Public must be key player in Arab-Israeli conflict

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 January, 2017, 12:16am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 January, 2017, 9:57pm

The international conference on the Israeli-Palestinian issue earlier this month in Paris sent a message to the new US administration about the global consensus regarding the conflict. It hoped to prevent President Donald Trump from taking any measure that might threaten the two-state solution – in particular a unilateral move of the US embassy to Jerusalem.

However, the conference failed to address a few issues that could be embraced by the Trump administration to help advance the peace process in a tangible way.

The first is the psychological dimension of the conflict and its impact on every conflicting issue.

Unless major efforts are made to change the public narrative on both sides to reflect the truth from historical and religious perspectives, neither side can make the far-reaching concessions necessary to forge a peace agreement.

A process of reconciliation, in particular, is needed to allow both sides to nurture mutual trust, allay concerns over security, and disabuse strong Israeli and Palestinian constituencies that still want to have it all.

The second issue is Hamas and its political stance, which continues to impede any progress. As long as Hamas calls for the destruction of Israel and is not a signatory to the Arab Peace Initiative, it plays into the hands of the hard-core Israelis who claim that the Palestinians simply want to eradicate, rather than peacefully coexist with, Israel.

The conference should have called on Hamas to accept in principle Israel’s right to exist and beseeched countries like Turkey and Qatar, which enjoy substantial influence on Hamas, to embrace the Arab Peace Initiative, as Hamas must be part and parcel of any final resolution to the conflict.

To be sure, even though the conference in Paris did not have any power of enforcement, by opening public debates on these issues it would have made a positive impact on the peace process.

In the final analysis, though, as long as Israelis and Palestinians are led by leaders who do not promote the peace process along these lines and have different political agendas that are not necessarily consistent with a two-state solution, the public will remain in the dark and to a great extent become complacent.

The conference could have made a great contribution to the peace process not by merely repeating what is known, but by fostering a new dialogue that allows the public to become an active participant, which is critical to changing the dynamic of the conflict.

Alon Ben-Meir, professor of international relations,

Centre for Global Affairs, New York University