Walter Russell Mead proposes a new path to Israeli-Palestinian peace

Walter Russell Mead Mead points to younger Palestinians he met on a recent visit to the region who, he claims, increasingly reject the failed politics of the older generation, in part because they acknowledge that Israel “is better-governed than the West Bank under the PA—with better administration, less corruption and more responsiveness to public opinion” – and desire a dramatic shift from the stale policies…that have led the Palestinian people to its current plight”.

Reports in the Guardian and other British media outlets on the US sponsored economic conference scheduled to take place next month in Bahrain, as the first step of its peace plan, have focused on negative reaction to  by Palestinian leaders.  The “Peace and Prosperity Workshop”, which aims to bring governments, civil society and business leaders together to “facilitate…an…achievable…vision for a prosperous future”, has been dismissed by senior Palestinian officials because it doesn’t initially deal with final status issues.

The Guardian cited comments by Mahmoud Abbas, Saeb Erekat and PA prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh:

A spokesman for the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, on Monday cast doubt over the Bahrain conference. “Any plan without a political horizon will not lead to peace,” Nabil Abu Rdeneh said.

Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian diplomat and negotiator, said: “All efforts to make the oppressor and the oppressed coexist are doomed to fail … This is not about improving living conditions under occupation but about reaching Palestine’s full potential by ending the Israeli occupation.”

The Palestinian prime minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, said…“We do not submit to blackmail and we don’t trade our political rights for money.”

Yet, save one article in The Economist, the rationale behind the immediate Palestinian rejection of the economic conference has gone unchallenged by journalists.  

However, Walter Russell Mead, writing in the Wall Street Journal, makes a persuasive argument that co-existence, normalisation efforts and initiatives to promote PA economic growth are in fact pre-prerequisites to any long term final status agreement that would address Palestinian political aspirations:

“It is the Palestinian myth of eternal resistance, and the violence and terrorism the myth legitimates, that perpetuates Israel’s occupation. If the Palestinians were ready to end the resistance and instead promote reconciliation and close economic and political links with the Jewish state, there is no limit to the prosperity that the Palestinians could achieve. There are also concessions to Palestinian territorial and political aspirations that no Israeli leader will make under threat, but that many would accept in conditions of true peace.

Palestinians today don’t need a Nelson Mandela who can lead the struggle for equal political rights in one state. They need a Konrad Adenauer: a leader who can accept military defeat and painful territorial losses while building a prosperous future through reconciliation with the victors. As Adenauer’s postwar West Germany showed, it is possible to recover from crushing defeats, but defeat must be accepted before it can be overcome. A new generation, instead of following its elders down the rabbit hole of eternally futile resistance, could instead work toward competent governance, and ultimately reconciliation and renewal.

Mead may be guilty of being overly optimistic that such a shift could occur absent a true paradigm shift within Palestinian society – namely, a rejection of the zero-sum, honour-shame, moral calculus (and victim-centered identity) that drives so much of their decision making.  Just look at the PA’s decision to reject all tax revenues from Israel to protest Jerusalem’s deduction of money the Palestinians pay to terrorists – despite the injurious economic impact of such a stance – to understand how far Palestinians are from implementing a prosperity and cooperation-based strategy.

Yet, Mead points to younger Palestinians he met on a recent visit to the region – their millennials – who, he claims, increasingly reject the failed politics of the older generation, in part because they acknowledge that Israel “is better-governed than the West Bank under the PA—with better administration, less corruption and more responsiveness to public opinion” – and desire a dramatic shift from the stale policies…that have led the Palestinian people to its current plight”.

Like the Arab states threatened by Iran, Mead concludes, “some Palestinians may be slowly beginning to realise that everything that makes Israel a formidable foe can also make it a valuable friend”.

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