Promoting Peace in the Middle-East Through the Field of Transitional Justice: Building a Civil Society Israeli-Palestinian Truth Commission

Promoting Peace in the Middle-East Through the Field of Transitional Justice: Building a Civil Society Israeli-Palestinian Truth Commission

Jeremie M. Bracka (Monash University, Australia & Tel Aviv University, Israel)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3001-5.ch017

Abstract

This chapter examines the role and potential contribution of transitional justice to promoting peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. From the experience of many post-conflict societies, it has now become prevailing wisdom that meaningful peace, requires due regard for justice and a carefully conceived process to re-establish the rule of law and accountability for human rights abuse. Nevertheless, such considerations have been all but absent in political peace efforts in the Middle East. Accordingly, this chapter highlights the unique goals of the transitional justice model, and its capacity to apply a retrospective and restorative approach to peace building. By attaching transitional justice to intractable issues like the Palestinian right of return, the refugees, and the historical record, negotiators could draw on a restorative justice model to defeat the present stalemate. It proposes an unofficial bi-national Israeli-Palestinian truth commission (IPTC) to play a pivotal role in reshaping collective memory and supporting the viability of any future political agreement.
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Part 1: The Existing Israeli-Palestinian ‘Peace’ Paradigm: Sidelining History, Justice, Reconciliation And Human Rights

Introduction: Sidelining Transitional Justice and the Past

Although Oslo marked a significant milestone on the path to peace, transitional justice considerations have been all but absent from the diplomatic efforts. With the initiation of the Oslo process, both sides crossed a critical threshold of mutual acknowledgement. The Israeli government officially recognized “the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people.” The PLO, in turn, recognized “the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security”' 1 (Weiner, 2006, p.141). To a degree, this ended the rhetorical warfare of mutual denial, under which “…both sides withheld recognition as if it were the ultimate weapon in a peculiar version of mutual deterrence”2 (Khalidi, 1997, p. 205).

Nevertheless, the normative goals of truth-telling, historical justice and/or reconciliation were conspicuously absent from the diplomatic process, and “proposals for such mechanisms have not been engaged with even in the margins of the political arena”3 (Dudai, 2007, p.340). Thus, attempted political settlements, including those at Oslo (1993), as well as the Camp David Summit (2000), and the Taba Summit (2001), primarily addressed the territorial dimensions of the conflict, and institutional arrangements, such as the nature of the Palestinian administration, borders and security arrangements4 (Weiner, 2000, p.245). Several proposals since Oslo, including the Arab-Peace Initiative (2002), the Road Map (2002), the Nusseibeh-Ayalon Initiative (2002), the Geneva Initiative (2003), the Bush Initiative (2007), and the Annapolis Peace Conference (2008) continue to mirror this pragmatic approach.

While some plans exhibit attempts to deal with 1948,5 none of them have sought to fully grapple with the psychological and historical barriers impeding the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nor have they envisaged a transitional justice mechanism. More broadly, “the terms transitional justice and dealing with the past have not yet been popularized in the Israeli-Palestinian setting”6 (Shaw & Waldorf, 2010, p.237). Indeed, Israeli human rights NGOs have also tended to refrain from addressing the rights of the 1948 refugees, particularly the Palestinian right of return7 (Golan & Orr, 2014, pp.69-72). In sum, a major feature of the political landscape is that it continues to frame conflict resolution in contemporary practical and material terms, deliberately avoiding thorny issues of the past, like questions of legitimacy, narratives, justice, collective memory and human rights abuse.

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