I expected to be criticized from many sides when I decided to give the keynote address recently to 12th Annual Herzliya Conference, regarded by many as Israel’s most important annual forum for debating its involvement in global affairs. But in speaking via teleconference to the Israelis, I overruled objections from my closest advisers, family and friends.
The Israeli audience mainly focused on their issues of military and physical security. So, there was understandable reason for concern at my participating in such an event, considering the state of Israeli-Palestinian relations.
Yet, I was willing to accept criticism for being radically moderate in speaking to the Israelis and in trying to advance peace.
I am not a novice on this issue. I have spent countless years trying to achieve a lasting and honorable settlement to the decades-old conflict. However, it has been a long time since I’ve felt this pessimistic about the situation on the ground.
There are simple truths that justify such pessimism and lead me to conclude that peace is unattainable for the foreseeable future.
One such truth is that the Netanyahu government does not accept that the security of one people cannot be built on the insecurity of another. It is tragic that those in power in Israel need to be reminded that, like them, the Palestinian people have experienced loss of lives, of families, homes, and whole communities. They have felt the same despair over years of turmoil and war.
Another truth is based on a law of diminishing returns. It says that the more Middle Eastern states, including and especially Israel, spend on armaments, the less they feel secure.
Yet another truth is that this continued hostility has cost us all greatly. Since the 1991 Madrid Conference until 2010, the region has lost an estimated $12 trillion in missed economic opportunities, according to the Strategic Foresight Group.
Every single country in the region has suffered, regardless of its political perspectives. The per-capita income of all countries would have been double what it is today.
Security through weapons cannot bring peace: Only peace, a peace with justice, can bring real security.
There are several necessary conditions for peace.
First, we must negotiate with our enemies. We cannot choose our negotiating partners. Well-meaning friends do not need a mediator.
The role of Washington as Israel’s interlocutor to the rest of the region may be comfortable, but it is not pragmatic: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has even recently proposed that the United States should pivot away from the Middle East toward the Asia Pacific region. It seems Washington is also pessimistic about prospects for peace.
Second, we must have the will to move from enmity to at least mutual recognition of shared interests, equal sovereignty and common humanity.
Third, we must not use negotiations as a delaying strategy, continuing policies that forestall true peace.
None of the conditions for peace exists today between Israelis and Palestinians, or between Israel and the Middle East states.
Prior to the outbreak of the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising, one-fourth of the Palestinian workforce traveled daily to Israel for work. That traffic has been reduced to a trickle. Today, Palestinians view Israel solely through the experience of occupation and diminishing livelihoods, especially in the Gaza Strip.
When a majority of Israelis come to believe that peace with the Arabs is not possible, then the Palestinians and other Arab and Middle East societies will come to the conclusion that peace with Israel, even if possible, is not desirable. This is already the sentiment among growing sections of Palestinian and Arab society.
Consequently, those Israelis who would wish to live with Palestinians on terms of equal sovereignty and shared aspirations will be treated as fools. Palestinians and Arabs who cling to the hope of peace will be cursed as traitors.
Recent political changes in the Middle East will not contribute to peace, either, at least in the short term. In the long run, the revolt against calcified authority in our region may create more liberal regimes, but in the short term we can expect chaotic governments that will create more security problems for Israel. The cost to Israel of its unwillingness to negotiate territorial concessions will only grow.
Israel’s reliance on nuclear power as its ultimate security has led others to justify their search for the same type of security. Today, we live in a region divided by walls and cast-iron mindsets. We are a laboratory for new kinds of weaponry - from nuclear to biological, cyber, radiological and chemical threats. We are a breeding ground for rogue, extremist and nonstate actors.
As my brother the late King Hussein put it, “There are extremists on both side of the divide, but if we listen exclusively to them we shall all lose.”
A new architecture for relations is necessary, and I firmly believe that a solid cornerstone could be built around the three baskets of the Helsinki process - economy, security and human dignity - as well as on the experience of the Eastern Bloc after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
It is time to engage with the Arab Spring and its winter offshoots. It is time that Israel reorient its definition of security away from arms and towards relationships based not on occupation, but on human dignity.
Prince El Hassan bin Talal is a special adviser to Jordan’s King Abdullah II and was the national security adviser for both King Abdullah and the late King Hussein.