Ali Jarbawi: Boiling Point
- A PALESTINIAN VIEW
by Ali Jarbawi
November 6, 2006
Our region with its vital resources and strategic location is at a
boiling point, and the course of events here has a direct impact on
international stability. From here, a world war could break out.
Conversely, from here global peace could prevail.
It is widely understood, except in the US and Israel, that the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict is at the center of regional tension, in
the sense that reaching agreement on this conflict would be key to
defusing the regional situation. But because the United States and
Israel have not accepted this opinion, instead relying on the use of
overwhelming force, the situation has been complicated by greater and
greater resentment of US and Israeli policies and thus further escalation.
To address the powder-keg regional situation, efforts must start with
Palestine-Israel, and any successful conclusion to this conflict must
achieve the legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people. But
endeavors toward a settlement of this conflict have been exerted over
the past 15 years, and these endeavors were characterized by Israeli
intransigence and complete American bias toward Israel in an attempt
to impose a settlement on the Palestinians. This led to the complete
failure to reach any positive conclusion from lengthy and open-ended
The failure did not result from the porous mechanisms of the
negotiating process alone--even though this had significant negative
impacts--but also from the lack of any real desire among the Israelis
and Americans to reach a satisfactory settlement to this chronic conflict.
The success of any future attempts at re-launching the political
process will depend on a change of both intentions and mechanisms.
Specifically, there must be recognition of not only the principle of
the two-state solution but also the realization of this solution
according to international resolutions regarding borders, based on the
status quo of June 4, 1967. Without this initial recognition, all
attempts at imposing a settlement on the Palestinian side will fail.
There are those who believe that since the process is in such a
crisis, the best and most successful way to turn it around is to adopt
a gradual step-by-step approach in order to rebuild trust between the
two warring sides in the interim. It is argued that going directly to
final status negotiations on all aspects of the settlement will only
lead to another eruption of the already disastrous situation.
The proponents of this interim approach say a step-by-step settlement
will allow the sides to reach partial agreements that accumulate with
time, increasing trust and leading, inevitably, to a settlement.
However, critics of this approach say it has been tried in the past
and failed to produce a final settlement, because the stronger
party--that is, Israel and America--controls the course of the
negotiating process and can halt interim steps at any point that suits
For the weaker party--the Palestinians/Arabs--there is no way to
guarantee that each step will follow the next, if the stronger party
is not willing to let it happen. Basically, the stronger party
controls the negotiating process, the course of the interim period and
hence its final outcome.
In light of the failure of Oslo and its interim stage, some now insist
that a reactivation of the peace process requires the immediate entry
into final-status negotiations. The advocates of this approach insist
that reaching a settlement depends on finalizing the fundamental and
thorniest issues immediately so there is no opportunity for either of
the negotiating parties, but especially the stronger party, to
reconsider, procrastinate or retreat.
We can take it as granted that there can be no imposed settlement. Any
imposed settlement will generate neither peace nor stability in the
region. But in order to reach agreement, two conditions must obtain.
First, the goal of the process must be clearly defined, i.e., an end
to the Israeli occupation and the establishment of an independent
Palestinian state on the basis of the borders of pre-June 4, 1967.
Secondly, a specific time period should be stipulated that would allow
the parties gradually to reach that goal.
The Quartet needs to move away from the idea of "constructive
ambiguity" when it comes to the goal or timeframe of the process. Only
then is there hope for a political horizon to alleviate the growing
pressures not only here but in the region.
Ali Jarbawi is a professor of political science at Birzeit University.
[Ramallah, West Bank]
NOTE: "Constructive ambiguity" is a deliberate tactic of Semitists. By
refusing to reveal their actual position or their intentions they can
continue to evade communication and get the other person to make
sacrifices while they sacrifice nothing. This is as true on a personal
as a political level. This is the tactic used by, for example Hillel,
a student Zionist organization, when they arrange a charity
fundraising event with the Muslim Students' Association, while making
their "friendship" dependent on the non-discussion of Israel. Then
they write a front page news story about their peace initiative.
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