Balance is one of the innate concepts of the human condition, vital but never entirely attainable. Aristotle concludes his Politics with the imperative in every society of seeking a balance between the male “Dorian” and female “Phrygian” modes – not necessarily gendered but a human necessity all the same. Balance in baseball is a goal; the American League’s long streak of victories over the National League in the All-Star Games is concerning to the keepers of the sport. And, most obviously, the balance-of-power doctrine in matters of war and diplomacy are as old as these arts themselves.
Three weeks before the Israeli parliamentary elections of September 17 the prospects of progress, or of ending the current stalemate in Israeli Palestinian relations, are dim. mIsrael is but one of the protagonists in this conflict, but the outcome of the September vote will have a crucial effect on the Palestinian issue: it will determine whether the Right will remain in power in Israel and will affect the Trump Administration's pursuit of "the deal of the century", the term used for its quest to resolve the Israeli- Palestinian Conflict.
In the introduction to his book, Power, Faith and Fantasy, the Middle East historian turned diplomat turned Israeli politician, Michael Oren, reflected on the chosen title. These three themes had guided the American adventure in the region power or “the pursuit of American interests,” faith or “the impact of religion in the shaping of American attitudes and policies,” and finally fantasy, “the idea of the Middle East has always enchanted Americans.” To be fair to America, it was hardly unique in its fantasies. In his magnum opus, The Chatham House Version, Elie Kedourie had aptly diagnosed the British fantasy “all those episodes show successive and cumulative manifestations of illusion, misjudgment, and failure.” Nowhere has this been truer than in the Holy Land.
Protracted conflicts are protracted for a reason. They involve deeply-held grievances; ethnic, religious or ideological animosities; territorial disputes; boundary issues; political power struggles; clashes over the distribution of wealth; and competing narratives; among other factors. Protracted conflicts are not static, but rather evolve over time. Conflict management and mitigation, a strategy for dealing with conflicts that appear impervious to resolution, miss the point; for these strategies often do not take into account evolving changes through which conflicts pass.
I have worked on trying to resolve or ameliorate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in formal and informal capacities since the 1980’s. Through two intifadas (uprisings) and the Oslo process, I have seen the conflict in its human terms and the toll it takes. There were certainly times in the 1990’s when it seemed to be possible to settle the conflict. Even after the Second Intifada, which imposed such a terrible price on both Israelis and Palestinians, I believed that the gaps between the two sides were bridgeable.
In the absence of a horizon for a political settlement, economics and security will be the twin pillars of the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians. This is not an economic peace that holds out prosperity in lieu of Palestinian national aspirations but because it is in Israel’s security interest. As international donor assistance to the Palestinians has declined, Israel –and the defense establishment in particular- has more actively promoted economic and financial stability in the West Bank and Gaza.
Speaking to reporters in August, President Trump said he would likely wait until after the Israeli elections in September to unveil his peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians. Although this plan has been long in the making, with the exception of the proposal to allocate investment funds to the Palestinian territories and neighboring countries, its details have remained unknown; and that’s a good thing.
Whenever the Israeli–Palestinian question arises in Washington, an assumption inevitably precedes it: the United States has an important and unique role to play in advancing peace between these two peoples. Israelis and Palestinians might make progress alone (the 1993 Oslo Accords). But the two can only go so far, so we are told, without American mediation, primarily because only Washington can push Jerusalem into taking risks— “land for peace” and military restraint toward the security deficiencies of the Palestinian Authority—that are the stepping stones to a two-state solution, the endgame for a peaceful settlement.