How to help and hurt peace
Prominent Palestinian Dr Sari Nusseibeh suggests what the US and the international community can do to end his people's conflict with Israel, and how wrong can sometimes be done, when they try to do right.
“If there is peace, many people will be out of a job.”
This is what a hotel owner in the Palestinian West Bank town of Bethlehem said to me over tea one day.
He was talking about the foreign community in the Palestinian territories either covering the conflict like myself, or those in various organisations that are involved in developmental, aid or conflict resolution work here.
Yes, if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were finally to be resolved, we would all have no business here in the Holy Land.
Fortunately or unfortunately – depending on which perspective you take – the two sides seem so entrenched in hostility that it seems like we foreigners will probably get to keep our jobs for a while more at least.
Israel's right-wing coalition government is adamant on building in Jewish settlements situated in the occupied Palestinian territories. This is not only driving the Palestinian Authority away from the negotiations, but also spawning more animosity from the Arab population at large.
Yet even if Israel is argued by some to be sabotaging the prospects for peace, can external players like the international community change the course of events?
I discussed this with Dr Sari Nusseibeh, who co-authored a popularly-supported joint Israeli-Palestinian peace plan with the former head of the Israeli internal security services Ami Ayalon.
“The international community has done some good and some bad, and some bad that has been done has not been done because of bad intentions.”
The Best Laid Plans
An example Dr Nusseibeh gave on the bad that has been done was this: financing the Palestinians.
“A few years ago, I was making statements to the effect that the international community should stop financing us, financing the (Palestinian) Authority,” he said.
“I was saying that the Palestinian Authority was actually making the international community feel good, that it was actually doing something. But what was happening on the ground was that this was perpetuating the occupation, and that what the international community should be looking to do was not to perpetuate the occupation.
The perpetuation of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land comes from making the status quo a comfortable compromise for all parties involved, explained Dr Nusseibeh.
“The Israelis have been benefitting from the international aid that is coming in, because otherwise Israel will have had come up with the money itself, in order to support the occupation.
“The international community is happy it was feeling like it was doing something, easing its conscience, and the Palestinians, many of them were happy, because they were receiving money.
..there is no reason to end the discontent, to change the situation, and so the situation just gets perpetuated.
“So there is no reason to end the discontent, to change the situation, and so the situation just gets perpetuated. It becomes more difficult and harder to change.
“Of course, this is an unintentional consequence of its actions, but it is a consequence nonetheless.
“Maybe it (the international community) can say, we will condition our support on there being an end to the occupation within a time framework, like we will give you six months, you guys and the Israelis in your business of forming two states.”
Obama: Yes he can
This October marks ten years, since the outbreak of the second and last Palestinian uprising, the last period of sustained violence between both sides. What has transpired since then is relative calm, but the conflict remains unresolved.
This past month has also seen renewed direct negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, and the White House playing mediator. I asked Dr Nusseibeh what he envisioned the US doing specifically. He said he believed Obama can go a long way in authoritatively bringing together the two sides.
“Say, after a lot of footwork, Obama comes with a peace plan, a detailed peace plan. He has looked at all the negotiations that have taken place in the past. He has looked at each side's concerns. He has seen where the points of meeting are, what the differences are, and he comes up with a model of how things can be bridged.
“He makes an Obama plan and comes here, and he calls Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas)and Netanyahu and tells them, 'Here, you have a plan, and this is what I, Obama, the United States and the international community think should happen.'
We don't want you, Mr Abu Mazen, Mr Netanyahu to negotiate, because we are done with negotiations.
“We don't want you, Mr Abu Mazen, Mr Netanyahu to negotiate, because we are done with negotiations. What we want you to do is to act as messengers to your respective constituencies.
“If Obama were to present this in this case, neither side can refuse it or turn it down. Netanyahu, on the basis on democracy, will have to go to a referendum. From Abu Mazen's point of view, he would find this a present or a gift because he can go back to his people and say, 'Look, guys, we have the promise of a state, so let's have elections on this basis.'
“My feeling is that there will be a jolt of support on both sides for this.”
Dr Nusseibeh believed this could work, even given the hawkish government in Israel and the influence of Hamas on the Palestinian side, both of whose antagonistic stances towards the other side presented less-than-conducive conditions for a compromise.
“The right wing government in Israel and the Hamas government in Gaza are only the symptoms of a different underlying reality, because the underlying reality that the people have chosen Hamas, and have chosen Likud in Israel likely because they are angry and unhappy.
“They want to see peace, that as soon as you give them real promise, a possibility, the majority on both sides will go for it because that is what people want.”