Guest post by Yair Hirschfeld
I am often asked, “Why can’t the Jews and Arabs get their act together and make peace?” There are many answers to this question. The basic fact is that these two peoples, who have both gone through traumatic existential threat experiences, have for the last thirty years made a great effort to move forward (with setbacks) on the way to peace. Throughout those thirty years I was—behind the scenes—involved in this effort, and I give account of that experience in the research-based study Track Two Diplomacy Toward an Israel-Palestinian Two State Solution, 1978–2014. In this book, I argue that the definition of peace, as such, must be decisive for a successful outcome. It has to be understood that “peace is not a piece of paper, or a given moment, but an ongoing process, when former enemies learn gradually to trust each other.”
Based on this basic understanding, I describe the causes that permitted the successful conclusion of the Oslo Accords, as well as the dramatic inside story that caused later failures and stumbling blocks. I offer a critical (and often self-critical) account of these efforts, and analyze Israel’s behind the scenes diplomacy. I also address the importance (and problems) of U.S. mediation, the impact of the regional powers, and the ongoing struggle between radical militant Islamic state (and non-state) actors on one side and the pragmatic pro-Western Arab states and Israel on the other.
The hate expressed towards Israel by radical elements has found varied expressions. When I addressed the United Nations assembly of ambassadors in Geneva, the Iranian ambassador declared without shame the “need to fight against the occupation of Palestine of 1948,” essentially asking, in other words, for the destruction of Israel. As part of the same struggle, Hamas has launched (both in the past and again this summer) thousands of missiles and rockets against Israel’s civilian population, and Qatar has undermined the Egyptian mediation seeking to reach a cease-fire. Meanwhile, ISIS is chopping off prisoners’ heads and carrying out mass executions, making it evident that their target is not merely Israel, but all people of good will in the Middle East, as well as Europeans and Americans.
The struggle for a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an important component in this wider struggle. The forces of radical militant Islam have again and again spoiled the most genuine peace efforts of both sides. Hamas or Hezbollah launch a violent attack against Israel. If Israel does not retaliate, they escalate the violence, leaving Israel no choice but to react. Hence, without a major international effort to deter militant radical Islam, a final and stable peace will have no chance.
Yet peace does have a chance. A year ago, when I was writing my book, I argued that it was essential to build a phased process based on the principle that “what has been agreed upon shall be implemented.” The Palestinian Authority must be permitted to become a successful government of the Palestinian people, leading the way to security, prosperity, and sovereignty of a Palestinian state while maintaining good relations with Israel and its other neighbors. Secretary Kerry thought he knew better and wanted to solve all outstanding core issues at one go. Accordingly, he failed to establish a lasting peace.
We Israelis and Palestinians cannot accept failure. For the well-being of our children and grandchildren, we are obliged to build trust between us. The experience we gained over the last thirty years of working for a peaceful solution has shown us where the pitfalls of the peace process lie, and taught us what has to be done to reach a better future.
Yair Hirschfeld’s Book Tour: September 9 to October 20, 2014
September 9, Los Angeles: BENS (Business Executives for National Security), 6 p.m. Info: KKenning@bens.org
September 10, Los Angeles: Or HaTorah Synagogue, 6:00 p.m.
September 13, Los Angeles: Beth Jacob Synagogue, 8.30 p.m.
September 15, New York: New York University, Taub Center for Israel Studies, 5 p.m. Info: firstname.lastname@example.org
September 16, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 4 p.m. Info: email@example.com
September 17, Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 12 p.m. Info: Kendra.firstname.lastname@example.org
September 18, Waltham, MA: Brandeis University, Crown Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Hassenfeld Conference Center, 12 p.m. Info: email@example.com
September 19, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Law School, Program on Negotiation, 12 p.m. Info: firstname.lastname@example.org
September 23, Ottawa: University of Ottawa, 4 p.m. Info: email@example.com
September 29, Salt Lake City: Hinckley Institute of Politics, University of Utah, 9 a.m. Info: firstname.lastname@example.org
October 2, San Francisco: BENS, 5.30 p.m. Info: KKenning@bens.org
October 7, San Antonio: BENS, 12 p.m. Info: MElias@bens.org
October 8, Austin: BENS, 12 p.m. Info: MElias@bens.org
October 13, Houston: BENS, 12 p.m. Info: MElias@bens.org
October 13, Houston: Baker Institute for Public Policy, 6.30 p.m. Info: email@example.com
October 15, Washington, D.C.: Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, 12 p.m.
October 16, Washington, D.C.: BENS, 12 p.m.
October 17, Philadelphia: CENFAD, Temple University, 2 p.m.
October 20, New York: BENS, 12 p.m.
Yair Hirschfeld is a lecturer at the University of Haifa and director general of the Economic Cooperation Foundation in Israel. His new book, Track-Two Diplomacy toward an Israeli-Palestinian Solution, 1978–2014, was recently published by the Woodrow Wilson Center Press.