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Israel and the Palestinians: A New Strategy

By Moshe Yaalon

The former IDF chief of staff proposes a different approach to dealing with an old conflict.


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D
ietrich Bonhoeffer, a German priest executed by the Nazis, once wrote, “If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the opposite direction.”1 Fifteen years ago, the signing of the Oslo accords with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) raised hopes that Israel had boarded the “peace train.”2 Over the years, however, it became clear that the train was not headed for the promised destination. Nevertheless, Israel’s leadership has been pointlessly running along the corridor ever since.
The shattered hopes left in Oslo’s wake have been the subject of numerous books, articles, and opinion columns.3 Most attempt to identify a single cause for the collapse of the peace process, be it the Hebron massacre, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership, the lack of chemistry between Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat, Operation Defensive Shield, IDF roadblocks, or the expansion of the settlements, to name just a few. Such explanations naturally involve playing the blame game or—particularly in the case of many Israeli analysts—engaging in self-flagellation. The problem with these assessments is that any attempt to single out a particular point in time at which the “peace train” derailed usually betrays an unwillingness to face an uncomfortable yet undeniable fact: It was the wrong train to begin with.
If we truly seek to understand why the Oslo peace process failed, we must reevaluate the fundamental principles of the strategy employed by the architects of the agreement, one of which—arguably the most important—was the assumption that bold diplomacy is the driving force behind historical compromise between two nations. Accordingly, the logic that dominated the Oslo process was based on the idea that negotiations and agreements are a necessary prologue to the achievement of tangible change in security, economic, and social conditions. Put simply, Israeli statesmen hoped that diplomatic breakthroughs reached at the negotiating table would pave the way to ending the larger conflict. They believed that treaties, goodwill gestures, and territorial concessions would ease tensions and violence in the region, and, as a result, security and stability would return to Israel’s narrow strip of land.4
This doctrine had already begun to falter before the outbreak of the Palestinian war against Israel in September 2000, but the extent to which it was in truth a monumental mistake has since become abundantly clear. Over the past eight years, the gap between the aspirations of the peace process and the dismal reality on the ground has expanded ad absurdum. Ostentatious international summits and the celebrated declarations they produced—including the pretentious Annapolis summit in November 2007—have yielded nothing but broken promises. In the face of the Palestinian Authority’s descent into corruption and violent chaos, the “peace process” has turned out to be an empty delusion.
In light of this, Israel and the West have no choice but to revise their entire policy toward the Palestinians. This requires not merely cosmetic alterations, or still more intensive efforts to advance the old Oslo process, but an alternative strategy that will redefine our objectives and the means necessary for their realization.
In outlining such a strategy, we must learn from our bitter experience, and realize, once and for all, that even the most impressive treaties carry no weight if one of the signatories is unable—or unwilling—to fulfill its commitments. Therefore, we need to turn the Oslo approach on its head: Instead of trying to achieve historical change “from the top down,” exaggerating the importance of declarations handed down to the masses as if from the peak of a diplomatic Mount Olympus, we should adopt a new, more pragmatic policy that promotes change “from the bottom up.” Such a strategy should seek to establish stability and security first, to be followed only later—and perhaps after a great lapse of time—by peace.
In this essay, I will outline some of the ideas that I have formulated together with my colleagues at the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies, according to which the establishment of a stable Palestinian society ought to be seen as an indispensable condition for any significant diplomatic progress. It is, however, highly doubtful that such a society will be established unless we properly understand what has hindered it thus far, and what we can do to advance it in the future. 
 

Moshe Ya’alon is a former IDF chief of staff and a distinguished fellow at the Shalem Center’s Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies in Jerusalem.






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