Failure of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations: the peace industry and the endless peace process

Nearly 70 years of dispossession

Almost 50 years of occupation

Over 20 years of a ‘peace process’

Peace and justice are as elusive as ever

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the spectacular modern examples of how negotiations fail to solve complex geopolitical issues. Since the first of the Oslo Accords was signed in 1993, Israeli and Palestinian leaders have held several rounds of negotiations for a final-status peace agreement. The basic premise of these negotiations – the establishment of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza in exchange for a comprehensive regional peace between the Arab world and Israel, “land for peace” – has been compromised, most likely beyond repair.

During this period, hundreds of initiatives, supported by international civil society, aimed at advancing the peace process through dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians of various walks of life. Today, peace negotiations are structurally deadlocked but this so-called ‘peace industry’ continues unabated, with its mandate now refashioned as one of breaking the impasse. There is a growing realization, represented by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, that the real objective of the ‘peace industry’ is one of conflict management: maintaining the present equilibrium of limited Palestinian self-rule under overall Israeli control and a manageable level of resistance, for the benefit of the various stakeholders in that arrangement. In other words, that the ‘peace industry’ is an obstacle to a just solution to the conflict.

What are the reasons for this continuous failure? What changes would be required for meaningful negotiations? In the absence of such changes, what are the viable alternatives for pursuing justice and peace in Palestine and Israel? And what is the current state of those alternatives?

Come, listen, ask questions and flesh out some ideas together with other participants during this panel. Omar Shehabi will present a brief history of failed attempts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the role of international law in defining the conflict and its limitations as a basis for resolving it, and the emerging strategies for achieving justice and peace for Israelis and Palestinians beyond the paradigm of the peace process.

What Omar brings to the conversation is his experience as a legal adviser with the Palestinian Negotiations Support Project, where he provided counsel to the Palestinian leadership on the international law aspects of final-status negotiations with Israel, and as a legal officer with the United Nations Relief & Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in Jerusalem. Omar is the director of Palestine Works, a nonprofit organization promoting Palestinian human development by creating high-impact knowledge exchange opportunities.

You can reach Omar on EdgeRyders at @omar_shehabi. More about him in the&nbspspeakers’ page

The session will take 2 hours and will include a talk followed by an open discussion.

Date: 2016-02-26 14:30:00 - 2016-02-26 16:30:00, Europe/Brussels Time.

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Welcoming Omar on board

@omar_shehabi it is great to read you. And what a straightforward take on failing peace efforts. That is the kind of stuff appreciated around here on Edgeryders: looking disaster in the eye. Welcome, by the way!

This could be especially interesting for @toolosophy and @trythis, with whom I had interesting discussions on the topic of breakdowns of sorts and the ever meddling political interests in peace processes.

I am curious what you personally would like to achieve with this session? What would you expect from the people in the room? As with most of our events, we’re trying to build conversations that are conducive to figuring out stuff together, finding answers that neither the speakers nor the other participants can find alone, so there’s an added value for all those attending. So how can we contribute to shaping your session?

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Re: Welcoming Omar on board

@noemi thanks for your thoughts. I’m excited to be taking part in LOTE5.

My goal for the session is to ‘exotericize’ the supposedly esoteric aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I come at the question from the perspective of a lawyer and a Palestinian, which means that I’m probably constrained by (1) a lawyer’s way of thinking of things in binary terms – lawful or unlawful, and (2) the orthodoxy of the Palestinian national movement, which sees creative proposals for conflict resolution as offering Israel impunity for the nakba and the occupation. I’m looking forward to a multidisciplinary, heterodox discussion of the types of possible solutions that are not on offer within the peace industry.

This conflict has long been portrayed, by both sides as well as third parties, as unique in the world. From an Israeli Jewish perspective, comparing Israel to other settler-colonial states is to deny the Jewish history of persecution and dispossession. From a Palestinian perspective, comparing the situation of Palestinian refugees to other refugee populations is to introduce resettlement as a solution to the problem and thereby to compromise their right of return.

Over the years, the demands of the Palestinian national movement and the parameters of international law as they relate to the conflict have converged, such that, in final-status negotiations, the Palestinian positions are grounded in international law, while the Israeli positions are based on the present reality (which is increasingly recognized as an illegal reality) and Israeli security requirements. The official Israeli understanding of those security requirements is also premised on exceptionalism: that Israel will forever face extraordinary security challenges, irrespective of Palestinian-Israeli peace or even a comprehensive regional peace.

These notions of exceptionalism are changing, although in incomplete ways. For the BDS movement, the paradigm is clearly apartheid South Africa and, to a lesser extent, Northern Ireland and the US civil rights movement. For those actors (like the EU) looking to revive the two-state model by denying recognition to Israeli expressions of sovereignty over Palestinian territory (e.g. by disqualifying Israeli institutions affiliated with settlements from participating in EU-funded R&D projects), the paradigm is one of economic dealings with occupied territories: Crimea, northern Cyprus, Western Sahara, etc.

Among the aspects that, I would suggest, are not unique to Israel/Palestine and might be discussed at the conference are:

-the decay of the Palestinian national movement as it has progressed from revolutionary to institutional, and its inability to extricate itself (in a responsible way) from the Oslo Accords, such that it has the schizophrenic twin identities as a national liberation movement and an instrumentality of the Israeli military government in the occupied territory; and

-a singular focus on a geopolitical outcome (two states) without regard for whether that model provides for true self-determination for the constituent groups (Israeli Jews, Palestinians in the 1967 occupied territory, Palestinian citizens of Israel, Palestinian refugees and the diaspora), and thus, I would suggest, without regard for the sustainability of that model.

I hope this makes sense and is helpful.


I guess you take the prize

Welcome, @omar_shehabi! And what a kickoff. I guess you win the prize for bringing to the LOTE5 table the worst, hairiest, most toxic failure of them all.

I am especially interested by your hint at “multidisciplinary discussion”. It makes plenty of sense to me. What would you say are the missing disciplines in the debate? I guess the following disciplines are well represented:

  1. History.
  2. International law.
  3. Game theory.

Intuitively, complex systems science might have something to say here, but at the moment I do not see how, or what.

Tough nut. Bordering on rock.

I must say I have avoided delving into any real detail on the issue. I did listen to a presentation of an official from Hebron not too long ago, which did make me more curious. As you describe above the issue is so badly deadlocked, I’ve become afraid that if I spend my time on this issue in a “conventional manner” it would likely not be well spent. That said I do little things here and there mostly as a consumer, where I hope not to make things worse.

To be honest my impression is that this issue is one of the remarkably few constants of geopolitics (even though it also seems to be oscillating this way and that). My interpretation is that this is because the issue has become a focal point political tensions from all over the place, which are now almost naturally channeled into the existing conflict. Like a tangle of lines tend to focus on a few knots, even if you pull on many random lose ends. And unfortunately, like you describe above, the situation has become chronic and developed all manner of secondary issues.

This has become so bad that I am not certain if it can be effectively addressed on a legal level. I am half of the opinion that if you naively apply (weak) international law to the conflict, you won’t  cut through the knot, but you may rather end up “blunting the law”. Here I need to admit that I am generally skeptical about solving ongoing problems by law. It is certainly often part of the solution, but all in all I find myself more than a little unhappy with “the mental model of the world” that appear to underlie most legal considerations I know of. The binary thing is certainly a part of that. The other is the effectiveness of prescriptive vs descriptive norms. Here is a example that should actually fit this context fairly well: - make sure you jump to the right time with the link below the embedded vid.

Two things I would recommend is establishing a very clean information flow, and then trying to address enough proximate causes/factors that are not as easily neutralized, even if they are dead slow.

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