DevMode
Peace is sustainable when security and justice go hand in hand. Sacrificing one at the expensae of the other has proven self-defeating. Yet it is more of a challenge to persuade the stronger side of the conflict of this - in our case, Israel. Normally the underdog is more predisposed to accept human rights as a yardstick, appealing to the support of the international community to redress the lack of balance in the conflict. The challenge is to get justice/human rights principles accepted by both sides. In this article 12 points are advanced with the explicit purpose of being plausible and realistic in the perception of the "top dog."

1) The Limits of Power

In the changing international system, the supremacy of military power does not ensure a peace "diktat." Changing the leader [Arafat] does not result in a renunciation of national goals. Even military might cannot ensure the absence of violence. Israel, the Lion of Judea, the "king of the Middle East jungle," cannot crush the stream of bees coming from countless hives ready to die while inflicting severe pain. The weaker part usually believes that it has experienced so much suffering that there is little left to lose, which motivates it to continue the struggle by all available means.

2) The Difference Between Inter- and Intra-State Conflicts

In the past, the Israeli-Arab confrontation was called the "Middle East" conflict, without regard for the many other violent disputes in the region. Israel now has peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan. From a human rights perspective, an agreement with Syria (and by proxy with Lebanon) should not have been the next to follow, even if more than one Israeli government opted to go for this track for tactical reasons. The conflict is also a regional issue, with the Palestinians being part of the Arab world that has united in pressing for Israeli concessions and withdrawals from territory. But putting people first is a priority for the international community, evidenced by its greater concern about the Palestinians' destiny as compared to lower pressures for an Israel-Syria peace. The individual and collective rights of two and a half million Palestinians are central to settling the future of the West Bank and Gaza.

3) Citizenship


In theory, Israel's Knesset could annex "Judea and Samaria," as it annexed the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, give three million Palestinian citizens equal rights, and then the Jewish settlers could remain. What is not admissible is to maintain a dual legal system in the occupied territories for Arabs and Jews. The moment of truth for Israeli Jews is to understand that annexing "Judea and Samaria" can be done only at the "cost" of providing full citizenship, or by a reprehensible "ethnic cleansing." This last option, although the platform of an extreme party, is rejected by most on grounds of morality and expedience. Yet a denial of the right to vote and be elected to one's own government cannot be maintained forever.

In many protracted communal conflicts, the parties expect to coexist under the same government upon achieving peace (as in South Africa and Northern Ireland), but the consensual arrangement anticipated for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a two-state solution and full citizenship in the respective states. While the relevance of human rights principles may be greater for integrated solutions than for cases of separation, in our reality, people's lives remain interwoven. Even if, in the future, issues of individual rights are considered the domain of each sovereign state, it will be important to redress the violations of the past, protect rights during the lengthy peace process, and address the likelihood that the population of each state may include a substantial number of the other's nation.

4) The Relevance of Human Dignity

Reducing the level of hatred is a top national security priority since the main attacks come now from individual volunteers motivated by the desire to overcome misery and humiliation with the spirit of vengeance and martyrdom. The respect for the "human dignity" of the individual is of universal relevance, but in our Middle East, humiliation and dishonorable treatment create a strong cultural baggage that needs to be factored in. The impossibility of ruling over three million Palestinians has been recognized publicly by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Still, the facts on the ground, the innumerable roadblocks, the sleepless lines of Palestinians waiting mostly in vain to gain access to the Interior Ministry's offices in East Jerusalem, all these inhuman treatments have a most negative and perhaps lasting impact on practically every Palestinian.

5) Human Rights Language

Even at the levels of protocol and declaration, human rights semantics can contribute to an atmosphere of mutual respect that is more conducive to successful negotiations. If the first line of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights preamble: "The inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world," were repeated frequently, the atmosphere would change. Yet, in spite of the lobbying of Human Rights Watch in Madrid, no human rights references were found at the Middle East Peace Conference in 1991. The hundreds of pages of the Oslo agreements only mentioned a handful of explicit "human rights" references. The current Israeli-Palestinian Road Map has no mention of human rights at all. At the local level, no such reference to "human rights" or "rights" was found in 45 speeches made by Sharon through May 2003, while Arafat only mentions the term "rights," exclusively referring to the Palestinian people.

Human rights clauses can reduce the perceived asymmetries. A language of dignity and respect carries a lot of weight for persecuted people, who are often reluctant to confront the price to be paid for an agreement. Rejection, negatives and boycotts are often perceived as their only remaining source of strength. The use of a language of "entitlements" by the strong is expedient, since it may elicit from the underdog a more constructive attitude. Rather than conceding to "give up" territories in "Judea and Samaria," let the Israeli authorities stress that Palestinians have an inherent right to a state in part of historic Israel or Palestine. Inclusion of a human rights provision may not guarantee its implementation, but without its inclusion there would be no chance for implementation at all

Furthermore, it is also expedient to demand that textbooks embrace the basic principles of universality and equality between all nations, including Arabs and Jews, as a normative framework. From an educational point of view, planting the seeds of tolerance toward the "other" is a long-term investment toward a lasting peace.

6) Home-Grown Roots of Human Rights

Human rights are not a foreign imposition, a punishment by the international community. The values stem from the Jewish religion and books (Talmud, Bible), the early experience with statehood more than 2,000 years ago, and as a persecuted minority in exile. The struggle against discrimination in the Dreyfus case in France led to the formation of the first International League for the Rights of Men in the 19th century. Rene Cassin, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a proud Jew, when preparing the draft text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, saw in the background a reflection of the Ten Commandments.

While establishments often see human rights as the adversary's weapon, it is no less important to understand that by endorsing them and claiming some contribution to its shaping, we are also recognized as contributors to better standards of human behavior. But if Jews claim a copyright, they also have to understand that the widespread acceptance of such honorable principles results in justified demands on Israel.

7) International Standards as an Imperative

Paradoxically, democratic governments often face domestic constituencies that perceive implementing specific international resolutions as weakness, concessions that are being granted solely because of pressure by biased international organizations and world powers. On the Israeli side, such public reluctance can be diffused by framing the task as implementation of accepted universal principles. The concept of "justice" can be better conveyed in terms of respect for specific principles embodied in the articles of international covenants. Ratification by the concerned governments advances the redressing of collective discrimination. What Sharon has called "painful concessions" is vague and open to a Middle East bazaar-type bargaining with no clear standards. Israeli citizens can perhaps better understand that the cost of being a member of the family of nations requires the acceptance of principles that will translate into required concessions emanating not from the weakness or strength of their leadership but from contractual obligations.

8) Constructive Ambiguity

We are not so naive as to expect that showing governments the right texts will be enough to get them to comply. Human rights clauses emanating from declarations and covenants in today's international arena are drafted in broad terms and subject to different interpretations, which allows for "constructive ambiguity." Experience shows that including human rights issues in the peacemaking process ensures a more durable outcome and satisfaction with the new status quo. Even when issues of "conflict of rights" come up (i.e. the refugees right of return to the same land after 2,000 or 55 years), the recognition of such a right for both Jews and Arabs in principle is a sounder basis for finding creative compromises than "zero-sum" calculations.

9) Enlightened Self-Interest

When human rights principles are advocated and adhered to, they can also be invoked for the sake of the citizens of the stronger party. While enjoying more daily rights than the oppressed minority, their right to life is challenged daily by acts of indiscriminate terror. The moral and political leverage for a demand for the respect of human life can be made universally binding for all. Israel's justified outcry against terrorist homicidal bombings would gain more international and regional legitimacy if the IDF would refrain from targeted assassinations resulting in severe suffering and loss of life for innocent bystanders.

10) The Relevance of "Democratic Peace"

We can expand the relationship between human rights and peace by introducing "democracy" as an intervening variable. The often-invoked argument that democracies tend not to fight wars with each other could be relevant to the Israeli-Palestinian case. The likelihood of peace between full-fledged democracies is an incentive for expediting a compromise based not only on secure borders but also on the fostering of democratic processes in both entities. We contend that there are no shortcuts, and even if fundamental rights are hindered during democratization, the protection of human rights contributes to the consolidation of democracy and strengthens the prospects for peace. This seems to have been relevant for the Palestinian transition to self-rule, though its momentum was reduced, paradoxically, when advancement in the peace process was perceived as justifying a regression in the human rights situation. The lack of respect for human rights in the occupied territories has also had a negative impact on democratic values within Israel, particularly vis-a-vis its Arab citizens, as shown in the excessive use of violence and the killing of Israeli Palestinians while curbing the October 2000 riots.

11) Carrots and Sticks


The "David versus Goliath" image of Israel is fading away. World sympathy with Jewish suffering was an important element in the recognition of the State of Israel after the Holocaust. Nowadays, support emanates predominantly from the dwindling but well-organized Jewish diaspora and fundamentalist religious groups. This narrow base of support can be relevant in US elections but may be opportunistic and shortsighted, particularly at the global level. The risk of becoming a pariah state in the eyes of many and a liability in the hands of top policymakers needs to be addressed. The world community frequently applies sanctions against states and individuals, and systematic patterns of gross human rights violations (see the Annual Report of Amnesty International and sections of the US State Department's country-by-country report) could result in the reduction of vast amounts of foreign aid, and has resulted in some countries in selective boycotts. The universal jurisdiction of crimes against humanity is not only accepted by a small number of judges in a few countries, it is part and parcel of the International Criminal Court, which even before its actual functioning has generated apprehension among leaders and in the military and security services. In the long run, individual sanctions may deter Israelis from being part of repressive policies and fragment even further the already delicate domestic balance and morale.

12) Reducing the Asymmetry


In the past, the victor's imposed solution was hardly under international scrutiny, and impunity allowed the top dog to administer the outcome at its convenience. The emergence of principles of justice have raised the expectations of the weaker side to attain them, increasing the willingness to fight and sacrifice for them. The stronger party is frequently bestowed with the responsibility of restraining the weaker side, even at the price of concessions. The "big brother" paradox is that it can't use its extra strength to placate the other, and often has to find ways to reduce the asymmetry to induce the weaker side to calm down. Narrowing the gap by confidence- building measures of the strong can create a process where the weak side feels empowered to negotiate acceptance of claims.

There are more arguments and counter-arguments that could be mentioned, but to conclude, there is no question that the missing dimension in the Oslo process is an explicit reference, let alone adherence, to human rights. We call for the opening of a public debate on the relevance of human rights principles, and to engage those who control our destinies in both societies. Challenging our leadership to pay even lip service to an acceptance of the universal equality of human beings, of Arabs and Jews, will be a great step forward.


E. Kaufman and I. Bisharat, "Human Rights and Conflict Resolution: Searching for Common Ground between Justice and Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict." NIDR Forum, December 1998, pp. 16-22.
E. Kaufman with I. Bisharat, "Humanizing the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process," Palestine-Israel Journal , (Vol. VI, No.1, 1999, pp. 8-13.
E. Kaufman and I.Bisharat, "Introducing Human Rights into Conflict Resolution: The Relevance for the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process," Journal of Human Rights, (Vol. 1, No 1, (March 2002), pp. 71-91.

Comodo SSL