Fri, Jan 02, 2009 - Page 9 News List

Dialogue: Bridging the divide between Israelis and Palestinians

By Vaclav Havel, El Hassan bin Talal, Hans Kung, Desmond Tutu, K

Wasted time is always to be regretted. But in the Middle East, wasting time is also dangerous. Another year has now passed with little progress in bridging the divide between Palestinians and Israelis. The current air strikes on Gaza, and continuing rocket attacks on Askelon, Sderot and other towns in southern Israel, only prove how dire the situation is becoming.

The security impasse that exists between Israel and the Gazan-Palestinian leadership has also led to blockades of food aid by Israel that have left Gaza’s 1.5 million people facing conditions of real hunger. Israel, it seems, is once again emphasizing the primacy of “hard” security in its dealings with the Palestinians of Gaza, but this focus only serves to block non-violent opportunities for creative solutions to the Israel-Palestine dispute.

Making matters worse, Israeli politicians remain committed to further enlargement of Israel’s West Bank settlements. Pushed to the wall in this way, many Palestinians are beginning to see no other option for fulfilling their national aspirations than radical tactics. Given that this risks renewed violence, it is critical that Israel’s regional partners and international actors understand that Palestinians will not be diverted from their strategic objective of achieving an independent state. The Palestinian people will never abandon their national struggle.

Both Israelis and Palestinians must understand that the mere application of force will never be enough to achieve their long-term ends. What is needed is a viable option for the opposing party to adopt in order for violence not to be deployed. Although force sometimes has its uses, a stable and lasting peace can be delivered only by an integrative, compromise solution.

Conflict resolution, if it is to be successful, requires channeling the energy generated by conflict toward constructive and nonviolent alternatives. This diversion of the energy of war can take place at any stage of the cycle of escalation, but if preventive peace building is not launched at the first sign of trouble, and problems remain unaddressed as the conflict intensifies (especially if it turns violent), some type of intervention will be needed.

Only then can conciliation, mediation, negotiation, arbitration, and collaborative problem-solving processes establish themselves. In the end, reconstruction and reconciliation are the only viable means to bring stability, since it cannot be imposed.

None of this is surprising. But it begs the question of why there has not been a more concerted and concentrated focus on transforming the situation in Gaza and Palestine. An international protectorate for the area to protect the Palestinians from their own more dangerous elements, the Palestinians from the Israelis, and perhaps even the Israelis from themselves, has been proposed, but has received scant acknowledgment.

It is this lack of a coordinated attempt to structure an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians — a structure based on an inclusive, interdisciplinary, and systemic approach that can shift the variables and lead to a peace that both peoples regard as equal and fair — that most concerns those of us who work in international crisis resolution.

One key element in building up a structure for reconciliation must be economic growth. As the World Bank has emphasized repeatedly, there is a strong correlation between poverty and conflict. So bridging the human dignity deficit, the divide between haves and have-nots, will be essential to reaching any viable political settlement between Palestinians and Israelis. Yet the efforts here are piecemeal — and thus insufficient to offer real hope for better lives.

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