Protracted Social Conflicts; Theory and Practice in the Middle East
Edward E. Azar describes in „Protracted Social Conflict; Theory and Practice in the Middle East“ the conditions and properties of what he calls „Protracted Social Conflict“ and how this term i able to describe the Israeli-Arab conflict.
A chapter about characterless remarks of the influence of superpowers on the international system is followed by explanations of how the author perceive the term Protracted Social Conflict (PSC). He names four five premises which must exist so that a conflict can be described as (PSC):
1. Ongoing since a long period
2. Fluctuation in intensity and frequency of interaction
3. Spill-overs of conflict in several areas of life
4. Strong equilibrating forces
5. Absence of distinct termination
While premises 1, 2 and 5 are quite self-explaining, the other two are worth a closer examination.
PSCs tend to infect several areas of the society and therefore integrates the society in the conflict. When a conflict such as the Arab-Israeli conflict is ongoing for a long time, the economy starts to react to this fact, for example through a concentration on safety gadgets, construction of safety areas, development of high-tech weapons. Social or political leaders start to profile themselves through this conflict by defining their political shape on the basis of an attitude towards the conflict.
This integration of the society leads to the identification of the society through the conflict. The line between “we” and “them” becomes sharper which is the origin of new conflict issues. Therefore a PSC is rather to be seen as a process than an event or event cluster. The conflict itself becomes the source for policies that lead to new conflict issues.
PSCs therefore tend to grow in the number of actors and objectives. Because several social, political, scientifical, military or economic actors build their existence on the conflict they have an interest that the conflict doesn´t come to an end because their benefit of peace is abstract and hypothetical while their benefit of the conflict is more real. They aim to equilibrate the conflict on a constant level of moderation that doesn´t make it likely that the conflict ends.
Azar claims, that all these requirements for a PSC are fulfilled in the Israel-Arab conflict. I think it´s extremely questionable (at least for today) that there are actually influential forces on both sides that actively and consciously try to prohibit peace. Only the Hamas seems to have a reason to pursue the continuation of the conflict, because they take their legitimacy totally and only from their hostility towards Israel. But this group is just in charge in a very small area of a possible Palestine and not part of actual peace talks. It is also confusing that the author uses social-constructive considerations (PSC shapes identity of society which leads to more hostility) and then changes to rationalistic considerations. The actual statement remains unclear.
Furthermore Azar states that the conflict cannot come to a sudden, violent end, since the Arabs are not able to defeat Israel, superpowers wouldn´t allow a genocide and Israel can use its secret nuclear weapons just in case of threats to its survival. He closes with the statement that both Israeli and Arab leaders use the conflict to distract from domestic problems such as social injustice and lacks of public goods. This is for sure possible but doesn´t end in the actual aim that Israelis and moderate Palestinian leaders secretly try to sabotage the peace talks.
It is interesting that 30 year old articles about the Middle East conflict seem to describe a situation which is quite similar the one nowadays. Apparently Azar is right, when he states, that there is not “one solution” that can result in peace, but peace must be gained over a very long term of reconstructing the identities, although it is confusing that he doesn´t mention major obstacles in the peace talks, like the settlements in the occupied territories, at all.