Building blocks for peace in the Middle East
The minimal demands of both sides
are compatible and legitimate;
the maximum demands lead to endless war.
The unspeakable tragedy unfolding in this sixth
Israel–Arab war should force us to focus on what peace might look
like. The building blocs are clear, but they are threatened particularly
by those who stop thinking when it is needed most. The building
 The UN Security Council Resolutions 194 and
242, demanding the return of Palestinians and the withdrawal of
Israel to the 1967 (meaning before the June war) borders.
 The resolution by the Palestine National Council
of 15 November 1988, accepting a two state solution.
 The proposal by Saudi Arabia in 2002 that
Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders in exchange for recognition
by all Arab states.
Putting the building blocs in place we get two
states side by side with East Jerusalem and most of the West Bank
reverting to Palestine (Israel has already withdrawn from Gaza),
the Golan Heights to Syria, and some minor border problems solved,
sometimes through creative adjustments. No big revolution. Only
But there are also minimum and maximum demands
on both sides.
Palestine has three minimum, non–negotiable demands:
- a Palestinian state in line with  and 
- East Jerusalem as the capital, and
- the right of return as a right, numbers to be
Israel has two minimum, non–negotiable demands:
- recognition of the Jewish state, Israel,
All five goals are legitimate, and compatible.
The Palestinian legitimacy rests on continued
residence, and the Jewish legitimacy on territorial attachment in
their cultural narratives, and their residence there in the past.
It does not rest on their suffering at German and European hands.
Any territorial bill on that basis would have to be placed at the
feet of Germany.
The demands are compatible because they can be
bridged by a two states solution with the 1967 borders, to be spelt
But there are also maximum goals: an Eretz Israel
defined by Genesis between the two rivers Nile and Euphrates (or
something in that direction), and on the Palestinian/Arab/Muslim
side no Israel at all, erased from the map. Their incompatibility
is obvious. But they are also illegitimate. There is more than a
de facto basis for a Jewish state.
How strong are the maximum demands? A major tragedy
of this war is that it strengthens the maximalists, not only “hatred.”
On the Israeli side some will feel the borders cannot be far enough
out, at least where disarmament of anyone hostile to Israel is concerned.
And their numbers are increasing by the day, week, month(?) of war.
On the Arab/Muslim side, some will feel the solution to Israel is
no Israel at all. Their numbers, no doubt, are also increasing.
The two maximalist positions are emotionally and
intellectually satisfying, being simple, easy to understand. And
spell nothing but endless war. The Arabs have to accept SOME Israel
state, but not the overextended, belligerent monster of today. And
the Jews have to understand that settler colonialism AND occupation
AND continued expansion will never bring them secure borders. The
road to security passes through peace. There is no road to peace
that passes through security in the sense of eliminating publicly–supported
Hezbollah and democratically elected Hamas. What perhaps might work
against smaller and less firmly rooted groups will never work today.
There will be new groups coming up all the time.
Governments may be bribed or threatened into acquiescence, people
never. Behind Israel there are some increasingly unwilling governments,
also behind settler colonialism: USA, UK, Australia. Behind Palestine
there is the Arab and Muslim world — considerably larger.
Maybe 1.3 billion and increasing, as against 0.3 billion and decreasing.
The in–between peace position must be made equally
compelling. There is the 1967 possible meeting point with minor
revisions and the idea of two states with capitals in Jerusalem
(thus, Jerusalem could become a confederation of two cities, East
But two demands still have to be met: the Israeli
demand for security and the Palestinian for the right of some, limited,
Saudi Arabia’s recognition is a necessary but
not sufficient condition for positive peace. Sovereign states may
recognize each other and still go to war. They must be woven together
in a web of positive interdependence making sustainable peace desirable
Since Israel wants secure borders, why not focus
on the border countries Lebanon, Syria, Palestine recognized, Jordan
and Egypt? Imagine the five border countries add to recognition
a readiness to consider a Middle East Community, along the lines
of the European Community, as a major carrier of sustainable peace
in the region?
The formula that accommodated Germany may also
There would still be the problem of Palestinian
return, half a million in Lebanon alone. And there is the problem
of some parts of the West bank being a part of the Israeli narrative
of the past. So why not exchange one for the other? Some Jewish
cantons in a West Bank under Palestinian sovereignty in exchange
for some Arab cantons inside a sovereign Israel? Both states could
become federations rather than unitary states that are relics of
the past anyhow.
The nongovernmental Geneva agreement is a nonstarter
because it falls short on rather major points:
- East Jerusalem as capital and a right of return
- Borders can only become reasonably secure in
a peace community, like the Nordic Union, the European Union,
This peace solution is compelling by being so
But not obvious to Israeli and Western leaders
now traveling down the Viet Nam trail, with Israel : Lebanon = USA
: Viet Nam. USA did not win, and withdrew. The same will happen
to Israel. Further down, on the same trail of mad stupidity, 9/11
and Iraq are waiting.
There is the idea of Lebanon in two parts, with
international forces pacifying a South isolated from two evil outsiders,
Syria and Iran. As doomed to failure as in Viet Nam. Hezbollah is
a part of Lebanon like “Viet Cong” of Viet Nam. And arms are easily
There is the indiscriminate killing of civilians,
in line with the two points made by the Israeli army chief of staff,
General Dan Halutz: to bomb ten buildings in the shiite district
of Beirut for each Katyusha missile launched against Israel, and
to “bomb Lebanon 20 years into the past” (EL PAIS 28/7, HAARETZ
and JERUSALEM POST; USA said back to the Stone Ages). Hezbollah
also kills civilians, but the ratios are at least 10:1. The final
ratio may be closer to Hitler’s famous order in 1941 to execute
50 civilians for each German soldier killed by the “terrorists”
(they used that term): Lidice in the Czech Republic, OradoursurGlane
in France, Kortelisy in Ukraine. Today most of Lebanon is used for
collective punishment. And to Israel Jewish lives are worth much
more than Arab lives.
There is the naive idea that violence disappears
if Hezbollah is disarmed, along UNSC 1559 lines. But 1559 makes
no sense without 194 and 242. Israel cannot pick a resolution it
wants, relying on USA forever controlling the UN. And Hezbollah
will be reborn.
Everybody should work for real peace as political
complement to immediate humanitarian ceasefire. To help Israel stumble
down the Viet Nam trail is blind solidarity, not an act of friendship.
Europeans could mobilize the talent and experience
of the European Community/Union for a sustainable peace, not for
infinite and escalating warfare. That would be an act of true friendship.
And in Israel itself? A coming generation might
do well to question the wisdom of the major Zionist ideologue, Vladimir
Yabotinsky, inspiring Begin, Netanyahu, Sharon and now Olmert. To
Yabotinsky there seem to be only two options, either “impotent,
humiliating self–sacrifice or militant, invincible rage” (Jacqueline
Rose, “The Zionist Imagination” in The Nation, June 26, 2006,
s. 34) To Yabotinsky, Jews had been humiliated, shamed by violence
and the answer is militancy, violence. This vision, apart from making
violence a cornerstone of human existence, is short on the third
option: negotiation, settlement, peace.
And the Arabs, Muslims? Something similar. But
Islam opens for a third possibility, not only daralIslam and daralHarb,
the House of Peace, the House of war, there is the daralAhd, the
coexistence with the infidels possibly in a community, not too close,
not too distant. Possibly also as an Organization for the Security
and Cooperation in the Middle East. The present generation would
also do well to elaborate this in more detail, today.
When will those generations come, how far have
we been set back? Difficult to tell. The three building blocs for
peace have been there for some time, but nothing seemed acceptable
to Israel. They never were let into the collective mind, into public
space. Outside pressure will only confirm the stark Yabotinsky dichotomy.
If Israel wants security, mainstream Israel must want peace.
That leaves us with the maximalists. Their strongest
argument against the moderates is “your line doesn’t work”. And
the strongest counterargument, like for ETA, for IRA, is to prove
Johan Galtung is founder and Director of TRANSCEND
— A Peace and Development Network for Conflict Transformation
by Peaceful Means, with more than 300 members from over 80 countries
around the world and Rector of TRANSCEND Peace University (TPU).
An experienced peace worker and Professor of Peace Studies, he is
widely regarded as the founder of the academic discipline of peace
research and one of the leading pioneers of peace and conflict transformation
in theory and practice. He has played an active role in helping
mediate and prevent violence in 45 major conflicts around the world
over the past four decades, and is author of the United Nations’
first ever manual for trainers and participants on “Conflict Transformation
by Peaceful Means: The TRANSCEND Approach(UNDP 2000).” He has taught
Peace Studies at the Universities of Hawaii, Witten/Herdecke, Tromsoe,
Alicante, Ritsumeikan and the European Peace University, among many
others. Galtung established the Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO)
in 1959, the Journal of Peace Research in 1964, and co–launched
the Nordic Institute for Peace Research (NIFF) in 2000.