Seizing the Opportunity


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“As President-elect Barack Obama’s administration begins, a new comprehensive approach to advancing peaceful relations between Israelis and Palestinians, and other peoples in the Middle East, becomes possible. Such an approach can be effective. It would build on elements of the progress made in the past that promise to overcome the great obstacles that continue to block more peaceful relations….”

Author: Louis Kriesberg, Maxwell Professor Emeritus of Social Conflict Studies, Syracuse University and author of Constructive Conflicts
Published in: Huntington News Network (home page: http://www.huntingtonnews.net/)
Date: December 11, 2008

For the full article:
Seizing the Opportunity
(670 words)
by Louis Kriesberg

As President-elect Barack Obama’s administration begins, a new comprehensive approach to advancing peaceful relations between Israelis and Palestinians, and other peoples in the Middle East, becomes possible. Such an approach can be effective. It would build on elements of the progress made in the past that promise to overcome the great obstacles that continue to block more peaceful relations.

The U.S. government, along with many American non-governmental organizations, must be more fully engaged in advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace and cooperative relations among all countries in the Middle East. That engagement must persevere for a long time, and not be limited to episodic interventions. All the peoples in that region seek lasting security, not a security that relies on military force and police actions, but a lasting security based on economic wellbeing, mutual recognition of basic human rights and the determination to protect those rights. The United States can contribute to fostering such security, not only directly, but, more importantly, by facilitating peoples in the region to achieve those conditions themselves.

In order to implement a comprehensive approach, the U.S. government must work with many other governments in the region, with international organizations and with the numerous non-governmental organizations that foster peace there. Advocates of peace must provide ways to allow contending parties in the region to acknowledge their fears and claims. They must also willingly support those groups on each side that extend themselves to find common ground with their adversaries.

Lasting peace, ultimately, must be made by the antagonists in a conflict. Outside parties can help provide some safety as enemies venture along the road to peaceful relations, but they cannot impose enduring peace. They should, however, urge that all stakeholders participate in this process, even those parties whom, they fear, might undermine and disrupt progress toward peace.

Despite harsh antagonisms and hostile conduct among and between different Jewish Israelis and Arab Palestinians, regional governments and nongovernmental organizations have already engaged in direct and indirect negotiations to find accommodations. For example, the Turkish government has mediated between Israel and Syria, adding the possibility of providing water from Turkish sources to them and other neighboring countries. In addition, the Egyptian government has mediated negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian authority and between the Palestinian authority and Hamas. Furthermore, notable improvements have been made by Palestinian officials in improving local security conditions. In pursuing a comprehensive approach, the U.S. government would encourage such efforts and at the appropriate time combine progress in different areas into a mutually acceptable and viable plan.

A comprehensive approach would be well served by a long-term vision of regional peace. Such a vision would be desirable and can be plausible. It would certainly include widespread economic benefits resulting from regional cooperation, stability, and reduced military expenditures. It would include mutual respect and humane interaction across communal lines. Mutually-agreed upon borders, modifying those long-discussed by Israeli and Palestinian representatives, would lead to great improvement in living conditions, freer movement, and reducing humiliations.

Even Iranian nuclear weapons development could be averted in the context of a comprehensive regional peace. A regional nuclear free zone might be constructed. This would be made more likely in the grander context of a global ban on nuclear weapons, fulfilling the vision of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Progress in one area can facilitate progress in another. The advantage of a comprehensive approach is that it increases the possibility of finding attractive trade-offs. Progress in one area can also help retain progress in another. Sustained peace becomes believable, and therefore a more likely reality.

President-elect Obama has sparked great hope around the world. That optimism gives him an historic opportunity to move energetically toward peace in the Middle East. Progress toward peace would ease many other concerns and threats facing the United States. In order to undertake the kind of comprehensive approach sketched here, the American people must encourage and support the efforts of the new U.S. government and join with nongovernmental organizations to work toward a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

Louis Kriesberg is Maxwell Professor Emeritus of Social Conflict Studies, Syracuse University and author of Constructive Conflicts.