The suggestion by heads of Arab states that Israel should accept their Peace Plan and the invitation by the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, to the Arab heads of states to exchange their ideas with him was met by the world press with a measure of scepticism.
The reason for this scepticism is that no similar efforts have succeeded in the past.
But can the Middle East Conflict be resolved?
Why all the previous attempts have failed?
What needs to be done to resolve this nearly 60 years' old conflict?
The first step to answering these questions is to understand the natural limitations of the powers of heads of state on either of the sides. — If they try to impose on their own people a solution which will be seen as unjust, they will be faced with opposition from their own people, prolongation of the conflict and diminution and possible eventual loss of their own powers.
Yasser Arafat understood that, as far as the issue of Jerusalem was concerned. Thus, when in the talks preceding the Oslo Agreement, he was asked to give to the Israelis East Jerusalem, his answer was: “If I agree to that, I shall be assassinated tomorrow [by my own bodyguards], and you will have to continue to negotiate with Shaikh Yasin [the then leader of Hamas, who was opposed to any agreement with Israel]”.
Being preoccupied with the idea of an internationally recognized Palestinian State, he did not see the importance of the issue of the property rights of the Palestinians who were driven out of their houses at the time of the establishment of the State of Israel. So, he accepted the idea of leaving the issue of these property rights unresolved in exchange for a promise of a Palestinian State.
The result was that while some Palestinians and the “International Community” were celebrating the Oslo Agreement, many Palestinians were saying, “This agreement is between Yasser Arafat and the Israelis. We are not part of it. We want our land back”. And they joined Hamas.
Similar non‐acceptance of the Oslo Agreement could be observed on the Israeli side — many Jews, in Israel and the Diaspora (USA, Europe, etc.) still supported the idea of Greater Israel, which would absorb East Jerusalem, the rest of Palestine or even would extend from the Nile to the Euphrates. They joined the Likud.
So, an agreement between heads of state is not enough to resolve a conflict. It will work only, if it will address the real substantive causes of the conflict.
And to resolve the real substantive causes of the conflict, one needs to identify them, honestly accept them, and then find practical, workable ways of dealing with these causes.
The root cause of the Middle East conflict is not the existence of a Jewish state. If this state had been established on a “land without people” (as some early European Zionists saw Palestine), there would have been no conflict. The root cause of the Middle East conflict is the violation of the property rights of the Palestinians by the State of Israel. All the other issues arose as a consequence of this primary cause.
Throughout the period of the conflict the Israelis have tried to ignore or deny this violation of Palestinian property rights, claiming that the conflict is due to the Palestinian hostility towards the State of Israel or to Jews in general. And from such distorted view of the conflict their solution was: “Peace will come, if the Palestinians acknowledge the right of Israel to exist”. While they themselves were refusing to acknowledge the facts (1) of the violation of the Palestinian property rights, and (2) that it was this violation of the Palestinian property rights that was the prime cause of the Palestinian hostility towards Israel.
But as long as the violation of the Palestinian property rights exists, so will the Palestinian hostility towards Israel. And attempts by the Israelis to force the Palestinians to abandon their property rights by killings and further seizures and destruction of Palestinian property only increase the hostility towards Israel on the part of Palestinians and Arabs and Muslims around the world.
The existence of the State of Israel is a fact. And so is the fact of the violation by Israel of the Palestinian property rights.
Without acknowledgment of both of these facts the Middle East Conflict cannot be resolved by peaceful means. And attempts by the Israelis to resolve this conflict by military means (the present War on Terror) is proving to be not as easy as they would like it to be, and, if continued, is likely to result in a solution which will be not to their benefit.
So, if Ehud Olmert really wants peace in the Middle East, which will preserve Israel as a Jewish state, by making the Palestinians to accept not only the fact of the physical existence of that state, but also the legality of this existence, then he needs to acknowledge the fact and the legality of the Palestinian property rights.
Such recognition does not mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state, as some suggest. The Palestinian claims to their property can be settled by other means than physical return of millions of Palestinians to Yafa or Akka, and thus causing another humanitarian catastrophe (similar to the American invasion of Iraq).
It is possible to satisfy the Palestinian claims by way of a monetary compensation, which needs to be of such magnitude that the Palestinians would see it as just1.
So, for a conference of heads of states that would result in a permanent peace, Ehud Olmert would need to prepare himself by honestly considering the real causes of the conflict, without hoping to deceive his opponents or himself. Without such preparation the conference will yield nothing but another set of slogans and catch‐phrases, another roadmap to nowhere, and ... continuation of the conflict.
1) It is financially feasible, and even cheaper than continuation of the conflict, to satisfy the maximalist aspirations of both the sides, if to ignore the political slogans and rhetorics and to deal with the real facts.