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Can There Ever Be a Real Peace Between Israelis and Arabs?

[additional-authors]
January 17, 2024
Soltan Frédéric/Getty Images

On May 4, 1994, as the Spokesman of the Rabin Government, I went to Cairo for the signing of the Gaza-Jericho Agreement, part of the Oslo Accords. President Hosni Mubarak put out a moving, spectacular show, signaling Egypt’s commitment to Arab-Israeli peace.

At night, I went with a friend from the Israeli Embassy to have hummus in the souk. Suddenly, there was a commotion, and to my surprise, someone called my name. It was my friend, Lutfi Mashour, an Israeli-Arab from Nazareth, the wealthy publisher and editor-in-chief of the Al-Sinara newspaper. Turned out he had been arguing with some Egyptian journalists and needed my help. He was animated: “They don’t believe me when I say I can publish whatever I want,” he cried, “come tell them how it is with us” (he said etzlenu, with us in Hebrew, with clear pride).

Later, however, my mood changed, when a local intellectual joined our table. I asked him what he thought about the peace, to which he shocked me: “What peace?” he wondered. “The peace we have just signed with the Palestinians,” I said, “which followed the peace we had signed with you.” He shrugged his shoulders. “It’s peace between leaders,” he said, “it’s not a real peace between peoples.”

If that is true, can there ever be a real peace between Israelis and Arabs? The Saudi Peace Initiative, which was adopted by the Arab League in 2002, answers in the affirmative, presumably accepting the division of the land between Israeli and Palestinians. At the same time, however, it conditions it with the return of the 1948 refugees to their homes in Israel, which is a non-starter.

One might argue, perhaps, that peace would only occur when Arabs stop living under authoritarian regimes, because according to the Democratic Peace Theory, democratic states do not go to war against each other. This idea goes back to German philosopher immanuel Kant, who, in his Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch (1795), wrote that unlike autocratic rulers who don’t care, when citizens have a say, they opt against war, not willing to suffer its dire consequences. Would the people of Gaza have supported the current destructive war had they not been repressed by Hamas, being able to express their will freely? Except that once again we reach a sort of dead end here, because as the late Prof. Elie Kedourie taught us, when Arabs talk about their preferred kind of government, half opt for democracy in the Western meaning and half about a regime run by the Sharia laws. Alas, when religion enters, conflicts become much more difficult to be solved peacefully.

How about the promise of peace to generate a rise in the Arab standards of living? After all, when Palestinians were asked recently by pollster Khalil Shikaki what their biggest problem was, a vast majority selected “the economic situation, such as poverty, unemployment and inflation.” In that case, looking back at the economic history of this land is enlightening. In 1947, before Israelis and Palestinians went their own separate ways, the GDP per capita was 1,400 dollars. Today, the figure for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is 3,800 dollars, lower even than that of Jordan or Egypt (4,300 dollars), while the Israeli one stands at 55,000 dollars, like Canada and Sweden, and higher than Japan, Germany and many others. In other words, in the last eight decades, the GDP per capita for the Palestinians barely tripled, while that of the Israelis was multiplied by forty. Furthermore, the Israeli Arabs, whose contribution to the GDP is about half of that of the Israeli Jews, have a GDP per capita of, say, 27,000 dollars, seven times bigger than that of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

If Israel was smart, it should have made its Arab citizens the happiest people in the Jewish state, enjoying full equality, respect and opportunities. As such, they could have served as our best marketing agents, telling the rest of the Palestinians: You want to be free and prosperous like Lutfi Mashour? Then hurry and make peace with the Israelis.

Which brings me to the conclusion that if Israel was smart, it should have made its Arabs citizens the happiest people in the Jewish state, enjoying full equality, respect and opportunities. As such, they could have served as our best marketing agents, telling the rest of the Palestinians: You want to be free and prosperous like Lutfi Mashour? Then hurry and make peace with the Israelis.

Does that mean that the Palestinians should forgo their national aspirations in return for economic benefits? Not at all. While only 30 percent of Palestinians and Israelis respectively believe that the two-state solution is viable now, guess who – according to Shikaki’s polls – strongly believe that this is possible? Sixty percent of Israeli Arabs. And when it comes to trust, 88 percent of West Bankers and 81 percent of Gazans disagree that it is possible to trust Israeli Jews, with 85% of Israeli Jews saying the same about Palestinians. Again, Israelis Arabs are begging to differ, with half agreeing that it is possible to do so. Letting them become our ambassadors for peace, therefore, might turn out to be Israel’s best investment ever.


Uri Dromi, founding President of the Jerusalem Press Club, was the Israeli Government Spokesman (1992-96). 

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