International conflict resolution can be achieved two ways: through dialogue or through warfare. In the Middle East, it’s usually a combination of both. Dialogue, however, requires flexibility, and the players in the Middle East conflicts continue to focus on rigid rhetoric rather than action. These conflicts are riddled with slogans – “right of return,” “two-state solution” for example – that hold each player captive to glorified yet unattainable demands.
In Israel and the Palestinian territories, the peace process has remained frozen in the months following Benjamin Netanyahu’s ascent to the premiership because of hard-line sentiments expressed in hard-line language.
Netanyahu is facing pressure from the Palestinians, Americans, and the Israeli opposition to utter the phrase “two-state solution,” while they ignore his statements that his government stands ready to talk with the Palestinians. Netanyahu, meanwhile, has declared that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state before negotiations can proceed.
The Palestinian Authority, on the other hand, has made clear that its goal is the entirety of the west bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem and the right of return. Yet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas still reaches out for negotiations knowing he cannot possibly attain everything but cannot abandon his slogan. Hamas, which can no longer be ignored as a major player in the region’s fate, is defined by its refusal to recognize Israel.
Even “1967 borders” has become a loaded slogan. In truth, no such borders existed. Before the Six Day War Israel had temporary armistice lines with Egypt and Jordan, not borders.
This detrimental concentration on slogans extends beyond the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Iran’s insistence of its “right” to nuclear power has locked it into a hard-line position that equates any flexibility with a weakening of its sovereignty. America, meanwhile, continues to insist that diplomatic progress with Iran cannot occur until that country halts uranium enrichment – a demand Iran is unlikely to agree to.
Slogans are essentially ultimatums, and that leaves little room for negotiation, which is the art of give-and-take. Once a phrase becomes a battle cry, any movement away from that goal is seen as a sign of weakness – acquiescing to the demands of the enemy.
Certainly pride plays a large role in the pageantry. No country wants to be seen as weak. Real dialogue, however, can take place only when the slogans are put aside and each party agrees to unconditional talks.