The International Institute for Inter-Religious, Multiethnic and Middle-East Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana constantly analyses events in the Middle East and brings them to the attention of international public. One such contribution is this analysis of the conflict and present events between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Two years after Intifada, seven years after Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination – where are the Israelis and the Palestinians?
One of the results of the military defeat of Iraq in 1991 was the initiation of peace negotiations in Oslo and the signing of the Oslo Peace Agreement by Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yaser Arafat. Millions of Palestinians could then start to realise their dreams of the independent Palestinian state, and on the other hand, the Israeli people could realise their dreams of living together in peace with their Arab neighbours. PLO abandoned the prevailing ideology of the removal of Israel and throwing the Israelis into the sea.
The Palestinians gained autonomous power, the Legislative Council, the government, the negotiation group for resolving the disputed issues of the refugees, Jerusalem and the borders of the future Palestinian state. The Palestinian leader made the worst mistake in December 2000 when he refused the Camp David Peace Plan according to which the Palestinians would gain sovereignty over the Arab part of Jerusalem while Israel would keep the West Jerusalem and the Armenian Quarter.
As regards the border, the American plan suggested that Israel gain certain settlements on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as the compensation if the Palestinians gain certain areas in the Nagav desert. Obviously, there is no solution which would provide an answer to the return of Palestinian refugees.
Meanwhile, however, corruption has gained ground in the autonomous power and the life of Palestinians was not improved despite enormous help arriving from the EU, USA and the Islam countries. This was the perfect atmosphere for the development of militant Islamic organisations and groups (Hamas, Jihad). Such organisations wanted to assert themselves as partners and negotiators in the peace process, but in this way they only further exhausted the already weak Palestinian power.
What did the Palestinians get? They got fanatics willing to die since they have no hopes of the better future. The Palestinian territory has become the second Somaliland with each part of the area having its own militia. Thousands of killed, injured, city blockades, exiled, disabled, unemployed, leadership isolated from the people etc. Dreams of the Palestinian own state have in reality reduced to dreams of ending the stand-off of the Church of the Nativity and the complex in Ramallah.
During this time, Israel gained a lot in foreign policy. The United Nations withdrew their previous resolutions, during two years of Intifada they increased the number of settlements and the number of Jewish inhabitants on the West Bank. On the internal political field, moderate Israeli groups lost their influence and distinctiveness while LIKUD gained more political trust and continued with the even more determined politics and response to terrorism. Their political strategy is based on the persecution of Arafat and transfer of Palestinians from the West to the East Bank.
Ten years after the Oslo Peace Agreement Palestinians gained more than in the past 30 years of war. However, the Palestinians were deluded by their leaders and Arab allies into thinking that terrorism and suicidal attacks could help them achieve the desired goals. They forgot or disregarded the fact that during the last 50 years Israel has become a modern state with strong democratic institutions. We can compare the acts of Palestinians with IRA and ETA terrorist attacks which did not succeed in overthrowing the British nor the Spanish government with their bombs and assassinations.
The Oslo Peace Agreement is dead, or better, makes no sense any more. The new round of negotiations with the future LIKUD government (to take place on 28 January 2003) will have to include other organisations, such as the moderate Palestinian political organisations. The election of Amran Mitzna to the leader of Labourites in Israel will not alter the situation. Mitzna's promise regarding the transfer of Palestinians from the West Bank is not realistic since such intentions have been expressed for years but no progress has been made in this direction. There is more realism in the opinion shared by LIKUD and the Prime Minister Sharon (most likely the winners of the next elections) on the one hand, and the IFIMES Institute on the other hand, that is necessary to find the common points in the Road Map Plan as the starting point for further negotiations. There is more realism noticed also on the Palestinian side. Minister for information of the Palestinian autonomous power, Yaser Abd Raba (who is a high official in PLO) stated at the conference of the European Green Parties in Brussels that the Palestinians are ready to resolve the question of return of refugees on the basis of Clinton's plan which does not envisage the return to Israel but the settlement in Gaza, the West Bank and other countries , where they are located at the moment and can stay there as citizens with equal rights.
The negotiations should be initiated on the basis of the Michelo's recommendation and the Road Map plan.
The IFIMES analysts believe that the peace agreement can gain additional impetus if all the sides are ready to support it. Pursuant to Articles 4, 6 and 7 of the National Security Strategy which President Bush submitted to the Congress, the USA have to look for the solutions regarding the Middle East. Article 4 of that Strategy envisages co-operation with others in preventing conflicts, Article 6 provides for support of the free market and Article 7 establishes the broadening of the circle of economic development through the development of democratic infrastructure. The USA have started with the activities from Article 7, i.e. democratisation of the Middle East, the first piece in the mosaic being Iraq which should, following the regime of Saddam Hussein, turn into an example of democracy for others and take an active part in the peace process by assuming certain obligations related to that process.
IFIMES believes that the defeat of Saddam Hussein in the Desert Storm actually meant the defeat of Arafat and therefore forced the Palestinians to come to Oslo in 1992. Most Arab states are dictatorial and the main deficiency of the region is lack of democracy and of instruments for its implementation as well as for the implementation of respect of human rights. IFIMES is stressing that the West will have to start direct communication with the Muslim and the Arab nations and give up the practice of communicating through state media and corrupt regimes which have been creating the atmosphere of hatred instead of dialogue and understanding. For example, they refer to Israel as the »occupied territory« or the »Zionistic formation« and to the Jews as Zionists etc.
The Middle East should be regionalised by creating a formation similar to the Europe of regions. Iraq could be divided into four cantons (Shiitic, Sunnite, Kurdish and Turkmen) or two entities (Kurdish and Arab), Egypt could have a Coptic entity, Saudi Arabia should be united into four federal units (Najid, Hijaz, Aseer, the East province), while the division of Sudan should be prevented by giving the SPLA a greater role in the Sudanese federal government. This seems to be a good recipe also for other conflicts in the region (Algeria, Somaliland, Syria, Lebanon) since it would provide the conditions for resolving the ethnic and religious problems in the Middle East and open the door to a new regulation of the circumstances in the region.
The Arabs should realise that the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel is not possible since it would endanger the existence of Israel as the Jewish state. According to the well-known analyst, Jehud Litani, the dream of the division of Palestine is unfeasible, nor is it possible to put up protective walls between the West Bank and Gaza. After sixty years of hardship in refugee camps, the Palestinian people expect the solution of their status either on certain areas of the West Bank or by settling in other Arab states. Until 1991, in Iraq and other Gulf states there were over half a million Palestinians who were exiled due to the alliance between Saddam Hussein and Arafat after the invasion of Kuwait. The priorities for the Palestinian people are the regulation of civil status, housing, education and other basic conditions needed for a dignified human life. For a Palestinian, these needs have priority over all other issues.
The Israelis and the Palestinians should talk openly with the new leaders of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Jordan on the legalisation of status and granting of rights to Palestinian refugees on equal terms with other citizens.
The IFIMES Institute believes that the role of certain institutions should be transformed or even replaced and new institutions established in order to look for (and find) solutions for the whole region. As a guideline we recommend the establishment of the Middle East Partnership for Peace which would replace all the so far existing ineffective institutions: the Arab League, the Gulf States Co-operation Council (GCC) and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC).