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memri
July 21, 1999 No.
40

Arab Peace Strategy and the Fragmentation of Israeli Society.

In an article in the London-based Arabic daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, reprinted in the Palestinian daily Al-Quds on July 4, 1999, the journalist Saleh Qallab discusses the importance of the polarization of Israeli society - which was evident in the last general elections. The author's analysis focuses on the political thought of PLO Executive Committee Secretary General, Mahmoud Abbas, aka "Abu Mazen," who was the first to claim that the fragmentation of Israeli society is relevant to the Arab strategy in the peace process.

"The Arab interest in the Israeli elections focused on political aspects," writes Qallab, "but neglected one important issue: the unprecedented racial and religious polarization that showed Israel as a mosaic of different races and groups... Israel was seen [in the last elections] as it was never seen before - divided, flooded with internal feuds, and composed of people who have nothing to do with one another."

"Most Arabs failed to notice this phenomenon, with the exception of the PLO Abu Mazen, who [recently] wrote a 73 page study of the racial and religious polarization in Israel... Abu Mazen was the first to focus on the mosaic-nature of the Israeli society and one of his studies of this topic earned him a Ph.D. from a Soviet university."

Qallab recalls that Abu Mazen was the first to attribute importance to the fragmentation of Israeli society - 20 years ago: "Abu Mazen lectured at length on this issue in Tehran to a group of Palestinian and Arab journalists, accompanying Palestinian President Arafat, when he went to congratulate Khomeini for the triumph of the Iranian revolution. It was in February 1979, a week after Khomeini's return from exile in France."

Qallab states that Abu Mazen is a pioneer of the realistic school, which, in his opinion, included former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, "who claimed that the conflict with Israel by old methods and means is futile, and therefore, new approaches must be tried. Before signing the Camp David Accord and after as well, Sadat repeated this view via Dr. Usama Al-Baz, who told some PLO leaders, including Yasser Arafat, Abu Iyad, and Khaled Al-Hassan, that it was necessary to bring the Israelis down from their tanks to the ground and cause them a sense of security and peace, to allow their social maladies to appear and to prevent their unification in the face of an [external] danger."

"Sadat," Qallab recollects, "used to take pride in the appearance of the Peace Now movement - among whose leaders and members were some former senior officers in the Israeli army - because this movement paved the path to peace and at the same time, transferred into Israeli society all the domestic illnesses that nibbled on the body of Arab society. The truth is that the Peace Now phenomenon became significant in balancing the policy of the Israeli extreme right wing only after the peace process that Sadat started and after the signing of the Oslo Accords, because before that, nobody dared to speak so boldly and to present these ideas, even if within himself he was convinced of their truthfulness..."

"It is clear that the racial and religious polarization, which was in the forefront of the last elections in Israel, did not develop in a vacuum but rather was the accumulated result of a [process] that started with the Egyptian-Israeli peace negotiations, continued with the Oslo Accords and later the peace treaty with Jordan..."

"Like other senior Israeli politicians, Barak started to sense the magnitude of the fragmentation that afflicts Israeli society. He started to feel that Israel… was not a united national body, but rather many demographic islands and different ethnic groups, that the only thing connecting them is fear of external dangers..."

"In the introduction to his book Racial and Religious Polarization in Israel, Abu Mazen poses a question: 'What may better increase and escalate the conflicts and racial and religious contrasts in the Israeli society: a state of war or a state of peace?' Abu Mazen [himself] does not answer this question, hoping that whoever follows his thought and research and anyone who is familiar with the mosaic nature of the Israeli society will come to the answer by himself..."

"All the conflicts within Israeli society were so [sharply] exposed only after the beginning of the peace process, following Camp David, Oslo, the peace accord with Jordan, and the negotiations with Syria that… almost ended with a peace agreement. There is no doubt that the war [with Israel] was essential and that it might be essential [again] in the future. However, since the current stage is the stage of peace, this process must be exhausted and there should be an advantage gained from all these current conflicts, including the deep dispersal in the composition of Israeli society."

"We do not say that the [disintegration of Israeli society] is the Arab nuclear weapon [i.e. doomsday weapon]... All that is required from us is to bring the Israelis to the absolute conviction that we Arabs really want peace, because such conviction will deepen the dispute in Israeli society and bring the Israelis down from their tanks and out of their fortresses."

"…This mission is not easy, because the Israeli right knows the truth and is aware that peace is the biggest enemy of the extremist biblical notions and the biggest obstacle for the expansionist mentality. The Arabs, however, must give this phase a chance. They must convince the majority of Israelis that they… want a just peace based on what can be referred to as a historic settlement, on the basis of UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338."

"We did not give the phase of a war a fair chance [in the past], with some bright exceptions, and therefore the results of the wars between the Arabs and Israel were absolute catastrophes. Now - since it is the phase of peace - we must give this phase a fair [chance] so that the result would not be a defeat in peace as it was in war."

"This does not mean that we should put our trust in an internal erosion that would eliminate Israel within a couple of years or even within half a century. This issue should not even be discussed at this stage while the peace process is still underway. What it means is that bringing the Israelis down from their tanks and forts would strengthen the peace camp in Israel and would make the just settlement possible. We should not miss this moment the way we missed historic moments in the stage of armed operations and military conflict.