Savir's Corner: Process of peace, process of conflict

In today’s world we witness contradicting processes – globalization on one side and religious and nationalistic fundamentalism on the other.

A stop sign is seen outside a West Bank Jewish settlement (photo credit: Reuters)
A stop sign is seen outside a West Bank Jewish settlement
(photo credit: Reuters)
‘Process” is often used in connection with “peace.” There is also a contrary process of conflict. There is however no “status quo process” as stagnation does not really exist in international relations.
While we are inclined to speak of processes, we generally focus on immediate events without necessarily comprehending that they are part of a larger chain of events related to change. This is true for domestic social and political events as well as international ones. Two ways with which we inform and educate ourselves often mislead us. The media is fully hypnotized by the present, overdramatizes it, without giving it the necessary context in relation to past and present.
A mass demonstration in Cairo by supporters of democracy at Tahrir Square is an “Arab Spring,” demonstrations by the Muslim Brotherhood is an “Arab Winter.” The fact that both have deep-rooted causes in the Egyptian socioeconomic history, and that both are part of the same process of change leading to a yet-unknown destination, is irrelevant to media outlets as they broadcast today on a 24-hour news cycle.
Academia, which aspires to expertise on background and history, has much knowledge about the past, but this often blurs its view of the future. There are many experts on the past, but none on the future. Therefore there is little understanding of process which combines past, present and future.
The word “process” in German means “trial,” as in Franz Kafka’s Der Process. In any historical process, it is often difficult to say if it will lead to good or bad; the verdict is still out.
We must though attempt to understand and analyze the factors that influence process. Processes in international relations are very much affected by scientific and technological advance, social norms and attitude and political decision-making. In today’s world we witness contradicting processes – globalization on one side and religious and nationalistic fundamentalism on the other.
As international relations are about relations between countries and people, the ability of societies to interconnect reflects on the nature of relationships. The Internet has created a revolution in connectivity the world over.
Internet penetration in the US is 80 percent, 65% in the EU and 40% in the Middle East.
This connectivity has enhanced dialogue among societies – social networks are a form of globalization of individuals.
At the same time we live, due to technology, also in an era of information revolution – people the world over are better informed than ever before. One can watch CNN in all corners of the globe, read Wikipedia in every home and publish just about anywhere.
A more connected and informed global constituency is altering international relations and affecting a process of change. So individuals in this era of reform have become more empowered and are less ready to have their lives dictated by governments, democratic or not.
Constituencies express their growing concern for their economic well-being, education, employment and civil liberties. They understand that economic opportunity is closely related to the globalization of the economy, international trade, investments and financial markets. In most countries, they therefore prefer that their governments improve their country’s international relations.
The European leadership understands it all too well, as expressed by the enlargement of the EU to include 28 countries.
Even the leading global superpower, the United States, under Barak Obama, comprehends its greater dependence on collective diplomacy, as was the case regarding the Syrian crisis. Americans preferred for their government to act in concert with the world.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, too, understands that there is only so much crisis with the United States that he can afford. Russians don’t want to be poor. Even Iran’s new government is under pressure to have the international sanctions lifted, as the Iranian people are frustrated by poverty.
We witness therefore a new combination of technological advance and social will leading to a more globalized world with most regions and countries aspiring to belong. This leads toward a global process of slow and gradual change toward greater dependence on diplomacy, better accommodation and adherence to universal values.
There is also, in parallel, a contradictory process away from scientific and technological advance, clinging with fervor to nationalistic and religious beliefs. The leaders in this process identify the good of the state with their own religious beliefs and want at all costs to protect their people from what is perceived as a new “Western colonialism” and from the danger of a “Western crusade” in the form of globalization.
These countries have little respect for international law or for that matter state law. Their holy scriptures are the foundation of the state and its institutions and guide them in their international relations to fight the “infidels.”
They tend to marry religious fundamentalism with extreme nationalism. Iran is the prominent case in point, so is the Muslim Brotherhood movement in the leadership of countries in the Maghreb and, for a time, in Egypt. While militarily weak, some of these countries sponsor and support terrorism. Terror has become the lethal weapon of the weak and the fanatic, be it in Afghanistan or Lebanon.
Even within these groups and countries, there are expressions of tactical pragmatism, generally out of economic self-interest, which is reflected in the rhetoric of President Hassan Rohani of Iran.
This pragmatism may lead to deals on curbing the development of weapons of mass destruction, but will not release these countries from fanatic isolation.
The international system acts today between the international process of globalization, based on universal values of civil liberties and democratization, free trade and peaceful coexistence and the process of religious and nationalistic extremism, built on the rejection of the other. It’s a tension between progress and backwardness.
The Middle East in general, including its most important countries, Egypt and Israel, must choose to which process to belong. This is up to both leaderships and peoples.
As to Egypt, the outbreak of the Arab Spring in Tahrir Square brought great promise for democratization.
But later the revolution was kidnapped by the Muslim Brotherhood, which attempted to establish a theocracy rather than a democracy and failed to meet the economic expectations of the Egyptian people. The army, which stands traditionally by the people, intervened and will most probably orchestrate a political compromise between seculars and Islamists, with the center of power remaining in its own hands.
This is not a return to the days of Mubarak, but part of a prolonged process, spurred by the Egyptian middle class, mainly the young, who demand in the squares and the social networks, change toward a more open society and a better economy.
These young Egyptians, who are very patriotic, understand that Egypt, with all its pride and Arab leadership role, should be part of the globalized world. They aspire to better education and employment. For that, a good economic relationship with the West is absolutely essential, as is upholding the peace treaty with Israel. Therefore one can assume that the Arab Spring is not over.
We are witnessing a prolonged period in which the process of democratization clashes with the process of Islamization. It’s not the generals and the mullahs who will decide the future of Egypt, but its young generation (60% of the population) who want a more free and prosperous Egypt. Like many revolutions in history, it may be a long process, which must be understood by those who care for Egypt and its stability.
Israel, too, finds itself at a crossroads. Within our political system and society we also have two conflicting visions – one of a nationalist right-wing religious view, opposing compromise with the Palestinians, and thriving on the view of an isolated Jewish state within the walls of xenophobic beliefs. The other is a more prevalent liberal and secular view of Israel, making peace with an independent Palestinian state, protecting an all-important democratic system and opening itself to necessary and good relations with the world and living in harmony with universal values.
Our Palestinian neighbors, too, are grappling with a fundamental dilemma – a religious Hamas-like state in eternal conflict with Israel, secluded from the Western world, or a more democratic state with a market economy, open to Israel and the world.
The peace process between us will depend on the outcome of these two internal conflicts. If those who presume to speak in Arabic or Hebrew in the name of God have the upper hand, both of us are doomed to live in violent conflict as pariah states.
If moderate pragmatism wins, there will be a two state solution, providing each of us with relative security and prosperity, also in cooperation with the world’s leading countries. The Middle East peace process began with Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem, followed by the peace treaty with Egypt, the Oslo Accords and the peace treaty with Jordan. It is now a process of breakthroughs and breakdowns of more than 30 years. Its continuation and ultimate fruition depends both on the leaderships and on the peoples, mainly of Israel and Palestine.
In the modern age, with time and with process, it is mostly the hearts and minds of the people who determine the destinies of countries. Therefore we can assume that this process will ultimately lead to a destination of accommodation and peace. The length and difficulty of the process depends on the courage of leaders to guide their countries to the necessary political compromises and to be part of the family of nations of globalization rather than of fundamentalism.
As John F. Kennedy once said: “Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structure.”
Indeed.The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.