Commentary: Palestine - The Right Approach to Peace?

June 22, 2018

Since the protest in Gaza started on March 30, 2018, at least 121 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli military. Media refocused attention on this enduring conflict and the voices demanding peace and negotiations for a lasting and just solution rose up again. This protest shows how deep-seated the hatred on both sides and the problems of this violent conflict are, a conflict that has seen numerous attempts at negotiations. But why did none of them work? Why did the Oslo Accords – held in such high regard in the West — fail to bring lasting peace? After living only four months in the West Bank, I have come to question the rationale of the western approach, the backbone of the Oslo Accords. Economic peace and development have been considered to be decisive to solve the conflict peacefully. But this assumption is clearly flawed. Instead, I consider the structural and daily violation of human rights not only as an obstacle to economic development, but worse, as the decisive factor that favours and fosters the dangerous conflict dynamics, mutual distrust, and hatred. While the latest announcement by the current US administration to leave the U.N. Human Rights Council shows the controversies and sensibilities around human right violations in the occupied Palestinian Territories, it is imperative that the international community changes it’s approach. The guiding paradigm should shift from state to human security, with respect for human rights at its core in order to achieve lasting peace in the Middle East.


The Paris economic protocol of 1994 and the World Bank’s Investment in Peace plan of 1993 stipulate that development and economic peace create spill-over effects leading to a final peaceful solution for the decades old conflict. In two years after the Oslo Accords this rationale seemed to be successful: the Palestinian public sector grew from 40,000 to 75,000 employees, unemployment declined by four percent and real GDP grew from six to nine percent in the next five years. However, despite this development the second intifada broke out on the 28th September 2000. In the violent years thereafter over 1,000 Israelis and 3,200 Palestinians lost their lives. Stricter oppression and tighter occupation by Israel followed. 18 years later, there is still no peace instead today violence rose up again in Gaza and people filled the streets of Bethlehem and Ramallah to protest against the controversial move of the US embassy to Jerusalem. Development clearly has not been the sufficient, key factor to achieve lasting peace and progress in this conflict.

Development builds on income, education, health and technological improvements. Many of these factors are protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from 1948 but are violated on a structural basis in the occupied Palestinian Territories. This article shows how the respect for human rights is not only a pre-condition for development, but its violations also deepen and feed the conflict dynamics. It representatively looks at four human rights, assesses their violations and consequences for development and individual and societal attitude towards peace negotiations.


Article 13: The right to Freedom of Movement


The right to move freely within one’s country, as well as to leave and to return to it are set out by Art. 13 of the UN Declaration. Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza are not allowed to leave their territory without special permission given by Israel. These permissions are hard to obtain and only handed out in special cases. The stringent restrictions to leave the country are mirrored by obstacles to the freedom of movement within the territory. As of January 2017, the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem counted 98 checkpoints within the West Bank, 59 of them permanent. Additionally, in the first nine months of that year, 2,941 flying checkpoints and 476 unstaffed physical obstacles were counted. While it is possible to cross these checkpoints, it often involves considerable delays. Flying and permanent checkpoints hinder the planning and structuring of the day and arrival times can only be roughly estimated. While this is an irritation for leisure activities, the consequences for business are often costly. Waiting in the car for the soldier, who’s rifle is pointing at the car, to wave for passing, demonstrates the own powerlessness, the dependence upon that young man or woman in military uniform to arrive at the university, workplace, hospital, friends or family.           


Palestinian workers wait for security check imposed by the Israeli occupation on Bethlehem checkpoint, West Bank/Activestills


Iron gates are installed at villages and can be closed by the Israeli military, preventing the inhabitants to leave their village. Within the West Bank, 40 kilometres of roads are not allowed to be accessed by Palestinians. Eight of these kilometres are part of Road 443, the most important link between villages and their farmlands, as well as to the educational, commercial and health centre Ramallah. The old road re-opened for Palestinians is unfit for the traffic, amounting to daily and chaotic traffic jams, further impeding the ability to plan travel time.


The separation barrier, erected after the second intifada, cuts off 150 communities from their farmland. Next to clearly breaching the right to free movement it often also deprives families of their property and income. Property and income, the arrival and timely arrival of goods and services, the ability to plan and structure, the ability to cultivate the land are all restricted, in clear violation of the right of freedom of movement. Lower productivity, lower output and the averment of investment are the resulting negative consequences, adversely impacting development. Additionally, this daily violation of human rights, the time spent waiting at checkpoints and waiting for permits or in traffic jams further fosters grievances and hatred towards Israel.


Art. 15 The Right to Nationality


Most of us define ourselves foremost by our nationality, the history, the culture and the norms that go along with it. Next to emotions, a nationality carries important provisions and rights needed for daily life. Without a nationality, a person is stateless. Without legal status, one cannot formally work, cannot obtain social welfare benefits, cannot move or travel. Children cannot go to school or even attain birth certificates. Without a nationality a person is trapped without the necessary means to build up and sustain a living as well as without the ability to take part in the state-organised societies we live in. Between 1967 and 2016 Israel revoked the permanent resident status of over 14,594 Palestinians from East Jerusalem. Including children, the number is estimated to be as high as 80,000 people. These individuals are neither of official Palestinian nationality, nor of Israeli citizenship and hence basically without trace in any state system, and without the means to independently sustain their lives.


Art. 17 – No arbitrary Deprivation of Property


Our homes, our cars, our phones are basic property that we rely on to feel secure, to grow and handle daily life. Without property, we have no means to invest, no incentive to invest, to means to consume and it is harder to refine ourselves. Property is fundamental to development, as the esteemed economist Daron Acemoglu, author of Why Nations Fail points out. Between 1967 and 2016 over 25,000 homes were destroyed by the Israeli military in the West Bank and Gaza. Often used as collective punishments for alleged terrorists, this measure deprives whole families arbitrarily of their property and accompanying security.


Art. 26. Right to Education


Examined under an economic perspective the violations of the previously mentioned human rights have detrimental effects for development in the short-term. The breach of Art. 26 however has not only lasting psychological impacts, as grievances, fear and hatred are reinforced by military incidents in schools and universities, but also long-term consequences for development. Without education, human capital cannot develop to its full potential. Besides school education, children and adolescents are therefore deprived, among others, of learning about tolerance and open-mindedness for a peaceful and less biased understanding of other cultures and lifestyles. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) counted 286 education-related incidents in government and UNRWA schools in 2015 alone. Schools had to be evacuated twice because the military used tear gas canisters, plastic coated metal bullets and other types of ammunition on school premises. 83 days of schooling were lost within only 5 months. Catching up on the curriculum is likely to remain the more manageable tasks compared to dealing with the psychological effects on school age children[1]. Adverse experience and narratives with Israel are hence imbedded in the growing up of new generations. Change and societal support for negotiations, for peace and eventual reconciliation are nipped in the bud.


 Girls wave Dignity Is Priceless at UNRWA school/AP 


These few examples[2] of breached human rights show clearly that the violation of human rights firstly hinders efforts for economic development, which the international community has focused on. The denial of a nationality, property and education rise insecurity, lower productivity and disincentives for investment or prevent participation in the economy altogether. Secondly and more importantly however, the abuse of human rights is like a ticking bomb, waiting to explode in more hatred and conflict, caused from the daily experienced helplessness, degradation and humiliation. Therefore, the structural violation of human rights not only hinders economic development but fosters the dynamics that deepen the conflict.


If the international community is sincere in its wish for peace, the rationale on which plans are built needs to be reconsidered and refocused with respect to human rights. Adhering to this rational, however, seems even more unlikely today with the USA outside the U.N. body responsible for respect for human rights. If nothing changes it is likely that adolescent generations will continue to reject political initiatives towards peace, as they have learned from past generations that those did not bring any change to their daily lives.

[1] For academic reference and more detailed information refer to Khamis, V. (2015). Coping with war trauma and psychological distress among school-age Palestinian children, Am J Orthopsychiatry,85,1,pp.72-9


[2] Consequences of violations of Art. 25 The right to adequate health care is discussed in Marie, M.; Hannigan, B.; Jones, A. (2016). Mental health needs and services in the West Bank, Palestine, International Journal of Mental Health Systems, 10,23

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