Peace in the Middle East: A Global Challenge and a Human Imperative
Dear Friends, Sisters and Brothers—
The Sydney Peace Foundation, its members and partners, as well as its distinguished director, Prof. Stuart Rees, have taken the difficult decision to make a difference, to stand up for justice and the pursuit of peace, and to intervene as a positive force in the resolution of global conflicts. I am truly honored to be included in this endeavor among such distinguished recipients of the Sydney Peace Prize. May I also view this prize as a recognition of all those who have maintained an unwavering commitment to a just resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, who have defied the prevailing dynamic of violence and the mutual infliction of pain and delegitimization, and who continue to provide hope in the midst of despair on both sides of the “divide.” Palestinians and Israelis, as well as people of good conscience throughout the world, will share the empowerment of this recognition as a significant force for reconciliation and inclusion.
You too have chosen courageously to take sides in the struggle against injustice as opposed to the refuge of so-called neutrality or the self-interest of power. You have refused to be deflected, intimidated, or silenced, exercising a tenacity and determination that are the rare attributes of moral leadership and genuine service. In this context, the Premier of New South Wales, Bob Carr, stands out as the most appropriate embodiment of these qualities. For that too, I am truly grateful.
It is precisely during such times of adversity and pain, of violence and victimization, of unilateralism and militarism, of ideological fundamentalism and absolutist exclusivity, that the world is most in need of voices and forces of sanity, reason and moral responsibility—the genuine building blocks of peace. As we witness attempts at imposing a simplistic view of a Manichean universe, of polarization and reductive stereotypes of good and evil, we are most in need of those who will engage in a redemptive validation of pluralism, tolerance, diversity, authenticity of identity, and the comprehensive engagement in collective responsibility. As such, it is up to us jointly to give both a voice and an audience to the silenced, and to grant space and time to the excluded and denied.
Such is the nature of intervention that the world requires, not only to resolve conflicts but also to prevent them from erupting or generating their own destructive forces that could spiral out of control. No conflict should take us by surprise, for all the symptoms are recognizable and the components definable. Long-standing grievances and inequities have become all too familiar and have been left to fester on their own or to be manipulated by the strong as a means of victimizing the weak. The nature of preemptive action must be, by necessity and choice, constructive, peaceful, and therapeutic.
Since an aspect of globalization is the redefinition of enemies and allies, friends and foes, crossing national, territorial, and cultural boundaries, the process of rectification must also utilize the means made available by the knowledge and IT revolution as tools of contemporary global realities. Thus hunger, poverty, illiteracy, the spread of disease, the degradation of the environment, the disenfranchisement of the weak, the suspension of human rights, among others, are all universal enemies that require the collective effort of universal allies. Human-based development programs and inclusive systems of governance remain the most appropriate means of empowerment.
Most significantly, the indispensable universal instruments remain those that ascertain a global rule of law, encompassing both state and non-state actors, capable of assessing culpability, providing accountability, and ensuring redress with justice. Along with their multilateral institutions, they remain safeguards against unilateral power on the rampage or destructive military preemption on the basis of subjective criteria.
With that in mind, peace in the Middle East, or the just solution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, can be addressed in its proper context as the longest standing case of military occupation and as the most persistent unresolved case of denial, dispossession and exile in contemporary history. As such, it is also an anachronism in that it has all the components of a colonial condition in a post neo-colonial world, plus the requirements of national self-determination as a basis of nascent statehood in a world moving towards regional and global redefinitions.
Regionally, the conflict has provided a convenient excuse for the suspension of human rights, the evasion of democratic systems of governance, the waste of natural and human resources, and the perpetuation of centralized regimes that held back the challenges of development—all under the guise of “national security” and the external military threat. For decades, war, or the threat of military hostilities, has served to maintain the status quo and has framed the region within misplaced notions of self defense that contributed to the rising power of extremism and fundamentalism rather than human empowerment and global engagement.
Peace, or the prospect thereof, is possibly the most effective force for dislodging such notions and trends, becoming, de facto, the most destabilizing factor in a region suffering from an imposed state of suspended animation. The legacy of colonialism clearly has served the interests of those in power, predominantly client regimes, who sought to maintain control, thereby leading to the collusion of internal and external forces in the exclusion of the people as a whole. A just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian-Israeli (and hence Arab-Israeli) conflict would unleash all those forces so far held in abeyance, but forming the indispensable energy for sustainable progress, development, democratization, and regional integration. While threatening short-term stability based on restrictive and constrictive norms and patterns, it constitutes the sole mechanism for any stability that can lay claim to permanence on the basis of contemporary and future-oriented political, social, cultural, and economic systems of cooperation and interdependence.
Globally, the Palestinian question remains central to any human vision of globalization as a test of the collective will to intervene and to maintain a global rule of law based on operative principles of justice and historical redemption. Granted, the current dynamic is antithetical to the aspirations of peacemakers who had based their endeavors on the universality of human rights, parity before the law, positive intervention, and the non-violent resolution of conflicts through redress and the elimination of grievances. A serious paradigm shift is necessary for the restoration of these human values that have been subverted in the aftermath of September 11 and the triumph of the neoconservatives and fundamentalist ideologues in key power centers.
The logic of peace that had been formulated painstakingly (and painfully) as the substance of Palestinian-Israeli encounters and dialogues, even long before negotiations, is currently being drowned by the din of war drums and the frenzied mutual infliction of pain over the last three years. Such tragic and unprecedented pervasive violence is not only eradicating previous achievements and agreements, but is also destroying the prospects of any future reconciliation. Its most alarming impact is on the perceptions and attitudes of both peoples, particularly in the regression towards the fallacies of the past and the stance of mutual negation emanating from the revival of deep-seated existential fears of survival.
Such fallacies and false assumptions must be boldly confronted and systematically deconstructed if there is any hope of extricating both sides from this lethal and self-perpetuating trap of mutual destruction.
The notion that a whole nation can be brought to its knees by the use of unbridled violence, or that the will of a people can be defeated by military means must be discarded once and for all. Armies may be able to defeat other armies, but the limits of power are most apparent when used against civilians and non-combatants. Along with that, the fallacy that there is or can be a military solution to the conflict must be completely and irrevocably discarded.
Conversely, the emergence of the bizarre concept of a “balance of terror” has reinforced the irrational and immoral killing of civilians and the victimization of the innocent. The drive for revenge, like the escalation of military brutality, has generated the most tragic and futile momentum for escalation and self-destruction. On both sides, the “no holds barred” mindset has taken over as a mindless, visceral, repetitive response with horrific ramifications. The erroneous assumption that greater pain and punishment, or the escalation of failed measures, would somehow lead to “success” or the surrender of one side to the other is at the heart of the prevailing dynamic of death and devastation.
Related to that is the notion that a people under occupation will eventually come to be reconciled to the fact of their captivity and to accept their fate without struggling for freedom and dignity. Self determination to the Palestinian people is not an abstraction, but the actual realization and enactment of their identity on their own land, and a motivating force for independence and statehood. It is the final negation of the myth of a “land without a people for a people without a land” that has long framed the rationalization for the most extreme forms of Zionism that sought to deny the very existence and humanity of the Palestinians.
For the conflict to be resolved, its causes must be identified and solved, while grievances and fears on both sides must be addressed and laid to rest. Neither side can lay claim to a monopoly of pain and suffering, in the same way as it cannot claim exclusivity of narrative and legitimacy. Clearly, peace cannot be made incumbent upon converting all Palestinians to Zionism or transforming all Israelis to espouse Palestinian nationalism.
The denial or distortion of the narrative of the other has served as a convenient vehicle for the dehumanization of the adversary and hence as a justification for all forms of violations and atrocities while evading accountability. Historical records must be reconciled, whether in the recognition of the horror of the holocaust and all its horrendous implications, or in the historical victimization of the Palestinian people and their dual tragedy of dispossession and exile, on the one hand, and oppression and occupation on the other.
It should also become apparent that, ironically, in this context the Palestinians and Israelis have reached the stage of dependent legitimacies rather than a competition over a singular and mutually exclusive legitimacy. Since the essential requirement for peace lies in sharing the land of historical Palestine, it follows that there has to be a shared legitimacy based on parity and mutuality. Neither side can (or should be allowed to) destroy the other physically, morally, or legally. A full admission of equal value to human lives and rights must be internalized, with no claims to superiority on those most essential human values and attributes.
In the same way, there can be no exclusivity of claims—whether to the land or to security or to the discourse and public presentation of the issues. Shared boundaries exist both as territorial and as moral/human concepts of proximity and interaction. Security, therefore, is a factor of mutuality and interdependence, emanating from the core considerations of the totality of human imperatives. Historical, territorial, cultural, economic, social, personal, existential, legal, and political dimensions of security must shape the issues and drive the process beyond the narrow confines of military security. A human and humanistic strategic approach to peace is by definition one of integrated empowerment rather than the stratagems of power politics or coercion or military control.
At the opposite pole, the fallacy of fundamentalism, or even divine intervention and dispensation, has been exploited to justify absolutism and exclusivity, thereby ending all hope of a solution based on accommodation, while claiming unrestricted license to kill and destroy. Extremist ideologies tend to thrive in times of despair and insecurity, and like the recourse to violence and militarism, they signal an absence of effective workable solutions and handles on reality.
Radicalization is also a factor of distortion in the sweeping ideologies and simplistic generalizations of theories such as the “clash of civilizations” or “war among religions” or the imposition of democracy by force of arms. Increasing polarization widens the gap and warps any vision of reconciliation not only by depicting the conflict as part of a grand sweep of teleological proportions, but primarily by rendering it impossible to resolve through available peaceful means of practical and legal disentanglement. Inevitability of conflict as defined by an abstract universal design is directly antithetical to responsibility and intervention.
By now it has become apparent that the assumption that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a purely bilateral issue and can be resolved by the two sides without third party intervention is entirely false. It has been variously used to maintain the asymmetry of power, to justify the lack of political will or the impotence of external actors, and to sustain other false assumptions such as the “peace through exhaustion” fallacy or “intervention following sufficient bloodshed.”
The need for third party intervention is not only a factor of balance, but an indispensable force for breaking the lethal cycle of violence and revenge, while providing a context for legality, arbitration, and guarantees. A genuine form of multilateralism and collective responsibility is the sine qua non of the resolution of this conflict. Artificial, unilateral, and power separation such as that represented by the expansionist apartheid wall is a recipe for further conflict and greater violence—not least for encapsulating many forms of coercive injustice including land and water theft, fragmentation of Palestinian reality and the creation of isolated ghettoes, and imposing political boundaries that destroy the chances of a viable Palestinian state, hence of a just peace.
Palestinian nation-building and statehood are imperative for peace and stability throughout the region. Democracy and separation of powers, the rule of law and respect for human rights, institution-building and good governance, transparent accountability and reform—all are the ingredients of viable Palestinian statehood. The occupation, however intrusive, must not be used as an excuse to avoid responsibility. Similarly, negotiations and compliance with agreements must not be suspended pending the establishment of a Palestinian Utopia. Devolution of occupation and evolution of statehood must proceed simultaneously with urgency and commitment as interdependent processes.
An instrument like the Road Map of the erstwhile Quartet could have served as a lifeline for peace had it been implemented with speed and integrity, with clear timelines, monitoring and verification mechanisms, and the courage to exercise impartial accountability. The incorporation of the Israeli amendments in the implementation has tarnished the integrity of the text and of the external actors as well. Frontloading the process with Palestinian obligations, adopting the sequential and conditional approach, and creating further interim phases without guarantees on the ground have rendered the Road Map inoperative and subject to extremists on both sides. Absent political will, even-handedness, and seriousness of intent, third party intervention could backfire and aggravate the conflict further through dashed hopes and let-downs.
However, third party interventions can also be destructive if motivated by special agendas, if they exercise bias, and if they are incapable of effecting reality on the ground. Without substance, legitimacy, and applicability such interventions create a semblance of engagement without coming to grips with the reality of the conflict itself. When the issue is relocated domestically to become part of internal political realities, particularly in election votes and funds or the influence of special interest groups, then the question becomes one of exploitation and self interest rather than serving the cause of peace.
The most detrimental external interference is that of the zealots and enthusiasts who embrace the most extreme long-distance stances with the “passionate intensity” of the “worst.” Blind loyalty for, and identification with, one side lead to the adoption of the most strident belligerency towards the other, hence intensifying the conflict and subverting dialogue and rational communication. Islamic fundamentalists and regressive brands of Arab nationalists have ironically joined forces with Christian evangelicals, Jewish fundamentalists, and ideological neoconservatives to fight their own proxy wars at the expense of moderate Palestinians and Israelis alike. Such radical apologists have inflicted serious damage and pain from their safe distance in Riyadh, Damascus, Washington, Knoxville, or Sydney demonstrating the type of intervention that no peace can survive.
The superimposition of blind loyalty or guilt has revived the worst of racist labeling and dehumanization with the additional superimposition of false analogies. It may be convenient to label all Palestinians as “terrorists” and dismiss them from the conscience of the world in the context of the “war on terrorism.” It may be equally convenient to describe the Israeli occupation’s measures of aerial bombardment and shelling of Palestinian civilian areas, of assassinations and abduction, of home demolition and destruction of crops, of siege and fragmentation, of checkpoints and humiliation, of illegal settlements and apartheid walls and annexation fences as legitimate forms of “self-defense.” It may be comfortable to dismiss decades of military occupation and dispossession as figments of the victim’s imagination, hence irrelevant to the current conflict. However, such scoring of points only makes the solution all that more distant.
So far, the solution remains simple and attainable, having been repeatedly defined and having become part of a global consensus. The two-state solution is still possible, though becoming increasingly more difficult with the expansion of settlements, by-pass roads, and the apartheid wall throughout Palestinian territory. The bi-national state as a de facto solution will become the only option should Israel continue its expansion and its refusal to withdraw to the June 4, 1967 lines and remove the settlements of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Territoriality will give way to demography, and the issue then will become one of democracy, with Zionism forced to reexamine its most basic premises.
Jerusalem, both East and West, can become an open city and the shared capital of two states, thus encapsulating the essence of peace and regaining its stature as a city much greater than itself and not subject to exclusive possession or greed of acquisition. The Palestinian refugees must be granted historical, legal, moral, and human recognition and redress in accordance with international law and the requirements of justice. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, but there is a need for the will and courage to act against all adverse forces.
Dear friends, sisters and brothers—as we hurtle towards the abyss, as we daily lose unique, irreplaceable lives, and as attitudes and hearts are hardening, may I take a moment to recognize this luminous instant in history that you are affording us. You have chosen to intervene on the side of those who have decided to take risks for peace rather than those who thrive on hate and conflict. It certainly takes a unique form of courage, tenacity, and distinctive human priorities to challenge prevailing fallacies and injustices. On behalf of the Palestinian people as a whole, and on behalf of all Palestinians and Israelis who have maintained their partnership for peace, and on behalf of all those who are in solidarity with our joint effort, I thank you. You have taken up a global challenge, and you certainly embody its human dimension. We are indeed heartened and empowered.
Acceptance speech delivered by Dr. Hanan Ashrawi at the Sydney Peace Prize ceremony, November 5th, 2003.