Conflict between Morals and Pragmatism

Decades-old conflict between Palestinians and Israelis is a tired war with global implications where morality sits at odds with pragmatism. Everyone agrees that Palestinians have the moral right to statehood. However, it is practically not possible to help them realize their right to state entity without accommodating Israel’s strategic security concerns.

Stefano Casertano in his 2012 Project-Syndicate piece “Local Fighting, Global Conflict” elucidates the moral conviction of Palestinians’ claim for an independent state. He opines that this conviction does not necessarily answer the question of Israel’s defense and strategic position.

According to his analysis Israel can’t afford to lose control over occupied territories like the West Bank. Israel’s experience of unilateral withdrawal from another occupied territory the Gaza Strip in 2005 has provided her bitter lessons. Then Israel thought that ceding control of the annexed territory to the Palestinians would bolster the prospects of her own security. But the reality was otherwise with more violent clashes between Palestinians and Israel leading even to a mini war 2012. Ironically, the ousted president of Egypt Mohamed Morsi was instrumental in brokering peace in Gaza.

The fears of further radicalization of military attitudes in the occupied territory of West Bank, should Israel renounce control over the area, have been compounded by the ongoing civil wars in the Middle East. There is turmoil in Tunisia following the assassination of its prominent opposition leader. Syria is imploding with more than 100000 deaths since the civil war broke out and Egypt is endlessly enmeshed in daily violence since the military ousted its first democratically elected president on July 3.

The chaotic situation engulfing the Middle East nevertheless, the U.S. has revived the peace process, which remained deadlocked since September 2010 in the wake of Israel’s intransigence to extend ban on Jewish settlement program in the Palestinian territories. Then the Palestinians declined to sit for direct talks with Israelis as the illegal settlement activities continued despite diplomatic intervention from president Obama.

John Kerry has succeeded Hillary Clinton as U.S. Secretary of State since February last.  He has been shuttling between the capitals of the countries in the region that play a major role in advancing the peace process. A few days ago he publicly admitted that stalled peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis on final status will be arranged in Washington DC shortly. In the aftermath of such announcement views have been expressed by various analysts and columnists on the prospects of proposed peace talks.

The “The Economist” in its latest edition carries a piece “Tailwinds for Doves” in which it tries to convey an optimistic assessment about the peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis. The write up places hope on the transforming attitudes of Israeli right-wings, long a major obstacle to a deal. In substantiating this hope it has been said that the right-wingers are for the first time engaged as participants in talks. The leader of Jewish Home Party, Naftali Bennett has said, “We have changed”, “Fifteen years ago, there was hate. Now we know we have to find a way to live together”.

Happily, the peace talks between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators on the thorniest issues have resumed (July29-30) in Washington DC although there is enough skepticism about the prospects of success. The core issues are the status of Jerusalem, final border, and refugees etc. Natan Sachs, a fellow at the Saban Center for the Middle East policy at the Brookings Institution, where he focuses on Israeli domestic politics and foreign policy, has expressed doubts through his Foreign Policy piece “Prepare for the Worst”. He has said “Trust is hard to come by these days in the Holy Land”.

To him the risk of failure is great and it is not easy to discard his prediction considering the fact that Israeli and Palestinians are far apart on the most important issues and, moreover, each of the side suspects that the other has joined the peace talks with bad intentions.

Nevertheless, Bruce Van Voorst, a noted journalist, who has served as a diplomatic correspondent for both Newsweek and Time magazines sounds optimistic. He sees the achievement of some tactical goals in persuading Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to release 104 Palestinian prisoners. The New York Times has reported that the Israeli cabinet has already approved the release of the above prisoners. This gesture has signaled Israel’s sincerity to create congenial atmosphere for ongoing peace talks. Bruce Van Voorst in his Foreign Policy piece “Silent Shuttle” says that the Palestinians have also demonstrated good will by their willingness to hold off the campaign for UN full membership for six months.

Writing an op-ed column for the New York Times under the title “Israel vs. Iran Again” Jonathan Tepperman has contended that Israel seems to prepare for direct talks on final status with Palestinians with a view to building broad international support by playing constructive role in making peace with Palestinian Authority.

More importantly, Roger Cohen, an op-ed columnist (New York Times) has elaborated the interesting history of signing the 1978 Camp David Accords, through his column “Netanyahu as a Peace Maker”. The former U.S. president Jimmy Carter was deeply engaged in negotiations in the 1970s with late Menachem Begin, prime minister of Israel and Late Anwar el-Sadat, president of Egypt. The successful negotiations then helped all of them win the Nobel Peace Prize as the agreement ended the conflict between Egypt and Israel.

Roger Cohen quotes Jimmy Carter, who pointed out in London, a few days ago, dealt with a right-wing former terrorist and the “last person you would expect to make peace” in concluding the Camp David Accords. The man in question, as reproduced in Menachem Begin’s memoir “The Revolt”, is the former prime minister of Israel, who acknowledges that he was driven by hatred of British rule. Begin is quoted, “We had to hate the humiliating disgrace of the homelessness of our people”.

There is continuing battle between the morals and pragmatism with respect to peace process which is on-again-off-again for twenty years. To resolve it for the common benefit of Israelis and Palestinians they should reach a resolution that grants Palestinians a state in peace and security beside Israel.

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