Ever since the Six-Day War, Gaza and the West Bank have been presided over by Israel. The genesis of the conflict harkens back to Israel’s founding and the advent of the Arab nationalist and Zionist projects of the 19th century. This analysis by Tomas Nordberg examines many of the initiatives that we have seen so far and why they have all failed to bring enduring peace to the region.
Individuals have played and continue to play a vital role in peacemaking efforts. The Swedish jurist Emil Sandström was the Chairman of the United Nations Special Commission on Palestine (UNSCOP) that produced the Palestine plan of partition with economic union in 1947, the so-called Sandström plan. The aforementioned Israeli legal adviser Joel Singer not only took on a leading role during the Oslo process but has worked for decades on a peaceful solution to the intractable conflict.
Another prolific Swedish mediator in the Middle East was Sten Andersson. Yassir Arafat visited Sweden in december of 1988 which raised controversy. But the hallmark of Foreign Minister Andersson´s approach was quiet diplomacy. Susanne Palme writes insightfully about FM Andersson´s central role in laying the basis for Arafat´s recognition of Israel´s right to exist which occurred in Geneva in 1988. This bestowed a mandate for the Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza to commence negotiations with the Israeli government.Foreign Minister Andersson came up with a novelty at the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs: a top secret task force to be devoted full time to the Middle East.
Shimon Peres was a disciple of David Ben Gurion, the founder of the Jewish state. Ben Gurion was of the opinion that Israel would not survive as a both democratic and Jewish state unless it gave back the land it occupied in 1967 to the Palestinians. He argued that the demographic realities would transform Israel into an Arabic nation if it annexed the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The United States contributes greatly to the process of finding peace in the Middle East. A telling example in financial terms is the support of the Quartet; the US being the single greatest contributor by far. Norway is the fifth largest single contributor, interestingly enough. The West Bank had been under Jordanian trusteeship and Jordanian law since 1950 and remained so, formally speaking, post 1967. But Arafat announced the birth of the state of Palestine on the 15h of November 1988. The Palestinian parliament in exile endorsed the two-states solution and accepted the two core UN Resolutions 242 and 338 the night before. Arafat held an almost mythical belief in ”the Swedish way” according to Sten Andersson. And the Swedish lack of geopolitical interests in the region contributed to it being accepted by both parties to the conflict.
The Abraham Accords: is this the way to peace?
The Abraham Accords constitute a joint declaration between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States, arrived at on August 13, 2020. They refer to the Israel-United Arab Emirates normalization agreement and the Bahrain-Israel normalization agreement. The joint statement of August 13, 2020 was the first public normalization of relations between Israel and an Arab state since that of Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. To label the accords peace agreements is counter-intuitive given that the countries involved have never fought a war with Israel. But other Arab states may very well trail the UAE and Bahrain. The Trump Administration facilitated the accords and it combined this initiative with a new peace plan for the Palestine question. The peace plan has largely been with met with distrust and it is actively opposed by the Palestinian leadership. It does make Israeli annexation of the West Bank more effortless.
Are other Arab countries going to follow in the footsteps of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain and sign normalization agreements with Israel? And will the incoming Biden Administration take advantage of the more congenial atmosphere in the region to suggest a new attempt to make peace between Israel and the Palestinian state?
The Trump Administration
United States President Trump has by leaving many multilateral instruments and institutions made dispute resolution significantly more difficult. Other states have as a result resorted to unilateral means of dispute settlement more often. The Trump Adminstration has, by departing from the Optional Protocol on Compulsory Jurisdiction to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, as a reaction to Palestine suing the United States under the Convention in September of 2018 concerning the change of residence to Jerusalem of the U.S. Embassy, left the floor wide open for future conflicts to be resolved by violent methods rather than legal. The embassy move coupled with the recognition of the Golan Heights as being part of Israel could very well cause Prime Minister Neanyahu to proceed with the annexation plans in the West Bank.
Annexation is a serious threat to the two-state solution and should be discouraged. It would cause Palestinians to seek refugee from the West Bank in Jordan. And it might jeopardize Jordan´s position as the caretaker of the Muslim holy places of worship in Jerusalem according to Article 9 of the peace treaty between it and Israel. Jordan must be engaged in peace talks. The Treaty of Peace between the State of Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan of October, 26, 1994, established peace between the two countries. And the threat of Iran, which subsumes it trying to acquire nuclear weapons, should be dealt with by the US by returning to the JCPOA. The nature of the leading actors that must be dealt with on the Palestinian side complicates the picture. Egypt, another obligatory participant in peace negotiations, is fiercely opposed to Hamas which it claims is allied with the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas overtook the Gaza Strip from the PA in 2007. It is responsible for the launching of thousands or rockets and mortal shells which has hit southern Israeli cities and villages and disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands of Israelis. The Israeli retaliatory attacks have caused mayhem on a large scale and the deaths of many civilians.
However, to many the Trump Administration´s ”Peace to Prosperity” plan seems misguided. The Palestinian state would under this framework consist of separated territories guarded by Israel and with up to 30 per cent of the West Bank annexed by Israel. The Arab Peace Initiative from 2002 is much more promising. This peace plan conditionalized normalization between Arab states and Israel on the completion of the occupation and the setting up of an independent Palestinian state. The Abraham Accords discourages Israel from meeting the Palestinians halfway. As a result, the two-state solution becomes more elusory.
Uri Savir wrote a groundbreaking editorial in the Jerusalem Post in 2014 on the need for a two-state solution. In this piece, the master negotiator presents a comprehensive outline for a peaceful unravelment of the conflict. Savir points out that the expansion of the settlements are the biggest threat. He writes: “Expanding and planning settlement housing is intended to prevent a two-state solution. Without a border, we are faced with the question of equal rights for Palestinian Arabs, including the right to vote. Equality is the furthest away from those people who treat Arabs not only as second-class citizens, but also as second-class human beings.” And he makes the well-founded claim that without an Palestinian state, Israel will cease to be a Jewish state, due to the population dynamics within Israel. Also, the occupation is not compatible with the founding of the Palestinian state.
In January 2020 President Donald Trump of the United States announced his peace plan for the Israel-Palestinian conflict. This plan allows for Israel to annex 30 percent of the West Bank and Netanyahu has initiated the annexation. Shimon Peres wanted a Palestinian state in Gaza and an Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian conglomeration in the West Bank. One of the lessons of the Oslo negotiations is that a minor country like Norway cannot play a symmetric role in peacemaking. But the United States under Trump´s leadership failed to replicate earlier successes such as Henry Kissinger´s feat of orchestrating a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt in 1979. Five years earlier, 1974, saw Arafat approving a plan to gain a foothold in the region, administered by the PA.
Now, the question will of course be how Biden will act. Is he the president that could bring the long peace process to its completion, or will it be (failing) ”business as usual”?