Predicting the distant future of the region is an intellectual and theoretical challenge. This area is full of surprises and still decidedly affected by the one-man Arab rule. Indeed, asking the question of what this region will look like in 2025 is a bit of hurtful joke, in that Palestinians and Israelis continue to bury their loved ones daily in this enduring and bloody conflict.
Still, the question proves useful, not only for strategic planning, but also in dealing with the pain of both Palestinians and Israelis. To predict our future, one must free oneself from the pressures of the present and positions of the past, examining things objectively and without selfishness. Most importantly, one should consider that the long and bitter Arab-Israeli conflict has proven to both sides that neither one can deny or erase the existence of the other.
There is now a regional consensus that the dawn of this decade commenced a new phase, one different from any period since the Palestinian Nakba or “Catastrophe” and Israel’s establishment in 1948. That is why both Israelis and Palestinians answered the call of former United States President George Bush, Sr., laying down their arms and entering into direct negotiations.
In spite of all Arab and Israeli optimistic, pessimistic or (in the words of Emile Habibi) pessoptimistic perspectives on the peace process, no one believes that the region might return to its state prior to the end of the Cold War and before the Palestine Liberation Organization, Jordan and Egypt reached bilateral agreements with Israel. Even if Israeli-Arab negotiations are not currently on track, certainly there is no longer the chance of total war in the Middle East.
Too, the state of non-war and non-peace will not persist because the parties in this struggle will eventually be required to produce radical changes in their security, military, political and economic strategies and begin a new approach in their relations. The events of September 11 and subsequent statements by the United States administration have proven that powerful strategic interests will no longer allow regional foment. As such, it would be wise for Palestinians, Arabs and Israelis to come to consensus before an agreement is forced on them.
In 1967, Israel occupied the lands of its Palestinian, Egyptian, Syrian, Lebanese and Jordanian neighbors. The region subsequently paid a high price in development and advancement. No objective researcher can ignore that the prolonged state of war and non-peace between the Arabs and Israel has worked to militarize Israeli society and suppress democracy, civil rights and advancement in Arab societies.
Therefore, despite Israeli viewpoints to the contrary, in the year 2025 Mandate Palestine will hold two independent and sovereign states with clear international borders based on United Nations Security Council 242. The Palestinian population will have grown to nine million through new births and the return of a large number of refugees forced by Israel in 1947 and 1948 to leave their homes. Alongside Palestine will be Israel, whose population will rival its neighbor (I doubt that Israel will be able to maintain its character as a purely Jewish state, since the Arab minority is expected to grow to over 3 million by 2025–without the return of one refugee).
In the inevitable era of complete peace, the security of Israel and the Israelis will not be an issue, nor will the rights of Arabs in Israel. This minority will obtain all its rights through democratic means, and may even be under self-rule. I expect that the Arabs in Israel and Eastern Jews coming from Morocco, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon will play an important role in advancing the relationship between Israel and the Arab countries.
The end of regional “non-peace” will immediately lead to a decline in national concern for the external enemy that Israel has represented in Arab thought and visa versa. The result will be heightened social and class struggle within Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
Since 1991, I have believed that the Madrid Peace Conference and subsequent peace agreements were a separating line between the old era and a new one still in formation. History shows that transformation from one historical epoch to another necessitates the passing of transitional stages characterized by conflict, either lengthy or short, between the past and its understandings and the future, which arrives with its own understandings and an urgency to impose itself. The future will force all in the region to quickly turn regional peace into a permanent strategy, with as little human and economic loss as possible.
I think it is Israel’s right to demand Palestinian and Arab recognition and normal relations, in order to have security and control over its destiny. However, it is impossible to meet this demand as long as the Israeli leadership refuses to recognize the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and refuses to determine its borders with its neighbors.
There must be a settling of the past and its tragedies. This requires a historic reconciliation between the two peoples, starting with recognition by the Israeli leadership of its responsibility for the injustices and terrible crimes committed against the Palestinian people and other Arab peoples from 1948 until today. It also means a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. This recognition is a legitimate right and psychological need of the Palestinian people.
Did not the Israeli and Jewish leaderships demand that Germany recognize the crimes committed by the Nazis in the 40s? The Palestinian people affirm that this Israeli and Jewish demand was just. By the same token, the Palestinians have the right to demand of Israel and world Zionism that they recognize the historic injustice they, too, have caused.
Mamdouh Nofal is a member of the Palestinian Higher Security Council and formerly served in the leadership of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He has authored three books on the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.