by Daniel Bar-Tal
The nature of relations between Israelis and Palestinians is an important factor in determining the security situation in the Middle East, and even influences the security of the international community. The Israeli side, which holds most of the aces when it comes to determining the nature of these relations, has three different views of how to shape these relations and determine the security of the region.
The view of Israel’s extreme right is that Israel should hold on to the Gaza Strip and West Bank territories, not just to ensure Israel’s security, but for historical, national and religious reasons. According to this view, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will continue for generations, but its impact can be reduced by Israel’s use of force - the extreme right wants to continue settlement activity, avoid any negotiations to end the conflict peacefully and carry out large-scale military activities as part of a continuous existential war against the Palestinians.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon supported this viewpoint until he realized that military operations do not achieve their goals. So he developed another option and threw what amounts to a political bomb when he announced Israel would unilaterally withdrawal from Gaza. The details of this dramatic move are not yet clear, as much of its realization depends on the advice of Israeli security services, the dynamics of internal politics, US opinion of the plan and the involvement of the international community. These influencing forces will eventually shape Sharon’s plan. But his refusal to open negotiations with the Palestinians over this move makes it possible to guess his motivation. He wants to reduce international pressure, show the Israeli public that he is making an effort to change the situation and demonstrate that Palestinians cannot carry out self-rule. But most of all, he thinks that by withdrawing from Gaza, Israel will be able to keep large parts of the West Bank. (The plan implies withdrawal from Gaza in exchange for annexation of part of the West Bank.)
The plan is fantasy - there is no way to withdraw without at least indirect coordination with the Palestinians. Moreover, in the absence of political movement toward a peaceful solution, the move will not reduce the intensity of the conflict, but may even fuel its continuation, increasing frustration and anger among the Palestinians. It is also highly unlikely that the international community will allow Israel to annex large parts of the West Bank.
The third approach to dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict assumes that Israeli and regional security can be only assured by making peace with the Palestinians and agreeing on an historical compromise that divides the land into two states, more or less according to the 1967 line. The Geneva Accord and other initiatives show that Israelis and Palestinians can negotiate and reach agreements.
Outlining these three approaches demonstrates that ensuring regional security is not an objective goal, but one that relies greatly on psychological factors. Dovish Israeli generals Lipkin-Shahak and Ayalon are no less knowledgeable on security matters than their hawkish counterparts generals Sharon and Ya’alon. Proponents of all three approaches have national goals, they evaluate domestic and international expectations, and develop their plans. Experience of security, or insecurity, is a psychological (cognitive-emotional) reaction and as such it is inseparable from an individual’s perception, information processing and all the factors that influence these processes. Political leaders make these evaluations and set their national goals according to their own ideological convictions - they then try to persuade the public that these views are the right ones.
The difference between the “conflict continuation” generals and “conflict resolution” generals is in their values and personal ideology. The former want to see Israel expand, view Palestinians in delegitimizing terms and adhere to the use of force. Being in power, this group does all it can to increase the violence. The assassination of the Sheikh Yassin extends the conflict to unpredictable spheres that may shatter the region and affect the security of the rest of the world. The latter group supports the value of peace and the principle of “two states for two peoples.” It perceives the Palestinians as partners for peace and realizes that negotiation is the best way to solve the conflict. Only the last approach promises peace and security to both nations and to the region. Extremist Israeli and Palestinian leaders exploit the fear and mistrust engendered by the conflict in order to mobilize people around their objectionable ideologies. They have succeeded in creating the present reality of bloodshed, suffering and misery, by refusing to make the necessary compromises. Their raison d’etre is the continuing violence, which prevents any move toward conflict resolution. Joint Palestinian-Israeli initiatives offer a much-needed ray of hope to the two nations. After three years of violent struggle, we need to begin the struggle for peace and regional security - but this will be a peaceful struggle, for the minds and hearts of the people of both nations.