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A response to Badawi

Oliver Ramsbotham
7 September 2009

Ahmed Badawi is right to recommend that what is needed in intractable conflicts is inclusive internal ‘conversations' within all main conflict parties (in this case Jewish Israelis and Palestinians) to determine ‘collective preferences' and what the best strategies are for attaining them. This may help to transcend the endless exchange of repetitive slogans to the extent that each is able to wrestle with internal contradictions and to narrow the gap between wish-lists and strategic possibilities. ‘Internal' conversations of this kind can be more hard-fought and bitter than those between ‘external' antagonists - and also more critical for opening or closing contextual space for the more formal processes of official exchanges, explorations, discussions or negotiations. The incentive for doing this in the first instance is not mutual understanding, let alone satisfying what Ahmed Badawi rightly calls the often ‘self-righteous' rhetoric of the ‘international community', but national interest. The motives are to overcome debilitating internal divisions and maximise chances of success.

Oliver Ramsbotham is Professor at the Center for Conflict Resolution, Bradford University. He is chair of the Oxford Research Group.In this case how should Palestinians respond to current Israeli demands that recognition of Israel must extend to recognition of Israel as ‘the state of the Jewish people'? Ahmed Badawi suggests that this could be turned to advantage for Palestinians by using it as a bargaining tool or ‘condition' for removing ‘all forms of discrimination against the Palestinian citizens of Israel'. Evidently it would be up to Palestinians to decide, but no Palestinian leadership could actually do this in those terms and survive, because, as Ahmed Badawi himself says, it would be seen to endorse the outrage of initial dispossession and perhaps entrench future discrimination. Nor would Israel accept that Israeli Arabs are discriminated against. Nevertheless, what Palestinians could do is to explore in detail what ‘Israel as the state of the Jewish people' means before dismissing it. In other words put pressure on Jewish Israelis to clarify what exactly Palestinians inside and outside Israel are being asked to recognise, what the consequences are likely to be and for whom, why Palestinians should do this, and in which directions the prevailing currents of international opinion on the issue (including international law) lie. This might open up a fruitful and detailed international debate, so far notably absent, carry the issue beyond sloganeering, and fulfil some of the functions that Ahmed Badawi creatively suggests could be played by a greater emphasis on ‘parallel Israeli Jewish and Palestinian conversations'.

See also 

The state(s) and the right of return by Gershon Baskin

Both these pieces are reactions to Ahmed Badawi’s Palestine: seize the initiative

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