In March 2002, Oxfam International published the Policy Paper, Foundations for Peace: Urgent steps to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The paper confronts the current situation in the Middle East with a number of political, social and economic approaches to a possible peaceful outcome to the conflict. These approaches include not only resolutions of peace and respect for international human rights laws (which many global organisations agree are being grossly violated in the region), but also proposed reforms of international trade agreements and domestic infrastructure in order to combat economic downfall and the desperate social needs. Oxfam believes that the conflict is an international issue and therefore should be addressed by the whole world and resolved by international law.

This essay will ascertain the ethical values (implicit or explicit) portrayed in the document and consider whether they are appropriate and what alternative values could or should be applied.

Oxfam has authored four major priority actions to sustain lasting peace and development in the region. These actions are:

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1. Protection for civilians

2. Foundations for peace

3. Immediate humanitarian need

4. Livelihoods development for long-term poverty reduction

The charity considers the situation in Israel and Palestine to be war and therefore should be treated as such, hence the call to respect the articles of the Geneva Convention. One of the priority actions introduced by the paper, “Protection for civilians”, states directly that all parties to the conflict must uphold international humanitarian law and human rights law, particularly relating to civilians as stated in the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 relating to the protection of civilians in times of war, in particular those living under occupation.

Actions by both Israelis and Palestinians have and continue to violate numerous articles of the Convention. Indeed, the conflict is characterised by such violations as military attacks on civilians, emergency personnel and over-crowded refugee camps. Extra-judicial executions are also known to take place, as is the demolition of civilian homes and movement restrictions. Palestinians in particular are known be ruthless in there targets for suicide bombings; civilian women, children and elderly people are often killed by such attacks. The Geneva Convention, the “only globally accepted instrument for the protection of civilians” as quoted by the document, outlaws all these things.

But by whose ethics was the Geneva Convention and additional laws of human rights conceived? John S. Mill says that “A ‘right’ is something that society ought to protect me in the possession of”. But different societies, cultures and religions abide by very different rules and morals. What is seen by one party to be ethically wrong may be equally respected by another party to be absolutely the right thing to do. Examples of such ethics other than that of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in the United States on 11th September 2001 and the bombing of a tourist night club on the Indonesian island in Bali in the summer of 2002.

In the western world’s ethical view, these attacks we an atrocity committed on innocent people who were in no way directly involved with the reasons for which the “terrorists” carried out their attacks. However, other societies, particularly in the Middle East and other Arab populated areas of the world, saw the actions taken as just desserts for the repression and treatment they have and they believe continue to receive by America and other political systems in the western world.

In their paper Oxfam claim that “the urgency for peace and new engagement in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories has never been greater, nor ever more tenuous. Ordinary Palestinian and Israeli citizens, particularly the poorest and most marginalised groups, are paying a cruel toll. Never before have the levels of insecurity, poverty, direct loss of human life, and material devastation been so great. This situation of direct suffering continues to ignite further violence, intransigence and extremism on all sides, further undermining the peace and security that is so desperately desired in the region.”

In order for there to be lasting peace in the region, rules that have been laid down (such as those in the Geneva Convention) must be abided by. If not, conflict, violence and suffering will continue. With this in mind then, the ethical values that the document states are an appropriate and worthy claim. However, it is the casuistry of those involved that will determine the outcome. In the above statement it is said that the situation is “undermining the peace and security that is so desperately desired in the region”.

But one might ask oneself in the light of the region’s history, is this true? The view of many Westerners is that co-existence should be sought as separate state systems are seemingly impossible to implement. But the continuing conflict shows that those involved have a cause and they are more than willing to fight hard for it. Israeli forces still occupy Palestinian territories and Palestinians still blow themselves and dozens if Israeli civilians up on crowded buses. Retaliation attacks are common place and are developing increased tolerance by the general public as each side strives to be the out and out winner. In short, a continuing battle to find an eventuality that will be the existence of an independent Palestinian state or Israel; one or the other, not both.

The Foundations for peace paper does not employ this ethic as a solution. Its aim is to find a definitive solution to the conflict and the emergence of co-existence between the state of Israel and the future state of Palestine. It is Oxfam’s view that urgent steps must be taken by the entire international community. The charity calls on all parties to acknowledge and address what they label as a growing insecurity and the humanitarian crisis resulting from the conflict, and to reaffirm and protect the rights of civilians under international law.

They also state that the United States, United Nations and the European Union should show new dedication to seek an absolute solution to the violence and unrest in the region and that they should assume greater responsibility and an effective political role as key parties addressing the conflict. This has been furthered still in the recent UN Security Council Resolution 1397, as stated in the Oxfam paper, which aims to establish a basis for peaceful co-existence.

An international protection mechanism is also called for by Oxfam and is to be an immediate priority to avert further loss of life among both Israeli and Palestinian civilians. However, how a scheme such as this is to be put into practice is not examined further. More than once the Israeli government has resisted notions of an international presence in the region and yet diplomatic means for a resolution have shown no real results in the fifty or so years since the causes for the contemporary troubles began. Perhaps suggestions as to how this mechanism could be introduced should have been included in the report.

But why is it that seemingly external parties such as the United States and the European Union should be so directly involved with the situation, other than in the effort to aid and assist one’s fellow man? In fact, this effort itself is a major reason. Approximately 1.4 million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip areas are totally dependent on service provisions supplied by the United Nations. This is due to imposed movement restrictions and the destruction of services by the Israeli military that occupies much Palestinian land. The consequent aid that is supplied comes from massive international expenditure. Oxfam’s standpoint on this situation is that refugees should be aided as they have been stripped of their rights to land, employment, education and services. In contrast to this, it has been argued by the oppressors of the refugees that they are in the situation they are in because they have taken liberties they should not have, such as settling in a disputed area and thus being forcefully evicted.

Also, trade between the troubled regions and the West (the United States and the European Union in particular) is of paramount importance. As well as the imbalance of preferential trade access of Israelis and Palestinians to the European markets (Israeli goods are often produced illegally in settlements on Palestinian land), perfectly legal transactions of military arms are also carried out.

This causes a major ethical rift. Such trade is legal and therefore, technically, no wrong is done. But why is it that the west is continuing to supply weapons to such organisations when they are also striving to find a peaceful solution to a violent situation? However, as the Oxfam document outlines, there is no genuinely effective and enforceable guarantee that such arms will not be used to violate international humanitarian or human rights laws. Oxfam draw recommendations to halt this activity, concluding this section of the document with “reducing the flow of arms is a key step towards reducing the loss of life”.

But again we must readdress the issue that it is the common view of many in the region that although loss of life is a bad thing, it is their goal to win that is the most important and lives may be lost in that effort. This is exemplified by the recurring suicide-bombings. Foundations for Peace does not question this viewpoint. But then it is also the view of many that loss of life should be halted first before reformation can commence and borders on the map be drawn.

Oxfam’s policy paper, Foundations for Peace: Urgent steps to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, identifies and focuses upon two major issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The first is that both Israel and Palestinians violate international humanitarian and human rights laws where they should be respected. Secondly, it is stated on a number of occasions that the conflict is an international issue and should be addressed by all nations.

However, although Oxfam addresses and examines these and other important issues very well, the casuistry and position that is taken in order to tackle the problems are employed with predominantly Western values and ethics. The paper should be regarded as a well-researched, sensible and highly significant source. Rome was not built in a day and neither will peace in Israel and the Palestinian Territories happen tomorrow – Oxfam’s report accepts this. For instance, “a future Palestinian state” is referred to often.

It can be argued that in order to get anywhere in this case, one must take an ethical and moral stand. Differences in casuistry – ways of deciding upon your morals and how to apply them – are a vital weight in the see-saw of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; there can be no argument in that. But your moral and ethical stand may be countered with the notion that not taking all ethical factors into account will be damaging to your cause. This could be the case for Foundations for Peace: Urgent steps to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, if taken into account in the Middle East Peace Process.

HEMIS No. 125851

Level 3 Semester 1 Theory and Methods: Development

Assessment Essay


* (2002) Foundations for Peace: Urgent steps to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (Oxfam policy paper)

* – Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: Universal Declaration of Human Rights

* – BBC internet resource

* – Casuistry


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