All the King’s Horses: International Intervention during the Second Intifada

Throughout the years of the second intifada, the international community tried repeatedly to secure a cease-fire and return Israelis and Palestinians to the situation prior to the outbreak of violence in September 2000. These attempts were carried out by a variety of different actors using diverse methods, yet they all shared one thing in common: None of them succeeded.

This article examines the international community's interventions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from 2000 to 2006 and offers several factors that explain their failure. The most important of these factors, it will be argued, is that before the bilateral conflict can be resolved, internal Palestinian conflicts must first be dealt with. The article recommends a multinational peace support operation (PSO) as an effective means of doing so and draws on the American experience in Iraq to support this assertion.

A Review of Missions

The story of American-led international interventions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during the second intifada begins with the Mitchell Committee, which was charged with creating recommendations for returning the two sides to the negotiating table and determining what happened during the initial outbreak of violence in September 2000. The committee was followed by former CIA Director George Tenet, who drafted a cease-fire plan but could not implement it, and then by U.S. General Anthony Zinni, who attempted to implement Tenet's plan.

In September 2002, the Middle East Quartet (the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia) released the "Performance-Based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict," or the "Roadmap," which offered a three-phase plan for resolving the conflict. Eight months after its introduction the Roadmap had stalled, and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State John Wolf arrived in the area to assist the sides in fulfilling their Roadmap obligations. Wolf's efforts were not fruitful, and the sides have yet to implement the first phase of the Roadmap.

The Roadmap was followed by a series of negotiations between the Egyptian government and Palestinian terror factions, coupled with Egyptian assistance in developing the Palestinian security service. In 2005, former World Bank President James Wolfensohn was charged with developing Gaza's economy and U.S. Generals William Ward and Keith Dayton with reforming Palestinian security mechanisms following the Disengagement.

None of these interventions, with the exception of that of the Egyptians (but only within Palestine) succeeded in producing meaningful change. Even Wolfensohn, who focused primarily on economic matters and worked with incredible determination to improve Palestinian economic conditions, did not produce particularly impressive results.2

Research conducted on these missions reveals six major causes for failure common to most missions. These themes were identified through thorough examination of newspaper and journal articles published around the time of and about each mission, monthly polls conducted by Tel Aviv University's Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research3 and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research,4 as well as private interviews with select mission participants. An expanded examination of the themes, including a large body of evidence, can be found in the expanded version of this paper.5

These six themes are: 1) the absence of Israeli political will, 2) the absence of Israeli public support, 3) the absence of Palestinian political will, 4) the absence of the international community's determination and support, 5) the missions' lack of authority and 6) the lack of implementation and enforcement mechanisms.

The absence of Israeli political will resulted in poor cooperation and coordination with the intervening bodies and is evidenced by Israel's refusing the intervening bodies access to key locations, long lists of reservations about their recommendations and stalling tactics. An additional manifestation of the lack of Israeli political will was the imposition of stringent criteria for the implementation of agreements. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's infamous demand for a "week of total quiet" is a key example.6

Sharon's strict policies towards the resumption of the political process were strongly supported by the Jewish public in Israel, which evinced exhaustion and frustration with the peace process. During much of Sharon's term, the Israeli public showed a high degree of support for unilateral steps and a rejection of international involvement. These trends, which are well documented in the monthly Israeli "Peace Index," give testament to the absence of Israeli political will and support for international presences and efforts.

Lack of Palestinian political will was evinced by Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's double-speak and double-play: saying one thing to the intervening bodies and another to the Palestinian public. Palestinian political will was hampered by Arafat's tactic of playing the besieged leader to the international community and a strong supporter of Palestinian resistance and terror to his own public.7

While the Palestinian public may have supported international intervention, they also continued to support the use of suicide bombers against Israeli civilians in the period between 2000 and 2004. Thus, Palestinian public opinion supported

Arafat's double policies. After Arafat's death in November 2004, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) emerged to lead a weak and fragmented Palestinian Authority. Yet the new president had little real political influence, and Palestinian despair about the political process and the international community was aptly demonstrated in the January 2006 elections, when Hamas succeeded in winning a majority in the Legislative Council and taking control of the government.

Beyond the failure of the sides to act on their commitments to international bodies, and beyond their lack of ripeness for conflict mitigation, lie the faults of the international community. Many of the interventions, especially those led by the U.S., were more political fig leaves than attempts to end the violence. Sending a small team of diplomats into a conflict zone to negotiate a cease-fire dependent on the goodwill of the antagonists cannot be considered a serious effort at ending violence. In the absence of determined international will, the political vacuum still had to be filled, hence the ill-fated diplomatic missions.

The deficiencies in authority, implementation and enforcement mechanisms are endemic to the lack of international support and determination to end the conflict. Given the unwillingness of Israelis and Palestinians to de-escalate during the period of the second intifada, a successful intervention would have had to force the sides to accept international agreements and compliance mechanisms. It may not have been apparent at the time, but anything short of compulsion was destined to failure.

Beyond this, the international community's interventions can also be criticized for focusing entirely on the interstate conflict and ignoring the internal Palestinian conflict.8 Successful international involvement means creating structural changes that will facilitate a resumption of the political process. Therefore, international intervention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict first has to consider what kind of changes need to be created at both levels and how they can be achieved.

The Bi-Level Nature of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Almost all literature on ethno-national conflict accepts a distinction between interstate and intrastate conflict, yet the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does not neatly fit into either of those two categories. Unique characteristics from each of the categories are evinced as the conflict is conducted between two ethno-national communities living in close geographical proximity without the clear and defined separation of a recognized international border. Part of the Palestinian population is directly governed by Israel, and the rest is at least highly susceptible to the influence of Israeli actions and military presence in the Palestinian territories.

More than a decade after its establishment, the PA is not succeeding in enforcing a monopoly on the use of violent force.9 Politics are managed under the barrel of a gun, balanced between an internal power struggle and the use of violent resistance or organized terror against Israel. The violent conflict's course is a product of the dynamic power of the different political agendas of the Palestinian factions and the characteristics of Israel's responses. The absence of law and order cripples the PA's governance abilities and leaves the fate of any potential bilateral agreement at the mercy of spoilers.

An additional problem is posed by Hamas's electoral victory. Under current conditions, Israel, with American and European backing, will not enter into dialogue or negotiations with Hamas unless the organization disarms and changes its covenant, or at least accepts the Oslo agreements and recognizes Israel as a political partner. Without dialogue, it will not be possible to reach the series of critical understandings that enable advancing in the direction of an agreement.

The Utility of a Peace Support Operation

With chaos reigning in streets of Palestine and a government rejected by most of the international community, the most promising means of advancing towards agreement are encapsulated in a multinational peace support operation. The deployment of a PSO in Palestine would provide the PA with highly skilled security personnel who could help enforce a monopoly on the use of violent force and assist the Palestinian security establishment in maintaining law and order, creating the foundation of security necessary for effective governance. The introduction of foreign governance experts and the budgets that accompany them would further facilitate a rehabilitation of the PA's social services. A PSO in Palestine could initiate structural change at the political-institutional, economic and social levels in the direction of the establishment of a state entity with a responsible behavioral codex, acceptable to other states in the international arena.

The strengthening of the PA and its transformation into a state entity will enable a transformation of the asymmetric nature of the conflict, bringing it closer to a conflict between two state entities. A PA that is recognized and aided by the international community and powerful enough to enforce order would be able to enter into bilateral negotiations with Israel and nullify Israeli claims about the absence of a responsible and reliable partner.

This is not to say that all internal Palestinian conflicts must be resolved before addressing the bilateral conflict - if that were the case, the process might take decades. Yet Palestine must be stabilized before it can negotiate successfully with Israel. Law and order must prevail in the PA if it is to effectively govern, and one of the most effective ways of creating that kind of order is with a PSO. The necessity of law and order is underscored by the American experience in Iraq, which shows that little else is possible in the absence of security.

Lessons from the American Experience in Iraq

In its fourth year of engagement in Iraq, the U.S.' hopes of quick stabilization have long since passed. Despite vast quantities and resources invested in Iraq, the U.S. military has not succeeded in bringing public order and rehabilitating the country's governance systems. In the absence of security stability, the American forces find it difficult to advance the course of rehabilitation in Iraq. As Hendrickson and Tucker have pointed out: "The fatal role that insecurity has played in making progress in every other sector highly problematic… projects for building civil society could barely get off the ground when participants feared for their lives."10 Without control of the security situation, and without neutralizing armed militias, it has become impossible to foster economic rehabilitation and a re-empowerment of government institutions: "If you don't master security, everything else gets washed away like sand castles on the beach."11

The American experience in Iraq proves that without disbanding armed militias, it is not possible to stabilize the security reality. Without security it is not possible to maintain public order and ensure calm, which are necessary conditions for the rehabilitation of government institutions. A similar conclusion can be drawn for the Palestinian arena. It is clear that without disbanding armed militias and ensuring a state monopoly on the use of violent force, it will not be possible to stabilize, rehabilitate and develop the Palestinian governmental system and bring it in the direction of a state entity.

Summary and Conclusion

International experience in the Israeli-Palestinian arena as well as in Iraq demonstrates the need for new and more modest conceptual approaches that focus on stabilization and reconstruction instead of peace and reconciliation. Despite the large number of international intervention attempts in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and despite the differences between them, all attempts suffered from the international community's lack of determination. In these conditions, and in the absence of real political readiness of both sides to cooperate, it was not possible to expect more meaningful results, if any results at all.

It seems that there are no shortcuts to the longed-for bilateral change. There is no way to hasten the process without generating the necessary changes at the intrastate level. If the international community wishes to improve its chances of success in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it will have to recognize its complexity and bi-level nature. This effort requires state-building components that will lead to structural changes at the political, social and economic levels, as well as the meeting of basic needs of the involved groups.12

Only after structural changes that lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state entity have begun will it be possible to focus efforts on returning the sides to a political process that addresses the interstate level of the conflict. The international community's intervention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict zone by means of intensive diplomacy has failed, but this does not put an end to the responsibility and capability of the international community to intervene again. This time, however, it should invest the required effort in planning and effectively implementing the intervention in a determined way, with critical and more creative thinking, based upon the meaningful experience that was gained in other conflicts in the international arena.