MIT Security Studies Program Seminar

The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process after Arafat

Efraim Inbar

November 17, 2004

To understand the current states of affairs in the peace process, it is necessary to discuss the origins of the two states solution. In 1947, the Arabs rejected the idea of a partition creating two states. Until 1967, the debate was mainly about Palestinian refugees; there was no idea of Palestinian identity. From 1967 the Israeli-Arab conflict was interstate, involving a series of wars. Over time, the interstate nature of the conflict declined, and the Palestinian component of the conflict gained greater prominence.

After 1973, Arab elites lost hope of destroying Israel and moved to reluctant acceptance of its existence. With the Camp David accord with Egypt, Israel no longer had to worry about assault from two sides. In 1994, Israel signed a peace treaty with Jordan.

Today, there is more interaction between Israel and Arab states. An Arab-Israeli war is unlikely in the near future. But at the same time, the conflict became focused on the Palestinians, giving greater prominence to the situation of the occupied Arabs. Arabs states used the idea of Palestine as a tool against Israel. The two state solution emerged as a way to resolve the situation.

The Palestinian situation got on the international agenda because of the Palestinian Liberation Organization's (PLO) success through terror and other means. Opposition to Israel helped crystallize Palestinian identity.

The Camp David accords in 1978 conducted by Begin, Sadat, and Carter linked Gaza and the West Bank as one issue, making Begin the political father of this two-state notion. He proposed autonomy, but not full-fledged Palestinian statehood.

The issue got greater attention after the first intifada in 1987. In 1988, the PLO accepted the two-state solution based on the previously rejected 1947 borders. At the same time, Israeli domestic politics moved leftwards. The Zionist movement was always ready for partition. The general thrust of Israeli society favored partition.

After 1967, the Labor government preferred the prospect of Jordanian control of the territories to the Palestinian option. Labor was willing to part with territories, but they didn't trust the PLO, a terror organization committed to the destruction of Israel. The Hashemite regime in Jordan was seen more responsible. Labor and most mainstream Israeli politicians preferred Jordan, rather than the PLO. But gradually Israel moved toward the idea of Palestine, changing partners.

In the end, the Jordanians were not interested in ruling Palestinians in the West Bank (it's hard to blame them). With Oslo, Rabin decided to go for partition and give a chance to the PLO to control the territories.

The territorialization of the PLO in 1993 began a new stage of relations, a stage which is now ending. Beginning with Oslo, Israel attempted to implement the two state option and to establish a Palestinian entity. This option failed at Camp David in 2000, when the Palestinians launched a war of terrorism against Israel.

It is not clear if Palestinians have moved away from rejecting Israel; there are some moderates of questionable power, but Palestinian society is very problematic. According to Palestinian polls, only six percent of Palestinians want to change their virulently anti-Semitic curriculum; over 80% rejected the Clinton boundaries for Palestine, and 30% support Hamas and the Islamicists, which is higher than in other Arab states. It is thus possible that a Palestinian state could be run by Islamicists.

What we now see, after ten years, is the failure of the tacit assumption that Palestinians are able to establish a state. It is not self-evident that every ethnic group can establish a state. The first requirement of any political entity is a monopoly on the use of force; in this the PLO has failed miserably. There is no law and order. The injection of foreign capital, European especially, has kept conditions in the territories reasonable. Basic health has been maintained.

Israeli domestic politics have changed too. Israelis no longer believe that they have a partner with whom they can deal. Ariel Sharon's plan for unilateral withdrawal from Gaza is predicated on the idea that there is no partner. Unilateralism has always appealed to the Israeli psyche.

What happens now? It would be nice to have a partner, even one who is an enemy, which has a strategic address. Personally, I want partition. But it is not clear that Palestinian society can produce leadership able to make the difficult decisions statehood requires, a leadership able to give up dreams to meet reality.

One option for the territories is chaos — local fiefdoms and warlords. We see some of this already. This situation is unfortunate but manageable.

Another option is an alliance between the Palestinians with the suits and those with guns. Hamas might join in. This kind of alliance, or coalition, would have a hard time making difficult decisions. But if Arafat wouldn't do it, it is unlikely the new leaders are up to it. We may see continual fluctuating violence like today.

Another option is an international trusteeship. Even friends of Palestine realize that the Palestinians can't do it alone (see Martin Indyk's May 2003 article in Foreign Affairs). The idea is to create a structure to groom Palestine into statehood.

An additional scenario (talked about in Israeli Defence Forces) is to convince Arab states to occupy the territories. Maybe one lesson of Iraq is that the best rulers of Arabs are Arabs. The emergence of a Hamas state in Gaza would be a big problem for Egypt. There was already a terror attack in Sinai linked to Gaza. Such attacks hurt tourism. We already see the Egyptians coming in as instructors. We might see a Lebanese model, where the Egyptians deploy troops for control, like Syria in Lebanon. The key with this scenario is that Egypt is a strategic address. If Hezbollah gets out hand, Israel has learned to exert pressure on Damascus rather than Beirut; the same could apply with Egypt in Gaza. Of course, things are more complex with Egypt, given the peace treaty.

The Jordanians are also in no hurry to come back. Today there is Palestinian disillusionment over their national movement. Maybe they will learn and divert their political loyalty to the Hashemites.

The bottom line is that we are not going to see a neat solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the near future.

Professor Efraim Inbar is a Professor in Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University and the Director of its Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies. Professor Inbar served in the Israel Defense Force (IDF) as a paratrooper, and he is presently posted (in reserve) at the IDF College of Staff and Command. He was a member of the Political Strategic Committee of the National Planning Council and the Chair of the Committee for the National Security Curriculum at the Ministry of Education. He is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Yizhak Rabin Center for Israel Studies.

Rapporteur: Ben Friedman

back to seminar schedule, Fall 2004