Bringing Human Rights into the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process
With the celebration, in 1998, of the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) worldwide, a ceremony took place also at the Knesset. The three main speakers from the Israeli parliament, the Supreme Court and a university academic center made reference only to the civil-rights issues within Israel and totally ignored the double standards existing between Jews and Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza. The Ministry of Education has launched a two-year program on the dignity of man, and again no reference has been made to the precarious situation in the occupied territories. We can ask ourselves what could have been the reasons for ignoring what for us seems to be a top priority.
Facing the spotlights of the world community, the Israeli political establishment would, of course, prefer to bring up the relatively "good¬news" picture of the overall situation of the respect for civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights within the Green Line. So framed, the Israeli record is comparable, in many ways, to the standards of not a few other democracies. The judiciary would prefer to overlook the situation in the occupied territories as an anomaly. As for the Israeli civil society, often a vibrant force in the commitment to peace with the Palestinians, we do not see it engaged in any large-scale activity in defense of human rights.
In many ways, it is understandable that Israelis tend to perceive a "lasting" peace with the Palestinians as a priority based on their own "enlightened self-interest." We are not surprised that the Israeli peace movement has been able to mobilize masses, while the human-rights organizations are staff¬driven skeleton organizations. It has been a global phenomenon that we tend to fight for the human rights of our own people facing despotic or ruthless governments, but in ethnopolitical conflicts it is most difficult to persuade large numbers to identify with the rights of the "Other."
On the Palestinian side, we find an impressive number of human-rights organizations and recognize their ability to bring people into the streets in demanding the release of political prisoners - even those who have committed acts of terror, who are often seen as heroes. The term "just" before the word "peace" is much more popular among Palestinians than among their Israeli counterparts. "A just and lasting peace" as a compromise wording has been suggested by the United Nations, the Europeans and the United States in trying to address the expectations of both sides. But unless both Arabs and Jews recognize the validity of both principles, the peace process will continue to be very vulnerable.

Human Rights Excluded

The deterioration of the peace process is not only due to our poor leadership, but, also, in a deeper sense, to a misunderstanding of the paradigms needed to advance it. Unfortunately, almost no explicit reference to human-rights principles and covenants was made in the Madrid peace conference, or the subsequent Oslo Accords, or in the recent Wye River Memorandum. At Madrid, it became clear that the silent complicity of Israel and the Arab governments regarding the lack of a human-rights dimension in the bilateral or multilateral tracks was not just an oversight. Human-rights activists were in Madrid lobbying for such a relevant addition. Even in the very important progress made in Oslo, the pragmatic stages towards peace that were envisaged by the parties did not explicitly associate the concrete steps with universally accepted human-rights principles. They left the clauses of the Declaration of Principles and subsequent accords wide open to misinterpretation. We believe had the parties conducted a human-rights discourse, this might have engendered a level of mutual respect and tolerance that could have deterred those politicians who have preferred to abort the whole deal.
Would it make a difference if Prime Minister Netanyahu had specifically confirmed the State of Israel's adherence to the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights instead of justifying the acceptance of the Oslo process only in terms of the international contractual obligation of a previous government? Could Netanyahu not have committed himself to these words from the opening paragraphs of the Declaration?
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world; Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind; ... Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law ....

More a 'People' Than a 'Territorial' Problem

We contend that on the Israeli-Palestinian track, the issues at stake are different from the other previous and current bilateral issues in the Israeli¬Arab dispute. With Egypt, and now with Syria, the conflict has been a clear issue of territories for peace, and it would be reasonable to claim that "the depth of withdrawal is related to the depth of peace." On the other hand, peace with the Palestinians is an issue of a dispossessed people. In many ways, this dispute is closer in nature to other ethnopolitical conflicts as those that took place, and are taking place, in Cyprus, Sri Lanka, Northern Ireland, South Africa, former Yugoslavia and the Caucasus. Here we face what have been called "identity-driven conflicts" of peoples versus states, rather than interstate disputes. These "civil wars" are not only about borders or common-pooled resources, but touch upon more intractable issues, many related to redressing tangible and intangible injustices and suffering. The Israeli-Palestinian problem is more a "people" problem than a "territorial" problem.
At the collective level, the self-determination of the Jews has been manifested time and again in stressing the importance and necessity of a Jewish state among the family of nations. The Palestinians considered other options in the past, including becoming citizens of a united Arab world at large, or of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, or the replacement of Israel by an Arab Palestine, or constituting a binational state. They are now clearly convinced that becoming the masters of their own destiny is their preferred option. If we do not take this expression of collective will into account, we can foresee continuous problems in trying to implement a peaceful solution.

The Contribution of Human Rights

We do not have the space here to systematically address the many potential contributions of human-rights principles to the pre-negotiation, negotiation and, hopefully, the post-negotiation periods of the peace process. This time, we can only list brief examples of the different items, ones related to "confidence-building measures" - release of political prisoners, and others related to final-status issues like settlements and refugees.
The release of political prisoners. This very emotional issue for both sides is typically a main component in the resolution of protracted communal conflicts where the level of violence has been high. It is necessary to try to "heal" the open wounds in order to make possible a more rational dealing with tangible long-term issues. Many families have been affected on both sides, adding a human dimension that transcends debates about percentages or status of territories. We can ask a universal question about what are the human rights of those who have been involved in acts of violence and terror. If we look into other conflicts that are being resolved, an amnesty to political prisoners, often regardless of the level of severity of the crime, is usually discussed. In the Israeli-Palestinian case, drawing the line in 1993 as the beginning of the current peace process seems to be acceptable to both sides. There are those who have committed severe crimes, including the murder of members of their own society (alleged collaborators or traitors) or of the other society, either acting individually or as members of underground organizations. Here it would be fair to set the same standard for both Arab and Jewish perpetrators. The consideration of an amnesty could be conditioned on a thorough process by a parole board, in which each prisoner could be asked to seriously consider and make a solemn pledge that, if freed, s/he will endeavor not to use or advocate the use of violence. Setting a precedent of possible amnesties to both sides as a confidence-building measure may also be important for standard-setting towards the future.
The Palestinian refugees. According to V.N. resolutions, these refugees can either be compensated or return to their homes. The writers both agree that, in principle, the refugees should be given the right to choose whether to stay abroad and to be compensated, or to return. We both have yet to agree whether the right should be confined only to the State of Pal£stine, or to Israel, as well, in selected cases of family reunification. Some Israelis believe that Jews from Arab countries should have similar rights. In any event, in terms of socioeconomic rights, the top priority is to solve the human suffering of those in refugee camps.
The Jewish settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories. After redeployment, this issue needs to be looked upon in the universal perspective of individuals who will be offered national and minority rights (ICCPR, Art. 27), an issue that could be comparable to the status of Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel. For instance, both should be offered the right of nationality (VDHR, Art. 15). Hence, the Jewish settlers as well as the Palestinians in Israel would be offered the option of dual citizenship, Israeli and Palestinian, if they choose to. The inherent right to life, liberty and security, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, can best be negotiated in the framework of an agreement between the parties. This includes the shared future of Jerusalem and the right to self-determination there of Israelis and Palestinians.

New Priorities

A human-rights paradigm leads logically to the acceptance of a viable Palestinian state where the full rights of its citizens could be fulfilled. Granted that there are and will be problems, but the process of democratization will be strengthened by an acceptance, by the Israeli partner, of the just Palestinian claim for full independence. And to the contrary, absence of progress in the peace process is already causing a deterioration in the standards of democracy in Israel and back-tracking the process of democratization in the Palestinian territories.
We can sympathize with those in Israel who said that the first priority is to "end occupation" rather than "humanize it." But peace processes of protracted communal conflicts seem to be long and produce a lot of hardship. We must ask ourselves: if the present suffering could be alleviated, to what extent could this contribute towards improving trust and confidence among the parties to the process? In protest against the massacre of the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian camps in Lebanon in 1982, the largest-ever number of Israelis demonstrated in the streets of Tel Aviv. We pray that tragic events of such magnitude will not recur. The question is how to reach the same levels of support for the respect of human rights during the current peace process, and even use it as a confidence-building measure and an incentive to reach a final status, based on these universal principles to which we all adhere.
In many ways "Peace now" as a slogan is unrealistic. Based on our own experience and ones in other protracted communal conflicts, we know that the peace-making of the leaders, as the term itself indicates, is a drawn-out process. Palestinians say to their Israeli friends and colleagues that making a meaningful contribution to bring peace "now," means fighting for "human rights now." Meanwhile~ Israelis say to their Palestinian brothers and sisters that the most effective way to achieve justice is by a systematic and open rejection of the use of force against civilians, and a commitment to nonviolence and civil disobedience. Simultaneously, claiming justice and peace will help the Palestinian civil society to build more and effective bridges with their Israeli peers. We are not only the inheritors of an Abrahamic civilization but also the descendants of Adam. "Human rights" in Hebrew (zchuyot adam) relates to this concept.