The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Imperatives and Choises

by Alon Ben-Mei Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is an expert on Middle East politics and affairs, specializing in peace negotiations between Israel and the Arab states. For the past twenty five years, Dr. Ben-Meir has been directly involved in various negotiations and has operated as a liaison between top Arab and Israeli officials. Dr. Ben-Meir serves as senior fellow at New York University's School of Global Affairs where he has been teaching courses on the Middle East and negotiations for 18 years. He is also a Senior Fellow and the Middle Eastern Studies Project Director at the World Policy Institute. Dr. Ben-Meir hosts "Global Leaders: Conversations with Alon Ben-Meir," a series of debates and conversations with top policy-makers around the world. He also regularly holds briefings at the US State Department for international visitors. Dr. Ben-Meir writes frequently and has appeared in numerous newspapers, magazines and websites including the Middle East Times, the Christian Science Monitor, Le Monde, American Chronicle, the Week, the Political Quarterly, Israel Policy Forum, Gulf Times, the Peninsula, The Jerusalem Post, and the Huffington Post. He also makes regular television and radio appearances, and has been featured on networks such as CNN, FOX, PBS, ABC, al Jazeera (English and Arabic), and NPR. He has authored six books related to Middle East policy and is currently working on a book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Dr. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. He is fluent in English, Arabic, and Hebrew. 18.01.2012
For more than two decades I have been involved as a researcher, writer and as a back-channel interlocutor in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The question that has puzzled me as well as the multitude of observers, researchers and even those directly involved in the peace negotiations is why, after 64 years of blood and toil, successive Israeli governments and Palestinian authorities have failed to find a solution when, in fact, peaceful co-existence based on a two-state solution is the only sane choice.

Certainly there is an explanation to every aspect of the conflict and how it has evolved over the last six decades but the one thing that has largely escaped the public domain is the psychological dimension of the conflict and its impact on every contentious issue between the two parties. Moreover, the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been punctuated by intense violence has increasingly deepened the suspicion and mistrust between the Israelis and the Palestinians. As a result, many on both sides have resigned themselves to the belief that it is futile to continue the peace negotiations and hopeless to think they will ever reach an agreement.

What seems to have also escaped the public discourse are the facts that for the past three years, the level of violence has greatly diminished due mainly to two developments: a) the Palestinian Authority has officially abandoned violence as a means to achieve its political objective of founding a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza; and b) Israel’s incursion into Gaza in 2008-2009 forced Hamas to recognize that militant resistance towards Israel might have run its course. Moreover, the outbreak of the Arab Spring has demonstrated that whereas the Arab governments have portrayed Israel in the past as the primary culprit behind their socio-economic and political ills, the Arab youth held their own governments responsible for their ailments and refused to use Israel or other foreign powers as the scapegoats to justify the failure of their governments.

Due to the fact that this is an election year in the US, Israel and perhaps among the Palestinians, many noted observers suggest that not much can really be done to during this period advance the peace process. I disagree. These developments between Israel and the Palestinians and in the Arab world offer a momentous opportunity to mitigate the psychological aspects of the conflict within, and outside, the governing bodies, while addressing each conflicting issue in that context and in an atmosphere devoid of daily violence. Failing to seize the moment will only strengthen the anti-peace camp on both sides and make the conflict inevitably more intractable, thereby deferring any solution for many years to come at an extremely high cost in blood and treasure.

To provide the rationale behind this thesis and allay some of the reservations some may have about the prospects of finding a solution, I wrote an eight-part essay. Each part deals with one aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and offers, I trust, a practical, equitable and mutually-beneficial solution. Each part of the essay stands on its own and will be sent for publication and to my general distributors on Thursdays beginning the 26th of January in the following order:

1)    The Psychological Dimension of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

2)    Reconciling Between Hamas and Israel

3)    Maintaining the Jewish National Identity of Israel

4)    Borders and Israel’s National Security

5)    The Disposition of the Settlements

6)    The Solution to the Palestinian Refugees

7)    The Future of Jerusalem

8)    Developing a Structure for a Sustainable Israeli-Palestinian Peace

I hope that you will find my analysis and approach in the search for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict compelling and I look forward to receiving any comments or observations you may have. I would be most grateful if you share this series of articles with your contacts in the hope of creating a much wider discussion to help contribute to bringing an end to one of the most debilitating conflicts of our time.

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