Peace of Reconciliation
There are two words for peace in Arabic, "Salam," meaning a state of non-belligerency is currently preferred by Arabs over "Sulh", which suggests reconciliation – the kind of peace sought by Israelis. The difference between the two words is not mere semantics, it reflects the nature of the different objectives brought to the peace conference by Arabs and Israelis.
As they witness the daily building of new or the expansion of existing Israeli settlements, many Arabs do not believe Israel will ever relinquish the territories voluntarily. Some insist that Israel might even harbor territorial ambitions that extend well into Jordan and Syria. For this reason, the Arabs feel strongly that the surrender of the territories on all fronts is a prerequisite to peace of reconciliation with Israel.
Based on their experience, the Israelis do not trust that the Arabs would ever accept their right to exist even within the pre-1967 borders. Arab willingness to negotiate peace is seen as no more than a tactical move designed to pressure Israel into relinquishing the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights-another phase in the Arabs' drive to dismantle Israel altogether. Israeli concerns are further heightened by the fact that there still exists irredentist Arab groups from the extreme left and right who do not want to reconcile themselves with the existence of Israel, as evidenced by the recent gathering of Palestinian and other Arab rejectionist groups held recently in Tehran, Iran.
It is not enough, Israelis argue, to merely cease hostilities. What is needed is peace of reconciliation: trade, cultural, and technological exchanges, tourism and investments in each other's economy etc. – all of which create over the years confidence building measures and a mutually vested interest which could cement the peace and make renewed hostilities undesirable. Only a peace of reconciliation, based on certain stages, could provide both Israelis and Arabs the incentive and the confidence they need to make the necessary concessions.
Most nineteenth century historians agree that had reconciliation with Germany existed in post World War I Europe, World War II might not have happened. It was peace of reconciliation and, the Marshall Plan – allowing West Germany to share Europe's security and economy after World War II – that held Western Europe together and kept the peace for nearly five decades, making Western Europe what it is today. Contrary to the Bush administration's Middle East peace plan neither Israel nor the Arab states are psychologically ready or politically able to deliver a comprehensive peace at this juncture. Arab-Israeli peace is a process that can be accomplished only in stages. Each stage should be self-sustained but it should also provide the incentives and the basis for the next stage.
An early partial agreement is imperative for continued progress. Israel and the Arab States can be persuaded to make a certain concession consistent with their ultimate national interest and security. Both however should be able to show to their supporters and detractors at home that they have gained something tangible in return which justifies the concessions they have made. This is the only way they will be provided with a renewed mandate to continue with the negotiating process.
The Gaza strip represents an opportunity for an early agreement. Densely populated with Palestinians, the Israelis have no real emotional attachment to it. Moreover since Gaza is geographically removed from any Arab population center, it poses a limited security risk to Israel. Israel can no longer rule it without continued heavy toll in human lives and material resources.
Israel, as it has already stated, should provide full autonomous rule for the Palestinians in the West-Bank, maintaining responsibility for external security while joining Jordanians and Palestinains in maintaining the interest security. An interim agreement regarding the pace, extent and location of building new settlements should be part of this phase. The ultimate status of the territory will be determined after a transitional period of 5-7 years provided that conditions of reconciliation have been fully established. By conceding the Gaza Strip to Jordan, Israel would have met – in part – a basic requirement-territorial concession-without unacceptable risk to its security. Israel would then be in a position to insist, with the support of the U.S. that all Arab states, especially Syria, attend the third phase of the peace conference that deals with regional problems including: water supplies, arms control and economic developments which are the basis for peace of reconciliation and a kev to other territorial dispute, especially the Golan Heights.
The road to Arab-Israeli peace will be long, difficult and politically hazardous. Five decades of bloodshed, distrust and despair cannot just be stricken from history books or from the hearts and minds of so many on both sides who have suffered and lost so much. Only peace of reconciliation in stages, showing discernible progress, will keep the negotiations alive and the prospect for a comprehensive peace real.