Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Peace Treaty and Israeli Foreign Behavior

The latest post on Dan Fleshler's Realistic Dove ( is a response to complaints elsewhere in the blogosphere that Egypt ending the peace treaty with Israel would be a good thing. The argument made at Mondoweiss and elsewhere is that the peace treaty allowed Israel to deploy its army and air force to make war on the Palestinians and Lebanese because it had a reasonable expectation that Egypt would keep the peace. This is no doubt true, but it is not the whole story.

Because of the lack of trust between Israel and its Arab neighbors, it has decided as a measure of prudence, because its margin of error is relatively low, to only make peace with those neighboring regimes that demonstrate that they will keep the peace. Because the Israeli electorate can only bear the burden of one peace process at a time, this has meant in practice that Israel began with the easiest negotiations i.e. those with the most trustworthy Arab regimes and the least strategic territory and worked its way down. So far it has made peace with two Arab states, Egypt and Jordan, whose leaders at the time of the peace treaty had a reputation both within Israel and within the West for moderation and trustworthiness. But even with Egypt, the first peace treaty in 1979, Israel tested Egypt first by concluding two separation-of-forces agreements in January 1974 and September 1975. These allowed Israel to establish that the Sadat regime was trustworthy.

Since the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of 1979, Israeli actions have depended upon the nature of the coalition government in power. Three different parties have lead coalitions since 1979: the Likud, Labor, and Kadima. Under the Likud Israel invaded southern Lebanon in March 1978, bombed PLO headquarters in Lebanon in July 1981, bombed an Iraqi reactor in June 1981, and invaded Lebanon in June 1982 and occupied Beirut. Under Labor Israel withdraw from the areas of the Likud's conquest of 1982 in 1984-85, started a peace process with the PLO and Syria in 1992-95, and continued negotiations with Syria and the PLO in 1999-2000 and withdrew completely from Lebanon in July 2000. The Likud then reoccupied the West Bank's main cities in 2002 and withdrew from Gaza in the summer of 2005.

Kadima, elected to power in March 2006, was involved in two separate wars: in Lebanon in July 2006 and in Gaza in December 2008-January 2009. Kadima was supported in these wars by Labor, which also supported Sharon in reoccupying the West Bank in 2002 and withdrawing from Gaza in 2005.

So the lesson one draws from this seems clear--Israeli behavior depends on which parties are in power. The most likely party to go to war is Kadima supported by Labor. The least likely is Labor supported by Meretz. Any Likud government in which Sharon was either defense or prime minister was likely to go to war.

But the Israeli actions also depended on the activity of the Palestinians and of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah continued to maintain a provocative profile vis a vis Israel despite Israel's complete withdrawal from Lebanese territory according to the UN definition. This was because Hezbollah needed a justification for the maintenance of its guns within Lebanese politics. Hamas also maintained a provocative profile vis a vis Israel throughout the 1990s and 2000s in order to distinguish itself from Yasir Arafat's Fatah and other members of the PLO. It wanted to demonstrate that it offered not only Islamic conformism and discipline but also struggle and steadfastness.

The Egypt-Israeli peace treaty allowed doves and pragmatists to argue convincingly to the Israeli electorate that a surrender of conquered territory could be in Israel's national interest in some circumstances. Hezbollah, Hamas, and Arafat helped to demonstrate to the same electorate that such a surrender was not in Israel's national interest when dealing with the Palestinians or with the Lebanese government. The Israeli electorate is still divided about whether such a surrender of conquered Arab territory is in Israel's national interest when dealing with the Ba'athist regime in Damascus. If Egypt renounces the peace treaty that question will be decisively answered and decided, perhaps permanently.

1 comment:

  1. An old saying in the Middle East says "no war starts without Syria and no peace without Egypt." I am not sure how valid is the idea in today's Middle East politics.
    You demonstrate a great knowledge on the Middle East. Whenever I go to my blog, you are the first person I read. We have a lot in common. I think I am going to ask you to talk with me about your experience in the Middle East sometime this semester.