Peace is Possible But Not Likely

There is a widespread assumption that resolution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is an extremely complex issue, and that the United States has been and is the best hope for peace. The reality, however, is just the opposite.

Peace between Israelis and Palestinians is possible because Israeli security and Palestinian rights are not mutually exclusive, but mutually dependent on the other. Israel will not be secure until the Palestinians are granted their legitimate rights, and the Palestinians will not be granted their rights until Israel’s legitimate security needs are met.

Unlike some periods in the country’s past, Israel’s survival is no longer at stake. The Israeli military is far more powerful than any combination of Arab armies. Israelis are generally quite secure within their country’s internationally recognized borders. Although occasional suicide bombings cannot be ruled out in Israel or any other country, the cross-border guerrilla raids, which terrorized the country in previous years, also seem to be a thing of the past due to high-tech border security measures.

Where Israeli soldiers and civilians are most vulnerable is in occupied Palestinian territories seized by Israel in the 1967 war: the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. This is where rioting Palestinians have attacked Israelis—not within Israel itself.

Though this captured Palestinian land was supposed to be a buffer zone to protect Israel, the Israelis have colonized these territories in violation of the Geneva Convention, which prohibits countries from transferring any part of their civilian population onto territories seized by military force. United Nations Security Council resolution 446, adopted unanimously with United States support, insists that Israel withdraw from these settlements.

These illegal settlements and the network of highways connecting them with each other and with Israel have made the establishment of a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza impossible, since it would be limited to a patchwork of territory divided into small non-contiguous units.

These settlements and roads—reserved for Jews only—not only create an apartheid-like situation, but also make it extremely difficult for Israeli forces to defend against a hostile population angry that their best land has been confiscated by foreign occupiers. Israel would be far more secure defending a clearly defined and internationally recognized border than this network of outposts within Palestinian territory.

The way to peace, then, is rather straightforward: Israel would repatriate its settlers and withdraw its occupation troops from lands seized in the 1967 war, in return for security guarantees from the Palestinian Authority and the right of access to Jewish holy places. Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat has already offered just such a deal. Furthermore, Israel has no choice: It is required to do so under a series of UN Security Council resolutions, including 242, which the U.S. long insisted should be the basis of negotiations.

Unfortunately, the Clinton administration sees it otherwise, refusing to insist that Israel live up to its international obligations and its own self-interest. Instead, the U.S. has claimed the Palestinians have not compromised enough, even though Arafat has already conceded 78% of the original Palestine to the Israelis in the Oslo Accords.

Furthermore, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has insisted that all previous UN resolutions on the conflict are no longer relevant, claiming they have been superceded by the Oslo Accords. However, no bilateral agreement between two parties can supersede the authority of the United Nations Security Council, particularly since one of the two parties has made it clear that such resolutions are still valid, a position confirmed by the Secretary General and every other Security Council member.

Not only has the United States blocked the UN from enforcing its resolutions through sanctions against Israel, the U.S. continues to bankroll Israeli occupation forces through large-scale military and economic aid. In addition, the Clinton administration is actually funding the construction of the highways linking the settlements. This places the United States in violation of UN Security Council resolution 465, which calls upon all states “not to provide Israel with any assistance to be used specifically in connection with settlements in the occupied territories.”

It is therefore quite understandable why the United States is no longer trusted to be an honest broker in the negotiations. It is not surprising that so many Palestinians have resorted to violence in demanding rights denied to them by a “peace process” so antithetical to their legitimate aspirations. And it is no wonder that perhaps the most frustrated people of all are the moderate Israelis and Palestinians, whose dream of living in two states side by side has been shattered by Israeli intransigence, Palestinian reaction, and—perhaps most importantly—American ineptitude.