Is peace possible?
August 4, 2017
An article by a former Israeli Ambassador to Greece details the breakdown in peace talks meant to reunite the Island of Cyprus, and suggests a parallel to frustrations at brokering a peace between Israel and Palestinians.
In both Cyprus and Israel, the status quo is neither war nor formal peace. There remain unresolved issues of property ownership, and families who left, and cannot return to what they used to call home. Movement between the two sections, whether on Cyprus or Israel-West Bank has at times been easier for foreign tourists than residents of either section. The Israel-Palestinian conflict is complicated by something like half of the Palestinian territory (i.e., Gaza) being closed to all but a few able to obtain permits.
Violence is more of an issue for Israel and Palestinians than for Cypriots. Various writings indicate that Greek-Turkish violence has not been an issue for some years on Cyprus. One commentary on the problems of reaching a formal peace is headlined, “Beyond Violence.” Another is “The Cyprus problem: Why solve a ‘comfortable’ conflict?”
While those headlines aren’t as suitable for Israel and Palestinians, they aren’t all that different from what could be described.
All this will be tested by what may be a game changer, i.e., a terror attack close to the Temple Mount, and Israel’s initial response in closing the Temple Mount to Friday prayers and shutting all the gates to the Old City.
Cyprus does not only resemble Israel in its political-social context. It’s also the closest country that Israeli Jews can visit without looking over their shoulder, as in Jordan or Egypt.
The island is only a half-hour flight from Tel Aviv, once passengers go through security and the plane gets in the air.
Many choose a “Cyprus marriage” (not all of them in Cyprus, per se), meaning a secular ceremony in a city hall for those Jews and others who cannot, or who do not want a religious ceremony with an Orthodox rabbi.
Israelis visit resorts in both Greek and Turkish sectors of Cyprus, and cross over in Nicosea from a southern European ambiance to one that is scuzzier and more Middle Eastern.
It’s a great place to visit, if you know how to drive on the left.
The worthies wanting a more complete arrangement for us, with a formal signing and declared end of conflict, are no closer than the Turks and Greeks of Cyprus, and the various outsiders seeking to resolve their disputes.
Israelis are aware of Donald Trump’s interest in solving the problems with the Palestinians, but the issue is not on the front burner.
We hear that Trump will declare the onset of negotiations programmed to last for two years, but so far there is no starting date or other details. Critics are chiding the American administration for sending highly placed son-in-law, lacking diplomatic experience, to deal with the issue. They are also noting that—against what are said to be Trump’s personal demands—Palestinians refuse to stop funding the families of terrorists killed or jailed by Israel, and the Palestinians’ refusal to welcome the pro-settler US Ambassador to their capital in Ramallah.
We can wonder if Trump’s presidency will last long enough to declare the onset of his peace process, or another two years if the process begins.
The end of Netanyahu’s tenure might also affect things.
Both the Cyprus story and the Israel-Palestinian story are buffered by outsiders whose own interests get in the way of accommodation. West Bank Palestinians are threatened by the Gaza-based Hamas, as well as a number of militant Islamic groups throughout the Muslim world for whom Israel is the symbol of all that is evil. Moderate Arab governments that cooperate with Israel quietly occasionally join the fray, and express their unbending support for Palestine in all of what existed before 1967.
It’s not only the massive pressure of foreign populations that limit what Palestinians are likely to accept from those seeking a deal with Israel. At a much lower level are individual Palestinians and Israeli Arabs who work to scuttle any possibility of a deal. They include those in Isaweea who burned down an Israeli branch post office, the mass of Jerusalem Arabs who do not vote in municipal elections, and activists in Israeli Arab towns who object to their municipality receiving money from the Israeli government.
It’s not hard to find observers who lament the lack of progress, assign blame to both Israelis and Palestinians, and demand reconciliation.
Lovely idea, but elusive among Israelis and Palestinians, as well as many Greeks and Turks living on Cyprus, along with overseas Greeks and Turks cheering on the side they have chosen in Cyprus.
Perhaps the answer is somewhere in the history of Germany and France. They have gotten along since World War II.
Could the answer be as simple as the massive destruction of lives and property associated with several periods of intense warfare? Or could it have more to do with the centrality of western Europe and the efforts of the United States as well as Europeans to overcome the tendency to warfare and revenge in an area crucial to civilization as they view it?
By these measures, both Cyprus and Israel and the Palestinians are small change. They have not experienced the level of destruction of France or Germany, and they are not important enough to create great efforts to impose agreement against those opposed.
The ideal that seems feasible lies in the realm of detailed accommodations. We’re seeing more regular delivery of electricity and water in the West Bank, as well as proposals to increase the permits to work in Israel (along with the removal of permits from family members of Palestinians involved in violence), and proposals to extend the benefit of working in Israel to Gazans. There’s also been Israeli cooperation with the expansion of a West Bank city (Qalqilya) said to be relatively free of violence.
None of these proposals or accomplished steps assure Israel’s security. Many are certain that a mass of Arabs will massacre and plunder if given the opportunity. Individual attacks and the praise of those who sacrifice themselves for the sake of Palestine—along with incessant threats from Iran and Hezbollah—are all that is needed to justify continued suspicion of Muslim intents, along with high outlays on security and mandatory service.
Israeli officials responded to the terror attack alongside the Temple Mount by taking some unusual steps, but also expressed their intention not to make things worse. With the tinder smoldering, the Prime Minister said that he would honor status quo agreements with Jordan and Muslim religious authorities. We could assume that there were Palestinians itching to escalate. Jordanian officials expressed criticism of Israel’s temporary closing of the Temple Mount, but within the parameters expected from a Muslim monarchy having a restive population.
A day after the incident, Israeli media returned to focus on escalating police investigations getting closer to the Prime Minister.
We might ask, if Israeli efforts at accommodation do not assure security, why bother?
Advocates argue that they increase the probability of relative peace, admittedly for a future that is indefinite and may be short.
And when, they might insist, has the situation of Jews been assured?
Comments welcome. Irashark@gmail.com.