Learning from Previous Mideast Mistakes

by Daoud Kuttab
Ramallah - The opportunities for a successful breakthrough in the Palestinian- Israeli conflict are so high, that one is afraid to talk about it so as not to jinx the chances for peace. But, superstition aside, and if we wish to make sure that this present opportunity is not missed, the success in the peace process will depend in a large part on lessons learned from previous failures.

Before delving into the difficult macro political issues, a more practical micro approach would be advisable in order to accomplish any form of success. Early success, however, will not happen until the daily lives of Palestinians and Israelis is given top priority. Every day Israelis and Palestinians must be able to conduct their lives in Tel Aviv or Jenin with normality and without fear for their lives and futures. While the Israeli population felt a sense of terror, Palestinians have faced collective punishment in the form of travel restrictions, home demolitions and economic devastation.

Simultaneously with the improvements in daily lives, there is a need to begin serious negotiations. Every attempt must be made to make sure that there is no repetition of previous periods in which there was a long-term absence of hope. As long as there are peace talks, people will have hope. Naturally, this doesn’t mean that there should be negotiations for negotiations’ sake, but there must be regular and continuous efforts to give Palestinians a feeling that there is a positive future ahead of them. Only when they feel that they have more to lose than gain by violence will we be able to cut off the oxygen that has kept the violence going.

Palestinian-Israeli peace talks at present don’t seem to have the ingredients for a quick solution. A lesson of past mistakes would require the leaders to initially articulate the goals of the talks, and then work backwards from these goals to find practical solutions for specific areas of disagreement. The differences are so big and the anger level is so fragile that an attempt to resolve all conflicting issues will most likely take much longer than most people would like.

An early agreement on the broad goals of the negotiations will naturally mean that they agree early on that neither side should carry out actions that would hurt long-term solutions. So, if both sides agree on the two-state solution, which they seem to have accepted, then they must agree to do everything possible to ensure that this final status will not be violated by either side.

An important lesson of past failures would be not to allow either side to harm the agreed-to long-term solution. Creating facts on the ground and trying to influence the permanent solution can threaten to break up the entire process. While this can apply to many areas, the most obvious areas that threaten the entire peace process will be the issues of Jewish settlements, Jerusalem and refugees.

Palestinians feel that one of the main reasons that the Oslo Process failed was because it did not include any specific guarantee that Jewish settlement activities in the Palestinian areas would be suspended. When Israeli settlements kept growing, the entire peace process faltered because of the lack of trust that the Palestinian public had in the talks.

Similarly, the Palestinian authority failed to realize the destructive effects to the peace process of violent attacks against Israeli civilians. For Palestinians, if settlement activity can be stopped, Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian negotiators will have plenty of time to work slowly and carefully in the negotiations. For Palestinians, this single area is seen as a continuous haemorrhage of the viability of a Palestinian state.

The Palestinian and Israeli media must also look back and evaluate its role in fanning public opinion. In the Israeli media, the newspapers ran sensational headlines and television had continuous emotional coverage, while the Palestinian and Arab television filled the screens with bloody images. Neither side stopped for a moment to break the stereotyping and dehumanisation of the other.

Both parties, and especially both leaders, must agree not to allow the minority radicals on both sides to dictate the rules of the game for the moderate majorities. For Israelis, if they are convinced that Palestinian refugees will return to the Palestinian state and not Israel, they will be more confident that Palestinians are serious about living peacefully side-by-side and will be more willing to release Palestinian prisoners.

In addition to the settlement and refugee issue, much work will be needed on the economic front. The fruits of peace in the form of an improvement in the economic health of the future Palestinian state will also need plenty of attention. This means that both on the legal and administrative fronts, as well as the general movement of goods and people, will also need the attention of negotiators.

While it has been very difficult to find the mechanism to break the current cycle of violence, such success will prove futile if both parties are unable to build on it with serious tangible and credible efforts. These efforts must be translated into actions that the public can see and feel in order to keep the flame of hope alive. So much can go wrong if not enough care is given to build on the current baby steps. The world today knows that this conflict will not end until the Palestinians are assured of a free and independent state and the Israelis are able to enjoy security within the borders of their state. The two-state solution, which has now become the slogan of leaders such as Bush, Blair and Putin, must become the reality for the Muhammads and the Moshes of Palestine and Israel.

* Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and the director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Ramallah.

Source: Common Ground News Service, March 25, 2005

Visit The Common Ground News Service online: www.commongroundnews.org
Women of Tunisia: Let your voices be heard!

The women of Tunisia have a decisive role to play in shaping Tunisia's future. Fatma Ben Saïdane reminds women of the power of their vote and the importance of civic engagement.
"For both scholars and policy-makers, the materials on the Middle East produced by Search For Common Ground are outstanding. If one is looking for balance and depth of analysis, this is the place to go to get a better understanding of the complexities of the contemporary Middle East."

- Dr. Robert O. Freedman, Peggy Meyerhoff Pearlstone Professor of Political Science, Baltimore Hebrew University and Visiting Professor of Political Science Johns Hopkins University

It takes 200+ hours a week to produce CGNews. We rely on readers like you to make it happen. If you find our stories informative or inspiring, help us share these underreported perspectives with audiences around the world.



Or, support us with a one-time donation.

Actions Are Needed To Make Peace A Reality
A Simple Plan
Urgent Steps Needed To Sustain The Fragile Window Of Opportunity
Promote Negotiations or Abandon the Two-State Solution
The Palestinian Ceasefire: A Window of Opportunity Looming on the Horizon
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Only Public Support Can Sustain a Window of Opportunity
Palestinians and Israelis Should Talk Amongst Themselves
What to Do with the Gaza Settlements
Religion and the Issue of Jerusalem
Religion Must be Part of the Solution
The Direction of Peace and its Challenges
Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon: Worthwhile Steps before Final Settlement
Achieving Long-Term Political Change in the Middle East
# of hours per week to create one edition
# of editors in 6 countries around the world
# of subscribers
Average # of reprints per article
# of media outlets that have reprinted our articles
# of republished articles since inception
# of languages CG articles are distributed in
# of writers since inception


Other articles in this series

Actions Are Needed To Make Peace A Reality by Nizar Abdel-Kader
A Simple Plan by Hady Amr
Urgent Steps Needed To Sustain The Fragile Window Of Opportunity by Dr. Ziad Asali
Promote Negotiations or Abandon the Two-State Solution by Naomi Chazan
The Palestinian Ceasefire: A Window of Opportunity Looming on the Horizon by Mohammad Daraghmeh
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly by Khaled Duzdar
Only Public Support Can Sustain a Window of Opportunity by Jason Erb
Palestinians and Israelis Should Talk Amongst Themselves by Shira Herzog
What to Do with the Gaza Settlements by Saad Eddin Ibrahim
Religion and the Issue of Jerusalem by Jonathan Kuttab
Religion Must be Part of the Solution by Rabbi David Rosen
The Direction of Peace and its Challenges by Hazem Saghiyeh
Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon: Worthwhile Steps before Final Settlement by Michael Young
Achieving Long-Term Political Change in the Middle East by Dov S. Zakheim