How do you break an Iron Wall?

Amidst all the uprisings in the Middle East, and protests demanding a democratization of government, many commentators in the political arena (journalists, scholars and lay people) believe that the issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict has been pushed to the back burner. However, with the Palestinian officials’ recently expressed desire of gaining statehood recognition from the United Nations General Assembly in September of this year, Washington and other administrations around the world are turning their attention back to this decade’s long conflict.

An interesting and relatively new dimension that has been added to events of late has been speculation surrounding the use of social media to increase demonstrations and get the voices of the Palestinians heard. It will be interesting to see if Palestinian activists borrow a leaf from their Middle Eastern neighbors’ books to organize protests and demonstrations in Israeli settlements and other locations. Some radical groups have even deemed the time right for a third Intifada or uprising.

September is when peace talks brokered by president Obama’s administration and the UN are due to expire. Palestinian leaders are going to ask the General Assembly to vote to recognize Palestine as a state, with the geographical scope of the state encompassing all the territory occupied by Israel in the 1967 war.

International Institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the United Nations have given generally positive reviews of Palestine’s development in terms of the economy, infrastructure and healthcare over the past few years. In a report released on Tuesday by the United Nations, it was stated that Palestinian progress and development was being held back by the occupation of settlements by Israeli forces.

While it is believed that more than a hundred states will vote in favor of recognition, many foreign affairs experts believe that the U.S. will oppose the move. Even without the privilege of a veto power in the General Assembly, it is believed that the Obama administration will use its influence with other countries and in the Security Council, and also the threat of suspending financial aid and imposing sanctions on Palestine to prevent statehood recognition.

David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy talks about the importance of crossing a “public threshold.” Makovsky draws on results from polls which state that majorities on both sides claim that they want a two-state solution, “yet remain certain the other is unwilling.” This complete disconnect from the ‘other side’ and demonization of the ‘other’ has led to proposed solutions from both sides just moving past and not towards each other.

Aaoron Miller, former Middle East negotiator for the State Department, writing an editorial for the Washington Post, claims that Palestine seeking statehood is far from being the wisest measure given the present circumstances. An important question he asks is why is Palestine seeking recognition from the United Nations General Assembly? Is it because it genuinely believes that the best course of action is for it to become a state now, or are Palestinian authorities frustrated at the lack of progress made in negotiations with Israel, mediated by big powers such as the U.S.?

In the 1920s, Revisionist Zionist and scholar Ze’ev Jabotinisky wrote “We and the Arabs” – Iron Wall Theory, proposing a solution to get the Arabs to compromise and concede to the presence of the state of Israel. The first step in this theory is to construct an ‘Iron Wall,’ blocking off the enemy or the opposing side, and using force and a lack of general compromise to make the other side accept certain realities. In the case of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Jabotinksky proposed creating a reality such that the Arabs would accept that there will be an Israeli state. The creation of this Iron Wall and the realization that compromise will have to be made would eventually lead  the emergence of moderates who come to the forefront, willing to negotiate. Jabotinsky claimed that within the Iron Wall, there will also be a shift from extremism to moderation, with elements willing to negotiate and compromise, eventually leading to te settlement of the conflict.

What Jabotinsky and the followers of his principle did not envision is the creation of another Iron Wall, this time on the enemy’s side. Palestinian forces have also used coercion, force and intimidation to build an Iron Wall, hoping to get the Israelis to negotiate on terms more favorable to the Arabs. Without leading to much fruitful negotiation, what it has led to is a complete demonization of the other and an inability to look past differences to work out a settlement.

While the future looks bleak for peace between Palestine and Israel, it is also a reality that the status quo cannot continue for much longer, and either the two groups will accept this reality and work on a solution that both sides can live with, or will continue to impose their needs and frameworks on the other, exacerbating the conflict.

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