Simple ideas for peace in the Middle East

It has always been intellectually easier to wage war than peace

Simple ideas for peace in the Middle East

It has always been intellectually easier to wage war than peace. In one case, it involves mobilizing without qualms, here and now, against a clearly identified enemy and doing everything possible to defeat him. In the other, we must resolve to bet on reconciliation with a hated adversary, to the point of entrusting him, at least in part, with the security of future generations.

The prolongation for seventy-five years of the Middle East conflict aggravates such a cognitive bias with multitudes of layers of hatred, stigmatization, lies and grudges. To escape such a destructive spiral, the priority must be to clarify with deliberately simple ideas a situation that the warmongers present precisely as inextricable. The method modestly followed is to pose, for each fundamental question of a possible settlement, the terms of an alternative of which only one term is retained.

An Israeli-Arab or Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

The founding conflict of 1948 is significantly called the “war of independence” by Israel, which then won its right to exist as a state by force. But it is just as significantly called “Palestine War” by the Arab side, which breaks it down into two phases: the first, war between Jews and Arabs in Palestine still under British mandate; the second, war between the newly proclaimed State of Israel and five Arab states (Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq). The Nakba, or the “catastrophe” of the exodus of more than 750,000 Arab inhabitants of Palestine, began in the first phase of this war, to continue during the second. But this first Israeli-Arab conflict ended in 1949 with a series of ceasefires between Israel and its Arab neighbors, with the fate of Palestinian refugees indefinitely suspended. It would take a quarter of a century for the Arab summit in Rabat to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as “the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”.

In the meantime, two Israeli-Arab conflicts – as short as they were deadly – ​​will have recomposed the Middle East: the Six-Day War of 1967 and the October War of 1973, lasting eighteen days (called the "war of Yom Kippur” by Israel and “Ramadan War” by the Arabs). A separate peace was concluded in 1979 between Egypt and Israel, which thus had a free hand to try to crush the PLO in Beirut. This three-month war in Lebanon opens an ongoing cycle of long-term Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, each time with a more appalling human toll than the previous one, since the first intifada of 1987-1993 and the second intifada of 2000-2005 , until the Gaza wars of 2008-2009, 2012, 2014, 2021 and 2023-2024.

The Abraham Accords concluded in 2020 by Israel with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco nevertheless maintained the illusion that Israeli-Arab normalization would exempt Israel from concessions on the Palestinian issue. This illusion has been shattered before our eyes: Israeli-Arab disputes are relatively simpler to resolve than the Palestinian question, but this question remains fundamentally at the heart of the conflict. Peace will therefore be Israeli-Palestinian, or else the Middle East will not know peace.

One state or two states?

When Great Britain received a mandate over Palestine from the League of Nations (SDN) in 1922, it incorporated into the charter of this mandate the Balfour Declaration, by which the British government had, five years earlier, given its support for “the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine.” It thus recognizes the legitimacy of the Zionist project, while the 90% Arab population of Palestine is reduced to being only “non-Jewish communities”.

The demographic reality of the presence of two peoples on the same land, however, imposes the alternative between the partition between two states, one Jewish and the other Arab (formula to which London joined in 1937) or a binational state. (a perspective adopted by Great Britain from 1939). But it is ultimately the partition which is favored by the UN, with the partition plan of 1947, approved by the Zionist leadership and rejected by the Arab side, hence the "Palestinian war" of 1948, resulting from which Israel is established in 77% of Mandatory Palestine. The rest of this territory was conquered by force during the Six-Day War.

It is within this framework that the alternative between a binational State and two States has since been posed. Such a binational state can be based on equal rights between Jews and Arabs, not only as citizens, but as peoples, or on the domination of one of the two peoples over the other. It is clearly the domination of the Jewish people over the Arab people which has been consolidated by the continuation of the occupation and colonization, while the basic law of 2018, with constitutional value, enshrines “Israel as the nation-state of the people Jewish,” despite Israel’s 20 percent Arab population.

And it was just as clearly the refusal of a Palestinian state that led Israel, in 2005, to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza, which fell under the control of Hamas two years later. This constant refusal of a Palestinian state, far from strengthening Israel's security, therefore created the conditions for the terrorist carnage of October 7, 2023, itself a prelude to the ongoing massacre in Gaza.

At this stage of reasoning, it already appears that peace can only be established in the Middle East on the basis of a settlement of the Palestinian question within the framework of the two-state solution. The exercise will continue next week with a reflection on the modalities of implementing such a regulation.