The last 15 years have shown that neither Israel nor the Palestinians can reach peace on their own, each for complex internal and external reasons. My claim is that only a permanent, internationally sponsored regional peace conference can unfreeze the deadlock, and that Britain, France and Germany are bound to play a central role in this process.
This is the conclusion of research conducted for years by Permanent Monitoring Panel on Terrorism of the World Federation of Scientists of which I am a member. This panel includes several of the leading researchers in relevant disciplines and is chaired by Lord John Alderdice who has been applying his experience in the Northern Irish peace process in a variety of conflicts around the world. The time has come to apply this model in the Middle East – as some recent events indicate.
Gordon Brown s visit to Israel was preceded in recent months by German Bundeskanzler Angela Merkel and French President Nicholas Sarkozy. Addressing the Knesset, all of them expressed strong solidarity and commitment to Israel s survival and security. Nevertheless they criticized Israel s policies in the West Bank. All of them emphasized that the security wall and the road blocks create unacceptable conditions for Palestinians, and all of them made clear that they believe that East Jerusalem will have to be the Palestinian capital.
This combination between solidarity and criticism is very important to the Israeli psyche, and as such a positive first step. But it is time for Europe to realize that it must go way beyond this and start playing an active role in the Middle Eastern conflict – a role desperately needed to assuage Israeli fears and to give hope to Palestinians.
Israelis overwhelmingly feel that they have no trustworthy backing except the US. Most Europeans are highly critical towards Israel, often for good reasons, and as a result mostly have no empathy whatsoever for Israel s existential fears. I often hear that they think these fears are but cynical inventions to justify the continuing occupation of Palestinian territories.
Nothing could be further from the truth: the fears are psychologically very real – and they have some factual basis. Iran s Ahmadinejad s holocaust denial, his comparison of Israel to a cancer to be excised from the Middle East combined with Iran s run for nuclear capacity create panic in Israel. Add to this that Hamas quotes the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in its charter – and you get a combination in which all traumas of recent Jewish history are reactivated.
None of this justifies even a further minute of Israeli occupation of the West Bank, or the expansion of a single settlement. The problem is that repeated traumas like suicide bombings shortly after signature of the Oslo agreements or rocket barrages after the evacuation of Gaza have led to the point where most Israelis no longer believe that it is worth taking risks for peace.
Because of its isolation and lack of true European support, Israel has leaned exclusively on the US. The results, particularly through more than seven years of the George W. Bush administration, have been catastrophic. The US invention of the War on Terror and the Axis of Evil were in destructive synergy with Israel s basically fearful and suspicious state of mind.
In addition, the US has largely built their decades-long efforts towards peace in the Middle East on a summit strategy. Behind-the-scenes negotiations led to high-profile summits. For the last decade this modus operandi has led from failure to failure, and has undermined belief in peace on both sides.
Under such conditions there is only the solution suggested by our panel s research: a permanent peace conference that is not limited in time, involving all parties, including the Arab League, and, in the long run, Iran.
Britain, Germany and France could play a crucial role in setting up and sponsoring such a framework, because the United States have lost their status as honest brokers through the blunders of the George W. Bush era – even though it is to be hoped that the next American administration will be open to multilateralist approach and undo some of the damages of the last seven years.
Britons, Germans and French might well ask: but why should we get involved in the most intractable conflict on the globe?
I believe there is a compelling answer. The tension between the west and political Islam is probably the number one geopolitical problem in the world, and Europe, for geographic and historical reasons is involved in it up to its neck. While the tension between the Islamic world and the west has deep historical roots and is not caused by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the latter has become the icon for the clash of the west and Islam – a paradigm that is on the way to becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Solving it is among Europe s existential interests and hence more than worth the trouble.
Carlo Strengeris a professor in the psychology department of Tel Aviv University and a member of the Permanent Monitoring Panel on Terrorism of the World Federation of Scientists. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org. It was first published in The Guardian, www.guardian.co.uk.