In order for a peace process to even commence, involved leaders must engage in a major shift in thinking. Both Israel and the United States both have leaders who hold far-right mindsets and whose actions may have longterm damaging consequences. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s official capital has further alienated Palestinians from the United States and has further separated American society’s perceptions from conflict realities in Palestine and Israel. A report from the Washington Post stated that “a senior White House official told reporters that there has been no contact with the Palestinian leadership since President Trump’s announcement on Dec. 6 formally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.” Vice President Michael Pence also contributes to the religious ideological push for the association of Jerusalem solely with Israel. He was a “driving force behind the administration’s decision on Jerusalem and appeared with Trump as the president made the announcement. In his own past statements, he has gone further than Trump, describing Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital.” President Trump has oversimplified this conflict and has “severely damaged the prospects of reaching a peace agreement.”
In addition to these heavily pro-Israeli views of the United States’ chief executives, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government “seems to show neither the interest nor the ability to revive the peace process.” The Israelis are not attempting to make peace because they do not perceive any need to. In other words, the status quo of military rule in Gaza and the West Bank is sustainable, at least in the short term, for the Israelis, but not the Palestinians. According to the article “Israel and the PostAmerican Middle East: Why the Status Quo is Sustainable” by Martin Kramer, Israel’s economy is supported by significant amount of foreign investment and is growing. However, the Palestinian Authority is “buttressed by a combination of foreign aid, economic growth, and the usual corruption.” There is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza that has been worsening ever since Israel blockaded the Gaza Strip. According to Beverly Milton-Edwards in an article for the Brookings Institute, “for more than 10 years Israel has imposed severe restrictions on food, water, electricity and other basic commodities entering Gaza from its crossing points. According to systematic assessments conducted by international humanitarian organizations, the whole of Gaza’s civilian population has progressively suffered.” 90 percent of the water available to drink in Gaza is inadequate for humans to consume, and over 60 percent of the population in Gaza depends on humanitarian aid to survive. Israel’s actions against the people of Gaza are such severe human rights violations that they have invited accusations of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Essentially, the Palestinians are in serious trouble. This is the status quo.
How can this status quo change? Change must occur in two directions: top down and bottom up. First, the Israeli government must stop human rights abuses and desist its inhumane blockade of Gaza. Second, the Israeli government must grant civil and social rights to Palestinians. Palestinians have no access to healthcare, as Israelis do, nor do they have adequate electricity and running water. Palestinians are being tried in military courts as well and are subject to a broad array of discriminatory laws that very often have no genuine connection to Israeli security. Regardless of any considerations or negotiations for two separate states, Israel must, in the meantime, grant these social and civil rights to the Palestinians living in the area. Military rule must be changed to civil law, and there must be a framework of human rights for all. An equitable distribution of resources must follow this; Israel’s occupation of Palestine has grown progressively more aggressive in its violations of Palestinian property and work right
s. There is a consistent asymmetry in both the balance of power as well as the resources. Israel is “a sovereign state with a developed economy and the fourth largest military in the world, has the backing of the world’s sole remaining superpower, and boasts an influential Jewish Diaspora,” whereas Palestinians “lack statehood, are impoverished, and lack a military, though there is a substantial, but largely disenfranchised, Palestinian Diaspora.” Due to the apartheid structure and operation of Israel’s occupation, these two peoples experience vastly different lives, which in turn affect the point of view from which they see the conflict. In order to transition into any kind of sustainable peace in the region, there must be positive peace for both Israelis and Palestinians, built upon an end of overt violence – negative peace. A major one-state issue problematic for the Israelis is that, if Palestinians were allowed to vote, Palestinians would then have access to the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, which makes decisions with consequences for the Israelis’ daily lives. Israel would be required to pay attention to the 4.5 million Palestinians who reside in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, who would call for a voice and a role. Palestinians and Israelis must be able to negotiate together with direct conversations.
A strong, impartial third-party mediator would be extremely helpful and would probably be the most viable way to develop an agreement. This party must be mostly unbiased. Historically, this role has often been filled by someone from the United States, but as evident from the information previously provided, the United States currently does not qualify as an adequate third-party mediator. Other individuals and agencies from Europe have also proven valuable in empowering hostile opponents to negotiate and find mutual ground. Both Israelis and Palestinians would present strong suspicions and objections to negotiations without major assurances or even pre-negotiation guarantees, so their leaders would likely communicate through back channels. According to Gershon Baskin, “this conflict can only be ended in a negotiated agreement between Israel and Palestine and with the difficult political constellations on both sides of the conflict line, it seems quite impossible for both leaders to be able to negotiate in good faith if the negotiations are taking place in public.” Though it is politically risky for leaders to consider change from established bargaining positions, leaders must be able to put personal dislikes and differences aside and negotiate in good faith with ongoing personal and direct communication. Additionally, rather than pushing for an agreement simply for the aesthetics of perceived “progress,” Israelis and Palestinians must truly address the issues at hand, such as security from violence, borders, Palestinian sovereignty or statehood, Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, refugees, etc. Such genuine engagement of each other’s needs and interests would demand a shift in relationship and a higher level of mutual respect. Insincere superficiality has been an issue with previously negotiated settlements, such as the Camp David negotiations and the Oslo Accords.
Leaving the majority of an agreement open to interpretation or future negotiation will always result in a lack of action on the part of the Israelis (such as when they continued settlement expansion after Oslo). While implementation of any agreement will be a process that will have to take place over years, explicit agreement on end goals must at least be stated. Any negotiations should be aware of time constraints due to potential spoilers from either side who might attempt sabotage of progress by bombings or assassination attempts. An additional advantage to working quickly toward a resolution is that it would allow less time for opposition to mobilize and obstruct the process. Should there be a mediator, he or she must be firm and authoritative in order to keep efforts moving. As author Galia Golan suggests in her article “Suggestions for American Mediation of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” the mediator should also meet with coalition partners within Israel and Palestine as well as opponents, such as Hamas. Golan’s view that successful Israeli-Palestinian negotiation should be rapidly consummated is one view, but peacebuilding and conflict transformation wisdom is clear that the achievement of deeper mutual considerations will require genuine consideration of each other’s humanity and needs. Talking and negotiating with government officials will be crucial, but talking with “civil society on both sides, such as former combatants, bereaved families and public figures, as well as NGOs” will be important so that the people from both sides can feel as though their voices are heard and that they have a stake in the process.
The mediator or mediators must understand the full complexity of all sides’ concerns and needs, must be able to be impartial and be balanced when dealing with the two sides and must be willing to provide and follow through with incentives and punishments. “Americans [or any other mediators] would be well-advised to press the Israelis to do what is in their own best interests.” Any agreement must also be made in light of the interests of all parties in the region. That is, peace must be framed in such a way that it is in Israel’s best interest to make a reconstructive peace with the Palestinians, and that it is in Palestine’s best interest to make a reconstructive peace with the Israelis. Although the status quo is currently sufficient for Israelis, the regime’s embrace of Armageddon with their neighbors and apartheid guilt into their indefinite future is a hopeless vision; there must be a “greater balance in the application of pressure” on the Israelis such that they must move towards an agreement. Other countries need to be willing to withhold aid and military packages to Israel and also provide incentives to Israel to make peace. International pressure can take a variety of forms, such as when President Ford delayed negotiations on military contracts, or when President Bush stayed loan guarantees in 1991. Pressure could also take the form of delay of any deliveries or through political isolation. Economic sanctions could be extremely effective, as well as refusing to support Israeli positions in the United Nations Security Council. Whatever pressure on Israel may look like, nations (especially the United States, because the United States has been Israel’s enabler) must be willing to follow through on threats of pressure.