The Words of the Ben-Zvi Family
Jerusalem, Israel -- Prof. Eliezer Glaubach, president of the Jerusalem Peace and Security Forum, opened the April 13, 2014, discussion on the central political issue of conflicts in the Middle East and Israel's "plan B" for solving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis in the face of the failure of US Secretary of State John's Kerry's efforts.
Albert Einstein once said that the world is a dangerous place to live in, not because of those who do evil but because of those who do not do anything about it. The purpose of this forum was to examine the current situation and to suggest a future plan in the belief that seeds sown for peace now will bear fruits in the future.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar, from the Department of Arabic Literature in Bar-Ilan University, focused on the gap between the western way of thinking and oriental culture, pointing out that loyalty in the orient and in the Arab world is based on a sense of belonging to the tribe rather than to the nation. He used the example of the civil war in Syria to prove his point. Kedar sees the Palestinian people as a group of tribes and clans rather than a nation. Since this is the case, he claimed that the western approach of negotiations with a Palestinian leader who, according to Kedar, does not represent all the Palestinians is wrong. Israel and the world should recognize and support local leadership in the Arab Palestinian population centers who desire lasting peaceful relations in order to promote a foundation of eight independent city-states: The eight Palestinian city-states would include the areas of Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, Jericho, Tul-Karm, Kalkilya, the Arab part of Hebron and the Gaza strip (which has existed separately since June 2007). Local residents would become citizens of these eight independent emirates, and Israel should cooperate economically with these emirates. However, he did not include the Arabs who lived in Jerusalem in his solution.
Mr. Dani Rubinstein, a journalist and a lecturer at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, agreed with Kedar that among Palestinians the tribal structure is very strong. The Syria civil war is an example of a war between tribes, regardless of national boundaries. However, Rubinstein argued that Palestinian nationalism is the unifying factor for all the Palestinian tribes. "Half of the Palestinian people became refugees in 1948, and the Nakba narrative became a unifying factor" (Nakba describes the 1948 Palestinian exodus and means "plight" and "catastrophe"). Rubinstein supports the two-states solutions and sees no other route for peace. Interestingly, Rubinstein suggested a three-states solution, including Jordan because the border with Jordan is an artificial border, and a long-term, stable solution with the Palestinians must include Jordan.
Dr. Arie Geronik from the Department of Sociology, Political Science and Communication at the Open University of Israel said that he has learned from the Israeli author Amos Oz to differentiate between the war with the Palestinians and the war against Islamic fundamentalism. He said the solution for the conflict with the Palestinians is the "two-states" solution. Geronik suggested that fear of a second war prevents finding a solution for the first war.Therefore, any framework for peace between Israel and the Palestinians should include the entire Middle East.
Mr. Pinhas Inbari, a senior analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs,claimed that the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians under the patronage of the Americans keeps coming to a dead end because of the cultural gap between the Americans and the Middle East. In contrast, the solution should be worked out bilaterally between those who live in the Middle East and are acquainted with the mentality of the region, namely Israel and the Arab Peace Initiative. The two sides should seriously work together, away from the influence of the media, to find a solution. Once an agreement is formulated, it can be offered to the Americans for support.
Mr. Calev Ben-Dor from the Strategic Affairs Division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs discussed questions which Israel must answers: do we want one country or two … or three? Which is better: a permanent agreement or an interim agreement? Who will be the partner on the other side: Hamas or PLO?
In conclusion, participants agreed that the Israelis should bring their own solutions. When they do so, the Americans will respect them. The least preferable situation is if the Israeli government does not bring any solutions; then the Americans will force unwanted solutions on Israel.
At this point in time, the lasting regional tension revolving around the Iranian aspirations to achieve nuclear capabilities as well as the instability factor the "Arab Spring" pours to the region makes the renewed effort to re-start the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians seem irrelevant.
Nevertheless, it is important to understand that of all the strategic and other problems facing Israel and the Arab/Muslim world, the most critical is the Palestinian problem.
While it is unclear whether a lasting solution can be found to this problem, the absence of such a solution will make attempts to solve other strategic problems more complex for the parties involved. This seems to be among the motives of US Secretary of State John Kerry's recent initiative in the region.
Israel's goals of preventing another war, maintaining her special relationship with the United States and concluding peace agreements with the entire Arab world all depend on finding a viable solution to the Palestinian problem. From the regional point of view, if a solution is not found, sooner or later the Arabs will unite to fight Israel again; the peace process will thus be destroyed, but the Palestinian problem will remain on center stage even after such a war. It is imperative that all parties involved in the peace process in the area give top priority to finding a lasting solution to the Palestinian problem, because otherwise, having paid the heavy price of another war, they will find themselves in the same situation.
Looking back in time, we can notice that all the possibilities and options that have been advanced in recent years for a solution to the Palestinian problem have been found lacking; no available formula is acceptable to all sides, and hence implementable. For a suggested solution to the Palestinian problem to be viable, it must meet the objective as well as the subjective security needs of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians simultaneously. To achieve this, we must alter our point of view and widen our perspective to include the entire Middle East. The solution will have to rest on a balance of power model, where the countries involved in the conflict (including Palestine) will be members of dynamic coalitions which balance out one another, thus preventing one nation from monopolizing others and in so doing, laying the groundwork for future attack.
Such a model, which contributed to the security of Northern Europe throughout the Cold War and which can be reproduced in the Middle East, is the "Nordic Balance" model. In this framework the Soviet Union was on one side, the NATO-member Scandinavian countries were on the other and neutral Finland and Sweden were in the middle, serving as buffer states, thus becoming regional powers who serve as a stabilizing factor in the sub-system. In the Middle East, for reasons that will be made clear in the course of this paper, Israel can assume the role of the Soviet Union on the one pole, Iraq and Iran can play the part of Denmark and Norway on the other, and Jordan and Palestine can serve as buffer states, taking the role of Finland and Sweden. As neutral states between the belligerent countries, they will become the heart of the model.
Finland and Sweden together constituted a kind of international strategic vacuum in the grey zone between the two blocs, and, as in nature, so too in international politics, a vacuum is a condition which has a tendency to be filled. This state of affairs turned Finland and Sweden into mutually dependent political "Siamese twins," where any change in the geopolitical status of one would immediately result in a change in the geopolitical situation of the other. Possible scenarios could have been, for example, a Soviet invasion of Finland resulting from Sweden's increasing ties with NATO, or Sweden joining NATO in reaction to Finland coming closer to the Eastern bloc, or one of the two becoming an isolated buffer state, an impossible situation in the long run. The mutual dependence arising from such a situation, the fact that each country safeguards the neutrality of the other, is what ensures stability. In the Middle East, as in Scandinavia, one can find a geostrategic reality which prefers a situation in which two neighboring states are bonded together as neutral states between two blocs. In both cases one can identity the factor which makes this bonding possible: the shared historical experience and the virtually identical world view and cultural-social structure of both countries. Each condition is necessary; both together are sufficient in this case.
Israel, with her military and technological might, is in fact the regional power in the Middle East. On the other hand, the Fertile Crescent constitutes the opposing pole to Israel's power within the subsystem. This system includes, first and foremost, Iraq, as we knew her before 2003, and Iran (with Syria in the periphery). Between these two Middle Eastern blocs, we find Jordan fulfilling, almost traditionally, her national function: that of a buffer state. Since the establishment of the Emirate of Transjordan some 90 years ago, Jordan has in its various metamorphoses served as a buffer state. At one time she stood between the Saudi Wahabis and the French in Syria; today she is between Israel and the Arab world and between the radical north and the more conservative south. In her role as a buffer state Jordan helps to preserve stability in the region, as was seen in Gulf War (1990-91), when she stood between Iraq and Israel. This takes place by means of a complex game of deterring each side through tactical reconciliation with the other side. In return, Jordan received support from countries concerned with maintaining regional stability, such as the United States and Europe. This consideration results in the Israeli government's traditional support of Jordan's continuing existence as a buffer state.
Israel is suited to play the role of the Soviet Union in the Middle East for several reasons: First, as in the case of the Soviet Union at one time, Israel (for the time being) is the only country in the region considered to be a nuclear power. Second, in both cases we see the need for, and even the willingness on the part of other members of the subsystem, to recognize the special security interests of both countries. This has been true of the attitude of the Arab states toward Israel since the mid-1970s. The Arab initiative of 2002 is yet another example of that. To these basically strategic-political considerations one may add a cultural parallel: both the Soviet Union in northern Europe and Israel in the Middle East are culturally foreign to the subsystem of which they are major part.
Iraq, and especially Iran today, can suitably fulfill the role of Denmark and Norway in the proposed equation, since, as in Scandinavia, we are referring in the Middle East to a pair of nations which, though powerful, are not yet nuclear powers in the accepted sense of the term. In the Nordic case, the power stemmed from membership in a pact and in the Middle East, from a strong army equipped with non-conventional weapons (and in the case of Iran – with nuclear aspirations). In both cases these are pairs of nations with similar socioeconomic, political and religious outlooks, their different emphases notwithstanding.
The significant political change that must take place in the Middle East, if the intention is to adopt the Nordic Balance model, will be characterized by the turning of Jordan and the future Palestinian state into neutral states. Neutrality is perceived as an attractive policy for small nations which, because of their strategic location or symbolic political value, stand or may stand in the focus of a struggle for influence or control by regional or global rivals. The neutral state is a country whose political independence and territorial integrity enjoy the permanent recognition of the superpowers, provided that the neutral country does not use weapons against another country except for self-defense and does not enter into contractual obligations with any party that might endanger its status.
The object of neutrality is to preserve international order, to reduce tensions in the system and to bring international disputes to a solution based on agreed norms and institutions. From the point of view of the neutral state, the objective of neutrality is to defend its military security as well as preserve its political and territorial integrity. From the standpoint of the nations bordering the neutral state, the object of neutrality is to preserve the balance of power from being violated.
A distinction which is particularly apposite in this case is the division of neutrality into positive and negative aspects. The positive aspect in the policy of neutrality denotes the complex of attempts made by neutral states to make their neutrality as attractive as possible to the contesting sides. This aspect incorporates a series of political measures carried out simultaneously on two planes: (1) measures intended to reduce fears of the contending sides regarding possible damage that might be caused to them by the neutrality of the small country, and (2) steps intended to strengthen their interest to continue to preserve neutrality.
The negative aspect of neutralist policy refers to deterring the contending sides from violating neutrality by convincing them that the price they would have to pay for such a step will be high. Such deterrence is based on military power.
Since this division is hypothetical it would be more correct to distinguish between "negative-positive" neutrality, which puts the emphasis first on military deterrence and only afterwards on political reliability, and "positive-negative" neutrality, which first underlines reliability and only then deterrence. This is precisely the distinction between the neutrality of Sweden and that of Finland, respectively. The same distinction would apply to Jordan and Palestine, also respectively.
Contrary to Scandinavia, where neutrality can be defined as traditional neutrality, an attribute of which is freedom of choice, the more appropriate term for the neutrality applicable to the Middle East would be neutralization, in the context of which neutrality would be imposed on the state by means of international agreements. The outstanding characteristic of such a nation is that it is not neutral out of choice and, accordingly, cannot change its status according to its own wishes. In the Middle East, so filled with suspicions, this would somehow contribute to stability.
It should be noted that the question of Israel's (or Jordan's) preferences regarding the future of the Palestinian entity as a sovereign state, or as something less, within the context of a federation or confederation with Jordan, are irrelevant. An examination of recent processes in the international context, especially in Europe in the post-cold war era, shows that the question of "nationalism" or "supra-nationalism" is a function of political development; in the modern era, the future seems to lie in the system of blocs, provided that these are freely chosen (otherwise, we're talking about colonialism). In order to achieve political unity of either kind, as in Western Europe, for example, or as the Palestinian-Jordanian confederation proposes, a relatively homogeneous group of sovereign states with many years of sovereignty is required. Assets, including sovereignty, cannot be relinquished unless they exist. Thus the movement toward Palestinian independence does not contradict the at times unifying tendencies within the Arab world; rather, it constitutes a continuity: initially, Palestinian sovereignty in the framework of an independent state and later, relinquishing some of the rights of statehood in order to become integrated into a confederation with Jordan. The cases of the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia show what can be expected when an attempt is made to shorten these developmental processes by skipping over the initial stage of sovereignty. Introducing such a Trojan horse into our backyard would be unwise. Especially so, due to the unstable factor the "Arab Spring" contributes to the region, as mentioned.
Speculation about a neutral Palestinian state is not new, but it seems that contrary to conventional thinking which denies this possibility on the grounds that Palestine will be a purely Arab nation (neutrality does not mean ideological neutrality), in this case the problem lies in the fact that she would be an isolated buffer state, a situation which history has proved to be untenable in the long run. The solution proposed here corrects this deficiency, since not all of Palestine's borders would be confrontation borders, as she would be one out of two buffer states (along with Jordan). This is what makes them together a regional and stabilizing power. The buffer state thus in fact becomes a rim state, with all the advantages of the latter to a small and neutral country. This is the lesson one can learn and apply from the "Nordic Balance model." If we examine previous proposals for solving the Palestinian problem we see that what they demand of Jordan and Palestine is in fact neutrality, even if otherwise designated. For example, Jordan is called upon not to take part in any military alliance; not to allow foreign troops to be stationed on her soil, nor to enable such forces to use Jordanian territory as a corridor. Regarding Palestine, emphasis is being put on limitations concerning membership in military or political pacts. The fact that all these are characteristics of neutrality cannot be ignored.
As mentioned before in connection with the different shades of neutrality, here too the Nordic case can serve as a model for what can be implemented in the Middle East. In addition, the Soviet-Finnish border corrections as well as restrictions regarding the size and quality of the Finnish army determined in bilateral Soviet-Finnish agreements can serve as precedents.
Palestine, initially under Jordanian rule (until 1967) and later under Israeli rule, resembles Finland in this inconstancy. Until its independence, Finland was under Swedish rule (until 1809) and later under the rule of Imperial Russia (until 1917). It thus seems that the slogan of Finnish nationalists in the early 20th century, "Swedes we are not, we'll not be Russians, so let us be Finns," can be applied to the Palestinians, mutatis mutandis [changing (only) those things which need to be changed].
This proposal seems to be advantageous to all parties involved: Israel will gain peace and safeguard her security interests in the east and achieve regional and international recognition. Palestine will gain independence anchored in international agreements. Jordan will achieve international standing and a national role similar to that of Sweden during the Cold War, she will become a rim state instead of a buffer state, while protecting her interests in the face of Palestinian irredentism. The entire region will gain stability, even without a clear solution to the Israeli-Iranian tension (thus enabling also a successful American withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan within a broader regional settlement). This will be achieved thanks to the existence of a subsystem composed of nations which balance one another, with a dyad of two neutral countries in between, serving together as a regional buffer power.
"Peace by balance" to quote Raymond Aaron.
This proposal basically constitutes a conceptual framework for a lasting solution to the Palestinian problem. Many substantial issues, such as the final borders, the question of Jerusalem, the question of the Jewish settlers on the one hand and Palestinian refugees on the other hand, water allocation, involvement of the international community, and others, are not included. The intention is that the parties involved discuss these issues after establishing the framework recommended here.
The framework suggested here offers two significant contributions to furthering the peace process which are not included in the existing peace proposals:
1. to quote President Reagan, when talking to the Soviet leader Gorbachev at their meeting in Reykjavik in 1986, "We are armed because we don't trust each other and we don't trust each other because we are armed," it seems that the element of trust is the critical element necessary for breaking this vicious cycle which is related to the "Security Dilemma". The framework suggested here solves this dilemma because the establishment of a Palestinian state will become a source of stability in the area rather than a source of instability as is feared.
2. The author Amos Oz claimed, in his book Actually There Are Two Wars Here (in Hebrew), that Israel is experiencing two wars simultaneously: the first is against the Palestinians for which there is a wide consensus even within Israel that the solution has to be based on the principle of "two states for two peoples." The second, and more fundamental, is the war against Islamic fundamentalism. My claim is that the fear of the second war prevents a successful solution to the first war! The framework suggested here provides a solution to the first war through effective management of the second war. This can be accomplished because of the comprehensive nature of the model which is based, as mentioned, on a regional balance of power. This is what enables us both to refer to these two wars and also to distinguish between them.
This framework serves thus as the missing part to the successive implementation of the Clinton parameters the "Road Map" or the "Obama plan" for the broader Middle East. In other words, integration of these principles into the various peace proposals for the Middle East will ease the way for decision-makers on both sides to adopt and implement these ideas, both externally and internally. An implementation that, as mentioned, will sooner or later become imperative.