by Kobi Michael
and Mohammed Dajani
More than two years ago, the Palestine-Israel Journal
devoted a special issue to the role of the international community, which attempted to define the roles of the significant international players and determine possible models for intervention. In the interim the situation has deteriorated even further. The American administration opted to disconnect itself from real and meaningful involvement; Israel preferred a unilateral strategy by disengaging from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank; and the Palestinian electorate favored the religious Hamas over the secular political leadership [Fateh], which spiraled into an explosive internal conflict.
The international and regional arenas have undergone major changes that have left an impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Among those changes we can identify the instability in Iraq, characterized by deep divisions between Sunnis and Shiites and daily insurgencies and terror attacks; the nuclearization of Iran; and the war in Lebanon, followed by political instability.
Time is working against both sides, and it is well understood that the Israeli-Palestinian theater is not just another local conflict. The entire region seems doomed to instability, which could adversely affect the peace of the world.
It is almost the last moment for the international community, led by the U.S., to re-intervene — but this time more determinedly and creatively. The international experience regarding peace support operations (PSOs) has developed dramatically in the last five years. The most recent initiative implemented in the Lebanese theater is an important precedent.
For the first time, the government of Israel accepted the idea of deploying a peacekeeping force with such a broad mandate and led by leading European countries such as France, Italy, Germany and Spain. If UNIFIL II succeeds in its mission in South Lebanon, even partially, it will become an incentive for Israel and the international community (including an organization like NATO) to consider seriously meaningful intervention in the Israeli-Palestinian theater.
At the same time, we have to remember that nobody can substitute for the parties in conflict — the Israelis and the Palestinians. Without their political will, nothing will be achieved. One of the unique characteristics of this conflict is its imbalance and asymmetry. It is a conflict between Israel, a state entity, and the Palestinians, a non-state entity. It is a conflict between a well-organized and economically developed country and a society in development — between an occupying force with a much superior military power and an occupied society.
In addition to this asymmetry, any attempt to deal seriously with the conflict has to take into account another characteristic of the conflict: the multi-level nature of it. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict occurs simultaneously on the interstate level (between Israel and Palestine) and on the intrastate level (between Hamas and Fateh inside the Palestinian territories). Therefore, stabilizing the conflict arena means stabilizing both interstate and intrastate arenas. There are also the interlocking regional factors — the influence of the Hamas diaspora in Jordan and Syria on the local Hamas.
Stabilizing the interstate arena requires a robust PSO with central state-building and peace-building components. By rehabilitating the Palestinian economy and institutions and bringing the Palestinian Authority as close as possible to a state entity, two main accomplishments will be achieved: 1) ending, or minimizing, the damages of the internal conflict and improving quality of Palestinian daily life; 2) minimizing the asymmetric dimension of the interstate conflict and bridging better the fundamental gaps between state and non-state entities.
PSOs of this kind require the consent of both parties and no less important, well-established and organized cooperation by the international community. The Americans should be more deeply and more seriously involved, and they must improve cooperation with the Quartet and some other important international and regional players.
In this special issue, we have tried to reflect on the causes of the failure of the international community to intervene in the conflict, and to attempt to find out how the world community can go about achieving a successful involvement. Although the analyses differ and different explanations and recommendations are presented by various authors, there is one thing in common; all the authors believe that both sides cannot manage the conflict by themselves and the international community’s intervention is urgently required.
We hope that this issue will be another important step towards ending violence and breaking the political impasse.