo to search for ways to resolve remaining gaps in the two sides’ positions, which would lead to the implementation of a 2009 Egyptian-brokered reconciliation agreement.13Assuming serious willingness on the part of both Hamas and Fatah to actually implement such an agreement—which proved not to be the case with all previous Fatah-Hamas reconciliation attempts—such reconciliation will produce for the first time a single unified Palestinian address for resolving the conflict with Israel.

On the Israeli domestic front, Prime Minister Netanyahu is facing multiple police investigations and growing legal and ethical issues related to a number of corruption cases. Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, has already been indicted but it remains unclear whether he would similarly face trial—let alone be found guilty in a court of law. The Israeli political class is already gearing up for the possibility that Netanyahu would have no choice but to leave the scene, with potential successors—both within and outside his Likud party—already positioning themselves to take advantage of this possibility.

At the same time there has been another “changing of the guards” in Israel’s Labor Party with the election of Avi Gabbay, an outsider and a private sector success story with little political experience taking charge. Whether he will also end the sequence of failed Labor leaders and revive Israel’s center-left by igniting the enthusiasm of the country’s young generation remains to be seen.

Realities of Global Instability
Yet these new possibilities might not prove robust enough to overcome the harsh realities facing any effort to bring the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to an end, or even to reduce significantly its intensity. Increasingly, the Trump administration is facing an international environment that is anything but conducive to a U.S. effort to achieve such a breakthrough—whether or not Trump’s problematic personality could contribute positively to his efforts to achieve a breakthrough in Palestinian-Israeli relations. First, while the United States remains much more powerful, economically as well as militarily, than any possible competitor, the “American moment” is over. Russia is back and is challenging the United States in a number of arenas: Ukraine, the Baltic region, and Syria. President Trump seems to have already discovered that turning President Vladimir Putin from a foe to a partner is far more difficult than he apparently imagined.

Alongside handling Putin’s Russia and foreign policy crises like North Korea, the Trump administration is occupied with the challenge of a post-ISIS Middle East, and making sure that the militant group does not reconfigure and reinvent itself to fight another day under a different framework, or metastasize in North Africa, Europe, and even the United States. Washington and its allies must also deal with security challenges and humanitarian catastrophes in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya.

Other regional changes also do not bode well for any peacemaking efforts in Israel and Palestine. More than ever before, the threat perceptions and the national security interests of Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia coincide with those of Israel. These will not necessarily be in the service of peacemaking. To the contrary, there may be considerable reluctance in Cairo, Amman, and Riyadh to press Israel to make the concessions required by the Arab Peace Initiative.

While President Trump continues to sound intent on achieving Palestinian-Israeli peace, the odds that he and his close associates would be able to overcome the many obstacles to such a breakthrough are not very high. Should his efforts fail, the slide toward a “one-state reality”—the de facto transformation of the area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River into one political unit—will continue.

Yet the pace at which the slide toward a “one-state reality” will occur is difficult to determine, as is the pace at which the costs associated with this slide will be incurred. Clearly, should the Trump administration embrace a policy of sustained engagement—let alone if it decided to launch a major and dramatic Arab-Israeli peacemaking effort—the expected slide might be slowed or even halted.14

The pace of the slide toward a one-state reality might be affected by changes in the Palestinian and Israeli domestic scenes, as well as by developments in the region as a whole. For example, the slide might be slowed if a further escalation in the geopolitical competition between some Arab states and Iran led the former to propose an amended Arab Peace Initiative that Israel might accept—and the Palestinians might not reject—as the basis for detailed negotiations. It is even more difficult to anticipate how the expected slide would be affected if Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu were to be indicted on corruption charges, or if the aging president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, were to suddenly leave the scene.

1 “Donald Trump’s New York Times Interview: Full Transcript,” The New York Times, November 23, 2016, https://nyti.ms/2kdpBE4

2 The analysis of the conditions that allowed the “Golden Era” of Arab-Israeli peacemaking and the assessment of the conditions that have prevailed during the past five to six years are based on Shai Feldman and Khalil Shikaki, “Israel and the Palestinians: Sliding Toward a One-State Reality,” Middle East Brief, no. 104 (Brandeis University, Crown Center for Middle East Studies, December 2016).

3 See Shai Feldman and Khalil Shikaki, “Is It Still Fall in Annapolis? Thinking about a Scheduled Meeting,” Middle East Brief, no. 21 (Brandeis University, Crown Center for Middle East Studies, November 2007).

4 See text of the Arab Peace Initiative adopted at Beirut summit, Agence France-Presse, March 28. Retrieved from European Parliament website: http://ow.ly/Ec2Y30g8DYV

5 See “Palestinian-Israeli Pulse: A Joint Poll” (June 2016) [Israel Democracy Institute and Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, August 22, 2016], http://pcpsr.org/sites/default/files/Poll%20Summary_16August2016%20w%20logos.pdf; see also Israel Democracy Institute, “Peace Index—October (2) 2016,” http://www.aftau.org/document.doc?id=531 and “Peace Index—November 2016,” http://www.aftau.org/document.doc?id=538

6 See “Palestinian-Israeli Pulse: A Joint Poll” (June 2016).

7 Ibid.

8 Jeremy B White, “Donald Trump says he has ‘maybe the best shot’ at Israeli-Palestinian peace,” The Independent, September 21, 2017, http://ow.ly/9KWz30g8CVq

9 “Egypt’s Sissi makes impromptu plea at UN for Israeli-Palestinian peace,” Times of Israel, September 20, 2017, http://ow.ly/Zyan30g8D9T

10 For the full text of the new Hamas document, see “Hamas in 2017: The document in full,” Middle East Eye, May 1, 2017, https://shar.es/1PhbuS. See also, Ian Fisher, “In Palestinian Power Struggle, Hamas Moderates Talk on Israel,” The New York Times, May 1, 2017, http://ow.ly/mR6030g8Dwf

11 Isabel Kershner, “Hamas Appoints Hard-Line Militant as Gaza Leader,” The New York Times, February 13, 2017, https://nyti.ms/2l82aQP

12 Fares Akram and Mohammad Daraghmeh, “Power-sharing deal between former foes taking shape in Gaza,” Associated Press, July 20, 2017. See also, “Dahlan reveals controversial Hamas deal on Gaza,” Associated Press, July 23, 2017.

13 Oren Liebermann, “Hamas makes move toward Palestinian reconciliation,” CNN, September 17, 2017, http://cnn.it/2h7O9lD. See also, Michael Young, “Will the Fatah-Hamas Reconciliation Work This Time?” Carnegie Middle East Center, September 28, 2017, http://ceip.org/2yL8Fgx

14 Dennis Ross, “How Trump Could Surprise the World on Israeli-Palestinian Peacemaking,” Washington Post, November 30, 2016, http://ow.ly/s2T230g8DuO, and Martin S. Indyk, “President Trump’s Options for Israeli-Palestinian Dealmaking” (Brookings Big Ideas for America, December 1, 2016), http://brook.gs/2fPmIXC

Shai Feldman is the director of Brandeis University’s Crown Center for Middle East Studies. He is also a member of the board of directors of Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. From 1997 to 2005, he was head of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and between 2001 and 2003 served as a member of the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters. He is the author/co-author of six books, including Bridging the Gap: A Future Security Architecture for the Middle East; Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control in the Middle East; Track-II Diplomacy: Lessons from the Middle East; and Arabs and Israelis: Conflict and Peacemaking in the Middle East.

Khalil Shikaki is the director of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, and a senior fellow at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University. He previously served as dean of Scientific Research at An-Najah University in Nablus between 1996 and 1999. Shikaki is a member of the Arab Barometer Project, and has written several reports on the Palestinian Barometer. He is also the co-author of the annual report of the Arab Democracy Index. On Twitter: @KShikaki.

A Century’s Legacy of Conflict

On November 2, it will be one hundred years since former British foreign secretary Arthur James Balfour sent Lord Walter Rothschild a letter asking him to convey to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland his pledge to establish a “national homeland” for the Jews in Palestine. In fact, this pledge, known as the Balfour Declaration, is not the only promise the British made during the First World War concerning the region then known as the Near East (the term Middle East would come along later). They made many promises, among them the pledge to create a United Arab Kingdom in the Fertile Crescent. This commitment was made in 1915 in the form of the “Hussein-McMahon letters.” Then there were the promises London made to Paris over dividing spheres of influence in this region as was laid out in the Sykes-Picot agreement. The actual object of these pledges and commitments that Britain was distributing left and right was the legacy of the moribund Ottoman Empire, or the “Sick Man of Europe” as it was nicknamed at the time. London was divvying out Ottoman lands to the Jews, Arabs, French, Greeks, and others depending on how the “Great War” panned out.

The Balfour Declaration one hundred years ago, the Partition Resolution seventy years ago, and UN Security Council Resolution 242 fifty years ago each generated waves of conflict and peacemaking that the peoples of this region are still struggling with today. In 1917, British promises were contradictory and, indeed, conflicting. The Zionist lobby turned those promises into an immigration permit; the “national homeland” eventually became a “nation state.” They also turned a midget state, the borders of which were defined by UN General Assembly Resolution 181 on the partition of Palestine in 1947, into an empire that would seize and occupy the territories of three Arab states in addition to the whole of Palestine. This reality would appear in Resolution 242 of November 22, 1967 that established the ceasefire lines of the June war of that year.

The Balfour Declaration, with all its repercussions from resolutions 181 to 242 and beyond, started historical processes that no party has control over today. These processes have shaped a history that universities and research centers are still trying to understand and that poses such questions as whether it was inevitable that the parties involved had to endure all the sacrifices they made or whether there were other choices. In a letter sent from Gamal Abdel Nasser to President John F. Kennedy in 1961, the Egyptian president summarized Arab opinion of the conflict by describing the Balfour Declaration as being made from those who do not own, the British, to those who do not deserve, the Jews, without the consent of those who own and deserve, the Palestinians. It was the clearest narrative that formulated the existential nature of the conflict which left little room for compromise.

Lessons of History
As we look back at the history of the conflict, there are lessons to be learned. The first lesson is that the creation of realities on the ground has always proven to be stronger than legal or moral arguments. This helps identify a basic difference between the Jewish and Palestinian political elites. The difference does not just reside solely in the fact that Jews managed to appropriate and settle on land that had not been theirs, and on which Palestinians were already living, but also in their ability to build political, economic, and social institutions. In those days, the Jews faced major obstacles toward realizing the Zionist project, including the rise of Nazism and fascist movements in Europe, which were vehemently anti-Semitic. Those were also times when Jews were unwelcome as refugees or as residents in many countries. By contrast, the Palestinians, who had Arab kin and cultural extensions in the region and were living in their own country and on their own land, did little to build the kernel of a Palestinian state.

There were attempts, of course, but the difference in magnitude was great. Whether this was due to the British occupation of Palestine, the deeply rooted underdevelopment of the Arabs and Palestinians, or other factors, the result was that by the time of the partition resolution, the Jews were ready to run a state and to fight for its establishment. The Palestinians, for their part, were dependent on Arab countries, which had also suffered from colonial occupation and an array of problems of their own.

Lesson two is that military might, however strong, has limits. It cannot, in and of itself, achieve the objectives of any of the parties of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Arabs failed in 1948 and 1967, but the Israelis failed in 1956 and 1973. Moreover, the Israelis failed to repress by force the first and second Palestinian intifadas that only subsided due to political and diplomatic efforts. Military victories sometimes proved to be counterproductive. In 1982, Israel achieved one of its greatest victories when it invaded Lebanon, and occupied an Arab capital, Beirut. The result of the war was the birth of the most resilient threat to Israel represented by Hezbollah, which has carried Iranian influence as far as the Mediterranean and Israel’s borders.

Regardless of its military victories, Israel has been unable to bring the Palestinian people to their knees and drive them out of Palestine. Some twelve million people are living in the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. Half of them are Jewish Israelis, and the other half are Palestinians. They face each other down across the whole of Palestine and sometimes within a space as narrow as the Holy Mount that contains Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Wailing Wall. These demographic realities, plus the holy sites that embody history and religious passions, are also major realities on the ground. Despite the continuous victories of Israel from 1948 to 1967, and the military advantage it has always held over the Palestinian and Arab side, it suffered from a lack of legitimacy in the Arab World. With a multilayered conflict (state-to-state level, national liberation struggles, the popular revolt, revolutionary terrorism, conventional and guerilla warfare) no side has been able to win a decisive victory over the other.

The third lesson is that the Arab-Israeli conflict has a persistence and intrinsic impetus that has enabled it to keep going even as the whole world changes. The conflict began in the First World War, and survived the Second World War with its consequences for Jews, Arabs, and Palestinians, persisted through the Cold War with its vicissitudes and the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the upheavals that followed the attack against the World Trade Center in New York. Along the way the combatants had to adjust to changing realities and try to take advantage of new developments.

The futility of military might and the conflict’s persistence gives us lesson four: major shifts in the course of the conflict only occurred when there was direct dialogue between Arabs and Jews, and between the Arab states and Israel. Examples are to be found in the Camp David talks and the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty that ended the Israeli occupation of Sinai in 1982, which was followed by a Jordanian-Israeli peace agreement in 1994. Between these two landmarks were the Oslo Accords that led to the establishment of the first Palestinian National Authority on Palestinian land, creating a Palestinian reality on the ground.

The fifth and last lesson is that the prolongation of the Arab-Israeli conflict has reduced the ability of Arab countries to meet developmental challenges, as well as confront strategic perils from within or from without the region. In the present decade, the anatomy of the Middle East has shown how far Arab-Israeli contradictions can bring marked challenges to both sides.

A look at the Middle Eastern contemporary experience brings six dimensions to the fore. The first dimension of the current chaos of the Middle East is the decline of unitary actors and the increased number of failed states. States like Syria and Iraq are fragmented and the number of failed states is even greater, including Yemen, South Sudan, North Sudan, Somalia, and Afghanistan.

The second dimension involves the number of different kinds of conflicts going on simultaneously. Some are primarily a struggle for power, the most salient of which is that between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Other conflicts are primarily about identity, whether ethnic or confessional. Clearly, the Shia-Sunni divide is tearing apart much of Iraq and Syria. Finally, there are conflicts over the control of natural resources, whether oil in northern Iraq and Libya or water between Egypt and Ethiopia.

The third dimension of the chaos concerns the many different types of actors battling one another. In some corners of the Middle East, the armed forces of external powers are employed against local forces. Such is the case when the air assets of the United States, Russia, Britain, and France bomb ISIS targets, real or imagined. In other corners, regular forces of Middle East states are fighting non-state actors like when the Jordanian air force was deployed against ISIS in Iraq, or when the UAE conducted air operations against jihadists in Libya, Syria and Iraq, or sent ground forces to fight in Yemen. In other battlegrounds in the Middle East the fight seems to be between the remnants of regular forces of a former state against ethnic, tribal, or confessional forces, as is the case with General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan army units fighting against a multitude of tribal-based militias. Other battles are waged between different armed Jihadi forces such as Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front fighting other units affiliated with ISIS in Syria. In some cases, ethnic-based forces fight Islamist organizations, as in the case of the Kurds battling ISIS in north-eastern Syria, and in others, tribal organizations fight Islamist organizations such as, in Iraq’s Anbar province, or when tribal-based militias fight one another as in Libya. With each of these fault lines having its unique characteristics, this multiplicity creates huge confusion and makes it very difficult to assess the “state of play” on the ground, and the real endgame for the parties.

A fourth dimension is the mutations we see in armed conflicts—the transformation of conflicts from one type to another. This takes place when non-state actors branch out across state borders as when ISIS has established a territorial base across the Iraqi-Syrian border thus transforming itself from an internal to a regional player. A similar phenomenon took place when an internal group pledged allegiance to a larger entity as when Beit Al-Maqdis in the Sinai Peninsula announced that it has joined ISIS. A third mutation took place when an internal or regional conflict was internationalized as when the United States began to fly sorties against ISIS targets in Syria and when Russia began to do the same against other opponents of the Bashar Al-Assad regime.

A fifth dimension of the chaos concerns the heightened complexity of the region’s economics. This new complexity is manifested in a number of aspects: first, the multitude of different economic entities—states, militias, terrorist organizations, and organized crime mafias. Second, semi-state economic entities now cross previously recognized national borders. Third, to wage their fights, sub-state actors no longer depend on external financing; instead they self-finance by trafficking and selling captured humans, natural resources like oil, and art and archeological artifacts. Finally and amazingly, many of the ungovernable parts of the Middle East have seen an increase in the price of basic commodities—especially food—while the price of drugs has dropped.

The sixth and final dimension of the recent developments in the Middle East concerns the heavy human costs sustained by the region’s states since the onset of the Arab Spring. The number of dead is estimated to have reached 430,000, the number of wounded to have reached 2.5 million and the number of displaced to have reached 14.3 million, among them some eleven million Syrians.

Arabs and Jews Share the Same Future
The one hundred years since the Balfour Declaration, the seventy years since the partition resolution, and the fifty years since the June war all tell the story of a historical tragedy; but this anniversary year should compel us to read the past again, with an eye fixed on the future, rather than to lament over the ruins of the past. The Arab Peace Initiative may be the key to determining how to arrange things in a region that has never experienced order unless some outside power imposed it, as was the case with Britain and its promises, and the United States and its troubled endeavors. After all, there is nothing to prevent us—the now-independent peoples of this region—from undertaking this task today.

Understanding the limits of power can be a first step forward. Israelis and Palestinians have to understand that a century of negative interactions did not leave them with any place else to go. They are in reality sharing the same land and probably the same destiny. In the New Yorker, Palestinian scholars Hussein Agha and Ahmad Samih Khalidi recently wrote that they see a “budding” direction toward “the increasingly blurred borders between Arabs and Jews in the territory. Israeli settlements may have all but erased the 1967 borders in one direction, but fifty years of occupation have helped to erase the border in the opposite direction as well.” Israeli-Palestinian interactions have gone far beyond their demographic and geographic necessities to include economic, religious, and security requirements. In reality, both peoples, Israelis and Palestinians, though divided, are living within one realm. The livelihood of each is dependent on the others’ strategic moves. The interdependence between the two sides should not be clouded by the pronouncements of hatred and antagonisms they express toward each other. In reality, Israeli and Palestinian territories are operating under one labor, trade, tax, and active currency market. Security interdependence is no less viable: the Palestinian security establishment that matured under Israeli, U.S., and European and Arab cooperation contributes toward Israeli security as well as Palestinian governance. Yossi Alpher wrote in an article for the Carnegie Endowment on the coming decade of Israeli-Palestinian relations: “By 2017, Israel and Palestine were slowly sliding down a slippery slope toward a single political entity.”

In 2002, I was invited to address the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University in Israel. After my presentation, an audience member asked, when do you think the Arabs will stop hating Israelis? It took me a moment to overcome the shock of hearing this question. I finally gave an answer: the Arab hatred of Israel will stop when the Middle East region feels that it is better off with Israel in it than being without it. It is the job of the societies concerned to be involved in an honest process of self-examination that is free of blaming the other and scapegoating historical responsibilities.

This essay is adapted from a speech delivered at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, on September 10, 2017.

Abdel Monem Said Aly is chairman of Al-Masry Al-Youm Publishing House and a senior fellow at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University. He was chairman of Al-Ahram Newspaper and Publishing House between 2009 and 2011, and director of Al-Ahram Center for Political & Strategic Studies from 1994–2009.  He is the author of State and Revolution in Egypt: The Paradox of Change and Politics, and co-author of Arabs and Israelis: Conflict and Peacemaking in the Middle East.

Peace versus the People

In an interview with the New York Times in July 2014, former U.S. Middle East envoy Martin Indyk blamed the failure of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process on “distrust” and “skepticism” between the two peoples. He reported what he felt was the most meaningful personal moment in the previous year’s round of talks, when Palestinian Director of Intelligence Majid Faraj told his Israeli counterparts across the table, “You just don’t see us.” “There is so much water under the bridge,” Indyk told the New York Times. “The difficulties we faced were far more because of the twenty years of distrust that built up.” Israeli negotiator Tzipi Livni expressed similar sentiments in a Tel Aviv University conference in January 2014. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in his assessment of the failure of his 2013–14 peace efforts, declared “negotiations did not fail because the gaps were too wide, but because the level of trust was too low” between Palestinians and Israelis.

The roots of distrust stretch far back into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Once the peace process started, the belief that the other side could not be trusted to uphold any agreement served as a barrier to peace building. Although for a short period of time during the mid-1990s, with the Oslo agreement, there was an attempt to build trust, the election of a rightwing government in Israel in 1996, continued violence, particularly in 1995 and 1996, the failure of the Camp David Summit in July 2000, and the outbreak of the Palestinian second intifada in that same year, contributed to increased distrust and brought back the belief that the other side is not a reliable peace partner. The abatement of the intifada in 2004 and the election of Mahmoud Abbas as president of the Palestinian Authority in 2005, and restoration of the peace process in Annapolis in 2007, helped to restore some trust. But the election of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister in 2009 brought an end to the progress made the year before between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Distrust between leaders echoes distrust between publics, which contributes further to the stalemate in the peace process. Leaders tend to be reluctant to engage in negotiations or show willingness to accept painful compromises if they believe that their constituencies do not support the required compromises, and that the public shares their assessment that they have no partner on the other side.

In reality, public opinion is more complicated. Public opinion in Palestine and Israel is not an impediment to peace; but at the same time, it is not a force for peace. These are the paradoxical results of Palestinian-Israeli public opinion polls conducted by the Palestinian-Israeli Pulse, a joint survey research project, in June 2016, December 2016, and June 2017. Had Palestinian and Israeli negotiators reached a comprehensive peace agreement at any time during the past two decades, public opinion on both sides would have supported it—just as it would today. Yet, negative attitudes and the mutual perceptions of Israelis and Palestinians during the same period, and today, contribute toward mistrust and sustain conflict.

How can public opinion play such a double role, both pushing toward and hindering peace? Part of the answer lies with small but highly motivated constituencies on both sides: national-religious Israelis and Palestinian Islamists. Both Jewish religious-nationalist and Islamist minorities are potent sources of continued conflict, as both groups tend to eschew compromise toward a two-state solution. Yet most Palestinians are secular nationalists, and not Islamists. Similarly, most Israelis are secular or non-religious traditionalists; only a quarter or so are religious or ultra-religious.

The broader reason public opinion plays a dual role in both supporting and undercutting peace negotiations has more to do with the ambivalence, even hostility, of most Palestinians and Israelis toward each other. Each side believes that the other is not trustworthy, does not want peace, does not support the two-state solution, and entertains deep-seated, if hidden, long-term aspirations to wipe out the other side from existence. The two publics are equally and highly skeptical about the ultimate viability of the two-state solution which, so far, has been the cornerstone of all efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict. This is an alarming trend, as the perception of two-state viability is a critical driver toward a negotiated peace.

The Bad News
Over the past decade, hostility among Palestinians and Israelis toward a two-state solution, the basis of peace negotiations since the late 1980s, has risen. Recent survey results show a drop in support for the two-state solution, during the period between 2006 and June 2017, from 71 percent among the Palestinians to 52 percent today, and a parallel drop in Israeli support from 68 percent to 53 percent. However, the most recent findings reflect a large increase in Palestinian support compared to December 2016 when, right after the election of President Donald Trump, support stood at only 44 percent. It is worth noting that support among Israeli Jews in June 2017 stood at only 47 percent compared to 50 percent six months before.

Most troubling of all, youth lead in the declining level of support for the two-state solution. Palestinians and Israeli Jews between the ages of 18 and 22 are the least supportive of the idea. Among Israeli Jews, only 27 percent, compared to 52 percent among those who are over 50 years old, are still supportive. While among the Palestinians the gap for the same two groups is narrower, 42 percent to 58 percent respectively, the fact that age is such a decisive factor is highly instructive; the future could bring even smaller levels of support among the two peoples. Palestinian youth are shifting toward support for a one-state solution in which Jews and Palestinians are equal. Among Israeli Jewish youth, the shift is much more dramatic, as a plurality of those between the ages of 18 and 22 are now in favor of a one-state solution in which Israel discriminates against Palestinians—i.e. an apartheid state.

Other poll results confirm the trend in declining support for compromise. Support for a comprehensive peace agreement package—along the terms of the Clinton Parameters of 2000, the Geneva Initiative of 2003, and the outcome of the 2008 bilateral negotiations between Abbas and Olmert—has dropped over the past fifteen years. While in December 2004, following the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, support for a comprehensive peace package stood at 54 percent among Palestinians and 57 percent among Israeli Jews, attitudes shifted by December 2014 when only 38 percent of Palestinians and 41 percent of Israeli Jews supported that same package. In June 2017, in response to a similar, but not identical, package, only 43 percent of the Palestinians and 32 percent of Israeli Jews gave their support.

Another critical gap opinion polls reveal is the difference in attitudes toward the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, which would represent the bulk of an independent Palestine’s territory under any two-state solution. Israelis are content with the status quo of the West Bank’s occupation, while Palestinians are highly dissatisfied with it. The more content with the status quo Israelis are, the more likely the Israeli public will continue to gravitate toward rightwing politics and politicians. Most Israelis, including the mainstream political center, remain opposed to the dismantlement of settlements built by Israel in the West Bank, an essential requirement in any peace agreement.

Yet, Palestinians show significant flexibility on the issue most important for Israelis: the maintenance of a Jewish majority in Israel. On the other hand, Palestinian geopolitical divisions between the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and the inability to transition to a democratic political system and a pluralistic civil society, constitute an impediment to mutual confidence-building with Israeli society. Israelis tend to view Palestinian divisions and the slide to authoritarianism in the Palestinian political system as an impediment to peace. Palestinians, particularly the youth, on the other hand, tend to become more alienated from their own political system and thereby less willing to support their own leadership.

Two-States, One Solution
Despite the bad news, the public preference for diplomacy over armed conflict or maintenance of the status quo remains relatively high. No other concept is more popular than the two-state solution—and though support may be weakening with both publics, incentives designed to increase support for compromise are highly effective. The nature of national leadership is again decisive in swaying public opinion behind a settlement.

Today, about half of Palestinians and half of Israelis prefer reaching a peace agreement as the best means of changing the status quo. Only one-fifth or less on either side favors violence or armed struggle as the preferred means of change. Alternatives to the two-state framework, such as a democratic one-state solution, an apartheid one-state reality (one in which one side is denied equal rights by the other side), and expulsion (one in which one side expels or “transfers” the population of the other side) remain less popular than the two-state solution. The core constituencies for these alternatives—those who would support these, and only these alternatives—are not great. The largest single constituency is the one that supports the two-state solution. Once these two-stators are excluded from the sample and the remaining public is assigned one alternative at a time, the public splits almost equally on each side, between the three alternatives without any one emerging as the most preferred.

A closer examination of the split within the Palestinian side shows that support for the two-state solution is greater than support for any of the alternatives in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, among supporters of all factions—including Hamas. A similar examination of the Israeli Jewish side shows that support for the two-state solution is highest only among secular and traditional Jews, but not among the religious (who prefer apartheid over all other options) and the Ultra-Orthodox (who prefer expulsion over all other). When looking at the Israeli political spectrum, support for the two-state solution is highest among those who place themselves on the left and the center but not among those who place themselves on the right. Those who place themselves on the right side of the Israeli political spectrum prefer apartheid over all others.

Survey research shows that support for a comprehensive agreement can be significantly increased, to levels that exceed two-thirds on both sides, if various constituencies are given a stake in its success. For Palestinians, the most effective incentive—the one that has the widest level of persuasion—is the release of Palestinian prisoners as part of the agreement. This incentive alone can increase the support for the comprehensive package to 70 percent. Similarly, access to the Israeli labor market and free movement for the two peoples between the two states are almost as effective. Intangible incentives, when offered to Palestinians, can be equally effective. For example, an Israeli acknowledgment of the historic and religious roots of the Palestinians in historic Palestine or an Israeli recognition of the Arab and Islamic character of the Palestinian state are highly effective. Similarly, an Israeli acknowledgment of responsibility for the creation of the refugee problem and/or an Israeli apology to the refugees for the suffering they had to endure since the Jewish state’s founding in 1948 can change the attitudes of a large minority of those opposed to compromise. Finally, leadership can significantly increase the Palestinian public’s willingness to accept compromise: the support of Marwan Barghouti, regarded by many as the leader of the Second Intifada and held in prison by Israeli authorities since 2004, for a comprehensive peace package can convince a third of the Palestinians to switch position from opposition to support.

Similarly on the Israeli side, tangible and intangible incentives—including decisive leadership—can increase the level of support for such a comprehensive package that implements the two-state solution from a large minority to two-thirds. Effective tangible incentives include the following: compensation to Israeli Jews whose property was confiscated by Arab countries when they immigrated to Israel after 1948; a defense treaty with the United States; and the normalization of all political, economic, and trade relations with the Arab World. A combination of only two such incentives can increase support among Israeli Jews to more than 60 percent. Intangible incentives such as a Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and an acknowledgment of Jewish historic and religious ties to the land, are also highly effective. Public endorsement of the peace package by leaders, such as Prime Minister Netanyahu, can also be an incentive for support.

Time Is Not on Our Side
Decades of conflict, and repeatedly disappointed hopes for a successful peace settlement, bode badly for the future. Both the Israeli and Palestinian publics are becoming more pessimistic with time. Three factors contribute to the decline in support for the implementation of the two-state solution among Palestinians and Israelis: the prevailing perception that the two-state solution is no longer viable; the belief that the other side does not support the two-state solution; and the belief that the support for such a solution is not the shared normative view of their respective societies.

Findings show that viability matters: support for the two-state solution, and for a combined permanent peace package, is highly dependent on the perception of the two-state solution’s viability—and Israeli settlement expansion is vital in determining perceived viability. As of June 2017, poll results show that more than half of Palestinians and Israeli Jews believe that due to settlement expansion the two-state solution is no longer viable. Pessimism is much higher when thinking about the potential establishment of a Palestinian state in the next five years. About three-quarters (71 percent of Palestinians and 79 percent of Israeli Jews) do not expect to see such a state in the next five years.

Over the years, skepticism about viability, which reduces support for the two-state solution, is often tied to public perceptions of Palestinian, Israeli, and American leadership (the United States has been the main broker in bilateral peace negotiations since President Jimmy Carter in the 1970s). For example, the election of Netanyahu in 2009, and later the election of President Donald Trump in 2016, aversely influenced Palestinian and Israeli public perceptions of viability. Among Palestinians who believe that the two-state solution is still viable, support for that concept rises to 76 percent and opposition drops to 23 percent and support for the permanent status package rises to 58 percent and opposition drops to 38 percent. Lack of viability forces people to reconsider their own support for the two-state solution and to begin a search for alternatives. The dynamic among Israeli Jews is almost identical.

Evidence also shows that support for the two-state solution and the permanent peace package is dependent on how each side perceives the attitude of the other regarding that solution and package: those who believe that a majority on the other side does indeed support that solution and package are likely to support it, and alternatively, those who think a majority on the other side does not support that solution and package are likely to oppose it. Similarly, those Palestinians and Israelis who believe that the majority of their own public is opposed to that solution and package are more likely to oppose it themselves and vice versa. Again, this would suggest the room for maneuver for national leaders, who can effectively communicate with their publics, build trust, and offer meaningful concessions to the opposing side, is relatively wide.

A Public without Peacemakers
But what if Palestinian and Israeli leaders fail to reach a peace agreement at all? Can one count on the two publics to provide a momentum or a push for peace? The verdict from survey research is a definite no: Palestinian and Israeli public opinion is not an independent force for peace. The preceding evidence suggests that despite the continued decline in support for the two-state solution, the two publics remain open to compromise—but such readiness assumes that the framework for an agreement, offering meaningful incentives to both publics, has been worked out by Palestinian and Israeli leaders.

Why is the verdict so certain and so bleak? The answer lies in the reality in which the two sides live, and more importantly in the way they view each other. The first problem lies in one glaring difference between the two publics: Israelis are content with the status quo, and the Palestinians are not. As of June 2017, a joint Palestinian-Israeli survey showed that Jewish settlers are the most satisfied with the status quo and Gazans are the least satisfied. Two-thirds of Israeli settlers and 54 percent of Israeli Jews in general believe that conditions in Israel are good or very good. Among Palestinians, only 9 percent of Gazans and 26 percent of West Bankers describe conditions in Palestine as good or very good. This asymmetry reinforces Palestinian suspicions that the Israelis are not interested in peace.
This heightened threat perception underlines current perceptions of mutual fear. Most Palestinians fear Israelis soldiers and armed settlers, and most Israeli Jews fear Palestinians. Indeed, most Palestinians believe that Israelis do not want peace and most Israelis entertain a similar belief; only one-third of Israeli Jews, in June 2017, believed that Palestinians want peace. Among Palestinians, 78 percent believe Israel wants to extend its borders from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean and expel the Palestinian population or deny them their civil and political rights. Among Israeli Jews, almost two-thirds believe that Palestinians hold one of two maximalist positions: take over the entire state of Israel from pre-1948 borders, or conquer Israel and destroy much of the Jewish population.
Threat perception and fear are reinforced by a prevailing perception on both sides that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is characterized by a zero-sum game. In June 2017, most Israeli Jews (53 percent) and almost three-quarters of the Palestinians agreed with the statement that “Nothing can be done that’s good for both sides; whatever is good for one side is bad for the other side.”

Distrust, like many of the other attributes mentioned in this section, erodes willingness to take risks and make compromise. Not surprisingly given all of the above, an overwhelming majority of Palestinians (87 percent) and Israeli Jews (77 percent) indicated last June that the other side is untrustworthy. Findings show that among those who think the other side is trustworthy, support for painful compromise, as in accepting a permanent peace package, can rise to 56 percent among Israelis and 61 percent among Palestinians. By contrast, distrust diminishes willingness to compromise, reducing it to 27 percent among Israelis and 40 percent among Palestinians. More importantly, the skyrocketing levels of mutual distrust lead to the conclusion that neither side is a force for peace.
By fearing and refusing to trust the other side, Palestinian and Israeli public opinion contributes to the resilience of the conflict. In its role as the carrier of the national narrative, public opinion therefore sustains conflict. Yet, in its ability to choose from among differing priorities and in its search for stability, peace, and economic prosperity, public opinion has the ability to overcome historic, religious, and ideological narratives, but only if leaders show courage and take the initiative.

Khalil Shikaki is the director of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, and a senior fellow at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University. He previously served as dean of Scientific Research at An-Najah University in Nablus between 1996 and 1999. Shikaki is a member of the Arab Barometer Project, and has written several reports on the Palestinian Barometer. He is also the co-author of the annual report of the Arab Democracy Index. On Twitter: @KShikaki.

Modi in Israel

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s highly publicized visit to Israel in early July 2017 was part of the silver jubilee celebrations of his country’s normalization with Israel, and signaled New Delhi’s desire to end Israeli “exceptionalism” and to “normalize” its engagements with the wider Middle East. The visit marked the first prime ministerial exchange between the two countries. It also showed that New Delhi was no longer apologetic about its dealings with Israel and was not prepared to view its relations with Israel only through the Palestinian prism.

For nearly a century, India’s position vis-à-vis the Palestine question has been dominated by a host of domestic, regional, and international factors, including the feelings of India’s native Muslim community and its troubled relations with neighboring Pakistan, which have limited New Delhi’s engagement with Israel. Prime Minister Modi’s three-day visit to Israel and the joint statement issued with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dispelled some of the historical misgivings about bilateral relations and set the tone for the future trajectory of Indo-Israeli relations. If it views the oil-rich Arab countries as key partners in energy security, India sees Israel in the same light in fields such as food security and technological independence. India is no longer shy about dealing with Israel and cooperating in areas that would be mutually beneficial in economic growth and development.

Fighting Colonialism and Zionism
The roots of Indian policy toward the Jewish state can be traced back nearly a century to the nationalist struggle against the British Raj. Shortly after the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which made support for a Jewish homeland in historic Palestine official British policy, the Muslim community in British India was engulfed by the Khilafat movement, a popular campaign to express Indian Muslims’ support for the Ottoman Empire’s “caliphate” against Britain and its allies in the First World War. The Khilafat struggle unfolded when mainstream nationalists led by the Indian National Congress felt the absence of adequate Muslim participation in the anti-British struggle. Under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, they joined the Khilafat struggle and carried out various forms of protest actions throughout the country against the British.

In the early 1920s, many Indian nationalists viewed the Palestinian question as a challenge to Islam’s cultural and territorial integrity against Western imperialism, and supported the traditional Islamic argument that Palestine had been under Arab and Islamic rule since the seventh century and should continue to remain so. In their view, Britain had no right to cede parts of the Islamic umma, or nation, to non-Muslim sovereignty. The Khilafat movement, however, ended disastrously after Mustafa Kamal Atatürk, the leader of the new Turkish republic, abolished the thirteen-century-old Islamic institution of the caliphate in 1924.

In the post-Khilafat phase, Indian nationalists viewed the Palestinian question within the emerging anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist context. The Arab struggle in Palestine was a mirror image of India’s own struggle against British rule; Zionist leaders depended upon the British Mandate powers to establish a Jewish national home in Palestine. From the early 1930s, the Palestinian question became a domestic Indian issue as the Congress Party was competing with the Muslim League for the support of Indian Muslims. For Indian nationalists in the Congress Party, the Zionist demand for a Jewish national home in a predominantly Arab Palestine resembled their struggle against the Muslim League’s demand for a separate Muslim homeland in the Subcontinent. Congress leaders opposed both.

In 1947, as a member of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), India opposed the majority plan for partitioning Palestine and advocated a federal plan, comprising of autonomous Arab and Jewish states within a unified federal Palestine. Unfortunately, both Arabs and Jews rejected the Indian proposal; the former felt that the federal plan granted too many rights to immigrant Jews, while the latter felt it granted them civil and religious rights when they were demanding political rights and sovereignty. India subsequently joined the Arab and Islamic countries in voting against the partition resolution adopted by the General Assembly on November 29, 1947, and in May 1949 it opposed Israel’s admission to the United Nations.

At the same time, the fact of Israel’s existence, its membership in the UN, and its recognition by all the major powers including the United States and the Soviet Union compelled India to reexamine its position. Delhi’s continued opposition to Israel’s existence became problematic when India came to terms with the formation of Pakistan in the Subcontinent. Beyond its historical position opposing Zionism on principle, India had no bilateral problems with the Jewish state.

These resulted in India recognizing Israel. On September 17, 1950—incidentally the day future prime minister Narendra Modi was born—India conveyed to the Israeli government its recognition, which came into force the following day. Initially, India’s slowness to fully normalize bilateral relations, including establishing a permanent mission in Israel, hinged on budgetary constraints and a shortage of diplomatic personnel. Perturbed by the delay in early 1952, Israel sent Walter Eytan—Director General at the Foreign Ministry—to visit India and meet with Indian officials and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. During their luncheon meeting, Nehru conveyed his willingness to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, including a resident mission in Tel Aviv, and asked his ministry to work out the budgetary details. Nehru assured Eytan that a formal decision by the cabinet would be taken shortly after the elections for India’s lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha, were completed.

Yet the normalization of relations did not happen for another four decades. According to Indian and international accounts, Nehru’s senior colleague, a former president of the Congress party, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, flagged two issues, namely Kashmir and the domestic Muslim population’s hostility toward Israel. He argued that diplomatic relations with Israel would be used by Pakistan for anti-India propaganda in Arab and Islamic countries and would harm India’s case in the UN regarding Kashmir. He further suggested that Indian Muslims, already torn by post-partition communal violence, would feel alienated by normalization of relations with Israel. Convinced of Azad’s argument, Nehru deferred the process.

A formal Indian stand came during the Suez Crisis of 1956. By then Nehru had established a personal bond of friendship with President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt. Nehru was infuriated by the Israeli collaboration with British and French colonialism in the attack on Nasser’s Egypt. Shortly after the Tripartite Aggression of Britain, France, and Israel, Nehru formally ruled out normalization.

In the following decades, India was engulfed by the growing opposition of Third World powers to Israel. Especially after the June war of 1967, India became increasingly vocal in criticizing Israel in various international forums. In November 1975, despite the historic absence of anti-Semitism, India joined the Arab-Islamic countries and voted in support of the UN General Assembly Resolution 3379 stating “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.”

By the mid-1970s it became clear that only a radical transformation of the international political order would bring about a change in India’s Israel policy. Despite the absence of any bilateral issue, and despite even seeking military help from Israel during national emergencies like the Sino-Indian War of 1962, India was not ready to view Israel just as another normal country. Even a modicum of relations was seen as an aberration and abandonment of its traditional support for the Palestinians. Indeed, this is far different from India’s policy vis-à-vis China and Pakistan, countries with whom it has territorial disputes and has engaged in military conflicts. This zero-sum approach was the hallmark of the first phase of India’s Israel policy that lasted from the early 1920s until 1992.

A Brave New World
In January 1992, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao reversed the four-decade policy of recognition-without-relations policy and established full diplomatic relations with Israel. On January 29, India announced its decision.

A constellation of regional and international factors facilitated this move. Internationally the Cold War had ended and the Soviet Union had disintegrated. At least since the early 1970s anti-Israeli rhetoric had become integral to the political discourse of “progressive” countries, whether part of the Soviet-led communist bloc or non-aligned like India. Moreover, the economic crisis facing India and the need for financial aid from international financial institutions pushed New Delhi to come to terms with the new international order dominated by the United States. Rao had to signal to the outside world that India was ready and willing to come to terms with the post-Cold War world order. He did this by reversing Nehru’s policy on Israel.

Prime Minister Rao was helped by emerging regional geopolitics in the wake of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat endorsed President Saddam Hussein’s linkage option whereby Iraq offered to withdraw from Kuwait if Israel withdrew from the occupied Palestinian territories. Some saw this as a tacit Palestinian endorsement of Iraqi aggression, occupation, and annexation of Kuwait. That Arafat had founded Fatah, which would later form the largest faction in the Palestine Liberation Organization, during his student days in Kuwait made matters worse. Thus, once the Iraqi aggression was reversed through the U.S.-led international coalition in February 1991, the Palestinian leader became persona non-grata and could not visit the emirate up until his death in April 2004.

On a larger scale, the Palestinian cause lost its importance in intra-Arab relations and India could no longer further its interest in the Arab Middle East by flagging its consistent support for the Palestinian cause, or the absence of relations with Israel. The Madrid Peace Conference signaled Palestinian willingness to seek a negotiated political settlement with Israel through coexistence. Once Arafat agreed to go to the Spanish capital to negotiate—as part of a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation—it was no longer necessary for India to be more Palestinian than “Mr. Palestine.”

In the 1990s, during the second phase of bilateral relations, India balanced its newfound relations with Israel with its traditional support for the Palestinian cause; all major bilateral developments with Israel were accompanied by high-profile contacts with or statements on Palestine. For example, Rao’s decision to normalize relations with Israel was preceded by the visit of Arafat to India. This period witnessed an emerging all-party consensus as governments headed by the Congress Party and Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) favored closer ties with Israel. For a while after normalization, even the communists who were ideologically opposed to Israeli polices vis-à-vis Palestinians were not averse to courting Israel. This period also witnessed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon being hosted by Atal Bihari Vajpayee in September 2003.

The third phase of bilateral relations largely coincided with Congress Party returning to power as head of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in 2004. By then the relations with Israel had become more stable. New Delhi was able to manage its interests as well as differences with Israel in a matured manner. It was able to segregate the bilateral interests from its differences over the peace process. Thus, in January 2008, India launched an Israeli satellite which some analysts argued would be used for monitoring the sites associated with the Iranian nuclear program.

Indian pronouncements on the upsurge of violence have also been balanced and nuanced. Far from criticizing Israel for the stalemate, New Delhi has been urging both sides to eschew violence and unilateralism and seek a negotiated settlement. By delinking the bilateral track from the multilateral issues, India has been able to pursue its economic and security interests with Israel even while disagreeing with the Jewish state over issues such as Palestinian statehood, settlements, refugees, and borders where it supports the Palestinian positions. During this phase, Israel has also emerged as a major supplier of military weapons and systems to India and both countries forged cooperation in a host of fields such as counterterrorism, border management, avionics, surveillance, and intelligence sharing. Israel has emerged as a major arms supplier to India and the latter has become the largest market for Israeli arms exports.

In 2014, Prime Minister Modi inherited a policy, which was carefully crafted and enjoyed wider political support. The friendship with Israel was not accompanied by the abandonment of the Palestinian cause and this firmed up greater domestic support for the Indian approach toward Israel.

Modi’s India
Since the days of Nehru, prime ministers have been the chief architects of foreign policy in India. The fourth and the latest phase began with the arrival of Modi on the national scene and can be termed as “constructive engagement.” Since becoming prime minister in May 2014, Modi has transformed the face of India’s relations with the outside world through his periodic foreign visits and summit meetings. Between May 2014, when he took over the mantle of the premiership, and until July 2017, Modi had undertaken thirty-one foreign trips, which took him to six continents and forty-nine countries, including to the United States for the annual sessions of the UN General Assembly. While he has yet to take part in any summit meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement, he has been attending various bilateral and multilateral summit meetings such as the G-20 summits.

Ever since Modi visited the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in August 2015, all his visits to the region have been bilateral and stand-alone visits. In the past, Indian leaders tended to visit more than one country due to logistical and scheduling concerns. For example, former External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna visited Jordan, Palestine, Israel in January 2012 and the UAE in April 2012 and likewise, President Pranab Mukherjee visited Jordan, Palestine, and Israel in October 2015. Even Modi’s current foreign minister Sushma Swaraj visited Israel and Palestine in January 2015. Prime Minister Modi has been different, and all his visits in the Middle East have been stand-alone and single-country visits. This has enhanced the focus of the host country and resulted in greater engagements between the two sides. This has been the case in his visit to the UAE (August 2015) and to Saudi Arabia (April), Iran (May), and Qatar (June) in 2016, as with his visit to Israel this year.

Moreover, in a clean break from past Indian policy, Modi has skipped visiting Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinian Authority (PA), even though he chose to stay at the historic King David Hotel in West Jerusalem. Indeed, both President Mukherjee and Foreign Minister Swaraj went to Ramallah while visiting Israel. Modi’s move can be seen as a clear sign of India dehyphenating its relations with Israel from Palestine and its willingness to deal with both of them separately and independently. This was a total rejection of the pre-1992 zero-sum approach that Indian leaders adopted vis-à-vis both.

Is Modi’s government a reversal of India’s policy or the abandonment of its support for the Palestinian cause? India has dehyphenated Palestinians in its dealings with Israel. It is a more sophisticated and nuanced approach in furthering its interests in the Middle East. This is a clear reflection of the place of the Palestinian cause in the wider diplomatic discourse in the Middle East and India’s desire to pursue its bilateral relations without being influenced by “third party” considerations. In recent years, this approach was manifested in India’s willingness to befriend key countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran without the traditional Pakistani factor. It also seeks to befriend both Iran and Saudi Arabia despite being aware of these two neighbors’ deep hostility toward each other. Modi has extended this to the Israeli-Palestinian context.

Days before his Israel visit, Prime Minister Modi hosted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in New Delhi and reiterated India’s traditional support for the Palestinian cause but with a caveat. For quite some time, Indian leaders have expressed their support for “a sovereign Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.” With Abbas standing next to him, Modi reiterated India’s support for “a sovereign, independent, united, and viable Palestine, coexisting peacefully with Israel.” By dropping any direct reference to the city, Modi has placed Jerusalem on the bilateral agenda between Israel and Palestine to be resolved through negotiation and compromise.

The dehyphenation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is India’s recognition of and response to the Middle East’s evolving and complicated political landscape. While periodic violence places the Palestinian cause on the forefront of international attention, its relevance in the inter-Arab and intra-Arab discourse has dwindled considerably. Countries that in the past were in the forefront of the Palestinian cause such as Iraq and Syria are preoccupied with far more critical issues of state survival and territorial integrity. Not that the Palestinian cause has become irrelevant or lost its popular appeal in Arab and Muslim countries, but for many governments in the Middle East Palestinian statelessness is far less important than their own existence and survival. Even Iran, which in the past used the Palestinian cause for political propaganda, has been less vocal during its prolonged negotiations over the nuclear controversy with Western powers.

The internal split between the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip has further damaged the Palestinian cause’s ability to stir up international support. India opened its mission in the Gaza Strip shortly after the Oslo process but moved it to Ramallah when Arafat shifted the headquarters of the PA to the West Bank. New Delhi continues to recognize the Abbas-headed PA as the legitimate Palestinian authority and avoid any direct contacts or indirect engagements with the militant Palestinian group Hamas. However, the absence of internal unity and the Fatah-Hamas power struggle has considerably weakened the Palestinian cause and enabled India to delink the Israel-Palestinian equation.

India’s Economic Pragmatism
Contrary to earlier expectations, no major policy announcements were made during Modi’s visit to Israel nor were any new defense agreements signed. The joint statement issued on July 5 was general and contained nothing more than a diplomatic expression of shared interests between the two countries. Five out of the seven agreements were Memorandums of Understanding and pertained to agriculture, water, and space, which could provide the template for further cooperation in the years to come. It is obvious that India looks to Israel as a major partner in its search for food security through technological support in the field of high-yielding crops and water management. Prime Minister Netanyahu spent a considerable amount of time with Modi and accompanied the Indian leader during the latter’s socio-cultural engagements in Israel. This would have enabled both to reach a better understanding of one another and plan the future trajectory of the bilateral relations. For his part, Netanyahu accepted Modi’s invitation to visit India at the earliest opportunity and one could expect the operationalization of the Modi-Netanyahu understanding in the coming months when these agreements are put in place.

The broader importance of Modi’s Israel visit is having brought down the politico-psychological barrier, even taboo, in forming closer relations with the Jewish state, and helping to facilitate, as a result, growing economic and technological cooperation between the two business communities. The India-Israel CEO Forum, which had its inaugural meeting during the state visit, had already announced the conclusion of deals worth $4.3 billion in civilian technology. Considering that the total bilateral trade is just under $6 billion, this is not a meager amount.

The timing of the visit also indicated India’s overall calculations vis-à-vis the wider Middle East. Since his election, Modi has visited four countries in the Persian Gulf, as well as Turkey for the G20 summit in 2015, and met with Saudi Arabia’s rulers during multilateral summits in Australia, Turkey, and China. He hosted Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nahyan as the chief guest of the Republic Day celebrations last January. In the past, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (2005) and Iranian President Mohammad Khatami (2003) were given the same honors. Even though he did not visit Egypt, Modi has hosted President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi twice; first during the India-Africa Forum Summit in October 2015 and subsequently during a state visit in September 2016.

Modi’s Middle East policy has a familiar agenda. He does not want to be a one-time prime minister, and his ability to secure reelection in the summer of 2019 depends upon his success in uplifting the economic conditions of millions of impoverished Indians. This means economic development is his prime foreign policy goal. This manifests itself in his engagements with foreign leaders from the region. He looks to the Arab countries for investments and energy security and seeks technological support from Israel. If the Gulf region meets about 60 percent of its energy needs, India is also emerging as a major and stable market for Gulf producers such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Some have attributed Modi’s visit to Israel and his personal bonhomie with Netanyahu to the ideological convergence of the Hindu right and Likud in Israel. Though interesting, this line of argument misses out the wider picture of Modi’s engagement with the Middle East. If a rightwing anti-Muslim agenda is the driving force, how does one explain Modi giving high priority to countries such as Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE? These countries are no less ideological than Israel. On the contrary, eschewing any judgment over the political system of these countries, Modi is prepared to see all the states in the Middle East, Arab and non-Arab, as potential partners in his economic and trade development agenda.

Have the Arabs lost India to Israel? This would have been the case, if Israel were Modi’s first port of call after becoming Prime Minister in May 2014. This is not the case. Modi has delinked the Israel-Palestine equation and is suggesting an independent policy toward both. Better relations with Israel would not dilute India’s support for the Palestinians and at the same time, support to the Palestinian cause will not impede it from benefitting from Israeli expertise. This is primarily a response to the ground realities and internal Palestinian squabbles and disagreements. Modi has been developing closer ties with all the prominent countries of the region with economy as his prime foreign policy agenda. His visit to Israel was the culmination of a journey, which began in 1992, leading toward a pragmatic understanding with Israel. Far from an ideological convergence between two rightwing governments, it is a reflection of India’s understanding of Middle Eastern realities and an attempt to navigate through those troubled waters for India’s economic progress and trade development.

P. R. Kumaraswamy teaches at Jawaharlal Nehru University, and is the honorary director of the Middle East Institute, New Delhi. He is the author of several books, including India’s Israel Policy; Historical Dictionary of the Arab-Israeli Conflict; and the forthcoming Squaring the Circle: Mahatma Gandhi and the Jewish National Home. On Twitter: @kumaraswamyJNU.

From Russia, With Fear

Who Lost Russia? How the World Entered a New Cold War. By Peter Conradi. Oneworld, London, 2017. 370 pp.

In his new book, Peter Conradi, foreign editor of the Sunday Times and a former foreign correspondent in Moscow, demonstrates an excellent grasp of developments on both sides of the Atlantic—from the collapse of the Soviet Union to the election of Donald Trump. Yet “Who lost Russia?” is the wrong question to ask. Russia has never been the West’s to win or lose. It reminds one of the famous question asked after Mao came to power in Communist China in 1949; back then, it was “Who lost China?”

Much as the Chinese were nearly seven decades ago, Russians are their own agents in shaping the future of their country, even if their powerful—though not all-powerful—leader has his own interests in mind. The West can make matters better or worse, but is not so influential as to determine the future orientation of Russia—win it or lose it.

For years, Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown a strong preference for tense relations because of his need to portray the West—and in particular the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European Union (EU), and the United   States—as threats to his grip on power. This enables him to justify, as Conradi notes, his authoritarian means of governing. Staying in power and protecting his ill-gotten gains are Putin’s primary objectives, even if that comes at the expense of good relations with the West.

Even before Putin returned formally to the presidency in 2012, the 2011 NATO-led military intervention in Libya authorized by the United Nations—Russia abstained—caused a major rift in relations, much like NATO’s action against Belgrade in 1999 affected President Boris Yeltsin’s relationship with Bill Clinton. Indeed, Libya may have been a major factor contributing to Putin’s decision to return to the presidency.

Putin came back spooked by anti-regime protests in late 2011, which he blamed on then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The following year’s passage of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law and Accountability Act prompted Putin to respond inhumanely by banning the adoption of Russian orphans by American citizens. The act angered Putin because it imposed a visa ban and asset freeze on Russian officials involved in gross human rights abuses, including the 2009 murder of Sergei Magnitsky, who worked for Hermitage Capital run by the British financier Bill Browder, a prominent campaigner for sanctions against the Kremlin. Ever since the Magnitsky Act became law, Russian officials have sought to reverse it through threats and propaganda campaigns. Putin’s grant of asylum to Edward Snowden the following year added fuel to the fire in U.S.-Russian relations. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Conradi covers thoroughly, was the final straw, and relations have been in a steady downward spiral since. This past year, the Kremlin has attempted to force Browder’s arrest and extradition to Russia by issuing an Interpol “Red Notice.”

Putin’s resentment toward Hillary Clinton undoubtedly carried over into the 2016 American election, in which Russia grossly interfered by hacking into Democratic Party email accounts and then releasing their contents through Wikileaks. President Trump’s victory, initially celebrated in Moscow, Conradi writes, offered an opportunity to “find a way of putting America—and the West’s—relationship with Russia back on track.” Yet Russia’s unprecedented interference in last year’s U.S. presidential election, the resulting investigation into the Trump campaign, anti-Russian sentiment in Congress, as well as Russia’s ongoing aggression in eastern Ukraine and in Syria, prevented Trump from improving bilateral ties, much to the Kremlin’s frustration.

At the foundation of souring relations between the West and Russia is the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the West’s responsibility—or not—for the cowboy capitalism that followed. Conradi properly dismisses the notion that the West is to blame for Russia’s economic hardship and massive inequality in the 1990s, rejecting such claims as “absurd.” “The West may have provided the economic model,” Conradi explains, “but it was Russia’s own leaders—either out of ignorance or self-interest—who contrived to implement such ideas in an unfair way.” Shock therapy in the 1990s, combined with the “loans-for-shares” deal in which Kremlin-favored oligarchs got large shares in state-owned companies for a pittance, and massive corruption, put average Russians in a worse economic and financial position than under the Soviet period. That, of course, would change under Putin—not due to any real economic reforms he carried out, Conradi rightly argues, but because of the massive jump in the price of oil, boosting the Russian economy and Putin’s popularity with it.

Along with NATO’s bombing of Serbia in 1999, Conradi cites NATO enlargement into Eastern Europe as the source of early tensions in Russia’s relationship with the West. He acknowledges, however, that interest in joining the Atlantic alliance originated in countries that previously were part of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact. Joining NATO, to leaders in the region, would underscore their countries’ “return” to Europe. Conradi equivocates on whether the various waves of enlargement—which peaked in March 2004 when seven former Soviet bloc countries joined the U.S.-led military alliance—were to blame for worsening relations. They certainly were a source of tension, but to have not enlarged NATO would have granted Russia a de facto veto over other countries’ aspirations, and that would have been much worse. Indeed, toward the very end, he rhetorically asks why the countries that wanted to join the “Soviet Union’s former satellites,” should see their desire “subjected to a Kremlin veto?” He includes the three Baltic states as rightful members of the alliance.

Like Henry Kissinger, whom he cites extensively in his book, Conradi draws the line when it comes to Ukraine and Georgia (or other countries that, rather than being satellite states under the Warsaw Pact, were former republics within the USSR itself). President George W. Bush’s attempt to extend the Atlantic alliance to those two countries, he argues, was “a step too far and an unnecessary provocation.” Conradi also questions how NATO would be able to defend these countries under Article Five guarantees. Conradi further criticizes the EU for its attempt to “force” then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to choose between Russia and the EU in 2013. This, he states, was “the final straw” for Putin.

Conradi would do well to point out that European Union policy was not to blame; the fault lay with Putin and his zero-sum view of the region in which he tried to prevent his neighbors from deepening integration with the West, fearing such moves would threaten the system he oversaw in Russia. Moreover, keeping the door of Euro-Atlantic organizations open to aspiring countries such as Ukraine and Georgia is essential to ever fulfilling the vision of a Europe, whole, free and at peace, which was at the heart of both Bush administrations’ approach.

Conradi seems ready to draw a line—even a curtain, if you will—with Ukraine, Georgia, and other countries on the Russian side; yet these countries deserve to choose their own orientation and future without a threatening Russia breathing down their necks. With a population of roughly 44 million, Ukraine, for example, is too important and large geographically to consign to a Russian sphere of influence. Even the smaller countries in the region deserve to join Euro-Atlantic alliances, if they so choose and meet the criteria. Leaving them in a gray zone perpetuates instability and uncertainty on the European continent.

Putin tapped into the sense of resentment, and even a “thirst for revenge,” in Conradi’s words, among many Russians who wanted pride and order restored in their country. Boosted by the rise in the price of oil and his brutal handling of the Chechnya problem, Putin satisfied those Russians looking for a stronger Russia. His Munich speech in 2007, Conradi notes, marked the strongest articulation that Russia would no longer be pushed around by arrogant Western powers, especially the United States, that failed to show Moscow the proper respect. And yet as early as his post-Beslan speech in 2004—a year after the Rose Revolution in Georgia, and only two months before the following Orange Revolution in Ukraine—Putin was warning that “some would like to tear from us a juicy piece of pie,” suggesting that other powers wanted to keep Russia down.

Putin’s failure to understand that these were indigenous movements in countries along his borders fed his paranoia. The “color revolutions” had a major impact on Putin’s thinking, as Conradi describes, and scared him into thinking that the United States was behind them and that Russia was next on its list. It led Putin to take a hardened view toward any threats, foreign or domestic. This was especially true with Ukraine’s second revolution in less than a decade, when Viktor Yanukovych fled power, leading Putin to invade and annex Crimea, and then try his luck with eastern Ukraine. Putin refused to believe that Ukrainians, on their own, were capable of mobilizing against their country’s failing, corrupt leadership.

The interregnum of President Dimitri Medvedev didn’t provide a lasting breakthrough in relations. After all, it was during Medvedev’s presidency (even if Putin was ultimately calling the shots) that Russia invaded Georgia. That the Bush administration didn’t impose any real consequences on Russia for that violation of its neighbor’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, Conradi says, led Putin to believe he could get away with such actions. (As a former Bush administration official, I must admit that this is a fair criticism.) Such thinking was reinforced by the Barack Obama administration’s announced reset policy just months after Russian tanks had moved into Georgia. Coming so soon after Russia’s invasion of Georgia, the reset essentially swept that egregious act under the rug. The United States behaved as if it needed Russia more than the other way around. The reset was a failure on many levels and sent Moscow the wrong signals to the point where Putin thought he could get away with various actions, such as invading Ukraine and intervening in Syria, without paying much of a price.

By the end of the Bush administration, Conradi writes, “Putin saw Russia not as a junior partner, but as an equal.” “The Kremlin’s demands,” he adds, “could be summed up in a single word: ‘respect.’”  That remained true during the Obama administration. The reset, according to Conradi, had its moments, most notably the 2011 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START Treaty), and cooperation on Iran and Afghanistan. But Putin’s formal return to the presidency, announced in September 2011 with the inauguration the following May, marked the end of Obama’s overtures.

In the penultimate chapter, rather puzzlingly, Conradi offers the views, based on interviews, of three Russians: Andrei Lugovoi, accused of the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in the U.K.; Dmitri Kiselyov, the epitome of Putin’s nauseating propaganda machine; and an unnamed Russian businessman. The selection of these three by the author seemed odd and out of place, as he offers no explanation to why they—all three are pro-regime—were chosen apart from others. Moreover, the chapter seemed to present the three men with a platform to express their views, which stands out from the narrative style in which Conradi wrote the other chapters of his book. In addition there are some minor things to fix: Nikita Khrushchev’s visit to the United States in 1959 was for twelve days, not twelve weeks; Putin is not technically an only child, as he had an older brother who died in 1942 during the siege of Leningrad, before the younger Vladimir was born.

At the very end of the book, Conradi rightly answers the question asked in his title by assigning responsibility for the current state of affairs to Putin, though he recognizes that the West has not been without its faults over the years. At the same time, he thinks the problems run deeper than Putin. The Yeltsin years, largely more pro-Western than those of his successor, Conradi predicts, will be seen more as the “aberration” than the norm represented by Putin. Still, Conradi faults Putin for Russia’s isolation while simultaneously and contradictorily seeking respect from the international community. The way Putin sought such respect, Conradi argues, through aggression against Russia’s neighbors, threats to others, and an ugly internal crackdown only instilled fear among his neighbors and beyond. The answer to Putin’s regime of fear and paranoia—as I argue in my own forthcoming book on U.S. policy toward Russia—is a return to the policy of containment. Until leadership changes at the Kremlin, bad relations with the West are Russia’s loss.

David J. Kramer is a senior fellow at the Václav Havel Program for Human Rights and Diplomacy at Florida International University’s Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs. Before that, he was senior director at the McCain Institute and served as the president of Freedom House, both in Washington, D.C. He served as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia during President George W. Bush’s administration. Most recently he authored  Back to Containment: Dealing with Putin’s Regime.

Jerusalem’s Holy Sites

70: Romans destroy the Jewish Second Temple.

325–326: Roman Emperor Constantine builds the Church of the Sepulcher upon the site of Christ’s death and resurrection.

637: Arab army conquers Jerusalem; Caliph Omar Ibn El-Khattab refuses to pray within the Church of the Sepulcher, allowing for continued Christian worship on the site, and reopens the holy sites to Jewish worship; his successor Caliph Abd Al-Malik Ibn Marwan builds Dome of the Rock while Caliph Al-Walid Ibn Abd Al-Malik builds Al-Aqsa Mosque, marking the spot on the Temple Mount where the Prophet Mohammed departed on his Night Journey to heaven.

1193: Saladin’s son, Sultan Al-Afdal, endows the Magharbeh Quarter, which includes the Western Wall (Wailing Wall) of the Temple Mount as it is known to Jews, and the Haram Al-Sharif to Muslims, as a religious endowment under one Muslim jurisdiction that permitted access and worship.

1852: Ottoman Sultan Abdul Majid issues a decree that maintains shared rights of access, possession, and worship to the Church of the Sepulcher, the rooftop monastery of Dayr Al-Sultan, the Sanctuary of the Ascension of the Mount of Olives, the Tomb of the Virgin in Gethsemane, and the Church of the Nativity in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The decree establishes the principle of “status quo,” a legal arrangement over custodianship of holy sites in Jerusalem; the Western Wall, the Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount, the Cenacle on Mt. Zion, and Rachel’s Tomb were later included in the status quo arrangements.

1882: First Aliyah of Jewish mass immigration to Palestine begins following rise of Zionism in Europe.

1878: European powers confirm in the Treaty of Berlin that “no alteration can be made in the status quo in the holy places.”

November 2, 1917: British Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur James Balfour issues the Balfour Declaration promising support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.

December 11, 1917: Ottoman army retreats from Palestine before a combined British- and Arab-led force. Upon entering Jerusalem General Edmund Allenby guarantees that the holy places will remain under existing religious custodianship arrangements.

1921: British authorities appoint Hajj Amin Al-Husseini as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. He later becomes president of the Supreme Muslim Council, a body in charge of Islamic religious trusts (awqaf).

1920: League of Nations ratifies the British Mandate for Palestine, which calls for “putting into effect” the Balfour Declaration, and for “preserving existing rights and of securing free access to the Holy Places, religious buildings and sites, and the free exercise of worship.”

1922: Restorations of the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque begin.

1924: The Grand Mufti and the Mayor of Jerusalem, Ragheb Basha Al-Nashashibi, pledge allegiance to Emir Sharif Hussein Bin Ali, the ruler of Mecca, as the legal custodian of the holy sites in Jerusalem.

1928: Palestinian Arabs request that the British District Commissioner of Jerusalem enforce the boundaries between Jewish and Muslim worshippers along the Western Wall.

1929: Row over Jewish access to the Western Wall leads to Jewish protests and widespread Arab riots, resulting in two hundred and forty-nine casualties.

1930: British authorities establish the International Commission of the Wailing Wall, which concludes that Muslims are the sole owners and proprietors of the Western Wall and adjacent pavement, which combined are a waqf property. The Commission grants Jews full access and devotional rights to the Western Wall but restricts worship.

1936: The Arab Revolt erupts against British rule; British authorities strip Al-Husseini of his positions, and he flees to Lebanon.

1939: The MacDonald White Paper calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state within ten years, and declares that it is no longer British policy that Palestine should become a Jewish state.

July 22, 1946: Irgun, a radical Zionist group, bombs the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, headquarters of the British colonial administration, killing ninety-one people.

1947: Britain announces plans to withdraw from Palestine the following year. The United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) recommends the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states, with Jerusalem placed under international trusteeship; the Arabs League rejects the partition plan.

November 29, 1947: The General Assembly of the United Nations (UNGA) adopts Resolution 181 reiterating UNSCOP’s recommendations for Palestine’s partition and the international status of Jerusalem as corpus separatum or “separated body.”

December 1947–June 1948: Jewish militias spur Arab exodus from Jerusalem.

May 14, 1948: In Jerusalem, David Ben-Gurion, chairman of the Jewish Agency, declares an independent State of Israel; at midnight, the British Mandate over Palestine officially ends. Several hours later, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria invade Israel.

May 28, 1948: Arab forces capture the Old City, destroying synagogues, schools, and homes in the Jewish Quarter, while the Haganah and Israeli forces drive Arabs out of West Jerusalem. Israel’s provisional government declares West Jerusalem a “territory occupied by the State of Israel.”

June 11, 1948: Israel defeats Arab armies and under an armistice agreement signed between Israel and Jordan a year later, Jerusalem is split into a Jordanian-controlled East and an Israeli-controlled West until 1967.

December 11, 1948: UNGA Resolution 194 calls for the cessation of hostilities, the return of Palestinian refugees, and the internationalization as well as demilitarization of Jerusalem to preserve free access to, and protection of, the city’s holy sites.

May 11, 1949: Israel becomes a UN member, and reiterates its commitment to internationalize Jerusalem.

December 13, 1949: Israel moves its official seat to West Jerusalem.

1950: Jordan annexes the West Bank and East Jerusalem, granting citizenship to their populations.

July 20, 1951: Palestinian militants assassinate King Abdullah of Jordan while visiting the Haram Al-Sharif.

1953: The Jordanian cabinet meets in East Jerusalem for the first time, and shortly afterwards, the parliament convenes there. King Hussein of Jordan announces Jerusalem as the second capital of Jordan, upgrading its status from municipality to trusteeship.

1964: The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is founded at a congress in East Jerusalem.

June 5, 1967: The Six-Day War breaks out. Israel captures East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan.

June 7, 1967: Israeli troops capture the Old City from Jordan and raise the Israeli flag over the Dome of the Rock; Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan claims sovereignty over the Haram Al-Sharif, but grants the Waqf full administrative control; Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol declares that “no harm whatsoever shall come to the places sacred to all religions.”

June 11, 1967: Six hundred and fifty inhabitants of the Magharbeh Quarter of the Old City are evicted and their homes demolished to create a plaza in front of the Western Wall. Two historic mosques are destroyed.

June 27, 1967: The Knesset expands the municipality boundaries of Jerusalem to include East Jerusalem and surrounding Arab townships and villages; the Jordanian Waqf retains responsibility of administering Jerusalem’s Muslim holy sites; Knesset passes the Protection of Holy Places Law protecting the freedom of access and prohibiting any form of desecration to the holy places.

August 1967: Israeli army chaplain Rabbi Shlomo Goren holds a prayer service with fifty Jews at Al-Aqsa Mosque, leading to a skirmish with Palestinian guards; a ministerial committee upholds the government decision to bar Jewish worshippers from entering the Temple Mount, and the Israeli Chief Rabbinate restates religious ban on visiting and praying on the site;Israel designates the Old City of Jerusalem, including the Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount and the Western Wall, as antiquities, thus prohibiting construction and demolitions without authorization from Israeli authorities.

November 22, 1967: The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) unanimously adopts Resolution 242 calling for Israeli withdrawal from areas occupied in the latest war.

1969: Israel conducts archeological excavations under and around the Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount, sparking anger across the Muslim world.

August 1969: Australian tourist Denis Michael Rohan attempts to set fire to Al-Aqsa Mosque.

September 1969: In response to the arson attempt, leaders from twenty-four Muslim-majority countries form the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to “safeguard the interests of the Muslim world.”

1970: Israel intensifies property confiscation and archaeological excavations funded by settlers, leading to the digging of thirteen tunnels under and around the Haram Al-Sharif.

October 6, 1973: Syrian and Egyptian forces launch a surprise attack on Israel, beginning the October War, or Yom Kippur War.

1974: Arab League designates the PLO as the “sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people;” UNGA adopts Resolution 3236 recognizing the Palestinians’ right to self-determination and calling for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, including those in East Jerusalem.

1976: Jerusalem’s magistrate court acquits eight Jewish youths charged with praying at the Temple Mount; demonstrations and riots occur in East Jerusalem and the West Bank for two weeks until the Jerusalem District Court overturns the decision.

March 25, 1979: Rumors that a group of Israelis were planning to pray at the Temple Mount sparks a general West Bank strike and mass protests.

1980: The European Economic Community adopts the “Venice Declaration” stating it “will not accept any unilateral initiative designed to change the status of Jerusalem;” the Knesset adopts the Basic Law declaring Jerusalem as the “eternal and undivided” capital of Israel; the UNSC adopts Resolution 478 rejecting Israel’s claims to East Jerusalem as “null and void.”

1981: UNESCO adds the Old City to the World Heritage List.

1982: UNESCO adds the Old City to the List of World Heritage Sites in Danger; an Israeli soldier opens fire at the Dome of the Rock, killing two and wounding at least nine, and setting off riots in Jerusalem and the West Bank; Israeli forces invade Lebanon.

1983: Main entrance to the Department of Islamic Waqf in Jerusalem collapses, exposing extensive Israeli excavations under the Muslim Quarter.

1987: The First Intifada breaks out and lasts until 1990.

July 31, 1988: Jordan severs its legal and administrative ties to the West Bank, but East Jerusalem is explicitly excluded; PLO adopts the Palestinian Declaration of Independence, and accepts Resolution 181.

November 15, 1988: PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat declares the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

1990: The Temple Mount Faithful, a Jewish orthodox movement, attempts to lay a cornerstone for a new Jewish temple on the Temple Mount, sparking protests and riots that leave twenty-two Palestinians dead.

1993: Arafat and Israeli Labor Party Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin sign the Oslo Accord, providing for interim self-government arrangements in the West Bank and Gaza, and a framework of negotiations on the final status of Jerusalem within five years.

1994: The Palestinian Authority creates the Ministry of Religious Affairs to govern the Muslim waqfs; Israel and Jordan sign the Wadi Araba agreement recognizing Jordan’s “historic role” as custodian of Jerusalem’s Muslim holy places.

1995: In a speech to the Knesset, Prime Minister Rabin says that a united “Jerusalem is not subject for compromise” and will forever remain under Israeli control; U.S. Congress adopts the Jerusalem Embassy Act, ordering the American Embassy in Israel to be moved to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv by May 31, 1999. President Bill Clinton waives this requirement in June 1999 and subsequent American presidents continue to do the same; Rabin is assassinated by an Orthodox Jewish student.

1996: Israel opens a tunnel that runs underground along the Western Wall, sparking riots that leave three Palestinians dead in the Old City. In response, the Waqf freezes coordination with the Israel Antiquities Authority; the Jordanian Waqf begins the unauthorized construction of a mosque in an area underground the Haram Al-Sharif known as Solomon’s Stables; the opening of Netanyahu Tunnel or Bab Al-Qataneen tunnel to the public in 1996 ignites what is known as the “Tunnels Revolt,” which results in the death of more than seventy-five Palestinians and sixteen Israelis; Israel opens a second exit to the Hasmonean tunnel running along the Western Wall plaza, triggering riots.

September 28, 2000: Israeli Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon visits the Temple Mount, sparking mass demonstrations and the Second Intifada, which continues for five years and leaves approximately three thousand Palestinians and one thousand Israelis dead.

November 3, 2000: Israeli forces ban Palestinians under the age of 45 from entering the Haram Al-Sharif, later easing access restrictions to certain groups.

November 14, 2000: Israel’s mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert, announces construction of settlements will be resumed in East Jerusalem.

November 23, 2000: Dozens of employees from the Islamic Waqf conduct a sit-in protest in the Al-Aqsa area, and make demands to allow Muslim worshippers access during Ramadan to which Israeli authorities comply.

December 7, 2000: Over one hundred American rabbis issue a statement saying there is no religious text requiring exclusive Jewish sovereignty over the Temple Mount.

December 23, 2000: President Clinton issues parameters for a peace settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians, outlining a position on Jerusalem that would divide the city between the Palestinian and Jewish communities according to demographics. Both parties accept the parameters with reservations.

January 27, 2001: The Taba talks conclude without reaching a final settlement but both sides agree to return to the pre-1967 borders, and discuss a “Holy Basin” in Jerusalem with distinct international status.

2002: Arab League adopts the Arab Peace Initiative calling for peace between all Arab countries and Israel in exchange for Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 borders and a Palestinian state in East Jerusalem.

2003: A Hamas suicide bomber dressed as an Orthodox Jew blows himself up on a bus in central Jerusalem, killing sixteen; the Middle East Quartet issues a Road Map to Peace that would establish a Palestinian state by 2005 on the condition that Israel return to the pre-1967 borders, enforce a settlement freeze, and reach a final settlement on Jerusalem; Israel re-opens the Magharbeh Gate, the entrance to the Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount, and permits access to non-Muslims.

2007: Palestinians and Israelis agree to implement the roadmap for peace at the Annapolis Conference in Maryland, based on the Clinton Parameters, including the territorial division of Jerusalem and the international supervision of its holy sites.

2009: Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat introduces a Master Plan, codifying development plans for West and East Jerusalem as a single municipality until 2020; a rightwing Jewish conference calls for the construction of the “Third Temple” to become a third Jewish holy site in Jerusalem; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces a ten-month settlement freeze, excluding East Jerusalem and existing construction in the West Bank.

2010: United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemns Israeli plans of construction of 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem.

2011: In response to Israel’s settlement drive in the West Bank, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas submits a letter to the UNSC requesting the recognition of Palestine as an independent state.

2012: The UNGA votes to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state; in following remarks, Abbas refers to Jerusalem as the “eternal capital of the state of Palestine.”

2013: King Abdullah II of Jordan and Abbas sign an agreement reiterating Jordan’s role as defender and custodian of the Muslim sites in Jerusalem.

October 2014: Palestinians ask the UNSC to set a deadline of November 2016 for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem; following an assassination attempt on rightwing rabbi Yehuda Glick, Israeli forces close the Haram Al-Sharif.

November 2014: Two Palestinians attack a synagogue in West Jerusalem, killing four Israelis and a policeman, and sparking clashes across Jerusalem that result in the injury of nearly eight hundred Palestinians; Israeli forces briefly enter Al-Aqsa Mosque while chasing Palestinian protestors; Jordan recalls its ambassador from Tel Aviv in protest while Prime Minister Netanyahu pledges not to alter the status quo.

December 19, 2014:  Nearly sixty thousand Palestinians pray at the Haram Al-Sharif and then march through the Old City in protest of Israeli policies.

May 2015: Approximately thirty thousand Jews parade through the Old City celebrating Jerusalem Day, Israel’s victory in the 1967 War; Prime Minister Netanyahu pledges never to let the city be divided.

September 2015: Israeli police ban two grassroots Palestinian groups from making visits to the Haram Al-Sharif; Israeli forces clash with Palestinians taking sanctuary in Al-Aqsa Mosque to circumvent Israeli restrictions to access, leaving one hundred and ten Palestinians injured; six-hundred and fifty Jewish activists tour the holy site on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, and a wave of knife attacks, carried out by Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, begins.

October 2015: Violent confrontations and attacks between Palestinians, Israeli settlers, and security forces escalate with numerous stabbing attacks and shootings, causing Israeli authorities to issue a 48-hour ban on Palestinians entering the Old City and install metal detectors at checkpoints; the Palestinian Red Cross reports that through the month of October Israeli forces shot and wounded about 2,617 Palestinians with live and rubber-coated steel bullets; the IDF records seventy-five attacks against Israelis and eight hundred and seventeen instances of protest.

October 24, 2015: Jordan and Israel agree that surveillance cameras be installed around the Haram Al-Sharif; Netanyahu issues a statement reiterating Israel’s commitment for maintaining the status quo of worship.

November 2015: Prime Minister Netanyahu approves the resumption of settlement building in East Jerusalem after a two-year freeze; Israel’s Chief of Police imposes a formal ban on visits to Temple Mount by Israeli lawmakers.

February 2016: The Middle East Quartet reiterates its concern that Israel’s continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is “imperiling the viability of the two-state solution.” Its report finds that Israel built more than three thousand homes between 2009 and 2014 for 200,000 settlers living in East Jerusalem.

March 2016: Israel’s security cabinet approves a proposal to resume construction of a “security fence” separating Jerusalem from the West Bank.

May 2016: The Jerusalem municipality orders the Islamic Waqf to halt construction on bathrooms in the northern section of the Haram Al-Sharif.

June 10, 2016: After an attack in Tel Aviv that left four Israelis dead, Israeli authorities bar Palestinian men under the age of 45 from visiting the Haram Al-Sharif, temporarily freeze the entry permits of more than eighty three thousand Palestinians, and suspend Gazans’ weekly trips to East Jerusalem for the day.

June 26, 2016: Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan permits Jews and non-Muslims to visit the Haram Al-Sharif during the last ten days of Ramadan, sparking three days of clashes that leave fourteen Palestinians and one Israeli police officer injured.

June 27, 2016: Following an attack against Jewish visitors touring the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, Israeli forces raid the site, leaving at least twenty-nine Muslim worshippers injured; as clashes ensue, Israeli police close the site to non-Muslims.

July 3, 2016: The Israeli government approves plans for about eight hundred new housing units in East Jerusalem and a West Bank settlement.

August 4, 2016: Israeli authorities arrest several Islamic Waqf employees for planning maintenance work at the Haram Al-Sharif without permission from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

January 15, 2017: French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development Jean-Marc Ayrault hosts an international conference in Paris in an attempt to jumpstart peace talks.

July 14, 2017: Three Arab Israelis open fire near the exit of the Haram Al-Sharif, killing two police officers; Israel closes the site, preventing Muslim worshippers from attending Friday prayers for the first time in seventeen years.

July 15, 2017: Prime Minister Netanyahu announces that the Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount complex will reopen the next day following the installation of metal detectors and security cameras.

July 16, 2017: Muslim worshippers refuse to enter the Haram Al-Sharif complex in protest of the new security measures, and prayers are held in the streets outside; clashes ensue from July 16–20.

July 21, 2017: Israeli police close off the Old City to men under 50, and mass protest prayers and demonstrations are held throughout the Old City and the West Bank, leading to clashes in which three Palestinians are killed; Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas freezes all contact with Israelis until security measures are reversed.

July 22, 2017: Sweden, France, and Egypt request an urgent meeting of the UNSC to discuss the crisis in Jerusalem while more clashes result in the death of two Palestinians.

July 25, 2017: Israeli officials remove metal detectors from entrances to the Haram Al-Sharif, replacing them with CCTV cameras.

July 27, 2017: Clashes break out as thousands of worshippers enter the complex following the removal of recent Israeli security measures.

July 28, 2017: Palestinians return to Friday prayers at the Haram Al-Sharif.

Beyond “Land for Peace”

In 2001, U.S. President Bill Clinton made the first “last-ditch” attempt to salvage the Israeli-Palestinian peace process by introducing parameters for a two-state solution within the territorial bounds of UN Security Resolution 242, passed in 1967. Although his guidelines offered detailed proposals on borders and security, as well as ideas for bridging the gaps on the thorny questions of Jerusalem and refugees, too many questions and reservations remained to culminate in a final status agreement before the clock ran out. Since then, both his immediate successors have held out the vision of two states, living side by side in peace and security, to coax the parties into a final status agreement. Yet despite repeated failures, the determination to breathe life back into the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process persists—even as the parties engage in unilateral acts and provocations that only accelerate the slide into the dreaded one-state reality.

The question is why, after more than twenty years of this debilitating cycle, the international community continues to uphold the belief that this process will culminate in a two-state solution? Not only has it been a decade since the parties last engaged on the substance of the dispute, they have shown no appetite for the painful compromises needed to bring the process to fruition. In the interim, the lines that are supposed to form the boundaries of the future Palestinian state have been all but erased. The size of the anticipated population transfer required to make such borders both secure and contiguous is forbidding. At this point, the vision of a viable and territorially contiguous Palestine, and a secure Israel, living on either side of the June 4, 1967 lines seems little more than a pleasing illusion.

The determination of the international community to keep the moribund peace process on life support is less about hope that the parties will suddenly reach a final status agreement and more about fear of the consequences of a vacuum in diplomacy. Better a process in a state of near-terminal stagnation than the one-state nightmare that is certain to follow. The irony behind this ingrained thinking, however, is that the current peace process was never designed to support the establishment of a two-state solution. On the contrary, it was designed to foster a just and lasting peace between the belligerent parties to the 1967 war through negotiated border adjustments, and mutual respect for the rights of existing sovereign states. While this framework was accepted by the parties and has enjoyed the endorsement of the international community for fifty years, it is poorly suited to a conflict between rival national groups with competing self-determination claims. Not only does this formula utterly fail to provide the parties with the assurances of protection and institutional guarantees necessary to carry out an exercise as traumatic and destabilizing as partition, it leaves them solely responsible for both making and accepting concessions on the most symbolic and intangible aspects of the dispute. As a result, the parties have squandered the last quarter-century of negotiations resisting further compromise, and taking the very unilateral and provocative acts that are entrenching a one-state reality.

Although the current peace process is virtually synonymous with the pursuit of a two-state solution, it is often forgotten that none of the original, interim agreements reached between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) make any mention of that outcome. In fact, the only outcome specified in the agreements is the establishment of a Palestinian self-governing authority and a permanent settlement based on and leading to an implementation of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973). This ambiguity reflects an attempt to paper over the differences between the Israeli and Palestinian positions on the scope of the final status agreement when the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government was negotiated in 1993. At that time, neither the Israeli public nor the Israeli government were prepared to accept a sovereign Palestinian state as part of the final status agreement. Instead, they were aiming for an expanded autonomy arrangement similar to the framework for Middle East peace accompanying the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement. However, to reassure the Palestinians that the process would lead to an end of the occupation, which began in 1967, the first interim agreement included references to these historic UN resolutions and made provisions for a redeployment of Israeli forces outside of the populated areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in advance of elections for the self-governing authority.

The “constructive ambiguity” of the Declaration of Principles is one of the most consistent criticisms of the Oslo process. The absence of a well-defined endgame creates an uncertainty over the full extent of costs or the rewards of cooperation and continued compromise. As a result, the parties become increasingly resistant to making further concessions during the interim phase while simultaneously demanding their counterpart take measures to demonstrate their peaceful intentions. This mistrustful dynamic is evident in the endless haggling over security arrangements and charges of incitement during the implementation of the first three Israeli-Palestinian interim agreements.

The Flawed Framework of Resolution 242
Starting with President Bill Clinton at Camp David in 2000, successive attempts under U.S. sponsorship have sought to reach a final-status agreement resulting in a Palestinian state “based on the June 4 lines with mutually accepted land swaps.” However, as an international consensus has crystallized behind this endgame, the parties’ resistance to compromise has seemingly intensified. Not only did Arafat walk away from Ehud Barak’s offer of statehood at the infamous Camp David Summit, his successor, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, similarly balked at a 2008 proposal from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that allegedly allowed for a Palestinian state in all but 6 percent of the West Bank with corresponding land-swaps. Even though President Barak Obama adopted the bulk of that 2008 proposal in his 2011 policy address, which called for the establishment of “two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine…based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps,” his Secretary of State John Kerry struggled just to get the parties to commit to a slate of interim confidence building measures before his 2014 initiative collapsed completely.

The standard explanation for the failure of the parties to reach an agreement that would implement the proposed vision of a two-state solution is their “unwillingness” to compromise on the remaining final status issues—in particular Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees. However, these critiques overlook the linkages between reaching an agreement on borders and the remaining items on the final status agenda. In its original context, the land part of the land for peace exchange meant Israeli withdrawals to secure and defensible boundaries, while peace meant Arab recognition of and respect for the boundaries and the sovereignty of the state behind them. This unambiguous and parsimonious formula is sufficient for an agreement between sovereign, UN member states whose rights and responsibilities are understood and mutually reinforcing. Although resolving the inherent tension between the inadmissibility of territory through conflict and the creation of defensible borders is challenging, as evidenced in the peace agreements between Israel and Egypt (1979) and Israel and Jordan (1994), it is possible and can serve as the basis for a stable, bilateral peace even if multilateral issues like refugees remain outstanding.

Yet, in a conflict between a state and a non-state actor, such as that between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, resolving the question of borders only leads to further questions on the status of the vacated territories. The purpose of territorial withdrawal under Resolution 242 is to obtain recognition of Israel’s borders, and Israel’s right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force. The resolution is silent on the status of the territories Israel would be expected to withdraw from because, in an agreement between sovereign states, their status is assumed. Or more directly, there was never a need for Israel to accept Egyptian sovereignty over the Sinai Peninsula as it was never in doubt. However, when the Israelis and Palestinians reach an accommodation on matters relating to borders, security, or even settlements, recognizing the territory behind those borders as another sovereign state entails a costly, Israeli concession made with the expectation of reciprocal Palestinian concessions in particular on the issues of Jerusalem and refugees, as was the case at Camp David in July 2000.

This in turn relates to another glaring defect of the framework embodied in Resolution 242. Just as that framework evades the issue of “sovereignty” following the withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territories, it is silent on the highly symbolic issues of the permanent status of Jerusalem and refugees. This is consistent with the principles outlined in the UN Charter regarding basic norms of sovereignty as decisions on these issues would fall under the domain of “affairs of state.” The only guideline offered by Resolution 242 for the integral question of Palestinian refugees is that the parties achieve a settlement that is “just.” While there is nothing to preclude a just settlement to the refugee problem being made on the basis of UN General Assembly Resolution 194, which includes references to a right of the refugees to return and seek compensation for lost property, there is absolutely nothing in the resolution to require the parties to consider, let alone adopt, that particular framework. Conversely, by folding the status of Jerusalem into the question of withdrawal from territory, there is no obligation to consider assurances for access or respect for the city’s universal significance with the terms of settlement.

The problem with this studied deference to norms of non-interference in the internal affairs of politically independent states is that the parties are left singularly responsible for making or accepting the “painful compromises” which agreement on these issues would entail. The polarization in both societies and the ubiquity of maximalist slogans only amplifies the potential audience costs of putting such compromises on the table and encourages the parties to obfuscate points where they have shown flexibility. For example, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas forcefully rejected reports in the Israeli press that he had ruled out the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes inside Israel during the talks following the 2007 Annapolis conference. In other words, by continually insisting the international community will not impose solutions for these issues on the parties, they are actually encouraging them to maintain a hard line and calibrate their positions to the maximalist demands of their constituents. This stands in stark contrast to the flexibility shown by the parties on the territorial aspect of the conflict, reflected in the 2008 breakthrough on “land-swaps,” allowing Israel to retain key settlement blocks in exchange for territory on the other side of the proverbial June 4 lines of comparable size and quality.

Despite this flexibility, the focus on the preservation of the June 4, 1967, lines is itself a complicating factor in the culmination of a final status agreement. Although the June 4 lines have no special significance in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict beyond marking the 1949 armistice lines, under the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 242, they have acquired a sanctity that is utterly disconnected from prevailing realities on the ground. In addition, the zero-sum nature of the formula encourages one side to take unilateral actions to limit the scope of withdrawal in the final status agreement. As is well known, the settler population in the West Bank has more than doubled since 1993. Not only has this expansion reduced the scope of territory available for a future Palestinian state—as former UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry were known to lament—it also raises the cost of implementing any agreement the parties actually reach on the territorial aspects. Predictably, the Palestinian reaction to these unilateral actions is further resistance to compromise. The irony is that the more the international community and the parties double down on these lines forming the basis of the two-state solution, the faster and more irreversible the slide into the one-state reality.

Reassessing the Historic Legacy of Partitioning Palestine
The tragedy behind the continued fealty to this mismatched formula is that it obfuscates the possibility of alternative frameworks for creating a two-state solution, including those drawn from the longer legacy of international attempts to resolve the competition between the national aspirations of the rival communities within the borders of mandatory Palestine. In fact, the fixation with UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 forgets that the international community first adopted the concept of partition less than twenty years after the British Mandate was established. In 1937, the Peel Commission determined that the “causes of the unrest” in Palestine were the “irrepressible conflict [which had] arisen between two national communities” within the borders of the mandate. The incompatibility between their rival aspirations for independence and statehood had rendered the terms of the British Mandate unworkable, and partition was recommended as the only viable solution. While the detailed plan for partition included in the report was shelved in the run-up to the Second World War, its principles were reaffirmed a few years later, when a war-exhausted Great Britain transferred responsibility for its mandate to the newly formed United Nations.

As is well known, the majority report submitted by the United Nations Special Commission on Palestine (UNSCOP) recommended the partition of Palestine into two independent states in November 1947. However, like the 1937 report of the Peel Commission, and unlike the five operative paragraphs of UN Security Council Resolution 242, the UNSCOP proposal contained lengthy provisions on how each state would be governed, including stipulations on the protection of minority rights, religious freedom, and guarantees for education in each community’s respective language. Moreover, while the plan included a map with proposed frontiers, the borders were designed to ensure the viability of each state with respect to economic development, a reasonable tax base, and took care to minimize the need for population transfers. In addition, the proposal removed the sacred cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem from the jurisdiction of either state, and it established specific parameters for how and when Jewish refugees from the Nazi persecution in Europe would be absorbed into the nascent Jewish state. Finally, the partition plan was unequivocal that the implementation would require extensive and extended international support, both in supporting economic development and in ensuring external armed forces monitored the transition process.

The rationale for these detailed, highly invasive proscriptions was the belief that without such intervention, partition would only result in further violence. While the Peel Commission focused more on population transfer and the UNSCOP plan more on minority rights, both recognized that polarization between societies was liable to produce further conflict if clear expectations were not set in advance and support provided to guarantee they were implemented. This was especially true with regards to “migration,” which at that point meant Jewish refugees streaming in from the Nazi genocide in Europe. The Palestinian population saw unchecked Jewish migration in the 1930s and 1940s as diluting the Arab identity of the country, much in the way the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel is seen as a threat to the Jewish nature of the state today. The zero-sum nature of the demographic game became an existential line in the sand no leader could cross and hope to survive—politically or otherwise. Thus, the international community stepped in and imposed an unpopular, but existent compromise.

None of these plans were ever implemented, and indeed many argue that UNSCOP’s ultra-vires adoption by the General Assembly in UN Resolution 181 actually precipitated the catastrophe of 1948 by sanctioning the partition of Palestine without the consent of both parties. However, from a conflict resolution perspective they have enduring merit. First, each of these plans included detailed policy prescriptions for the actual governance of the successor states, right down to provisions for minority rights, taxation, revenue sharing, and expectations for bilateral and international relations. In addition, the plans predicated the eventual success of partition on the management of external and internal migration, population exchange, and authority over the holy cities within the territory. While these details may seem excessive—or at odds with the expectation partition would lead to sovereign, politically independent states—negotiated settlements with highly institutionalized formulas delineating how power will be shared and state resources allocated are more likely to succeed, and less likely to relapse into violence.

All these plans were unequivocal on the need for significant levels of support from the international community, including economic support, contributions, technical expertise, and boots on the ground during the transition. While such provisions would have been costly, especially for a world community emerging from a devastating war, it is widely accepted in the academic literature that such external support—especially the introduction of third-party forces—is essential to facilitating a successful transition and maintaining security on the borders. This raises an uncomfortable point in both the academic literature and the text of the different partition plans. Partition is regarded as the most durable solution to conflicts between identity groups because the ideational stakes and legacy of the conflict make it exceedingly difficult for members of either to trust the other with their security. Therefore, to avoid the potential for latent tensions to re-erupt into another round of strife, it is important not only to separate the rival groups, but separate them as completely as possible. Studies of the long-term impact of partition on the resumption of armed conflict have demonstrated that the more ethnically or nationally homogenous the successor state, the lower the likelihood of renewed violence.

This sentiment was clearly spelled out in the Peel Commission, which indicated a substantial population transfer would be necessary to facilitate the successful implementation of the partition plan. While the UNSCOP plan sought to avoid the need for large exchanges anticipated by the Peel Commission, the proposal also contained several provisions aimed at engineering a more homogenous population for each state. The expectation was that these provisions would reduce the size of the Arab minority in the Jewish state, which was roughly 40 percent of the population at the time of partition.
These same concerns were manifest when the parties engaged on the questions of borders and refugees during the different stabs at final status talks as well. Israel has long objected to allowing the return of Palestinian refugees from 1948 on the grounds it would upset the demographic balance and threaten their future as a Jewish state. This argument was also used as justification for drawing the borders around Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank, as well as in proposals raised outside the context of the negotiations by Avigdor Lieberman, who suggested those land swaps include portions of the Galilee heavily populated by Palestinian citizens of Israel.

While Lieberman’s proposal has been widely denounced, it raises another paradox of the current negotiating framework. By making the territories occupied by Israel in 1967 the focus of the settlement, the scope of the conflict is implicitly confined there as well. However, not only has the violence permeated those boundaries through acts of terrorism, there are growing Arab-Jewish tensions within Israel’s pre-1967 borders. Moreover, with the rightward drift in the Israeli government, there are signs these tensions are escalating—not only in the Galilee, but among the Bedouin communities in the southern Negev region. Even if by some miracle Israel and the Palestinian Authority concluded a negotiated settlement on a two-state solution tomorrow, it would not address these tensions. If anything, it is likely they would accelerate as Israel is forced to contend with unanswered questions about the rights and obligations of its non-Jewish citizens.

A New “Old” Framework for Peace
When looking at the present situation in Israel and the occupied territories through the lens of the Peel Commission or the UNSCOP report, the striking and painful parallels are manifest. Despite a quarter century of negotiations, the conflict between the competing national aspirations of the rival communities remains unresolved. Most importantly for the current negotiating framework, it remains unresolved in Nazareth, Beer Sheva, and Jaffa, as well as in Jerusalem, Hebron, and Ariel. Forcing a settlement on the basis of some arbitrary and objectively insecure armistice lines may uphold the norms of the UN Charter, but will do little to help the parties untangle their intertwined national narratives, or competing historical claims. Nor will it alleviate the potential for future conflict among and between the intermingled communities sure to remain on either side of the border wall. It is far more likely that the attempt to bring about such an arbitrary or self-enforcing partition will precipitate another civil or regional war.

There are only two viable formulas for the resolution of self-determination conflicts: partition or rigorously institutionalized power sharing arrangements that assure national minorities protection and a meaningful stake in the governance of their internal affairs. To be viable, however, both options depend on the vigorous and sustained support of the international community to enforce the terms of settlement, ensure a smooth and secure transition, support opportunities for economic development, and the absorption of returning refugees. UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 retain a deep reservoir of international legitimacy, and the assent of all the parties to the conflict. However, they do not provide a blueprint for the partition of Palestine, nor offer guidelines for its successful implementation. UN General Assembly Resolution 181, on the other hand, has those guidelines as well as a comprehensive plan for implementation. While contentious and imperfect, it just might be a better place for the international community to start—or rather restart, the pursuit of a two-state solution for the peoples of Palestine.

Allison Hodgkins is an assistant professor of international security and conflict management at the American University in Cairo (AUC). Prior to joining AUC, she directed the CIEE Study Center at the University of Jordan from 2006 to 2012, and served as academic director at the Middle East Peace and Conflict Studies program of the School for International Training between 1995 and 2001. She taught at the University of Jordan, Bentley College, and Northeastern University. She is a regular contributor at Political Violence @ a Glance. On Twitter: @ABHodgkins.

Understanding Sectarianism in the Middle East

The “sectarian” Middle East does not simply exist; it is imagined to exist, and then it is produced. It does not emerge latently. Yet the strong association of the pejorative term “sectarianism” with the Middle East repeatedly suggests that the region is more negatively religious than the “secular” West. This is an ideological assumption woven into how the Arab and Muslim worlds are generally depicted as having fundamentally religious landscapes in contrast to Western societies. Not only does this assumption gloss over how religious the West is, but it also pretends that what is occurring in the Middle East reflects an unbroken arc of sectarian sentiment that connects the medieval to the modern.

Modern politics, in short, is transformed into little more than a re-enactment of a medieval drama between Sunni and Shia, rather than being a geopolitical struggle in which Western states are deeply implicated. Most of all, this Western fixation with the allegedly medieval and fixed nature of religiosity in the Middle East distracts scholars and the general public from understanding the modern roots of the “sectarian” Middle East.

One ought to discuss sectarian outlooks, actions, and thoughts in the Middle East in a manner similar to how one would talk about racial (and racist) outlooks, actions, and thoughts in the United States. Scholars of American history have gone to great lengths to challenge the notion of singular, age-old racial identifications, whether black or white. It is incumbent upon scholars of the Middle East to likewise reject the facile, monolithic, and ahistorical interpretations of sectarian identity so beloved by academics, pundits, think tank “experts,” and politicians.

The idea of an innately sectarian Middle East or Islam often serves to absolve Western powers from their complicity in creating, encouraging, or exacerbating violent political sectarianism in the Arab World. U.S. President Barack Obama, for example, asserted in 2016 that “the only organizing principles [in the region] are sectarian” and that the conflicts that rage in the Middle East under America’s watch “date back millennia.”

These assertions, at least as recounted by journalist Jeffrey Goldberg in “The Obama Doctrine” in The Atlantic, are both preposterous and self-serving—preposterous because they discount the rich history of the Arab World that underscores the numerous social and political bonds in the region that are manifestly not sectarian; self-serving because they affirm an imperial self-righteousness that presumes that the problems of the Arab World are primarily due to the persistence of allegedly immutable sectarian solidarities. The essence of Obama’s message appears to be, “We have tried to help them, but they are hopeless.”

Indisputably, there is a sectarian problem in the Middle East. This problem is tied to religion, history, region, environment, class, politics and political economy. However, it is also abundantly clear that Western interventionism in the region not only exacerbates these internal problems, but creates new conditions and contexts that define the very nature of what is “internal.” Thus, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared confidently in 2006, amidst Israel’s devastating U.S.-backed assault on Lebanon, that the world was observing the “birth pangs of a new Middle East.” The aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, moreover, witnessed not only the destruction of what remained of the brutal Baathist Iraqi central state; it also created a new Iraqi Governing Council along explicitly sectarian lines. This fateful decision to divide the Iraqi state among “Sunni,” “Shiite,” and “Kurd” was not predetermined objectively by the diversity of Iraqi society. It was principally a U.S. imperial interpretation of this diversity around which Iraqis both rallied and resisted.

I am not suggesting that we think of sectarianism as only, or even primarily, a question of colonial “divide and rule.” Local and regional actors do indeed play the sectarian game willingly and ably. The current rivalry and proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran, for example, clearly suggest regional political catalysts for the current sectarianization of the Middle East. This is as evident in Syria as it is in Yemen and Bahrain. Until another major geo-political shift occurs, sectarianized identities will surely remain firmly in place. But I am saying that we should stop pretending that the so-called “internal” dimensions have not themselves been massively affected, exacerbated, and even transformed by the West.

Rather than assume sectarianism to be a fixed, stable reality that floats above history, it is far more important to locate and identify—to historicize—each so-called “sectarian” event, moment, structure, identification, and discourse in its particular context.

This article is adapted from a report published by the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy. It can be accessed online here.

Ussama Makdisi is Professor of History and Arab-American Educational Foundation in Arab Studies at Rice University.