War is probably history’s greatest mystery.
History is mostly written in the red ink of human blood. The glory of civilizations, empires, colonial powers and countries was mostly linked to victory in the battlefield. Why humans have killed each other on such a massive scale throughout history has many rationales linked to power struggles and human nature, but no justification.
Very few victories in war have actually led to sustainable gains, besides the agony of colonialism and national holidays. The two defeated powers of the last world war, Germany and Japan, have emerged as the two strongest economic powers only half a century later.
This truism about war is better understood by regular people than by political leaders. Without overgeneralizing, one can say that military confrontation often serves political interests as it fuels nationalism.
War, being a battle between nations, indeed raises the flames of patriotism. War-making, therefore, is paradoxically based on national consensus.
Peace-making, which demands a compromise of former enemies, creates greater division within society.
And yet there is no greater damage to society and to people than war – it destroys life, lives and livelihoods.
It leaves behind orphans, maimed and traumatized people, refugees and poverty. The peoples’ people’s support for war and confrontation on one side, and war’s devastating impact on the other, reflect probably the greatest contradiction of international relations.
Recent years have seen a change in this equation; more and more societies in the world conceive war and conflict as futile, and express these views to their leaders. This change is very evident in Europe.
The continent that has known more wars than any other, has, with the creation of the European Union, taken the war option off the table. Never before in history were Germans and French so far away from any eventuality of war between them.
American public opinion shows unprecedented opposition to its involvement in wars, as was evident in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in the recent Syrian crisis. The opposition to war reflects the growing democratization and empowerment of societies – peoples’ people’s natural instinct is against war; they happen to prefer to live.
Never in history have two democracies gone to war against each other. Democratization leads people to make demands on their governments in order to improve their quality of life and standard of living.
It’s more likely to see Egyptians demonstrate for affordable food prices and education than for war with Israel.
It is too early to say if this is a historical watershed.
Yet there is no doubt that there is a significant shift from ideology-driven societies to societies driven by pragmatism. The collective self-interest of the individual has become the engine today; it’s “ask what the country can do for you” now. National romanticism and social ideology are eroding in most parts of the world. Pragmatism stems from the Greek word “pragma,” meaning fact; people are more informed and factual than motivated by grand ideologies, and therefore are less ready to be recruited into a national or ideological cause.
Peace in the future therefore should be pragmatic in social self-interest terms (what can it do for me?) – peace by the people, for the people. This is also to a large degree true for our region.
THE ARAB world suffers from severe economic hardship.
In the past, political leaderships tended to channel the frustrations of their constituencies toward nationalism, religious fanaticism and war. Israel was the natural target.
Today in the era of globalization, when the young generation in the Arab world is connected to the rest of the world through the Internet, information sources and social networks, it has become more difficult for regimes to whet an appetite for war. The young in the Middle East, who constitute 60 percent of the population, seek a better life linked to a world filled with opportunity. More than anything, they seek higher education, good jobs, affordable living and basic civil rights – a modern translation of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
In order to achieve these goals, they understand that they cannot afford war; peace comes out of pragmatism.
There are exceptions to this new rule of pragmatic society. The prevailing ideologies in society are mostly religious for those who see the rule of religion prevailing over the rule of the state or between states, such as the jihadists in the Muslim world, driven by a fanatical world view and motivated to struggle against the infidels, mostly through terror.
Israel is also split between a majority of pragmatists, on the Left and Right, and religious ideologies on the powerful fringes. The settlers are moved by a biblical world view and are ready to sacrifice their well-being for the vision of a greater Israel from the Sea to the River. The fact (pragma) that three million Palestinians live in the Occupied Territories is irrelevant; the same way the fact that 6.5 million Jews live in Israel is irrelevant to the ideologues of Hamas.
Peace therefore must aim at the pragmatic interest of the people of Israel and Palestine. This means that future peace must have important economic dividends that will stem from greater freedom, security and better international relations. The peace packages, the fundamentals of which John Kerry is negotiating today, must create the circumstances for growing economies and bring with them significant economic dividends for the young.
There are therefore important conditions that must be met – a political two-state solution over a reasonable period is a must for both sides. The Palestinians must have the right to develop their own independent economy in their state, on their lands, with freedom of movement for goods and people within the state. Israelis must enjoy security, without a constant threat of terror. The Kerry framework aims at the compatibility of Israel’s security and Palestinian independence.
BEYOND THE outstanding contentious issues of identity and past, the peace process must aim to create a new economic future in the region, with emphasis on the younger generation. We must create for the young a horizon that replaces war with good education and employment opportunities, quality of life and civil freedoms and rights.
In this light, peace dividends must be created in the current peace process, first in relation to education and professional training. Children must have equal rights to good education. Learning English at a young age is the passport to the globalized world. Online higher education can be made available to all from the best American universities. The same is true for technological and entrepreneurship training. This will prepare young people for the advanced job market – a market that, especially in the technology field, must be advanced also through American-Israeli-Palestinian- Jordanian private sector cooperation. There must also be special emphasis on the opportunities and roles of young women – gender equality is an important condition for a growing economy.
Peace can be sustained by guaranteeing the basic rights of the young – civil rights, employment rights, basic freedoms and full equality vis-à-vis genders, religious minorities and sexual orientations. Above all, they must have the freedom to express their desires, needs and visions.
In order to foster a better future for the young, be they Israeli or Palestinian, they must become part of the peace-making itself. They should express to their leaders their individual and collective self-interests, as well as their vision of future regional and international cooperation.
The younger generation lives in a new world, where the virtual is real, where their superpowers are not the US and Russia, but Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, etc. These – some of which have more than a billion users – grant the young a greater sense of empowerment, individual self-expression, community-building and global belonging. It is in these worlds that they must express themselves, not only for their personal lives, but for the social, national and regional good.
The current peace process is built around the five core issues agreed upon in Oslo – borders, settlements, Jerusalem, security and refugees. They are all important. Yet no less important for the future of peace are the pragmatic self-interests of the young, who seek – beyond independence and security – a better life, personally and professionally, through a pragmatic peace and belonging to a wider world.
In The Hunger Games, which was a massive box office hit among the young in 2012-13, author Suzanne Collins writes: “Whatever the truth is, I don’t see how it will help me get food on the table.”
The writer is honorary president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords. Barbara Hurwitz edited this column.