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The European Commission’s President Barroso was given an honorary doctorate at the University of Haifa yesterday.

(Photo credits:University of Haifa)

In his speech (José Manuel Durão Barroso President of the European Commission Speech on the occasion of President Barroso’s honorary doctorate at the University of Haifa: Moving together towards a brighter future Haifa University/Haifa 10 July 2012) he sadly repeats one of the greatest fallacies regarding the Peace process. Look at this:

But while the attention of the international community is focused on the events in these countries, I would like to recall in very clear terms the urgency to resume negotiations on the Middle East Peace Process. I am still convinced that this is a key issue to achieve regional and global stability.

This bugs me. Because not only is it an overly simplified analysis, it is also wrong and I believe it is actually counter-productive to arrive at the solution the speaker advocates.

1) Overly simplified: “Negotiations are key to regional and global stability.”

Anyone who points to one thing as the silver bullet to solve a complex matter is simplifying the analysis, and that’s not good in political science. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is too complex, and entrenched in decades of terror, violence and hate to be fixed with one thing. Getting the two sides to talk is indeed part of the solution, but it is not THE solution. Negotiations cannot stand alone to solve the conflict, precisely because it is so complex. A multi-faceted approach is needed, like financial cooperation and trust building measures. On the latter, speakers for the international community tend to forget that at this moment there is practically no trust between the two sides. What kind of negotiations do you have in that atmosphere? (More on the lack of trust between the parties and just how big an issue that is, as well as some other nitty-gritty observations that are missing in Barroso’s sweeping statement – here for example –  Miri Eisin: Widening Gap Impedes Peace Process)

2) Wrong: Negotiations are key to regional and global stability

Barroso is wrong both in repeating the position that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as “the mother of all conflicts”, and in saying that resumed negotiations between Israel and the PA will create global stability. Both are part of the same narrative that basically says that once there is peace between Israel and Palestine, everything will be OK.

I ask as before: If peace comes about tomorrow (and again, it won’t come about by negotiations alone) will the region suddenly be stable? As in: by a magic wand social cohesion and prosperity will arrive in *every* the Middle East because there is peace between Israel and Palestine? Egypt will pass legislation protecting religious minorities, Women will be given full access to civil rights in the Arab world, and all the countries of the so-called Arab Spring will build the universities so desperately needed to educate the young people and provide then with a road for the future, there will be work for all, free and democratic elections and no more conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims and  – lest we forgot – Iran will stop pursuing a nuclear weapon and its stand-off with the UAE…  No, that won’t happen. and it won’t happen, because the two things are in fact not connected beyond the narrative of “once we fix this, everything else will be OK”. Further more: Economy is a big part of “stability”. Are we to believe that negotiations between IL/PA will turn the impeding financial crisis around? Greece won’t go bankrupt, the interest rates wont run amok, etc etc  because Abbas and Netanyahu are talking?  Seriously…Which brings us to:

3) Counter-productive: Negotiations are key to regional and global stability

The narrative is counter-productive at best, downright dangerous at worst. Making the Israeli-Palestinian conflict this mythological thing with the power to – once solved – create world peace and stability is in my opinion a mistake. It belies the fact that there are other conflicts out there, and it treats this one as a sui generis type of situation therefore allowing the parties to act out because they are “special”. This is a “special conflict with special powers”. The media with its over-focus on this conflict does the same: Sends a signal that *this* is what needs fixing: But that actually enables the hard-liners on both sides to stubbornly stick to their agenda. They get to dictate the terms, thus moving us further from the goal: a resolution to the conflict (the word “peace” is too big). Rest assured, I want a resolution, and I’d rather that it was today than tomorrow. But words matter, narratives and FRAMING matter. Because it becomes the lens through which we perceive reality and can identify a solution. As I said, there are no short-cuts here, no easy fixes. So we should all stop talking like there is. 

Certain Arab leaders have long enough used the “occupation of Palestine” as a decoy, absolving them from dealing with their own internal politics and abhorrent social inequality and human rights abuses. They too use this narrative. That alone should be an indication that we should avoid it.

On a more festive note: I welcome the EC President to my Israeli alma mater!

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