Breaking the Deadlock? Why Unilateral Disengagement Cannot Equal Peace

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2006

17 Pages, Grade: Distinction (Very good)





1st part – Reflections on Palestine and its People

2nd part – Elusive Peace Pending

3rd part – The Challenge of Change and the Change of Challenge


Appendix –
- Tables
- Israeli Separation Options for the West Bank .

Bibliography and References


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This paper looks at the potential of breaking the deadlock of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict through a unilateral “gazaesque” withdrawal of Israel from the remaining Occupied Territories.

Since the Oslo agreement, Palestinian leaders have found that a state cannot be created by a simple declaration - peace and statehood have so far stumbled over a number of issues and it is questionable if a unilateral disengagement will change these: we will underline the reasons why this is so and why it will not be able to bring peace and coexistence.

While events so far have not changed the fact that a Palestinian State remains a non-entity, they have equally shown all but the most hawkish actors that, despite the determined pursuit of policies designed to make Israeli dominance permanent, it will not be able to maintain the occupation indefinitely against local resistance and a growing refusal and dissent of Israelis against occupation[1].

But what if Israel would opt for an all-out unilateral withdrawal behind its ‘separation barrier’? Could such a move bring about an independent Palestinian State - ‘instant-peace in the Middle East’ - or could it inversely cause an explosive knock-off reaction on the region? Could it lead to the perpetration of past cycles of violence?

1st part –Reflections on Palestine and its People

Descriptions of Palestinian realities have often suffered from excessive generalisation of this very complex society. Many evaluations ignore or downplay internal ambiguity, lack of consensus and internal contradictions. Palestinian society is indeed a complex blend of some 4.25 million individuals divided between religious and seculars, refugees and non-refugees, upper and lower class - the strongest uniting factor consists for many in the struggle against occupation.

Indeed, what mattered historically often more than this struggle was whether one was a Palestinian from the “inside” (initially those remaining in Israel, later from the West Bank and Gaza) and from the “outside” (essentially Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon)[2]. Since 1994, returnee "outsiders" have jealously guarded their privileged position, leading to increasing resentments and frictions between competing social groups[3]. Indeed, the sustained cohesion of society is remarkable, as even the World Bank observes that…

…despite violence, economic hardship and the daily frustrations of living under curfew and closure, lending and sharing are widespread and families for the most part remain functional…donors were saying even prior to Operation Defensive Shield that the Palestinian society was absorbing levels of unemployment that could well have fractured the social contract in industrial societies [4] .

Though social resilience is notable, the number of those unable to cope has increased sharply. 16% of the population, 25% in Gaza, live in “absolute” poverty and are unable to feed themselves adequately while overall living standards have declined sharply since 1999[5].

Politically, the Occupied Territories are divided between numerous rival groups with diverging and often incompatible goals[6]. The PLO, umbrella organisation of most groups and "representative of the Palestine people", advocates a secular Palestinian State coexisting with Israel. As an organisation, it continues to retain loyalty even of those groups strongly opposed to the peace process. The PLO’s two major leftwing factions, the PFLP and the DFLP, for example, denounce the Oslo-agreement as surrender, but maintain that national unity must come through the PLO. The PLO’s most powerful faction and strongest party in Palestinian politics is Fatah which dominates national leadership and administration. Even though Fatah is unlikely to abandon its power voluntarily, it currently appears as though this might come about through a scission between young ‘insider’ leaders and ‘outsider’ elites[7]. Such a fracture would profit above all the PLO’s fiercest opponent, Hamas[8] (and to a lesser degree the Islamic Jihad[9] ) who not only opposes Israel but equally the secular Palestinian Authority and, nominally, a Palestinian state not comprising all of historic Palestine. Both these groupings are calling for the creation of an Islamic state and reject the legitimacy of compromise with Israel.

From this fragmentation results the difficulty to find a cohesive Palestinian response toward Israel, causing opposition to agreements with Israel to have a disproportionate strength: internal sabotage of peace initiatives has been and will remain a constant danger[10]. For the same reasons democracy appears painfully unattractive some movements who prefer to boycott elections and to resort to direct action to reinforce their positions, both internal and external.

Further, Palestinian politics tends to distribute authority top-bottom, based on patronage, leaving important decisions often exclusively at discretion of a few men. This is, for a number of reasons, unlikely to change. However, as the growing gap between Palestinians and an increasingly inaccessible political elite is likely to grow even stronger in a Palestinian State, this distribution is threatening to cause a clash between the populace and a regime trying to maintain privileges and social control– not an environment suitable for the emergence of a functioning democratic system.

On the other hand, this is not the only point of socio-economic friction in Palestinian society, as many grievances have arisen from the ‘installation’ of a Palestinian Authority often perceived as more skilled in redistributing government revenues to private interests than in looking after public welfare or spurring economic growth: Arafat himself is rumoured to have amassed up to $1.3 billion by 2002[11]. In this context, most observers regard official corruption and nepotism as having led to the assassination of former security chief and Yasser Arafat’s cousin, Moussa Arafat by a squadron of gunmen in Gaza[12] - the accumulated discontent behind this killing is giving rise to fears over a Palestinian State’s peaceful functioning. It is doubtful if a Palestinian government can maintain itself in power for long without utilizing significant means to repress opposition. Again, this raises doubt over the emergence of a functioning democratic system.

In this context, many Palestinians who have come to support or vote for Fatah’s perceived alternative, Hamas, seem to have voted rather against the perceived corruption and mismanagement within their political leadership rather than for Hamas’ political agenda

Hence, considerations of internal contradictions and fractions appear as an important feature in understanding complex and shifting Palestinian political and social realities with which any peace agreement would have to relate.


[1] See also The Other Israel: Voices of Refusal and Dissent by Roane Carey for a more insightful description of public dissent in Israel

[2] Robinson, 2000; Nakhleh, 1980

[3] This cleavage can be even further developed by taking in the refugee population in the Diaspora, likely to be left out of any peace agreement. For a more detailed discussion see Absorbing Returnees in a viable Palestinian State, Arnon, 2004

[4] World Bank, 2003

[5] World Bank, 2004

[6] We shall concentrate on the major [antagonist] groupings in this text while leaving largely aside other organisations and parties such as the Palestinian People’s Party (PPP), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), al-Sa‘iqa, AOLP, PPSF, PDU and others.

[7] At the time of writing, the ‘young guard’ of Fatah has advanced its own list under the name "Al Mustakbal" (The Future) for the legislative elections on the 25.01.2006. The list is headed by imprisoned Intifada leader Marwan Barghouti. The pressure to come to an agreement is however immense, as Hamas, running under the name “Change and Reform”, is currently at about 32% of the vote and might become strongest faction against a split Fatah, currently at 50% of the vote. (Günther in Frankfurter Rundschau, 16.12.2005)

[8] Harakat al-Muqawima al-Islamiyya, Islamic Resistance Movement

[9] Al-Jihad al-Islami

[10] Such attacks are of course in turn readily taken up by extremist Israelis arguing that dialogue with Palestinians is impossible, thereby

(un)willingly perpetrating continued cycles of violence.

[11] Aburish, 1998; Alon, 2002

[12] Ha'aretz in Courrier international - 7 September 2005

Excerpt out of 17 pages


Breaking the Deadlock? Why Unilateral Disengagement Cannot Equal Peace
King`s College London  (War College)
The Occupied Territories since 1967
Distinction (Very good)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
1376 KB
This paper looks at the potential of breaking the deadlock of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict through a unilateral 'gazaesque' withdrawal of Israel from the remaining Occupied Territories. Could a withdrawal behind Israel's 'separation barrier' bring about an independent Palestinian State or could it inversely cause an explosive knock-off reaction on the region? Could it lead to the perpetration of past cycles of violence?
Breaking, Deadlock, Unilateral, Disengagement, Cannot, Equal, Peace, Occupied, Territories
Quote paper
M.A. Florian Heyden (Author), 2006, Breaking the Deadlock? Why Unilateral Disengagement Cannot Equal Peace, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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