An Inside Post-Mortem: The Connection Between Violence and Peace

An Inside Post-Mortem: The Connection Between Violence and Peace


Howard Adelman

On Friday, after I published my analysis on Jerusalem as the key stumbling block in moving forward on a peace agreement, an article entitled, “U.S. post-mortem on peace talks: Israel killed them,” appeared in +972, a blog-based web magazine. That blog was reprinted and re-circulated by the Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP) dedicated to promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The post-mortem was evidently based on non-attributable interviews by Nahum Barnea of Yedioth Ahronoth with U.S. officials involved in the negotiations.

What has to be recognized is that I (and many others) rely on tracking the data on Israeli settlement activities through the reports of the FMEP edited by Geoffrey Aronson. (Cf. Report on Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Territories) What also has to be known is that since Merle Thorpe Jr. founded the FMEP in 1979 and published her book, Prescription for Conflict: Israel’s West Bank Settlement Policy in 1984, FMEP has always held the position that the settlements are the main obstacle to peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. As has been clear, it is not an interpretation with which I agree, but it is the thrust of the results of the unattributed interviews with American officials and certainly of both Peace Now and B’tselem which also track settlement activities. I will deal with that thesis in tomorrow’s blog.

The big noise that arose out of the publication of the summary of the interviews in Israel focused not on the analysis of blame but on the remark that, “It seemed as if we’re in need of another intifada to create the circumstances that will allow for progress,” even though instant clarification noted that the American participants regarded such a possibility, not as something to be welcomed, but as a tragedy. Nevertheless, they believed that recent history indicated that Israeli-Arab peace only happens after war makes it urgent.

Before I turn to the full post-mortem tomorrow, let me deal with the connection between an intifada as a catalyst to peace with the Palestinians and the more general thesis that war has been the catalyst to peace between Israel and Arab states. This specific correlation became a truism when the 1967 war brought Sadat to the realization that he had to make peace with Israel, but he had to instigate the 1973 war in order to get Israel to draw the same conclusion. As a result, the Egyptian-Israel Peace Accord was signed six years later. There was at least some plausibility in the simplistic connection in this case.

However, the Jordan-Israel Peace Treaty was signed in 1994. Was that a product of the 1987-1991 first intifada? Was the Oslo process a result of that intifada?  What is not debated is that immediately after the eruption of the intifada in 1987, Shaikh Ahmed Yassin created Hamas as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood which Israel had been supporting to counter-balance the PLO. Instead of remaining committed to non-violence, Hamas took up arms against Israel. As an immediate result, in the first full year of the intifada, 304 Palestinians, 6 Israeli civilians and 4 IDF soldiers were killed.

Most significantly, Israeli naval commandos killed Abu Jihad (Khalil al-Wazir) in Tunis in April. This refugee from Ramla completely committed to the right of return and the elimination of Israel, the militant behind Black September in Jordan and the terrorist incursions into Israel from Lebanon, the co-founder with Arafat of Fatah and the leader of its militant wing, al-Assifa, and the key organizer of the youth committees that instigated the intifada in the West Bank in December of 1987, was the Palestinian leader most committed to the military overthrow of Israel. His death – setting aside the deaths of 300 other Palestinians – was the initial most significant outcome of the intifada because his elimination meant that the greatest obstacle to a rapprochement between the Palestinians and Israel had been removed. In that very ironic sense, the intifada did help create the possibility for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

There was a second outcome of the first year of the intifada that also dialectically facilitated peace between Israel and Jordan. In August of 1988, King Hussein of Jordan abandoned any claims to the West Bank, his first key step in forging a separate peace with Israel. In that sense, the intifada had instigated a peace deal, but not because of its effects on Israel, but because of its effects on Jordan, especially when the Palestinian National Council in Algiers then declared an independent State of Palestine. If the Palestinians could go ahead ignoring Jordan on top of instigating war against Jordan in Black September, Jordan was preparing itself to forge a peace independent of the Palestinians.

In the subsequent three years of the intifada, the huge disproportion between Palestinians and Israelis killed recurred each year until it became clear to Arafat that the only outcome of the intifada had been suffering for the Palestinians and tremendous loss of material assets as well as greatly increased repression by the occupation forces. The Palestinian intifada had been a bust except that some leaders, in addition to Faisal Husseini who had been among a small minority promoting non-violent resistance, began to believe that armed resistance was not the path to self-determination. But the intifada had buried that idea temporarily. At the same time, doubts deepened over whether Arafat had surrendered his belief in the use of violence to achieve peace.

What is also undeniable is that the Madrid Conference was a direct product of the end of the intifada as was the UN resolution retracting by a substantial majority the equation of Zionism with racism. However, the Madrid Conference was also a failure. Further, the killing of Palestinians in great disproportion to Israelis continued on virtually the same scale through 1992 and 1993 as when the intifada was in full force as Israelis engaged in mopping up operations of those still committed to violent revolt. However, via the Track II route, Israelis and Palestinians had been meeting in a multiple of tributaries – when I was involved, I counted 18 – but one which most of us knew nothing about led to Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin signing the Oslo Accords in August of 1993. In one sense, this was an outcome of the first intifada, not as implied by making the Israelis more amenable to a peace agreement, but by making the Palestinian leadership recognize that violence was not the best route to an independent Israeli state.

So all of the immediate and direct outcomes of the first intifada had to do with the effects on the Arab (Jordan) and Palestinian positions and not on Israel’s position. Perhaps not all. It seems that the intifada could have played a significant role in the growing recognition by the Israeli right that they could not achieve the vision of a Greater Israel and that they began to recognize that an independent Palestinian state would have to develop in the West Bank. I happen to believe that this shift in perception would have come quicker without the intifada, but that would be difficult to prove. In any case, Rabin had all along been prepared for a two state solution and the intifada only made him very cautious in approaching that possibility.

Further, the series of killings of Israelis that followed Oslo and the Jordanian peace process in 1995 alienated many Israelis from the peace process: the Beit Lit massacre by Islamic Jihad in January that killed 21, the Kfar Darom bus attack in April that killed 8 and injured 52, the Ramat Gan bus bombing in July that killed 6 and wounded 33, the Ramat Ashkol bus bombing in August by Hamas that killed 5 and wounded 100. The more obvious conclusions that many Israelis drew, though equally simplistic as the conclusion connecting intifadas as a causal condition of peace agreements, is that, in fact, peace agreements bring more violence than the combination of occupation and any uprising by the Palestinians.

What about the connection between Intifada II and peace? When Ariel Sharon took a stroll on the Haram al-Sharif or the Temple Mount in September of 2000, clashes between Palestinian militants and Israeli police allegedly set off what Arafat dubbed the Al-Aqsa Intifada. We only learned much later from Imhad Falouji, the PA Minister of Communications, that, in fact, the intifada had been planned ever since the failure of the Camp David negotiations. In examining the argument that violence leads to peace, two reverse propositions seem to have much greater truth: failure of peace leads to violence, and peace agreements can just as well produce violence. Since both peace and its failure can both be connected with an upsurge of violence, it seems both absurd to suggest that another intifada may be needed to bring about peace, even if you agree that violence is a tragic course.

The outbreak of the second intifada led the newly elected Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, to call off peace negotiations in the aftermath of Taba. The lynching of two Israeli soldiers in a Palestinian police station in Ramallah in 2000, the deliberate killing of an Israeli baby by a Palestinian sniper and the Dolphinarium massacre by a Hamas suicide bomber killing 21 young Israelis and wounding 100, the August Sbarro restaurant suicide bombing that killed 15 including 7 children and a pregnant mother, and the December Hamas suicide bombing killing 9 teenagers and wounding 188, encouraged Israelis to turn against peace and accommodation with the Palestinians. After 131 Israelis were killed in March 2002, Israelis once again turned to extensive use of repressive force though suicide bombings continued. The full scale Operation Defensive Shield was launched at the end of March at the same time as the Tel Aviv café suicide bombing and the Haifa Hamas suicide bombing of the Arab Matza restaurant that killed 15 Israelis.

The result was enhanced security, enhanced repression of Palestinians and the construction of the Security wall/fence that eventually could be directly correlated with a severe reduction in violence against Israeli civilians, though during the process the pattern of suicide bombings continued — including the junction massacre killing 19 Israelis and wounding 74, the Immanuel bus attack that killed 9 Israelis, the Hebrew University massacre that killed 9 students, the Karkur junction suicide bombing that killed 14, the Jerusalem bus massacre in November of 2002 and the Hamas suicide bombing on bus 20 that killed 11 and wounded over 50. By the time the Quartet at the end of April 2003 announced a road map for peace and two months later Hamas, Jihad and Fatah agreed to a three month truce, many more instances of terrorism had taken place. Though the International Court of Justice in an informal ruling declared the security barrier being constructed by Israel as illegal, there was a closer connection between the security barrier and the reduction of violence than any connection between the violence and peace. The belief in connecting the intifadas with instigating peace is a myth with virtually no empirical evidence to back the thesis up. If members of Martin Indyk’s team really held such views, then I was completely incorrect in praising the quality of the team the Americans sent.  

Did tit for tat military responses bring about the peace? I doubt if there is a 1:1 connection. The October 2004 military operation, “Days of Penitence” in Gaza, along with the construction of the security barrier, was followed by a significant reduction in the killing of Israelis in  2005. This was followed by a unilateral disengagement plan from Gaza by Israel, not peace, and that was followed by the appearance of a unity government among the Palestinians – that needless to say did not last – and the initiation of the Annapolis Conference to discuss peace in November 2007, but the unilateral withdrawal and the peace talks only led to a much bigger war, the devastating Israeli Operation “Cast Lead” against Gaza that killed 1300 Palestinians before it was terminated 22 days later in January of 2009. 

The 2010 Fall direct talks followed and, like the 2013-14 talks, they too ended in failure. I find it impossible to make a 1:1 correlation between an upsurge in violence and peace. So why would mediators engaged in the peace process utter such a mythological connection?

Tomorrow: the building of settlements as the key obstacle to peace.