Stepping Out of Darkness: Reconciliation in the Middle East

Reconciliation in the Middle East needs to be discussed on two levels independently.

reconciliation-middle-eastIn 2011, the Arab world experienced an unprecedented period of uprisings against dictatorships. These authoritarian leaders ruled for decades and prevented genuine change and reform. In response to deficits in education, employment and human rights, the Arab people took to the streets and demanded change.

In 2017, an ongoing devastating civil war in Syria, Yemen and Libya; political instability in Iraq; and a military regime in Egypt pose new security concerns for the region and beyond. The Saudi-Qatar feud is another example which have exacerbated tensions in the Gulf.

Conflict escalates in this volatile region. Cleavages among different opposition movements within each system are deepening. Achieving reconciliation and peace in the Middle East has proven to be a daunting task. It is no doubt an ambitious task but a necessary one for those who live in the region.

Most experts on the topic agree that “reconciliation” describes a process rather than an outcome. Reconciliation embodies the courage to take painful compromises to heal the damage done.

Pan-Arabism, the notion that the Arab people should be united based on a common Arabic language and culture, romanticized a unified Arab world. The reality on the ground is more complex. Consequently, deepening cleavages along political, religious, sectarian and national lines prove to be quite resilient.


Old City of Jerusalem

Therefore, reconciliation in the Middle East needs to be discussed on two levels independently: interstate among the different states in the region, as well as intrastate among citizens within the same state.

In the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Israel enjoys national unity against Palestinian national resistance movements. Palestinians, however, suffer from national disunity. Since the 2006 parliamentary elections, Hamas and Fatah disagree over which faction is the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

To fix the rift, Palestinians have participated in two separate reconciliation processes

The first Palestinian reconciliation process looks inwards. It aims to achieve national unity and to bring people of conflicting political orientations and ideologies together.

The second looks outwards. It aims to advance a just and comprehensive peace with Israel to achieve statehood  recognition. A mere hope, initiating these processes would have remarkable impact of spillover towards peace and stability in the Middle East.

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There are those who argue that the Arab-Israeli conflict is neither unique nor central to the international community any more. Yet I believe that in our region it is both important and central.

The prolonging of both the Arab-Israeli and Palestinian-Israeli conflict allowed for tensions to grow and resentment to fester. It has contributed to a polarization by fueling one political agenda against another within domestic and foreign policy.

Thus, reconciliation becomes an essential step to pave the way to peace. This process would allow for a space to be created for different opinions and beliefs to co-exist and be accepted and respected without shaking the foundation of one’s own belief.

Reconciliation requires recognizing past narratives to build trust and move forward

For years, Middle Eastern leaders have chosen to adopt a single glorifying national collective narrative. However, recent events show that oppressing minorities and imposing unity is not sustainable.

Hence, this begs the question: Do we choose a victor’s peace? Or do we choose to take steps towards a more democratic, and a more reconciled Middle East?

In the first lie the dangers of a violent Arab Winter, and in the second lie a more prosperous, more secure, and more politically stable Middle East.

*This is the first article of a three-part series on the topic of reconciliation. As this topic is gaining greater significance due to rising violence and terrorism, please stay tuned on July 19 for the second article in this series which will examine Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation by Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi. The third article in this series will run on July 21 and explore future prospects of reconciliation between Israel and Palestine by Zeina M. Barakat.

Dina M. Dajani is a doctorate candidate at Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany. Born in Amman, Jordan and raised in Jerusalem, Dajani graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Studies from the American University of Beirut and Master of Arts in European Studies from Heinrich Heine University in Dusseldorf.