President Bush’s “road map to peace,” which is based on the widely held vision of an independent Palestinian State co-existing side by side with a secure and safe Israel, may still fail to deliver peace in the Middle East. The recent agreement between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa brigade to temporarily cease all military activities against Israel for the next three months and the withdrawal of Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) from some Palestinian territories does suggest that the roadmap is now on its way to realization. But I am deeply pessimistic of its prospects and there are two reasons for my skepticism.
The plan places asymmetrical demands on the two parties which will become more and more palpable with time. It demands a ceasefire from Palestinian militants but does not call for cessation of hostilities by Israel. Sure the ceasefire is to be followed by an Israeli withdrawal (already in initial stages) but it does not put an end to assassinations by Israeli forces (which nearly always includes killing of civilians, children and women). If Israel continues to wage war against Hamas and company, the ceasefire cannot be expected to last long. Expectations that PA will do the job that IDF has failed to accomplish in more than a decade is another weak link in the roadmap.
The roadmap envisages a minimalist role for the US, the most powerful player in the game, and places a lion’s share of the burden of bringing about change on the Palestinians, the weakest, the most disorganized and the most insecure of all players involved. According to the plan, the Palestinians must stop all resistance to the occupation, they must then transform themselves from a disorganized, chaotic and a frustrated society to a democratic, orderly and peaceful community, and then Israeli will withdraw and dismantle some settlements and set the stage for a final status process.
It is not clear what the US will be doing during this critical period. If it continues with its coercive diplomacy in the rest of the region (think Iran & Syria) there will be a negative fall out that will most certainly mobilize radicals and undermine peacemakers. The US cannot make peace between Israel and Arabs while maintaining an actively hostile posture towards other Arab and Muslim nations. There is no such thing as piecemeal peace.
It is also possible that the President’s plan may simply fail because the Palestinian Authority (PA) is incapable of delivering. During the last two years Sharon and the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) have systematically destroyed the capability of the PA to be effective. Now this same diminished PA is expected to accomplish what even the IDF has failed to fully achieve—reign in Hamas and company. The plan also does not stipulate what the incentives are for Israel and the US to follow through? If the Palestinians give up resistance, then the issue will be off the front pages and on to the back burner and the Bush administration can refocus on other issues and Israel can restart settlement buildings and the Palestinians would once again be no where.
Moreover the failure of the roadmap to include some mechanism by which Hamas and company can be co-opted in the peace process is its biggest flaw. If this is designed to start a civil war between Palestinian factions then the prospects for peace are over. Saab Erakat, the leading Palestinian negotiator has repeatedly asserted that there will be no civil war in Palestine, and he has also expressed the willingness of PA to treat Hamas and other groups as legitimate political forces, which can participate in the governance of Palestine. As long as the roadmap excludes the Palestinian militants from the dialogue, they have no other option but to resume the Intifada. We know now that Israel cannot eliminate or even diminish their capacity. Their means are no doubt abhorrent, but they are a force to reckon with and it is time to seriously start thinking about opening negotiations, separat reconciliation. Exclusion exacerbates radicalism and fosters terrorism; inclusion is in th! e spirit of democracy. Peace making entails making peace with the enemy.
Besides the strategic limits, the plan also reveals a naïve simplification of the complexity of the crisis and also a rather un-empathetic understanding of the state of the Palestinian people.
The plan lacks a strategy to bring about genuine changes in the hearts and minds of the people before peace can be realized. One important reason why Palestinians and Israelis cannot find a way out of this tragic quagmire of violence and suffering is because of the absence of an overwhelming willingness to find a peaceful solution. Another important missing factor is the lack of determination in the US to aggressively pursue a peaceful solution. President Bush is able to often step back and ignore the region essentially because there isn’t enough pressure on him from the American society to quickly resolve this festering crisis.
The road map to peace must first work towards fostering a willingness and urgency to make peace. Unless there is a will to peace there can be no way to peace.
I believe that three necessary changes must occur in the mindsets of the major players before a genuinely lasting peace can be achieved.
First, the US must adopt a sincerely evenhanded approach to the issue. This change in its approach must be perceptible in words and deeds. American government, its media and the people at large must learn about the misery of the Palestinian people and recognize their suffering. Only then will there be domestic support for giving Palestinians a homeland where they can live in freedom and with dignity. American Presidents cannot solve this problem without strong support from American people. America too will have to make some sacrifices for peace and freedom in the Middle East and this cannot happen without first developing a strong constituency for peace at home. For a just and lasting solution, America must be fully aware of the plight of the Palestinians and care for their rights and aspirations just as they care about Israel.
Secondly, the people of Israel must recognize Palestinians as their moral equals. It is only through recognition of the equal humanity of the Palestinians will Israelis become conscious of their angst. Nobody knows and understands dispossession, pain and suffering better than the Jewish community. If only for a moment they can pause and look at Palestinians as co-humans, they will understand their plight and will be more willing to take risks and make sacrifices for peace. Who can be a more powerful ally for peace than a pro-Palestine Israel?
Finally, Muslims and Arabs must advance a vision of Israel that appeals to the Jewish community at large. So far all they have done is demand justice for Palestine without directly addressing the future of Israel. Those who threaten the destruction of Israel have confessed their opposition to peace and co-existence. This position is untenable and unacceptable to all that believe in peace and justice. Justice for any nation cannot come at the expense of another nation. Nobody understands this better than the Palestinians. It is time that Arabs and Muslims articulated a vision of the Middle East that offers an appealing future to all. Who can allay Israeli fears and insecurities more than pro-Israeli Arabs?
Just as in the war on terror, the struggle for peace in the Middle East must include a concomitant effort to change the hearts and minds of people involved. Peace resides in the hearts and thoughts of peoples, not within territorial boundaries. Before we can make space for the other we must let the other have a place in our hearts and our thoughts.