Peace of enmity, peace of amity

Even in the Israeli "peace camp" some are only interested in a "fair divorce" version of peace

By Meir Amor

The ceremonial peace agreement in front of the White House between the Israeli Prime Minister and the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization was a surprising historical moment. One did not expect such dramatic developments so fast. However, the Rabin-Arafat handshake seemed reluctant.

The new political situation in Israel-Palestine is preferable to the previous one. Mutual recognition is preferable to mutual rejection. Why then the sense of uneasiness?

Before discussing that question I must note that for the last three years I have been living in Canada, far from the Middle Eastern cauldron of events. My separation from the constant flow of information and from Israeli reality may have influenced my views.

The substance of the peace treaty will depend on how the paper document is transformed into everyday reality. Although the leaders have signed the treaty, it is the people who will have to enact it in everyday life. Yet views are divided, even among peace activists.

In Israel, the main body that supported the current political actions of Prime Minister Rabin, was the so-called "peace camp." It has many faces, starting with liberal right wingers and ending with socialist leftists. The common denominator for these groups is the belief that life could become better without wars. It can be roughly divided into two groups. The first consists of those who are interested in "fair divorce" between Israelis and Palestinians. The second group consists of those who want to achieve partnership and peaceful co-existence for Jews and Arabs in Israel and Palestine. These differences are not merely semantic. They are fundamental and principled.

The expression "fair divorce" was coined by Amos Oz, a distinguished writer who plays an important social and cultural role in Israel. He is one of the central speakers of the peace camp, although he does not fulfill any formal role. I think we should pay heed to this idea, of which Oz is a main proponent.

In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, the "divorce" metaphor does not clarify the situation, and has its own dark side. First, there was never a honeymoon between Israelis and Palestinians. Secondly, some aspects of a divorce, such as the division of property or the ownership of property are not relevant to a conflict between two political entities such as the Palestinian and the Israeli people.

Anyone with the slightest grasp of the Middle East conflict (and Oz has more than most), knows there can be no final separation between Israelis and Palestinians. Only a partial separation is possible and a joint ownership of "property" is imperative. The peace agreement demands the regulation of natural resources as well as common spiritual resources (such as water, land, and holy places, to mention only a few). A formula for "division and ownership" cannot encompass the variety of human problems inherent in this political conflict. In fact, this formula contains an element of ill will since the side that controls most of the resources is the Israeli side. It is a recipe for the continuation of control, not the commencement of peace.

It is hardly an oversimplification to say that those interested in fair divorce are willing to separate from the Palestinians without any change in the Israeli social structure and culture. Those promoting such separations are the ones who now enjoy a privileged position; they are interested, not in change, but in solidifying their control. They are the majority of the peace camp in Israel. From a social standpoint they are represented by the "Peace Now" movement.

The main interests of "Peace Now" members is what they call "Israel's security and its Jewish character." Both of these elements are code names for the continuation of the present situation. To define Israel's interest in that manner is to continue a unique kind of dependency on the Western world. Israeli military might has been, and continues to be, partly based on massive support by one or more Western powers. In the current structure the army and militarism are indispensable for the definition of Israeli identity. This military conception is a product of an historical antipathy toward traditional Middle Eastern culture. It implies an Israeli self-image as modern and Western, as a bulwark against oriental ways, and therefore as properly dominant over the "natives."

In contrast to "Peace Now," there are other small but important groups. They represent conceptions that contrast to those prevailing in the peace camp. They see peace as one step in a social process that might lead to the creation of a different Israeli social structure and culture. They see a need to change Israeli society toward integration into the Middle East.

These groups view Israel, as a state and society, as existing alongside a Palestinian state and society in peace, co-existence, and partnership. Among adherents of this group are many who assert that this peace agreement is not a "true peace." It is a difficult argument to contend with, since it is hard to know when there is truth in peace. The way to peace is part of the content of peace. Here I will try to explain this difficulty and my attitude toward the peace process.

The achieved peace agreement is the product of the history of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. It reflects the existing power structure between Israel and the Palestinians and within Israeli society itself. Currently the minimalistic definition of peace has the leading edge. It is satisfied by the end of violence between the contending sides. Such a peace is based on enmity and alienation. The question is whether this minimum-an essential and vital prerequisite-will also become the maximum outcome of the peace process. The transformation of the present agreement, which was achieved with great difficulty, to a reality of amity is the present and the historic role of peace people in Israel, Palestine, and all over the world. The peace agreement is only the departure stage. To make my point clear I will mention the anti-racist and women rights movements. I see a direct link-a fundamental link.

In certain countries, women have formally equal rights to men. Did this formal equality change the essence of the relations between men and women in these countries? The answer is a resounding "no."

Likewise, the struggle against social enslavement of Afro-Americans in the United States-the struggle against racism-continues long after the formal abolition of slavery. The struggle for equal rights of women, that is the struggle against misogyny, did not stop with the granting of formal political and civil rights to women. In this way we should understand the peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The quest for peace-a peace based on full human relations, not on alienation, enmity, and fear-begins now. The definition of peace as a "fair divorce" means the continuation of the military approach and the sense of "Western" superiority. Both are conducive to the continuation of hostility.

A social change within Israeli society must follow the peace agreement. Such a change-from a war society to a peace society-can be evaluated by two indicators. The first is the ousting of the army from its privileged position in Israel. The second is the abolition of Israeli disdain toward the cultures of the "Levant." From these perspectives, the work of peace is still in front of us.

Meir Amor is a graduate student in sociology at the University of Toronto.

Peace Magazine Jan-Feb 1994

Peace Magazine Jan-Feb 1994, page 10. Some rights reserved.

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