The failure of force: an alternative option

Prince Hassan of Jordan
16 January 2009

The United Nations partition plan of 1947 in the middle east did not include an agenda for implementation. This and many subsequent failures have meant that during the subsequent sixty years, thousands have died needlessly in several wars involving Israel and its Arab neighbours. Today, once again the region rings with the cries of hatred, anger and violence and the land is soaked with the blood of the innocent dead. Fear and suffering, the misery of those who cannot even flee, and massive destruction burden the living. Now, in the third week of the latest war, over 1,000 Gazan Palestinians have been killed, and over 4,000 injured - approximately 40 percent of whom have been women and children. In some instances, entire families have been wiped out as they sheltered together in their homes.
Prince Hassan is a senior member of the Jordanian royal family, and president of the Arab Thought Forum. His official website is here

Also by Prince Hassan in openDemocracy:

Annapolis: a view from Amman" (26 November 2007)

The tragedy unfolding in Gaza today epitomises the failure of force to achieve solutions. It could have been different. Instead we are witnessing an humanitarian crisis of catastrophic proportions in a conflict with far-reaching implications: first and foremost for the people of Palestine, but also for the immediate region and far, far beyond.

The challenge

The Israel-Palestine conflict is a woeful tale of missed opportunities, broken promises, moments of hope shattered by renewed acts of aggression and an entrenchment of polarised positions. At this precise moment, mutual suspicion, distrust and the pain of cumulative trauma on both sides, coupled with the need to satisfy the demands of domestic constituencies, drown rational discourse. In addition, the terrifying toll of recent days - human lives lost, infrastructure pulverised, and psyches destroyed by trauma - places a further block on all non-violent opportunities for creative solutions.

In the immediate days ahead, there is an urgent need to open up new channels for discussion with all parties to the conflict. The United Nations secretary-general's interventions are welcome; yet neither he nor anyone else seems to have any long- term proposals. While it is certain that united international pressure is urgently needed to halt the violence on both sides, a ceasefire in and of itself cannot win the peace.

The politics of fear must give way to the politics of hope. There is desperate need of a vision that offers powerful evidence of the immediate potential of the peace dividend in terms of improvement in conditions on the ground. In the longer term, supranational issues - water, energy, the environment, arms control, economic refugees - issues often regarded as a source of conflict, should be transformed into sources of long-term stability. Peace should be consolidated through real economic empowerment.
Among openDemocracy's articles on the Gaza conflict of 2008-09:

Paul Rogers, "Gaza: hope after attack" (1 January 2009)

Avi Shlaim, "Israel and Gaza: rhetoric and reality" (7 January 2009)

Paul Rogers, "Gaza: the Israel-United States connection" (7 January 2009)

Tarek Osman, "Egypt's dilemma: Gaza and beyond" (12 January 2009)

Mary Robinson, "A crisis of dignity in Gaza" (13 January 2009)

Paul Rogers, "Gaza: the wider war" (13 January 2009)

Menachem Kellner, "Israel's Gaza war: five asymmetries" (14 January 2009)

Khaled Hroub, "Hamas after the Gaza war" (15 January 2009)

However, any meaningful peace initiative must address the region as a whole (inclusive of Iran and Turkey). There must also be continuous engagement, the absence of which has caused past processes to founder. A new mechanism is needed that can withstand political volatility and ensure that no one party can jeopardise continued conversation or block the achievement of a negotiated settlement through dialogue. That is the challenge for all concerned.

The agency

Clearly, at this moment, neither Israel nor Hamas can themselves initiate this process. This, in the context of the present dire circumstances, raises the question: could a temporary international stabilisation agency take over formal, legal jurisdiction, to establish and oversee the development of provisional democratic self-governing institutions to ensure conditions for a peaceful and normal life for all inhabitants of Palestine and Israel?

Such an agency would assume a temporary caretaking role in both the occupied territories and the disputed areas of Israel, simultaneously meeting the demand for an end to occupation and minimising internal fears of appearing to concede on political positions. Its primary responsibility would be to undertake effective and even-handed peace enforcement, inclusive of decisive action against any act of terror or violence. As such, the agency would be an international mediating force which could protect Arabs from Israelis, Arabs from Arabs, Israelis from Arabs, and Israelis from Israelis.

Gaza has been effectively destroyed. In the Gaza strip, therefore, the agency would instigate and supervise the restoration of basic services, the rebuilding of national institutions, and the training of the now-decimated police force. Throughout the occupied territories it would also assist in rehabilitating refugees, attracting and managing proper development funds and projects rather than mere aid, monitoring future elections, and facilitating final-status negotiations with the Israelis. Additionally, it should assist in the empowerment of the Palestinians through the promotion of national unity. This will require supporting forthcoming elections - including representatives of all parties, of current prisoners and refugees - so that the agency becomes truly representative of the Palestinian people.

The moment

When all the factors of nationalism, ethnicity, religion and history are stripped away, what remains are the unresolved issues of sovereignty - both of Palestine and of Israel.

If this region is to develop an intra-dependency of sovereign states, we must first discuss issues of legitimacy, authority, and jurisdiction, and define these issues in terms of long-term goals. The carrot of economic cooperation cannot be held out as a substitute for political rights. Rather, a regional community for water and energy must be premised on its contribution to the human environment, dedicated to the preservation of human dignity, and beyond the reach of ideologues and corrupt politicians.

Such an initiative would require a carefully chosen "Track II" team of regional representatives, inclusive of civil society, academics, facilitators and others able to adopt a nuanced approach to the various issues. Their task would be twofold - to mediate, negotiate and facilitate with the necessary sensitivity, and to advance cooperation on the full range of trans-regional issues.

In brief, three steps are proposed. First, the implementation of an immediate ceasefire. Second, the establishment of a temporary international stabilisation agency to monitor and mediate between all parties on the ground. Third, a long-term Track II team to facilitate and support a sustainable negotiated settlement on all issues.

Our mutual survival demands a long-term and sustainable peace, and a recognition of interdependent sovereignties across the entire region. To continue to depend on the rule of force and on power as a deterrent will merely be to foster greater extremism.

Today, large numbers of people are suffering. To allow the conflict in Gaza to continue will be nothing less than an indication of moral bankruptcy; of the failure of those involved - of both parties to the conflict, of regional players, of the Quartet, the European Union, the United States and of the international community as a whole - to seize the moment, and act before it is too late.

Is the fertile crescent to become a futile crescent? Or can we, collectively, wake up and find the moral courage and political vision for a quantum-leap in Palestine?

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