Ethnic Conflict In The Middle East Ethnic Conflict in the Middle East Ethnic conflicts are well rooted in the world’s history and perhaps inherent in human nature. This type of conflict is difficult to resolve as is evident in the situation in the Middle East. The ethnic conflict theory explains that it is not territory, politics, or economics that prevents the achievement of peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, instead, it is a deep-seated hatred of one another that neither group can overcome. The Camp David Summit in July 2000, the most recent attempt at fostering a lasting peace is a clear example of how ethnocentrism can prevents success. Contrasting with neo-realism, which says that states are unitary, the ethnic conflict theory goes beyond that, and takes into account a state’s population as part of its analysis.
Neo-realism denies the connection between ethnic identity and a state’s actions, while the ethnic conflict theory looks beyond money, power, and leaders, and focuses in on the ethnic groups that make up the state. It suggests that the primary source of conflicts within a state or between two states, is when a deeply rooted animosity is present between the various ethnic groups. Quite simply, an ethnic group is a large group of people who share ancestral, language, cultural, or religious ties and a common identity. Nations are often created from an ethnic group that feels that it wants to, and is capable of controlling itself separately and politically. When two ethnic groups with historical animosity live in close proximity to one another, it is likely to expect the formation of in-groups which in turn, yield feelings of ethnocentrism. Under these circumstances, each group maintains an air of superiority, and often dehumanizes each other to the point where conflict resolution and cooperation are seemingly impossible.
Leonard Binder states, “Most observers see little good coming out of an ethnic narcissism that conduces to the demonization of the other.” (p. 6) These conflicts often escalate to the point where the original crisis fades into the background, and the participants lose sight of it altogether. Each group believes that when one gains, the other loses automatically. Similarly, when one group compromises, it is also a loss. This is particularly difficult when religion is involved because groups will not compromise their beliefs and ethnic loyalties are very strong. Additionally, nation-states include ethnic strategies into their government, foreign policy, and politics in general.
(Binder 8) The ethnic conflict in the Middle East dates back to biblical times as both the Israeli and the Palestinian nations claim territories in the area of Palestine from over two thousand years ago. Because of the religious significance of many of its sites to both religions and nations, Jerusalem is by far the most heavily disputed area. After World War II, with the help of Britain from the Balfour treaty, the Jewish state of Israel was founded in Palestine. The Jewish people were in dire need of its own state for the purposes of stability and protection. The formation of the state led to six wars between the Israelis and their Arab neighbors.
Up until the Madrid Conference held in 1991, Egypt was the only Arab state to meet and negotiate peace with Israel. They had signed a peace treaty in 1979 after President Sadat visited Prime Minister Begin in Jerusalem in 1977. In exchange for this peace, Israel completed its withdrawal from the Sinai region in 1982, helping to end 30 years of hostility. The Madrid Conference provided the framework for all other negotiations between nations in the Middle East. Its framework consists of three elements. The first is the opening conference that introduces the following two elements: a bilateral and a multilateral track for negotiations.
The bilateral track is used primarily to resolve the conflicts of the past. There are four sets of these talks: Israel-Jordan, Israel-Palestinians, Israel-Syria, and Israel-Lebanon. The multilateral track is concerned with building the Middle East of the future, and focuses on issues that concern the entire Middle East, such as water, environment, arms control, refugees, and economic development. Since this conference, Israel has signed a peace treaty with Jordan when King Hussein and Prime Minister Rabin met in Washington in 1994. Diplomatic ties have also been established with Morocco, Mauritania, and Tunisia. (Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs) Lasting peace with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, headed by Yasir Arafat, has continuously evaded Israel. However, progress has been made, and the two have reached several interim agreements since 1993 when Arafat sent a letter to Prime Minister Rabin. In this letter, Arafat expresses that he recognized the right of Israel to exist in peace, accepts UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, commits itself to a peaceful resolution of the conflict, renounces the use of terrorism and other violent means, and assumes responsibility over all PLO elements.
Israel responded to this by recognizing the PLO as the representative of the Palestinians in the peace process. The UN Security Council Resolution 242, accepted in 1967, was a document that demanded the total withdrawal of Israeli forces from territories that were occupied in the Six-Day war. Resolution 338, passed in 1973, demanded a cease-fire – ending military activity, the implementation of Resolution 242, and the commencement of negotiations with the goal of peace. In September 1993, the two nations signed a declaration of principles between one another. It granted immediate Palestinian self-rule in the Gaza and Jericho regions, and the election of a Palestinian Council.
Also included were measures to provide for extensive economic cooperation. In September 1995, the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank on the Gaza Strip was signed. The main objective of this was to encourage Palestinian self-government in the West Bank by means of an elected self-governing authority for a maximum of five years. The negotiations on the permanent status began on May 5, 1996. The focus of these negotiations was to deal with the remaining issues at hand: Jerusalem, refugees, security arrangements, and borders. (Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs) On July 11, 2000, in the hopes of forming a lasting peace between the nations, Ehud Barak, Prime Minister of Israel, Yasir Arafat, and President Bill Clinton met at Camp David.
Sadly, this attempt to bring about peace ended in failure, and sent both leaders home discouraged. The receptions of the two leaders in their respective countries were markedly different. Arafat, who did not give in to Israeli and American pressure, was greeted as a hero, while Barak returned to an unsatisfied, unstable government. The essential issues discussed at the Summit included the fate of Palestinian refugees, the status of Jerusalem, borders of a Palestinian state, and the status of Jewish settlements on the West Bank. Although progress was made on some of these issues, it was presumably the issues surrounding Jerusalem that caused the Summit to collapse on July 25, 2000. Barak offered autonomy over Palestinian areas in the Old City and some sovereignty at the Dome of the Rock.
He also offered to redraw and divide Jerusalem, also agreeing that the formation of a Palestinian state is necessary. These concessions were extremely radical, and did not receive a warm reception by the entire Israeli government. In any case, those arrangements were hardly acceptable for any Arab leader. As Arafat himself had said, “The Arab leader has not been born who would give up Jerusalem.” (“Home from Camp David”) Notwithstanding Israel’s presentation of many ideas and proposals during the 15 days, the ground-rules of the Camp David talks established that these negotiating points would be considered null and void in the even that an agreement could not be reached. However, in an effort to guide future negotiations, a trilateral statement was issued that outlines the principles they agreed upon earlier.
The first part of the statement said that the aim of the negotiations was to bring an end to the decades of violence between these nations, and to achieve a just and lasting peace. The second was a commitment by the two sides to search for an agreement on permanent status issues. They agreed that the only way to achieve such an agreement is to base their negotiations on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. Both sides were going to avoid unilateral actions and agreed that their differences will be resolved by good faith negotiations. And finally, both sides agreed that the United States is a vital partner in their negotiations. (Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs) Despite these established negotiating positions, the two nations were still unable to come to a formal, lasting agreement.
The Israeli government angrily blames the collapse of these talks on Arafat, for what they see as obstinacy for not accepting the generous concession offered by Barak. Nevertheless, to the Palestinians, his offers were not generous enough. Barak failed to meet the needs for final negotiation, despite his offers for a divided Jerusalem and a Palestinian state. Disappointed in the outcome, the Israeli government felt that Arafat “failed to make the historic decisions necessary to end the conflict.” (“Home from Camp David) In the final days of the summit, it came down to Barak’s confident and bold offers that were denied by Arafat. Further preventing the possibility of peace was the fact that Arafat did not once suggest a counteroffer of what the Palestinian people needed in order to spur on continued negotiations. He did not tell Barak that in order to start a basis for negotiation, Palestinians needed the following three things: First, Palestinians need a “sovereign presence in East Jerusalem, over which they have full control and can fly their flag ..
Second, they must at least share sovereignty with the Jewish people over the sacred space of the Temple Mount .. And third, the Palestinians must have direct access from that sovereign Palestinian presence to both the mosques on the Temple Mount and to the Palestinian state in the West Bank, so that they do not have to go through Israeli checkpoints.” (Friedman, July 28) Why did he not suggest these things? There are many ideas as to why Arafat chose not to cooperate at Camp David this July. One group says that the Palestinians are not ready to enter into a formal agreement yet. Another says that Arafat knows he must begin to negotiate, but wanted to show his people that he was capable of denying Barak before he agreed. And a third says that Arafat has never before had to make a clear, irrevocable decision with a meaning as large as this one. To do this, he will first need the support of the Muslim world.
(Friedman, July 28) This situation, so clearly marked by historical disagreements, conflicts, and wars, has yet been irreconcilable. The Camp David talks were the most recent effort to bring the two sides together to negotiate their differences, however, with much disappointment, the negotiations failed. Although territory has been the main issue between these warring nations, something much more heavily rooted within all of the citizens and leaders resides, preventing the achievement of a final, lasting peace. Perhaps this is inflexibility, or irrationality, but more likely, it is a result of thousands of years of animosity culminating in a seemingly impossible agreement. References: Binder, Leonard, eds.
Ethinic Conflict and International Politics in the Middle East. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1999. Bonnel, Noel and Nadia Auriat. “Ethnic Conflict and Cohesion, 1945-94.” 2000 Journal of Peace Research 37, no. 5 (2000): 563-81. Friedman, Thomas L.
From Beirut to Jerusalem. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1989. Friedman, Thomas L. “Foreign Affairs; Yasir Arafat’s Moment.” New York Times 28 July 2000. “Home from Camp David.” The Economist 29 July 2000: 43-4. “Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.” Web address: http://www.israel-mfa.gov.il/mfa/home.asp (1998). “Limiting Camp David’s Damage.” The Economist 29 July 2000: 18 History Essays.