I must begin by explaining the meaning of barter in the context of this article, as it is drastically different than the concept of bartering a good for a good or a service for a service as an alternative to the exchange of money.
On the other hand, I must also clarify that the Arab-Israeli conflict is still ongoing, and will remain so in the eyes of the masses as long as the rights of the Palestinian people have not been restored, regardless of the power equations or the official Arab positions regarding these rights. This dimension is absent from the Israeli analyses. Their perspective of the conflict relies on the balance of power between them and the Arab armies; they look at the conflict from a military point of view. Moreover, Washington continues to insist that Israeli military capabilities must outweigh all of the Arab capabilities, even though Washington knows very well that the plan to destroy the few Arab armies involved in the conflict began when the Palestinian armed resistance was undermined after the invasion of Beirut in 1982, after Ariel Sharon stopped the martyrdom operations, which had made up for the strategic imbalance of military capabilities, and after Iraq’s involvement in a series of events, beginning with the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and ending with the occupation of Iraq in 2003, the destruction of its army, and the fragmentation of its people. This opened the door to the fierce sectarian war aimed at division, war, and irrational regional interventions, which deepen the wounds and contribute to pushing Iraq into the condition desired by its enemies. The destruction of Arab armies continued with the destruction of most of the Syrian army, the total destruction of the Libyan army, the exhaustion and fragmentation of the Yemeni army, and finally, impacting the Egyptian army, which now divides its power between preserving security and combating terrorism.
I would like to emphasise that the conflict between the Arabs and Israel is a conflict between the Arabs and the Zionist movement, but official literature now tends to consider the conflict to have shifted to an Israeli-Palestinian conflict, meaning the Palestinians, without their Arab supporters, on one side, while Israel, with its supporters, allies and the Zionist movement are on the other.
Due to the constant deterioration of the Arab situation, which Israel undoubtedly contributed to, the policy of bartering has emerged, i.e. providing one thing in exchange for another; however, established Arab rights are being bartered, such as security in exchange for freedom, even though the people need both. They are both the people’s rights, and they should not have to choose one over the other, i.e. giving up their freedom in exchange for their security. This highlights the relationship between the theory of international conflict, which is concerned with interests and power, and the theory of international ethics, which includes law, justice and other aspects of public morals.
The bartering policy started when the UN Security Council Resolution 242 was issued in 1967. This resolution linked Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories to the recognition of Israel and normalisation with it. Although the preamble to the resolution emphasises the illegality of seizing territory by force, the resolution did not translate this concept in its paragraphs in order to avoid categorising Israel’s actions as aggressive. However, during the Iraq-Kuwait crisis, UN resolution 660, issued in 1990, considers Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait as aggressive and requiring an immediate and unconditional withdrawal. In 1978, Israel occupied southern Lebanon, and conditioned its withdrawal on the expulsion of the Palestinian resistance from Lebanon. This, however, did not occur until Israel occupied Beirut and expelled the resistance, only withdrawing from Beirut after committing the Sabra and Shatila massacres against the Palestinians.
We are able to analyse and track the application of the bartering policy that Israel insists the Palestinians employ, bearing in mind that the settlements are always factored into the exchange. In 1956, Israel occupied the entire area of Sinai, and then withdrew in exchange for allowing the passage of Israeli ships in the Gulf of Aqaba. We can also follow the application of this policy in the Egyptian-Israeli relations, which is at the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict. At present, the Palestinians are paying the price for the mistakes of Egypt and the other Arab countries opposing Israel, when Egypt, who was victorious in the 1973 war, unilaterally accepted the reclamation of Sinai in exchange for being burdened with a number of restrictions, the least of which was the security stipulation that keeps the Egyptian army over 200 km away from Israel in exchange for a three party relation between Egypt, Israel, and the US. This fundamental issue may have been one of the most important declines that resulted from the bartering policy, i.e. choosing between inalienable rights and relinquishing some of them in exchange for aspects of other rights.
At the moment, and due to the deterioration of the Palestinian arena and the rise of the Israeli power, which allows Israel to single out the Palestinians and fragment Arab cohesion, Israel’s insistence on the settlements as something to barter over reflects this miserable reality. This was apparent during the most recent negotiations, which Washington hopes will result in a diplomatic achievement at the expense of the Palestinians. The constant excuse used by those bartering is the polite alternative to the word “concede”. Israel insists on bartering the release of the Palestinian prisoners who were kidnapped from their homes and detained by Israel, by virtue of its control over the Palestinian territories, in return for the Palestinians’ acceptance of Israel’s illegal settlement policy on their land. Moreover, Israel insists on controlling all of Jerusalem in exchange for the Palestinians’ agreement to divide East Jerusalem’s population between the Arabs and Jews and for Israel to allow whichever religious people to visit Al-Aqsa Mosque. This is a very dangerous development, especially since Israel has distracted the Arabs from the issue of Jerusalem. We also know that since 1948, Israel has detained about 30 per cent of the Palestinian people and almost completely occupies the Palestinian territories, and in the least controls them.
This means that Israel is improving while the Palestinians are declining. Meanwhile, the surrounding Arabs are preoccupied while the Zionist project is thriving. Therefore, I would like to stress, once more, that by peace, Israel means the preservation of Jewish interests and Zionist domination; and by negotiations, Israel means finding a Palestinian party that can solidify this reality. We also know that, although it seems to be the will of the Palestinian people, the preservation of the Palestinian Authority (PA) is Israel’s will, and the Oslo Accords, which established the PA, was one of the greatest blows to the Palestinian resistance, and even led to the taming of the PA. Therefore, Israel dictates the prolongation of the PA’s power in accordance with its ability to help Israel with its plans rather than confront them.
I would like to do away with a delusion that has settled in the minds of the Arabs, that peace with Israel is better than conflict or that the Arabs are not capable of handling the costs of the conflict and that conflict is useless given the current conditions of the Arab forces. Therefore, the Arabs in the Arab Summit in 2002 adopted the Arab peace plan, which is yet another application of the concepts of settlement by means of bartering, based on the recognition and normalisation of relations with Israel at the expense of Israel’s recognition of the Palestinians’ legitimate rights. However, Israel views the initiative as a means for others to gain recognition and normalisation without fulfilling their obligations. It is worth noting that under normal circumstances, recognition and normalisation is a sovereign right of independent Arab states, and is not used to buy another right, i.e. the right of the Palestinian people to have an independent state on its land with Jerusalem as its capital. However, the initiative contradicts with Israel’s desire to gain recognition and take over the Palestinian territories at the same time, which is what Israel seeks in the current negotiations.
I would like to warn that negotiations with Israel cannot be productive unless Israel decides it is ready to stop its Zionist project at a certain point and does not seize all of the Palestinian territories. Therefore, it is the duty of the Arabs not to participate in the determination of the Palestinians’ fate in this way, and that if they are unable to support the Palestinian negotiator, who is now at his lowest, then the least they can do is support the Palestinian people by rejecting all forms of Judaisation and settlement. They must also help empower the Palestinian forces as resistance is only one means of pressure, and diplomacy is another, keeping in mind that the forms of insisting on the rights of the Palestinians are unlimited.
The author is an international law professor at the American University in Cairo, an Islamist thinker and a veteran Egyptian diplomat.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.