Bernard Weiner: There Is No "Road Map" to Peace
There Is No "Road Map" to Peace, Only the Hard Road Not Taken
By Bernard Weiner
The Crisis Papers
Can we just acknowledge that there is no "road map" to peace in the Middle East? Under Bush, there is no U.S.-sponsored avenue or boulevard or street or back alley that could possibly take the parties to a solution. In sum, there are no shortcuts to peace.
But there is a longcut that could work: A comprehensive peace treaty. One worked out by the Israelis and Palestinians themselves, perhaps within a short period of negotiation, that takes all the most difficult issues -- the Occupation, settlements, Jerusalem, right of return -- and arrives at an overall agreement.
It would be a peace that gives no veto power to Arab or Israeli terrorists. If there dedication and commitment to peace, and a bomb blows up a cafe or a car, the two governments do not let it interfere with the peace process; instead, they proceed apace and seek to arrest the perpetrators. After awhile, when the extremists see that neither side uses this kind of violence as an excuse to stop the peace, such bombings will grow fewer and fewer.
Once there is peace, both battered societies, bloodied by decades of brutality (by the Others and by themselves), will begin initiating joint projects for jobs, water, agriculture, etc. Those positive developments on the ground -- which will yield employment, steady income, lessening of tension, hope for improvement -- will further marginalize the extremist groups.
So with that as a goal -- yes, I know it sounds like a well-worn fantasy, but stick with me on this one -- how do we get from here to there?
The Mideast realities in the Autumn of 2003 tell me that the rivers haven't run red enough, the slaughter hasn't cut deep enough, the politicians aren't smart or courageous enough. In short, the situation is hopeless. Too broad a section of both societies believe they can still "win," i.e. drive the Others away, make them disappear like magic.
Extremists on both sides (egged-on, unfortunately, by their elected leaders) believe that their claim to the disputed land is given by God. The Israeli fundamentalists want a Greater Israel, the Palestinian extremists want a Greater Palestine, with no Israel.
Ordinarily, when two religiously-oriented groups claim that God is on their side, there is no room for accomodation, because it is believed that a compromise would be an affront to God.
But in this extraordinary situation, it is not required that either side forsake their God. If and when both sides can finally agree that the continuing slaughter is intolerable, that their economic and social situation are intolerable, that the constant stress is intolerable, that each losing its moral way is intolerable -- if and when they get to that point (which, unfortunately, probably means after Arafat and Sharon have died), then both sides can say to themselves something like this:
"Dear God/Allah: We have remained true to your desires for decades upon decades, but our peoples have grown weary with despair and never-ceasing bloodshed. We want to continue the battle for your rule, but the reality is that neither of us can make the other side disappear. If we don't come to some sort of agreement -- not to like each other but merely to recognize that the others are here and they're not going to go away -- we will provide nothing to our children and grandchildren but hopelessness and despair and perpetual slaughter and unbearable tension. Therefore, in the name of reality -- and, we hope, with your blessing -- we will make a peace. It will not get us everything we and you want, but it will reclaim the likelihood of a future for succeeding generations."
Having come to this mental/spiritual/political decision, the necessary accomodations can then be made, those same compromises that have been evident to everyone for decades: Israel ends the Occupation and withdraws into its secure, pre-1967 borders, its settlements abandoned to the Palestinians in need of homes, and officially recognizes the new state of Palestine; the Palestinians now have a contiguous, economically and administratively viable state, and officially recognizes Israel's right to exist, and promulgates the necessary laws, and translates and broadcasts/publishes them in Arabic; Israel permits some Palestinian families to return to ancestral lands, but most are provided monetary compensation; Jerusalem becomes an international city.
The ultra-Orthodox extremists in Israel and the Hamas/Jihad extremists in Palestine are made parties to the ultimate agreement, if possible; if not, they are restrained as much as they can be. These terrorist groups become fringe elements within their respective societies. And if and when they carry out a terrorist atrocity -- be it Ultra-Orthodox attacks on Arab citizens, or Hamas/Jihad suicide-bombings in Tel Aviv or Haifa -- the political leadership simply and resolutely maintains the peace, while hunting down the assailants.
Since there is now peace and re-construction can fluorish, new jobs are created, leading to water rights being developed and expanded, joint artistic and economic projects initiated -- and the extremists are marginalized. They begin to lose their hold on the imagination of the populace, since other things, more positive things, are happening on the ground. The attacks grow further apart.
Again, how does one get from here to there? Is the United States involved? Is the United Nations involved? Is the Arab League involved?
Clearly, all three have to be majorly involved. Without their third-party legitimacy, financial backing and moral suasion, none of this can happen.
The United States -- and it's likely we're talking about post-Bush, since his much-ballyhood "road map" was little more than a device to buy some quiet on the Arab street while preparing to invade Iraq -- has to realize that it's in America's national-security interests that there be a true and effective and comprehensive peace in the Middle East. Bush&Co. sometimes say those words, but never follow through with the actions that would help make a peace happen. Instead, they continue to place all their chips on Ariel Sharon as their proxy enforcer. The result is to pour gasoline on a smoldering regional-political fire.
If and when the U.S. is serious about helping bring peace to the region, it will threaten to withdraw all financial aid to the Israelis and Palestinians -- and if pushed to it, actually will withdraw the aid -- until the necessary steps are taken that will lead down that road to peace. Once all that is done and the peace is made, with U.S. help, American can contribute a flow of funds and experts to the area.
The Arab League can be most helpful here in convincing their Palestinian brothers and sisters -- the same people they've abandoned for so long -- to make the peace, and to help them enforce the peace. There might also be consideration of turning over small border areas to the new country of Palestine where many Palestinians currently reside . And, of course, there would have to be massive financial aid to the currently impoverished, devastated state.
The United Nations in this post-treaty phase likely will have to contribute peacekeeping troops on the ground, to separate the two sides temporarily while the transitions are being made (Israelis withdrawing from the settlements, when the separation wall is torn down, etc.), to supervise the administration of Jerusalem as an international city, to bring all its moral suasion to bear, to help raise and funnel aid and expertise to the area.
In other words, probably none of this will happen, or can happen, until the entire world becomes involved in helping to create the conditions and context and moral power for peace. Lest we become too pessimistic at the possibility of peace ever coming to the Mideast, let us remember how intractable the Northern Ireland situation looked for hundreds of years, and likewise how hopeless the South African apartheid situation looked for so many decades. But peace and economic/social progress are now being made in both areas long torn by religious, class or ethnic divides. The focus of the world on those seemingly unsolvable disputes helped bring about those peaceful solutions.
But, of course, the hardest work has to be done by the Israelis and Palestinians themselves. Not just the leaders -- or not even mainly the leaders, who are caught in a time-warp of violence-revenge -- but ordinary citizens, longing for peace and stability and economic progress in their lives, and a different, more positive life for their kids. American Jews and American Arabs have much to contribute to this momentum for peace as well.
When the Israelis and Palestinians finally recognize that violence and intimidation and brutality simply won't get them what they want -- to eliminate the other side -- and are willing to take action to convince their leaders to make the compromises that need to be made, then the wheels of the peace bus will begin turning for real. (This just might be the right time in history for a massive non-violent movement to emerge on both sides. What can they lose except the lives they already are losing in their pro-violence societies?)
Only then will the realization be made by the Sharons and Netanyahus, and the Arafats and Hamas/Jihad leaders, that their policies have brought nothing but perpetual bloodshed to their peoples and to the region and that they simply can't go on any longer down that brutal road.
But unless we are able soon to get to this place of peace, this haven of hope, the future is clear: years and years, decades and decades, of further slaughter, revenge, brutality, escalation, another generation and then another lost to hate and despair -- the type of negative energy and attitude that increasingly threatens the stability of the entire region (and, Americans and Europeans take note, the flow of oil), and provides rich bloody humus for the growth of increased international terrorism worldwide, etc. etc.
Unless the forces of peace prevail, soon, the rivers of blood will destroy both societies, not only their populations but their sense of themselves as peoples with a moral core of righteousness. And the whirlwind of destruction will blow them onto the dustheap of historical failure.
The choice is clear.
Bernard Weiner, a poet/playwright and former journalist with the San Francisco Chronicle, co-edits The Crisis Papers ( http://www.crisispapers.org); a Ph.D in government & international relations, he has taught at various universities.