No Alternative to Peace

Shalom and Salaam … But the Israeli-Arab-Palestinian conflict has been going on for nearly a century. The people in the region are sick of fear, violence, and death. They are desperate for peace. What is needed to resolve the conflict are clear stable structures that will have to be established according to international law. And above all, shared political, economic, and social interests…

Shalom, Salaam. The Israeli-Arab-Palestinian conflict has been going on for nearly a century: much longer than the State of Israel has existed, and longer than the history of the Nakba, the catastrophic flight and expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes 70 years ago. Since the early 1920s, there have only been very few years without violent clashes between Arabs and Jews, without terrorist attacks, skirmishes, battles and wars. One might be excused for thinking that Israelis, Palestinians, and Arabs feel only hatred for one another. But even the traditional greeting in this part of the world expresses the eternal desire for peace: Salaam and Shalom.
However, the shared longing for peace is not sufficient to resolve this deepening dispute. The conflict has too long a history and is too complex. What is needed to resolve the conflict are clear, stable structures that will have to be established according to international law. And, above all, shared political, economic, and social interests. The classic example is the Israel-Egypt peace process. The two countries fought three wars, resulting in grave loss of life and heavy economic burdens. When the Likud Party under Menachem Begin won Israel’s 1977 elections, so-called “experts” announced that having the “chauvinist” Begin serve as head of government would increase the risk of war.
Egyptian President Anwar Sadat disagreed. Sadat declared that he was ready to travel to Israel and make peace. The Egyptian head of state understood Israel’s deep-seated fear for its own existence. Begin responded by inviting Sadat. In an address before the Knesset in Jerusalem, Sadat reiterated that Egypt was willing to bring an end to the war and to recognize Israel’s right to exist. In return, the Egyptian president demanded Israel’s complete withdrawal from all occupied territories. The Israeli government complied. In the 1979 Camp David Accords, concluded with the help of the U.S., Jerusalem committed to a complete withdrawal from Sinai and the dismantling of Israeli settlements there. Egypt, in turn, reestablished diplomatic relations with Israel. This peace has now lasted nearly four decades. The accord should serve as a model for all further peace agreements with Arab states – and with the Palestinians.
An agreement between the Jewish state and the Palestinians is undoubtedly far more complex than the agreement between Cairo and Jerusalem. The existence of Egypt as a state has never been called into question. Israel had only to withdraw from Sinai, which had been occupied since 1967, and vacate its Jewish settlements. There were no other territorial claims on either side.

Sacred to Jews, Muslims, and Christians: The Tomb of the Patriarchs, Hebron Zairon / Wikimedia / (CC BY-SA 4.0) / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

Sacred to Jews, Muslims, and Christians: The Tomb of the Patriarchs, Hebron
Zairon / Wikimedia / (CC BY-SA 4.0) / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

Generations of refugees

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is incomparably more complex. Both Palestinians and Israelis call the land between the Mediterranean and Jordan their home. Their capital is Jerusalem – or Al-Quds. The Israelis have a state, the Palestinians have none. As already noted, the Palestinians mourn the flight and expulsion of some 700,000 Arabs in 1948 and 1949. Israel, for its part, notes it opened its doors to more than 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab states such as Morocco, Iraq, and Yemen between 1949 and 1961. While the Jewish arrivals were absorbed into Israel, most Arab countries, with the exception of Jordan, still refuse to do the same for the Palestinians. About five million Palestinians are classified as refugees – they have now been refugees into the fourth generation.
Yet Palestinians have still been unable to commit to a unified political leadership. In the West Bank, the PLO – of which the largest faction is Fatah – is in control. Gaza is ruled by Hamas. The two organizations are also engaged in a bitter struggle with each other. Fatah is prepared to acknowledge Israel’s existence in principle. Hamas and the fundamentalist-Islamist Islamic Jihad have flatly refused to accept that Jews have a right to their own state in the Middle East. Hamas believes its only option is armed struggle to destroy Israel and expel the Jews. It receives financial, political, and military support mainly from Iran, which also seeks to destroy Israel.
This complex status quo is further complicated by a long-term process of historical transformation. Biblical Jews lived mainly in Judea and Samaria, which is now the West Bank. The Palestinians, who regard themselves as descendants of the Phoenicians, lived on the coastal plain – the present-day territory of Israel. As a result, the West Bank and Jerusalem are claimed by both sides as their own. Nationalist and nationalist-religious Israelis believe that the traditional biblical homeland and East Jerusalem is theirs by right. This is rejected even by moderate Palestinians.
These contradictions should not cause us to give up hope. A century of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has shown that the problem has no military solution. The creation of a new state, or the defense of an existing one, cannot be achieved by way of force. As anyone who has spoken to the affected peoples knows, most in the region can no longer tolerate the conflict. They are sick of fear, violence, and death. They are desperate for peace.
The foundations of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement were established long ago. There is no alternative solution that would meet the fundamental interests of both parties. Any Palestinian government that seeks popular legitimacy must insist on a sovereign state, with Jerusalem as its capital. Israel requires the recognition of its right to exist from Palestinians and the Arab states, as well as their representative, the Arab League. And Israel’s capital must be Jerusalem.
Israel cannot consent to the return of five million Palestinian refugees, lest Jews become a minority in their own country. Palestinians will insist on appropriate compensation. Both Israelis and Palestinians demand security. As Egypt once did, Palestinians will demand a state within the 1967 borders and the evacuation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

No utopian dream

These facts provide the framework for an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel must withdraw from all occupied Palestinian territories and give up most of its settlements, apart from those that can be kept through localized exchanges of territory. An Arab state of Palestine will be born. Jerusalem will be the capital of both countries. Most of the descendants of the original Palestinian refugees will not be able to return to the place their parents called home. After 1945, German expellees were also not permitted to return. Palestinians who are not permitted to return will require financial compensation. A peace treaty between Israel and Palestine will need to be concluded and be subject to international monitoring.
Is this nothing but a utopian dream? By no means. The “hereditary enmity” between Germany and France was also resolved. The only alternative to peace through compromise is an unbearable continuation of violence and war.■

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