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Op-Ed

Israel: Measures of Confidence

Mark L. Cohen, Common Ground News, September 14, 2007

Both Palestinians and Israelis need to be convinced that the political process can lead to constructive change in their respective conditions.

Success in bringing about real Middle East peace will depend on more than marginalizing Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank and a political settlement with the Palestinian Authority alone. Crucially, other Arab nations in the region must also accept the future Palestine as a full-fledged neighboring state, as well as Palestinian nationals themselves as entitled members of the Middle East community. Concrete steps in this direction-with Palestinians no longer treated by Arab neighbor states as outcasts or frontline soldiers in the war against Israel-will in turn provide Israelis and their government the confidence needed to make concessions in the peace process.

Both Palestinians and Israelis need to be convinced that the political process can lead to constructive change in their respective conditions. Progress on the outstanding issues-such as the relocation of West Bank settlers, Jerusalem, the right of return, and the PLO's obligation to crack down on terrorists and their organizations-is obviously vital. But none of this will produce real change unless the nations in the region (Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and countries in the Persian Gulf) acknowledge that Palestinians, inside and outside a future Palestinian state, must have the right to travel, work, and attend universities throughout the area-rights which have been denied by Israel and Arab nations alike.

Only if an end is put to the isolation of Palestinians from their Arab neighbors will viable economic, social as well as political solutions emerge. And only if the two-state solution is formulated in that context will the parties make the necessary political concessions for a viable, long-term peace to take hold. Why? Because despite its economic strengths, Israel alone cannot produce meaningful change in the lives of the 3.5 million Palestinians living inside the new state, nor in the lives of the 2.4 million refugees in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

Yet despite this, there is at least an implicit expectation among Arabs and also Europeans that it somehow falls mostly on Israel to create the conditions needed to satisfy the aspirations and rectify the suffering of the Palestinian people. While both unfair and unrealistic, this expectation goes far back in history. Indeed, having more or less openly decided at the time of the 1948 war to isolate Palestinian refugees in camps and to prevent their integration in the Arab world, Arab states have continued ever since to claim that Israel was and is the sole party responsible for the Palestinian condition. To this day, neighboring states have been at best ambiguous about allowing Palestinians to travel or work in their territories, and for more than 20 years, following the partition of Palestine in 1947, opposed the establishment of a Palestinian state on the West Bank. This refusal to recognize a Palestinian identity is further reflected in UN Resolutions designating Palestinians not as such but as Arab refugees.

Be that as it may, this expectation has had two counterproductive consequences. On the Israeli side, it has led to the lingering suspicion that Arab countries are disingenuous in their avowed passionate defense of Palestinian rights. On the Palestinian side, it has led to the assumption of a front line combatant mission to retrieve the lost honor of the Arab world. This has blinded many Palestinians to the prospect of any future outlook to the East, North or South, and has produced a perhaps excessive fixation on the right of return and other political rights, at the expense of focusing on the right to better lives.

Despite the outstanding issues between the two principal parties, it is now obvious that what is good for the Palestinians is good for Israel. The interdependence of both parties was addressed by Marwan Muasher, a Jordanian Foreign Minister, when he said that progress for the Palestinian people can only be achieved by allowing the Israelis to have "a real sense of security." This position is also being highlighted by the present Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, who said that peace efforts can only be successful if we address the issues of job creation, training, improved internal security and a strong way forward toward building a viable economy. In clear terms, Israelis will only make concessions to the Palestinians when they are convinced that a two-state solution is something sustainable-not just a short-term interruption in the conflict.

Mark Cohen is an international lawyer and counsel for the law firm White & Case in Paris. He also teaches courses on the history of the US legal system. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.

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