Published on YaleGlobal Online Magazine (
Home > Need to Tear Down Another Wall

Need to Tear Down Another Wall

At the 2013 World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa, more than 300 Israeli and Palestinian civic leaders, led by captains of industry Yossi Vardi and Munib R.Masri, called for a break in the impasse on peace talks, instructing Israeli and Palestinian political leaders to achieve in the shortest time possible a two-state solution. Yet serious discussion is blocked by obstructive policies, including settlements in occupied territory and the Israeli West Bank Barrier, argues international political economist Jean-Pierre Lehmann. Harassment, fighting, terrorism and division leave future Israeli and Palestinian generations with a legacy of bitterness and hatred. Civil war raging in Syria, violence in Iraq after a long war, dislocation and fleeing refugees as well as Iran’s quest for nuclear capability compound the challenges. Ending the conflict may seem elusive but “Palestine is a cause that pervades the entire Islamic world,” Lehmann concludes, adding that peace in the Middle East is a compatible requirement for global integration and justice. – YaleGlobal

Need to Tear Down Another Wall

Industry leaders in Israel, Palestine, call for quick two-state solution and end to conflict
Jean-Pierre Lehmann
YaleGlobal, 4 July 2013
Walled up emotion: US Secretary of State John Kerry (middle), and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (right) join in a handshake before the World Economic Forum in Dead Sea, Jordan, on 26 May 2013 (top); Israeli built wall separating West Bank from Jerusalem

DEAD SEA, JORDAN: While visiting the Berlin Wall in June 1963, two years after its construction, John F. Kennedy quoted from a Robert Frost poem: "Something there is that doesn't love a wall." For decades the Berlin Wall stood as the symbol of a divided world, a barrier to dialogue and an indictment of humanity’s incapacity to cohabit in the global village. With great drama President Ronald Reagan called on the Russian president, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” To the jubilation of millions in November 1989, the Wall did come tumbling down.

The collapse of the Berlin Wall marked the end of the 20th century, which historian Eric Hobsbawm described as “the age of extremes” and heralded a new era of globalization, what pundits enthused to call “a borderless world.”

These remarkable developments notwithstanding, while the world per se may not be divided in two as it was during the Cold War, there are still a number of walls dividing and indicting humanity, arguably none more so than the Wall erected by the Israeli Occupation in Palestine. Israel claims the Wall – 70 kilometers long, 8 meters high, corresponding to 10 percent of the length of the Israeli West Bank Barrier – was erected for security purposes following terrorist attacks during the Second Intifada. This is an immensely sensitive subject, virtually taboo. Hence while the world marches on, Palestine and Israel stand still or, worse, take backward steps.

Some 300 Israeli and Palestinian leaders met at WEF and issued a call for action on Breaking the Impasse.

At the 2013 World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa, a meeting was convened of some 300 Israeli and Palestinian business and civic leaders in what’s been termed the Breaking the Impasse initiative. The group issued a call for action, instructing political leaders to achieve in the shortest time possible a two-state solution. Secretary of State John Kerry was present to indicate US support.

The joint leaders of the initiative, Yossi Vardi and Munib R.Masri, captains of industry respectively in Israel and Palestine, granted that while skepticism may be in order, cynicism is not.

Still, they grapple with a long history.

Europe has a deep and long ugly history of anti-Semitism, leading to pogroms and persecutions. Jews lived in insecurity and surrounded by hatred. In reaction in the late 19th century emerged the Zionist movement that sought security for Jews in what it termed Eretz Israel, or Land of Israel. Palestine at the time was part of the Ottoman Empire, home to Christians, Muslims and Jews. As the Ottoman Empire faced defeat and much of its territory was to pass to the so-called Mandates of Britain and France, issued by the League of Nations, the British government gave recognition to the Jewish quest in the “Balfour Declaration” (1917):

“His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

Palestinians, brutally evicted from land and homes, were left as powerless proxies, atoning for sins of Europeans.

The proposal suggested that the Jews were entitled to a homeland, not a state, and that the rights of Palestinians would not be violated. Of course, the Balfour Declaration could not accomplish the protection of the “rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country,” as the Nazi genocide exterminated Jews across Europe. With the defeat of Hitler and the realization of the horrors perpetrated in Europe, it seemed unthinkable to deny the Jews a state. Palestinians, brutally evicted from their land and homes, were left as distant and powerless proxies to atone for the sins of Europeans.

In the 65 years since the creation of the state of Israel, known to Palestinians as the Nakba, or catastrophe, there have been, since 1967, persistent encroachments of Palestinian land through settlements and wars, refugees, terrorism, the intifadas and brutal repression, all escalating hatred. Palestinians today live on approximately 17 percent of what was the land of Palestine. The hopes of a settlement raised by the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords were soon doused, and 20 years later Palestinians live with the constant harassments and humiliations of occupation; an offensive wall dividing people and families; and arguably most pernicious the heavy restriction of water allocation to Palestinians in contrast to that amply provided to the Israeli settlements. What’s referred to locally as a “water apartheid policy” is well documented and described in the report “Water for One People Only” compiled by Elisabeth Koek.

Hatred is rising, not diminishing, and future prospects are bleak as the next generations growing up in a new apartheid-like situation will harbor mistrust and animosity. As for the Israelis, as one of my Palestinian interlocutors, a professor at Birzeit University put it: “The jailers are becoming the jailed.” This is a land of great misery, human suffering and unhappiness, even though in their daily lives Palestinians continue to show considerable resilience. On the basis of current trends, a just settlement of peace seems increasingly remote, elusive and perhaps impossible.

Hence the initiative to “break the impasse” and the plea forcefully articulated in Varsi’s speech in front of Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority and Israel’s President Simon Peres, US Secretary of State John Kerry and the several hundred WEF participants when he shouted, “ENOUGH!”  Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not present, not a good omen.

On the basis of current trends, a just settlement of peace seems increasingly remote, elusive, perhaps impossible.

The situation is complicated. These developments are occurring when the Arab world is in turmoil, when there are some 1.5 million refugees streaming into Jordan from Syria. Within the Palestinian community deep divisions between Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank persist, and the world in general is experiencing probably the deepest, most rapid transformations ever, causing great dislocations. President Barack Obama’s stated desire to “pivot” to East Asia to meet the China challenge remains thwarted by the conflicts in West Asia.

Peace between Palestinians and Israelis cannot be abandoned. The conditions prevailing are incompatible not only with growing global integration, but with global justice and, indeed, global civilization. At the same time the Israel West Bank Wall symbolizes the barriers to dialogue. The initiative is courageous and enlightened. However, that notwithstanding, so long as the Wall stands and the Israeli settlers not only remain, but continue to stream in, it’s highly unlikely that Palestinians and Israelis will find a basis for serious, purposeful discussions. The plight of the Palestinians is not purely a local issue. Indeed Palestine is a cause that pervades the entire Islamic world. When the expression is used “Islam versus the West,” whether implicitly or explicitly Palestine is at the core. This is not just true of the Arab countries, but all Islamic countries, including distant ones like Indonesia and Bangladesh.

In 2002 and again in 2007, the Arab League proposed and submitted the Arab Peace Initiative. Though Israeli popular opinion seems to favor acceptance of or at least deliberation on the Arab Peace Initiative, it’s been repeatedly rejected by the Israeli government. Most Muslim countries have indicated they would establish or, in some cases, re-establish diplomatic relations with Israel should the proposed Arab Peace Initiative be accepted. This would be a great step forward.

Breaking the Impasse is s a global issue, requiring global attention and engagement, as its outcome will bear considerable influence on what kind of world evolves in the 21st century. Trends must be reversed. To repeat Yossi Vardi: “Enough.”    


Jean-Pierre Lehmann is emeritus professor of international political economy, IMD, Switzerland; founder of The Evian Group; and visiting professor at Hong Kong University.

Rights:Copyright © 2013 The Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale

Comments on this Article

8 July 2013
thank you, Mr Cohen. I think we will have to leave it that we agree to disagree on both content and tone, as I am not sure there more discussion will bear fruitful results. Hopefully things will move forward in a positive direction. To that end, both Israelis and Palestinians must be goaded. The onus however obviously lies more with the occupier than with the occupied.
-Jean-Pierre Lehmann , IMD, Lausanne, Switzerland
7 July 2013
Sir - you have missed the gist of it, so let me zero in on one of your pet peeves.
You talk about a or the "key impediment" on the Israeli side, citing the objections of Netanyahu's coalition partners. At the same time, you have simply ignored the exact same phenomenon on the Palestinian side. I'm guessing that your implication is that the key impediments are not shared at all, and of course without having to explain the oxymoron of Palestinian reconciliation, nothing is farther from the truth.
As an Israeli, I'm trying to point out that I'm fed up with being preached to and patronized by foreigners about "the occupation the occupation the occupation", as if millions of us are daft and don't understand what's going on.
As well, we're fed up with Palestinians listing a litany of Israeli contraventions of "international laws" - as is done below, while of course there is no list of Palestinian offenses and war crimes - of which there is no shortage of factual proof.
The only way is via direct negotiations. And yes, we're going to have to talk to Hamas (if they'll talk, up to now as everybody knows - they are continuing to reject the very idea of peace with Israel) just as Fatah and Hamas will have to talk with Bennet's party members.
The IRA did indeed sit down with the Protestant Brits. We do not yet see that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are willing to sit down with us and talk peace, but that's for Kerry, Netanyahu and Abbas to work on, not riff-raff like you and me.
Yes, of course there should be a just solution for the water problem. I do not object to that. But as you should know it is just one of hundreds of problems that must be resolved in direct peace talks between the three sides (Israel, Fatah and Hamas).
We are realists here in Israel. Without a Palestinian civil war the two-state solution is unattainable and we should be looking at either a 3-state solution or more wide-ranging answers. Until last week it seemed like Gaza could become part of Egypt, but that now seems to be as untenable as the rest of the current developments.
The ball, sir, remains equally with both sides. Both sides each get to say either yes or no to talks.
[And as a postscript, I really would appreciate somebody taking the challenge of speaking up and addressing the clear and present problem of the Fatah-Hamas split and how the peace process can be resumed despite it. I personally don't see how Fatah can credibly claim to negotiate in good faith for both the west bank and Gaza, nor be any guarantor of a peace treaty]
-Brian Cohen , Israel
7 July 2013
Mr Cohen, your attitude betrays how difficult it has become to engage in dialogue. Your ad hominem attacks plus the assertion of anti-Israel rhetoric can hardly be seen as open and constructive. On the issue of the peace talks, let me only draw your attention to an article in the latest issue of The Economist, which, I would suggest, is not a publication given to "anti-Israel rhetoric": "Israel and Palestine: Talks about talks"
As the article points out a key impediment to Mr Netanyahu engaging in the peace process is not whether the Palestinians are at the table or not but the reaction and opposition from the "noises on his boisterous right flank".
As I point out in my Yale Global article, though Abbas was at the WEF MENA summit in Jordan, Netanyahu was not, something I indicate is not a good omen. That Netanyahu is more concerned about domestic politics rather than peace is not that surprising. That is what politicians tend to be about. But it is generally seen in policy research circles as a key impediment to the peace process. And should be recognised by objective Israelis as such.
Furthermore, there is the Arab Peace Initiative which has been on the table for 10 years. According to the article in the Economist it seems to be making some progress. Let us hope so. And let us hope that the current hardline that seems to be dominating the Israeli policy process will awaken to a softer, more enlightened, more cooperative attitude.
The ball, contrary to what you seem to say, is in the Israeli court. In the meantime ending inhuman practices such as the water discrimination policy would be a step in the right direction. By definition the occupier has more scope for manoeuvre than the occupied.
-Jean-Pierre Lehmann , IMD, Lausanne, Switzerland
7 July 2013
Mr. Cohen,
I could sit here and delineate the hundreds of incidents that took place during the second intifada from the sides of the Israelis, but I won't, because our discussion is post-Wall, which was after the second intifada.
Secondly, I would not use international law as an argument in Israel's defense-- as its entire occupation of the Palestinian territory contravenes international law. Below are some of the articles which it was completely ignored:
Article 2 of the Charter of the United Nations (1945), requires that “[a]ll Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”
UN Security Council Resolution 242 (1967) emphasizes “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” and calls for the “[w]ithdrawal of
Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.”
The International Court of Justice, in its July 9, 2004 Advisory Opinion, concluded that Israel in breach of international law as an occupying power by building its Wall and settlements inside the oPt.
UN Security Council Resolution 252 (1968) states that the Security Council “[c]onsiders that all…actions taken by Israel…which tend to change the legal status of Jerusalem are invalid and cannot change that status.”
UN Security Council Resolution 476 (1980) states that the Security Council “[r]econfirms that all…actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which purport to alter the character and status of…Jerusalem have no legal validity…and also constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”
Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention, ratified by Israel in 1951, states: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”
The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court of 1998 (Article 8(b)(viii)) defines “the transfer directly or indirectly by the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies” as a War Crime indictable by the International Criminal Court.
United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 465 (1980): “Israel’s policy and practices of settling parts of its population and new immigrants in [the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem] constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention… and a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.” The resolution calls on Israel to “dismantle the existing settlements.”
International water law determines the water rights of the parties. Applicable standards include those identified in the Helsinki Rules on the Uses of the Waters of International Rivers of 1966 and the 1997 United Nations (UN) Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses.
International water law calls for the “equitable and reasonable” allocation of water among the two or more parties that possess a claim to shared watercourses.
The right to water is a human right. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has noted: “The human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights.”
In 1948, in response to the mass displacement of our refugees, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 194, including paragraph 11 which provides, in part, that:
…the [Palestinian] refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.
Resolution 194 endorsed the right of our refugees to choose whether to repatriate to what is now Israel or to be resettled elsewhere, and codified the accepted principles of customary international law. It has been reaffirmed by the General Assembly every year since its adoption.
The right of return for our refugees also is well-established under other international law, including:
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted in 1948): “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country” (Art. 13(2)).
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country” (Art. 12(4)).
The UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Displaced Persons: “All Refugees and displaced persons have the right to voluntarily return to their former homes, lands or places of habitual residence, in safety and dignity” (Art. 10.1)… “Refugees and displaced persons should be able to effectively pursue durable solutions to displacement other than return, if they so wish, without prejudicing their right to the restitution of their housing, land and property” (Art. 10.3).
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: “The Committee is concerned about the denial of the right of many Palestinians to return and repossess their land in Israel (Article 5 (d) (ii) and (v)). The Committee reiterates its view expressed in its previous concluding observations on this issue and urges the State party to assure equality in the right to return to one’s country and in the possession of property” (Art. 18).
Finally, please point me to your source on the killing of the Israeli policeman.
-Ambar , Ramallah
6 July 2013
Gentlemen - anti-Israel rhetoric is just that: anti-Israel rhetoric. And of course, Ambar, I could point out that your comment on Palestinian security is specious at best. One of the key incidents at the beginning of intifada #2 was when a Palestinian policeman on a joint patrol with Israeli policemen took his AK-47, cocked it, took the safety off, turned and aimed it at his Israeli patrol partner and pulled the trigger - killing the Israeli policeman.
The arrest last week of another Palestinian policeman for a shooting in the west bank earlier this year also casts doubt on your observations. I too follow the EUPOL-COPS reports and am a bit impressed that the Palestinian police are on the one hand trying to improve, but on the other hand support their government's rejection of the peace process (not to mention the fact that Hamas police leave a lot to be desired and PA police are known for false arrests and torturing prisoners).
All your arguments come down to the same bottom line: you can only tear down the wall and have a Palestinian state if there is a peace treaty. It doesn't matter if all your accusations against Israel are true or not, because the only way to a state is via international law - and international law says two sides must negotiate and sign a peace treaty.
So if you're in Hong Kong or Ramallah or Antarctica the answer is still the same: the Palestinians have to go back to the peace table no matter what. No excuses and no blaming Israel for this or that or the other.
-Brian Cohen , Israel
6 July 2013
Mr. Cohen,
Since you say that Dr. Lehmann pontificates from afar, I must add my comments as an American living in Ramallah for the last three years.
Proponents of the WALL (because it is a wall, and a very tall one, in certainly it's most visible parts, it is a fence in areas where there are no villages or people living, for the most part), love to argue that it was erected for security purposes, but I would like to point out that the wall is planned to be over 700 km long, more than double the length of the green/armistice line that the international community now regards as the borders between the future Palestinian state and the State of Israel. Why is it that long? Because it follows the planned expansion plans of settlements, sometimes going in as deep as 22 km into the occupied West Bank. The wall was not built for security, it is just another way to put facts on the ground, grab more land, and ensure that the green line does not remain the border of the Palestinian state. You can see a map of the wall and its route here, a map published by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:
Further, I must also point out that the decrease in suicide bombings also comes due to Israelis turning security control to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) in the major cities (it is important to point out that the PNA only has security control over approximately 22 percent of the West Bank, those areas deemed Areas A under the Oslo Accords, the rest remains under Israeli military security control). Since then, the PNA has received training and support from Western countries to ensure that those security forces are capable, and Israelis and Palestinians often coordinate on security issues.
-Ambar , USA, living in Ramallah
5 July 2013
Thank you, Mr Cohen, for the compliments!
The history is extremely complex. and open to multiple interpretations and while one should of course condemn the suicide bombings, one should also understand the motivations. Fortunately there are a number of very courageous Israeli writers and activists who do precisely that, which is much to their honour. But they are a minority.
That Palestinians should feel that they are victims of a tremendous historical injustice is more than comprehensible.The question is how to repair the damage and establish peace and prosperity. Grabbing land for settlers, evicting Palestinians from their homes, putting their children in military detention, pursuing blatantly discriminatory policies in water distribution, haranguing and harassing at borders and check-points, etc would hardly seem to constitute the way of going about it. You rightly point out that the Palestinians do not quite have their act together. But do Israelis? Are the acts described above what Israelis want to constitute as their identity?
Contrary to what you assert, Palestinian issues are infrequently aired in mainstream opinion in Europe and hardly ever in the US. I follow world affairs fairly closely, but it was not until I had been to Ramallah that I actually heard of the "apartheid water policy" or that, according to a UNICEF report ( Palestinian children are held in Israeli military detention.
What is happening is not a purely Israeli-Palestinian affair. It concerns the whole planet, partly because it is an instance of great injustice among a number of other flaring injustices in this world and because it puts global security in jeopardy.
In speaking out I wish to express my support for the victims of injustice and to those Israelis and Palestinians who are courageously and constructively speaking out.
-Jean-Pierre Lehmann , IMD, Lausanne, Switzerland
4 July 2013
TEARING DOWN THE WALL MEANS THE END OF THE WORLD. Portions of Biblical verses. Read below.
In the latter years Israel, ------ dwell safely. ----- a land of unwalled villages; ----a peaceful people, who dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates’ -----that day when My people Israel dwell safely,------I will also gather all nations, And bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; And I will enter into judgment with them there On account of My people, My heritage Israel, ----They have also DIVIDED UP MY LAND.----the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. 3 For when they say, “PEACE AND SECURITY!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape.-------------(The ANTICHRIST) shall confirm a (PEACE) covenant with many for (seven years);
But in the middle of the (seven years) he will break it.
-Nero , Rome
4 July 2013
Eloquent, Prof Lehmann, but you reflect the foreign realite of academics who pontificate from afar. Nowhere in your article did you mention the reason for the wall, nor state the well known facts: the "wall" is really a security fence (it's more than 90% fence, not wall) and as a direct correlation when it went up Palestinian suicide bombings (that had previously killed hundreds of innocent civilian lives went to zero.
For normal Israelis, that factual correlation is simply impossible to ignore. For a foreign academic like you with no concern for your own personal safety it's a highly prized central issue to be hung out in public "debate" as often as possible (while as much as possible making sure you ignore the history that put the barrier there in the first place).
Most of us Israelis also want to "tear down the wall", but until our Palestinian neighbors get their act together we want it to remain up. You simply glossed over the reality that Hamas controls Gaza and refuses to negotiate for peace - no matter which obscure Hamas official you might want to quote. Hamas policy has been and still is: no peace with Israel, and their only way is armed conflict.
I laud the Palestinian and Israeli business leaders and like the vast majority of my fellow Israelis, I want to live in peace with the Palestinians and despite my living over the green line I too am willing to make those painful concessions Netanyahu keeps mentioning (I would have to move home, not Netanyahu).
You, on the other hand, are simply an apparently well-meaning academic jetting between Switzerland and Hong Kong, looking for a populist axe to grind.
-Brian Cohen , Israel