by Jerrold Kessel
and Pierre Klochendler
In war-torn Europe, Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music cheers her young charges by singing, “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.”
To still the sound of their war-torn land, Israelis and Palestinians are being challenged to turn the refrain on its head: Let’s start from the very end, a very good place to start.
Create Palestine now, says international peace envoy, Tony Blair.
Sixty years ago, the U.N. decided the only way to resolve the bitter dispute would be first to partition Mandatory Palestine into two separate states. What’s now seen as “the “very end” – two states – was then supposed to have been the very end of war between the two peoples and “the very beginning”, the sound of peace. Blair is seeking to re-play that symphony.
A decade-and-a-half ago, this time in Oslo, Palestinians and Israelis decided, this time for themselves, to tune their instruments to a different melody. And again, last November at Annapolis, the international community underwrote that: Within a year, the Palestinian state would be the finale of the peace symphony.
The former British prime minister is going beyond Annapolis: The thinking has been ‘you get a deal and all falls into place’. But, Blair notes, no deal has ever been cut: Unlike the Good Friday Agreement over Northern Ireland, the only agreement is to agree to reach an agreement.
Blair argues the way forward is not to try to cut a deal on an agreement first: “For the Palestinian state to succeed, you need to start getting the reality of that state on the ground before political negotiations can be meaningful. The state is not about an agreement, but about Palestinian capabilities in handling security and their economy.”
Every Palestinian-Israeli peace effort has been killed off by the sound of war – a hybrid process, as if violence was irremediably built in to peace-making. Instead of the elusive agreement, all the two peoples have come to expect is not the sound of peace but a never-ending cacophony of terror, mayhem and hopelessness.
The sequences of peace-making used to be: implement a ceasefire; then deal with the interim issues – fighting terror (the Palestinians) versus freezing settlements (Israel); and only then, grapple with the core issues of borders, security, refugees, and Jerusalem. At Annapolis, the old peace score was re-orchestrated. Israelis and Palestinians were coaxed into going beyond the tyranny of ‘who starts’ in implementing the paralyzing interim issues and, instead, to get down to the final phase of peace-making.
In the Blair strategy, however, the state should not be the end result of a peace deal but the catalyst that leads to resolution of the conflict: We need to reach a minimum threshold of credibility about the Palestinian state on two issues not related to the core issues. We need “to bridge the credibility gap” between “Israeli skepticism about Palestinian security capabilities” and “Palestinian skepticism about Israel’s will to lift the weight of the occupation”.
Just out from meetings with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Blair amplifies on the need to re-compose the peace symphony: The problem is not the core issues – they can be solved. ‘Land for peace’ is not really the issue any more, or, at least, of course it is, but it is not the stumbling block.
Statehood is more than geography and territory. The Palestinians have to prove that they can run a state and that they can govern it well.
Given the total lack of confidence that Israelis have in Palestinians and Palestinians in Israelis, even if their leaders do manage to work out the parameters of peace, they will find it next to impossible to implement their deal. The creation of their state would, however, enhance Palestinian confidence in their capacity to make it a workable state. Simultaneously, Israelis would gain confidence in the capacity of the Palestinians to deliver on what they seek before peace, even more than peace – their security. Peace-making will only be credible if it is visible. What more visible than a state?
Making peace is an uphill battle – “especially with so many sceptics around”.
Unlike peace itself, Palestine Now may not sound like the sound of peace now, but it could be the tune to still the sound of war.
The original version of this article appeared in the International Herald Tribune on March 14, 2008