Peace, peace, and there is no peace

1917 was a significant year in the political history of the Middle East. The crumbling of the Ottoman Empire resulted in the creation of new political entities, which were not established following various national liberation movements, but were established primarily according to the interests of the global powers of that period. These global powers tried to preserve their influence in the region by establishing satellite entities that would always be dependent on these superpowers, while enabling the superpowers to profit from their natural resources.

None of these countries offered a solution to the turbulent waves created by various religious and ethnic groups, many advancing uncompromising approaches towards their ideologies.

Countries that were established and prescribed borders have suffered from recent upheavals to the existing order, through what has been labeled “the Arab Spring”. Indeed, after nearly a century since the post-Ottoman Middle East order was established, nothing is as it was.

Over the last few years, regimes gave either collapsed or been significantly challenged, in countries such as Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan, while fierce struggles rage in Syria, with the participation of Lebanon. ¬†Iran is involved in several Middle East conflicts, as the Islamic Republic’s influence has impacted the conflicts in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Bahrain, Gaza and Libya. It would appear that several of these populations have an inability to peacefully co-exist within a state entity, whose very existence seems impossible, and the West is hesitant to get involved.

The state-in-making, Palestine, whose representatives for decades opposed compromise proposals, eventually accepted the Oslo Accords, but just over a decade later, disbanded into two separate political and geographical entities, through horrid acts of violence. The possibility of re-engaging the two entities seems almost impossible.

Even life in Israel, which for years has enabled a level of co-existence between Jews and Arabs, who learned to productively live side by side, appears more fragile than ever, as Arab Members of Knesset call for a new Intifada, a laundered word for open revolt against the state and its government.

Within this chaotic situation, the world is convinced that the most pressing problem is the Palestinian problem. To the casual observer, this would appear strange, as ongoing violence and chaos in places such as Libya, Syria, and Iraq would appear more pressing. In these areas, terrorist attacks occur every day, as the media is flooded with reports of victims.

While even a small act of violence in Israel or the Palestinian Authority elicits waves, 100,000 deaths in Syrian do not seem of great concern to all of those concerned for human welfare and justice.

Egypt is undergoing constant upheavals, economic crisis, and the massive suppression of human rights, but the world seems uninterested. Only the Palestinian issue is of interest to them.

Why is this the case? Because in our conflict, one side, the Israeli one, appears to be rational, realistic, thoughtful, and attentive – thus, the world believed that it can be persuaded to compromise towards reaching a solution.

This is the mistake of the external observer. The conflict must be discussed in terms of the chaos created by the great powers over a century ago. Refugees must be discussed within the context not only of the 1948 Palestinian refugees, but within the context of the significant refugee problem that has been created by “the Arab Spring” and other Middle East wars. The entire region is populated by various types of refugees and exiles. For example, in Qatar, only one-third of the residents are citizens, while the rest are refugees, migrant workers, or exiles. In general, nationalities and ethnicities were forced to live together under an authority that means nothing for their historic or national rights.

When attempting to solve the Middle East conflict, Western thinking must be abandoned in favor of a Middle Eastern approach. Negotiations should not be conducted on the basis of historical justice or injustice or injustice, as there is no absolute justice in this conflict.

Conflict in our region can be solved according to the model of commercial negotiations, as conducted in the Middle Eastern bazaar in the Middle East, in which each side negotiates for security, land, water, and energy, in which each side presents its wares and requirements to the other.

Those who are acquainted with the Middle Eastern bazaar know that those who enter the bazaar generally leave the bazaar with purchases, even if there was no intention to buy. In Eastern culture, the model of trade is the engine that drives all systems, and any attempts to base a solution on other concepts, such as justice, are bound to fail.

Therefore, every gesture towards peace will not reach even a partial solution, and will result in a search after, “Peace, peace, and there is no peace” as the Biblical verse states.

Only the negotiation of give and take, where the parties realize that negotiation is their one and only option towards reaching an agreement, will bear fruit. But each party must study his negotiating partner, and apply the accepted terms of transactions.  Each party must know who will have to pay, who will benefit, who will oppose, and what reactions can be expected from an agreement.

Ignoring these principles could result in dangers and a new outburst of violence, which would again prove that the world has learned nothing from the last 100 years of conflict in our region.

About the Author
Dr David Altman is senior vice-president at the Netanya Academic College and vice-chair of the college's Strategic Dialogue Center
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