The Tangled Course to Middle East Peace

By Dan Lieberman

Decades of resolutions, arguments, and negotiations have maintained the Middle East struggle as a Middle East struggle. A major thrust attempts to resolve the crisis by negotiations leading to two independent states – a natural and conventional procedure. Analysis contradicts the conventional approach and indicates it is a backward process. The analysis considers the following:

(1) Although nations have severely criticized Israel’s policies, approaches to resolution of the crisis have strongly favored Israel. 

(2) This favoritism has distorted the real issues and problems, including their definitions.

 (3) Misrepresentation of the problems has skewed the dialogue and deflected the discussions from a credible solution. 

(4)  The fate of the Palestinian displaced persons and Hamas’ participation in the proceedings are essential factors that need to be included in resolving the struggle.

(5) The Palestinian state cannot be forced. Building institutions precedes construction of a viable state and prepares for negotiations to end any conflicts.

Favoring Israel

Despite continuous criticism of Israel’s polices and a multitude of United Nations Resolutions charging Israel with violations of international law, western governments have permitted Israel to define the arguments of the crisis and set the agenda for its termination. Despite being aware that the United States would veto UN Security Council Resolutions, which might have forced Israel to modify its policies, nations have never prepared alternative means for accomplishing Resolution purposes.  Just the opposite has occurred: Israel has pursued its program without interruption; characterized by land seizures, oppressive actions and settlements. 

The psychological and political favoritisms continue into the present. A few of thousands of biased instances:

Hundreds of mostly homemade rockets and mortars that struck southern Israel without a single casualty immediately before Operation Cast Lead are equated with Israel’s more deadly blockade of Gaza and its well placed missiles that killed about 1400 Palestinians, wounded about 5000, scarred the countryside and destroyed commerce.

The Palestinians, who are subjected to daily attacks and to control of their entire lives, lead one of the most insecure lives on the planet. Yet, Israel’s security, regardless of its overpowering military force, which includes nuclear weapons, most concerns the western world.

Gilad Shalit, one captive Israeli soldier, receives periodic media attention to his plight, while 10,000 Palestinians, who languish in Israeli prisons without due process of law; are not publicized. These prisoners are only a portion of tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who have spent a major part of their lives in Israeli detention centers. Families without breadwinners. Children without fathers.

All attempts at peaceful settlement of issues contain discussions of how Israel can retain the territorial gains ruled illegal by the UN.

Even Israel’s detractors couple their charges with the slogan: “It’s good for Israel.”

Whereas western nations have reacted violently to virulent nationalism, militarism, land seizures and irredentism, they have tolerated Israel’s inclusion of these characteristics in its agenda.

The world allies with most Arab governments to battle Islamic extremists. In Israel Judaic extremists are permitted to grow.

All of this is confirmed by Israel’s Minister of Information’s shrewdly placed expression that has become slogan in all naïve western nations; “Special relationship with Israel.”

Due to the western world’s bent that favors Israel, the crisis for which Israel has responsibility has been detoured to a conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in which the Palestinians are depicted as having major responsibility.

Crisis and not Conflict

Wikipedia defines it well: “Conflict is actual or perceived opposition of needs, values and interests.” Conflict between Israelis and Palestinians there is; for sure, but the opposing forces in this conflict are magnitudes unequal and their ‘conflict’ proceeds from provocations. Defining the situation as a conflict is misleading.

The never ending ‘Peace Process’ falters because peace resolves conflict and what needs to be done is to end crises. Ending these crises is contained in externalities; in law, imposition, and justice and not in resolving conflict. This is not just semantics. Israel’s illegal seizure of territory, its documented oppression of Palestinians, and the refugee situation are crises and not conflicts. Skewing the debate from crises to conflict has added a multitude of issues that confuse the process, concealed the most paramount issues that need to be addressed and deflected the approach for resolving the crises.

Example:  The post World War II occupation of Germany created a crisis for the Germans but did not stir the Germans into a conflict with the occupying powers because the occupying powers permitted the Germans to continue with their lives and did not indicate intention to retain territory.

Resolving a crisis requires a different process than resolving a conflict. Plans of action, rather than negotiations, resolve crises, and we have negotiations.

Negotiations and the two-state solution

Israel wants the Palestinians to negotiate their surrender, which they will not do.

The Palestinians want Israel to negotiate retreat, which they will not do.

What is there to negotiate? 

The Palestinians have nothing to offer except to give up rights and territory. They can promise to stop terrorism – that’s easy – they consider it resistance and they won’t stop resistance.

Despite the usual statement from its Prime Minister of each moment: “We are prepared to make extraordinary and painful compromises,” Israel has never offered any compromise, and for a good reason – the state has nothing to compromise except to modify Resolution 181, which partitioned Palestine. Establishing oneself on another’s territory and oppressing them cannot be compromised. It can only be terminated.

 Reports have the U.S. asking Arab states to consider “opening Israeli trade offices in their capitals and allowing Israeli planes to fly over their territories” in return for an Israeli settlement freeze. Note that Israel has claimed that settlement expansion is a humanitarian consideration. Now we have it as  a compromise – a bargaining chip. What do the Arab governments policies  have to do with Israel’s illegal settlements? Doesn’t this use Palestinian victimization to obtain benefits for Israel? Soon, we’ll have Israel promising not to destroy olive trees in exchange for barrels of oil.   

Two states living side-by-side in peace is admirable. Who doesn’t want that? Well, neither side seems to want the admirable.

Unfortunately, no Israeli Prime Minister is prepared to enter history as the leader who stopped Israel’s drive in extending its territory, fulfilling Zionist stated ambitions after World War I, and swinging the pendulum the other way. Israel’s government perceives a Palestinian state as a haven for militants who will always desire return of lands and a potential ally of unfriendly states who will use Palestine as a base for attack. And then there are the water rights, fishing rights, air rights, and armament rights. Israel won’t concede to anything it has and knows it can easily take. Why change a good thing? Even if Israel agreed to the establishment of a Palestinian nation it will do everything, including armed intervention, to undermine the effectiveness of that state.

From a Palestinian perspective, they will eventually have nothing unless they change their situation from powerless to dignity and strength. They certainly don’t want a state that can be undermined or attacked due to a neighbor’s whim. Negotiating without power leads to losing direction, being forced to negotiate away, and not permanently settling the issues. It also has an appearance of a promise without enforcement and a future that clings to “peace in our time is assured.” Seems we heard that before.

Negotiations are predicted to enable Israel to maintain most of its gains since its establishment and legitimize its seizure of lands and displacement of Palestinians.  Before anything else is debated, the essential matters that provoked the crisis (land seizures, oppression, and settlements) must first be ended, so they are no longer confronted.

An Interim Government

Isn’t a functioning Palestinian Authority or interim government a preliminary requirement to a resolution of the crisis? Can that government be formed without Hamas having a crucial role?

The democratically elected Hamas has a large constituency that demands return of lands they believe unfairly taken from them. For this reason, Hamas cannot be expected to recognize Israel. Recognition puts Hamas out of existence and certifies Israel has behaved properly. Why would an aggrieved people be willing to do that?

Hamas’ belligerence and recalcitrance doesn’t mean Hamas intends to translate words into aggression. It can’t start a fight without being clobbered and its only hope is that the world recognizes its claims and takes appropriate action. The often cited and exclamatory 1988 Hamas charter is an antiquated document. Many observers have mentioned that it “has ceased to play a significant role in the group’s ideology. As early as 1990, Hamas began to distance itself from the document, which has since fallen into neglect.”

Hamas is accused of wanting to destroy Israel, but Israel has done everything to destroy Hamas, and Fatah, who incorporated a ‘destroy Israel’ theme in its previous charter, is never charged with similar words:  

Article 2: Palestine, with the boundaries it had during the British Mandate, is an indivisible territorial unit.

Article 3: The Palestinian Arab people possess the legal right to their homeland and have the right to determine their destiny after achieving the liberation of their country in accordance with their wishes and entirely of their own accord and will.

Fatah has a new charter and commentators are beginning to recognize the new Hamas: “In 2006, Hamas began to evolve from a dogmatic organization located outside the political system into a functioning opposition party within the Palestinian body politic. This shift was followed by a transformation from a radical opposition party into the majority party of the Palestinian territories and, after the 2006 elections, the de facto governing party of Gaza. In a surprisingly short time, Hamas has largely abandoned religious rhetoric and calls for the violent liberation of Palestine, in favor of the increasingly secular and pragmatic task of state building.” — Hamas 2.0 The Islamic Movement Grows Up by Michawl Broning, Aug. 5, 2009. Foreign Affairs

In recent weeks, some Hamas actions have validated Michawl Broning’s opinion. Take these for what they are worth.

After an extreme group called the Warriors of God established themselves in a mosque in Rafah and accused Hamas of being “impure and collaborationist,” Hamas forces captured the mosque and either killed or arrested all Warriors of God personnel. 

Hamas’ Interior Ministry monitors mosques and lectures against Muslim extremism.

Dress requirements have been defined as “individual acts.” The Hamas government states it is against any orders for dress regulations, “since there is no need to impose the hijab in a conservative society.”

A weak, corrupt and pliable Fatah suits Israel fine. Bringing Hamas out of the cold can do for Palestine what recognizing the legitimacy of Hezbollah did for Lebanon – diminish corruption, gather coalitions and bring stability – other reasons why Israel attacks Hamas.

The Freeze

President Obama made a bold move towards ending the crisis by requesting a total freeze on all settlement construction.  Israel’s eagerness to construct several hundred new housing units before the freeze moratorium demonstrates that Israel has no intention of relinquishing any settled territory and will demand concession from the Palestinians. Since anything less than a total, immediate, and permanent settlement freeze will prevent peace through negotiations, consider Israel’s actions as deliberate crisis continuation and peace prevention.

At least, the request stimulated some relief from oppressive checkpoints and road blocks in the West Bank.  Relief is worthwhile, but Human Rights initiatives demand that life in both the West Bank and Gaza return to normal without undue interference and external control. It won’t happen quickly but Israel is obliged to allow the Palestinians free access to all their lands, air space, sea lanes and to the outside world. The circumlocutory reasoning that Israel must control all borders because there is no effective Palestinian Authority and there is no effective Palestinian Authority because Israel controls the borders is ready for change.

The Displaced Persons Problem

And then there is the elephant in the room that everybody refuses to notice – the Palestinian displaced persons. This injustice and its resolution have been covered in a previous article by the writer and can be accessed for details at Palestine Chronicle.

The solution of the Middle East crisis starts with those who have suffered the most, continue to suffer and should be relieved of their suffering. The solution of the Middle East crisis starts with the Palestinian displaced persons. No matter how far ‘negotiations’ go, the displaced person solution will be the show stopper. Overcoming the problem at the beginning permits the show to continue. Saving it to the euphoric ‘end’ predicts neglect or a severe compromise that endangers all previous agreements, just what Israel will want.

Can the Palestinian displaced persons problem be conveniently resolved?

Only the Palestinian displaced persons can decide their fate, and no solution will please everyone. The following is only a suggested solution, which can serve as a starting point for other recommendations.

Figures are debatable, but information from BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency & Refugee Rights claims 7.1 million displaced Palestinians.   

 (1) Nations will permit a portion of their displaced persons to become citizens. 
(2) Western nations will offer to receive 1,500,000 Palestinians as immigrants. Considering their role in the creation of the displace persons, this is an obligation.

(3) Israel will vacate all areas in the West Bank and East Jerusalem that are in violation of the UN Resolutions. Except for those Israelis who can prove ownership before 1967, all other properties, installations, institutions and homes will revert to Palestinians.

(4) Israel will admit 300,000 Palestinians who can show prior ownership of seized land. 

How does this work out?

Use the totals of 7.1 million displaced Palestinians and 4.6 million offers to permit them to remain and acquire citizenship. The latter figure includes 2.2 million who are already citizens in Jordan, 456,000 who are quasi citizens in Syria, 1.9 million from all other areas where Palestinians have already been integrated and 100,000 who receive Lebanon’s permission to remain. Consider that 10%, or 460,000 will refuse the offers and we still have 3.0 million displaced persons to rehabilitate. Hopefully out of that figure there will be 1.5 million, many from Gaza and the West Bank, willing to immigrate to the western nations and situate among Palestinian communities that already exist. That leaves 1.2 million.  We then have 750,000 entering the vacated homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and 300,000 moving to Israel. That leaves only 450,000 displaced persons to find new accommodations in Gaza and the West Bank. 

At first glance, this all seems improbable. It isn’t. Certainly, the world will have to use forceful measures to obtain Israel’s compliance. So be it! The safety of the world comes before the illegal wants of a nation chartered by a United Nations Resolution. Examining the plan carefully, we have only about 300,000 displaced persons from Lebanon and 200,000 from Jordan who are presently in UNWRA run refugee camps and another 460,000 from other nations who might refuse citizenship. The displaced persons from the West Bank and Gaza warrant consideration but they are presently on Palestinian territory and can be easily addressed.

Resolving the displaced persons problem releases the tension that precedes the violence that has plagued the Middle East. It sets the stage for the next and final chapter; election of the new Palestinian government for the new Palestinian state. The remaining conflicts can then be settled by credible and honest negotiations.

Untangling the Course to Middle East Peace

Since 1948, the western powers have given preference to Israel in the Middle East crisis, sensing that Israel’s right to exist and security were threatened and needed protection.  Since 1948, the crisis has monotonically grown to a calamity of oppression, destruction and confrontations.

A new stage in the crisis heralds a change in direction by negotiation but more likely will result in a change in strategies towards accomplishing objectives. While the usual optimism accompanies the latest drive, it carries the danger of a false and unguarded direction. Will western nations continue their tacit acceptance of Israel’s policies or begin to heed the urgencies of all Middle East populations?  A 180 degree rotation of the elements in the present peace process combined with Israel no longer being favored and no longer allowed to frame the process provides a direction for solving the Middle East crisis. 

– Dan Lieberman is the editor of Alternative Insight, a monthly web based newsletter. His many articles on the Middle East conflict have circulated on websites and media throughout the world. He contributed this article to Contact him at:


(1) Nations will permit a portion of their displaced persons to become citizens.  

(2) Western nations will offer to receive 1,500,000 Palestinians as immigrants. Considering their role in the creation of the displace persons, this is an obligation.

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