The Moribund Middle East Peace Process

In recent weeks, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been trying to revive the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) seemingly against the will of both negotiating teams. The mutually harmful stalemate that prevailed during the Second Intifada and created urgency for conflict resolution no longer exists. Throughout this entire round of negotiations, Israeli and Palestinian leaders have shown a lack of motivation to reach an agreement for various reasons.

Mutual Lack of Motivation

Israel is in a comfortable position since having quelled the Second Intifada and reduced violence from the West Bank and Gaza Strip to manageable levels. Therefore, Israeli leaders are reluctant to commit to an agreement that could end the current calm conditions and bring about what they worry will become a failed Palestinian state. Israeli leaders fear that a failed Palestinian state will be unable to maintain a sustainable economy and will provide a safe haven for Jihadist organizations like those currently operating in Syria and the Gaza Strip. The Israeli government also lacks the political will to transfer hundreds of thousands of settlers to Israel despite having the capacity as demonstrated in the 1950s, when the government built 200,000 apartments to absorb a comparable amount of Jewish refugees from Arab states and Europe as described by Ari Shavit in My Promised Land, and again in the 1990s when Israel absorbed one million Russian Jews.

At the same time, the Palestinian Authority has developed an addiction to foreign aid that has reduced the motivation to create a sustainable economy. One can expect that aid will continue to flow for a while upon reaching an agreement as was the case following the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, but support will eventually dry out from donor fatigue like it did in South Sudan after the country obtained independence from Sudan. Corruption within the PA together with Israeli restrictions prevents international funding from being used for urgent infrastructure renovations and the creation of an investment friendly environment. Furthermore, conflicting signals by the international community have convinced the Palestinian Authority that it can satisfy all of its demands through pressure and condemnation of Israel in international jurisdictions instead of through negotiations.

Carrying On - Creating the Environment for an Agreement

Commentators admit that the two sides are not ripe for a peace agreement because the position gap is simply not bridgeable under the current state of affairs. New conditions are needed for a breakthrough to occur, starting with a change of guard of the head of states. In Israel, a more flexible coalition must arise casting aside the most extreme, including those who support the settlers’ movement such as Naftali Bennett. An awareness campaign is required to revive interest in the two-state solution and fight the apathy that benefits the political right wing. In Palestine, the PA should hold long overdue general elections, which may now happen as a result of the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation agreement.

A failure of the current peace process, exacerbating despair and lack of hope in the Palestinian Territories could lead to a new outburst of violence that must be avoided. Until favorable conditions are in place for a peace process restart, analysts suggest that the two sides should acknowledge the failure of the current talks and manage the status quo by promoting unilateral confidence-building measures and low profile engagement that demonstrate commitment to peace. On the Israeli side, the government can provide financial incentives for settlers willing to abandon the West Bank immediately. It must uphold the rule of law in the West Bank by punishing settler violence and improving Palestinian civil rights in Area C, in particular freedom of movement and the end of land grabs. The Palestinian Authority must promote governance transparency and accountability, economic growth, security cooperation against terror cells, and put an end to the culture of incitement against Israelis in state media.

Creative Steps, Breaking Taboos, Avoiding Violence

Alternatives to the two-state solution will likely gain momentum and creativity will be needed to resolve the core issues such as the status of Jerusalem. For example, the demand to recognize Israel as a state for the Jewish people could be tied to Israeli recognition of its responsibility for the Palestinian exile of 1948. After such an apology, a limited implementation of the right of return would seem more acceptable. Breaking taboos would constitute reciprocal steps towards truth and reconciliation necessary for long term healing between the two nationalist movements and would guarantee the end of all claims.

If the PA considered absorbing a number of Jewish settlers as citizens of Palestine, this concession would remove many obstacles to progress:

    1. The implementation of the two-state solution would be simplified by avoiding a complex movement of populations
    2. The PA would be able to negotiate a permanent border closer to the Green Line
    3. The State of Palestine would inherit hundreds of thousands of tax payers with a steady income and an established trade infrastructure with the State of Israel, including the West Bank industrial zones that already provide thousands of jobs for Palestinians today

This may sound like a utopian idea because the risk of violent retribution towards Jews acquiring Palestinian citizenship is high. Economic settlers having no strong motivation to stay will be happy to move back to Israel proper if they are provided with affordable housing in a “Marshal Plan for Middle East Peace”. On the contrary, ideological settlers will resist being uprooted as long as they can.

More research is needed to assess the feasibility of coexistence between Jews and Palestinians within a Palestinian State after so many years of discord and the departure of the IDF.

Although civil societies on both sides have repeatedly shown their support for a two-state solution, the two governments are being held hostage by extremists with incompatible positions. The resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will have to wait once again for a more favorable context both regionally and locally. In anticipation of a prolonged status quo, immediate alleviation of the oppression arising from the occupation of the Palestinian Territories is essential to prevent an escalation of violence.