The sovereign can no longer say, "You shall think as I do on pain of death;" but he says, "You are free to think differently from me, and to retain your life, your property, and all that you possess; but if such be your determination, you are henceforth an alien among your people."

(Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835)

Monday, 31 May 2010

Is trust a necessary prerequisite in international relations?

The PBS journalist Charlie Rose went to Damascus to interview Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal. In this interview, Meshaal said that if 1) Israel withdraws to the 1967 border, 2) Jerusalem becomes the Palestinian capital and 3) the refugees are granted the right to return, the Palestinian resistance will end.

Except the right of return perhaps, this package of a peace agreement is accepted virtually by the whole world, except the USA and Israel. It basically reflects the outcome of the Geneva initiative, an Israeli-Palestinian peace coalition with prominent supporters on both sides.

Proponents of the position of the Israeli government are very likely to dismiss Meshaal's proposal, as they did reject the Geneva initiative. From their point of view, Hamas is not to be trusted. Hamas would use the gained sovereignty to re-arm and prepare the attack on Israel proper. Therefore, the survival of Israel demands a tight grip on the West Bank and Gaza.

Let's disregard for a moment other possible explanations of the Israeli policy, namely the ideology of a greater Israel (Eretz Israel) stretching from the Jordan to the Mediterranean or messianic Judeo-Christian ideologies. If we disregard those possible explanations, the Meshaal offer could be considered by the Israeli government as a good basis for a future peace agreement. If it wouldn't be for the fear and distrust, we could welcome Meshaal's statement as a first step to real peace negotiations.

It is understandable that Israel feels threatened, being surrounded by Arab states. But is this feeling of fear a good adviser in matters of national security? Master Yoda says that fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate and hate leads to suffering - and those are the dark side of the force. On that he is in line with Noam Chomsky in its latest interview, who stated that Israeli policy was dominated by paranoia and irrationality (This interview is very worth watching because the interviewer confronts Chomsky with the arguments of the Israeli government).

Although I have sympathy with the Israeli concerns and woes, it is difficult to envisage a positive development for all parties involved when feelings dictate their behaviour. Let's put it differently: is trust a necessary ingredient in international relations? And if yes, what could the EU do to build trust between the various antagonists?

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