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My view: Policy issues and strategies for Israeli-Palistinian peace

By Adan Suazo

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Aug. 29 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

Updated: Thursday, Aug. 28 2014 6:47 p.m. MDT

In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, three key policy angles are currently not being touched upon by decision-makers: military disproportionality, religion and peacemaking and political inclusion patterns.

Bernat Armangue, Associated Press

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In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, three key policy angles are currently not being touched upon by decision-makers: military disproportionality, religion and peacemaking and political inclusion patterns. By not prioritizing these key policy concerns, it’s hard to envision brokered peace in this conflict, given its history and its strong polarizing potential.

Unlike many accounts, organized violent behavior in the Israel-Palestine conflict is not one-sided. This is not to say that the parties’ military capabilities are equal. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Israel spent $16 billion on its military in 2013. In contrast, the Palestinian Authority’s entire budget for 2013 amounted to $3.9 billion. Despite the clear military disproportionality, it’s wrong to argue that aggressive behavior is one-sided, or that there is only one victimized group. Both sides have engaged in military action, though proportionate with their armies’ capacities.

Given the heavy military unevenness featured in this conflict, there needs to be a stronger focus on issues like demobilization. While Egypt’s proposed cease-fire would help facilitate a temporary period of reflection and provision of humanitarian aid, it may also allow regrouping and rearming on both sides. A cease-fire would not affect the parties’ overall capacity to wage war, especially if each party perceives that a military victory is attainable. A focus on demobilization affects the direct costs of waging war, increasing the expenses connected with regrouping and remobilizing, which may reduce the likelihood of war recurrence.

In terms of how the conflict has been explained in policy circles, the two-state solution advocated by many actors, including the U.S., is built on the belief that Israeli-Palestinian hostilities are based solely on territorial claims. While this remains true in conventional academic and policy terms, there is a problem with approaching this issue on territorial considerations alone.

Religion plays a key role both in the development of war rationale and on the structural makeup of Israel's and Palestine's social and political infrastructures. At the core of this conflict, legal claims over territory are tightly intertwined with religious history. Any peace plan that tries to bridge these territorial claims with a two-state solution must take into account the religious component.

As Yehezkel Landau argues in his 2003 United States Institute of Peace research report on religious peacemakers in Israel and Palestine, religious traditions are paramount for the identity-building process of both Israel and Palestine, deeming them inseparable from most aspects of everyday life. To adopt a secularized, Western conception of a peace solution would risk overlooking the important connections that exist between religion and both parties' claims over territory.

Conventional views of political inclusion are present throughout the currently proposed solutions for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, inclusion in the peace process was based on the idea that two negotiating parties were enough to ensure legitimacy and representativeness of the peace deliberations.

By initially bringing together individuals close to Israeli and Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) decision-makers, a proper peace process was allowed to transition toward a formal peace agreement. This two-party exclusivity reflected the perceived dual nature of the conflict at that time (though it did exclude the most radical settlers and Islamists, who then engaged in enough spoiler attacks to derail the process).

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