Nor has Palestinian rhetoric changed for the better. The eliminationist desires of the Palestinian leadership—and I’m not talking here about Hamas, but about our ostensible peace partner, the PA—remain as ingrained as ever. At the end of April, for example, Rabi Khandaqji, the PA governor of the West Bank City of Qalqilya, reaffirmed that the Palestinians would never abandon the so-called “right of return.” Palestinian refugees, Khandaqji declared, would return “to Haifa, Nazareth and Acre”—all cities that lie inside the pre-1967 borders of Israel. This isn’t code for the destruction of Israel. It’s an explicit call for the destruction of Israel.
The traditional approach of American and western negotiators has been to play down this kind of rhetoric as ideological baggage that will disappear once meaningful progress has been made. Time and again, this patronizing, even racist, manner, which treats Arab politicians as tantrum-prone children who say things they don’t really mean, has been proved wrong by events. And yet, the template for peace negotiations has barely been modified during the last 20 years.
Which is why negotiators at the State Department would be wise to consult an important new paper published by two Israeli academics, Joel Fishman and Kobi Michael, in the academic journal, the Jewish Political Studies Review. Introducing the notion of a “positive peace,” Fishman and Michael warn against efforts to create a Palestinian state without worrying about its governance and internal political culture, since this would increase “the chances of bringing into being one more failed and warlike state that would become a destabilizing force in the region.”
Positive peace, the authors assert, is not just the about the absence of war, nor about elevating the right of national self-determination above all other considerations. “The real problem,” they write, “is that, long ago, the would-be peacemakers, in their haste and fear of failure, did not frame the problem correctly. They failed to ask the right question. In order to avoid disagreement, they concentrated on process and postponed the substantive issues of content. They hoped that the dynamic of congenial negotiations would facilitate a favorable outcome. By taking refuge in process and hoping to keep the negotiations ‘on track,’ they neglected the real goal: building a stable and sustainable peace, or positive peace.”
In the Israeli-Palestinian context, a positive peace entails a complete overhaul of the zero-sum attitude toward Israel that has become institutionalized in Palestinian politics. For decades, the Palestinians have regarded negotiations as simply one of several avenues in pursuing their war on Israel’s existence: armed struggle, more accurately defined as terrorism, has been another, while the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign is yet another.
Fishman and Michael cite the pioneering Israeli scholar Yehoshafat Harkabi’s observation that in Arab discourse, the idea of peace with justice is equivalent to the vision of a Middle East without Israel. And in marked contrast to American worries that time is running out, they point out that as far as the Palestinians are concerned, …read more