"Pragmatism is a philosophy that evaluates assertions solely by their practical consequences and bearing on human interests." (The Oxford Encyclopedical English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1991, p. 1137.)
"Pragmatism is a subjective and idealistic philosophical teaching ... it condemns all previous philosophy for neglecting life, abstraction and contemplation." (The Encyclopedic Philosophical Dictionary, Moscow, 1983, p. 521)
Such, for example, are definitions of pragmatism put forward by British and Russian sources. Philosophy, as is well known, gives us different definitions of truth. In my opinion pragmatism is closer to truth than many other approaches to life.
There may be pure mathematics. Philosophical systems and ideals, on the other hand, are inspired by social and political environment, which reflects many senses and experiences. No wonder many philosophers and politicians are sceptical and base their doctrines on the presumption of the "deceitfulness" of the senses. Still, most of them agree that one opinion can be better than another. The disbelief in objective truth often leads to a very simple axiom of life - it is the majority which is the arbiter as to what to believe.
Pragmatism suggests that while one judgment cannot be truer that the other, it can be better, in the sense of having better consequences. In other words, a wise man can evaluate and act better than a limited person. Person of no foresight can conduct only shortsighted policy.
Philosophies are inspired by many factors, for example, feeling, knowledge and a desire of action. Pragmatism as a practical philosophy regards action as a supreme good.
When one reads news or meditates about Middle East conflict he is struck by the conflicting feelings and contradicting facts that feed us with knowledge on the problem. Then comes the realisation that it is action that is the "supreme good" to reach happiness both for Israelis and Arabs, first of all Palestinians. In the conflict resolution process it is agreed action which brings peace.
Pragmatism, if it is not abused, is an effective instrument of solving the Middle East conflict. At the same time action is to be implemented at a certain time, when "all the stars" point in the direction of the Great Compromise. Our conference, I am sure, will consider all conceivable situations in this respect. Let us put aside scepticism and search for effective ways to peace for all.
I believe that the protracted nature of new tensions in the Middle East does not lead to the conclusion that the situation is hopeless. The peace process may stay under control and lead to permanent peace. At the same time, this conflict will not wither away as some natural disasters do, such as hurricanes, earthquakes or floods.
The Middle East tensions are manmade, they are the product of actions carried by politicians and governments. They justify their deeds by proclaiming that they act in the best interests of their people. I believe that such pronouncements are usually made in good faith. Unfortunately the results of their actions quite often are contradicting and even detrimental to the resolution of the Middle East conflict.
This region is again in a state of fever and to many killed or crippled in decades of wars and hostilities of all kinds new victims are added. One may conclude that the peace process in the Middle East is disintegrating, that we are witness to the mirage of peace. Nobody wants to believe that, especially after the adoption of the Oslo accords which, as it seems, put the resolution of the Middle East conflict on right track.
We witnessed the actions of two prominent leaders - Mr. Rabin and Mr. Arafat, who with support of the Arab states, the USA, Russia, Europe and others overcame great obstacles, including terrorist outbursts from both sides, on the road to normalisation and happy life for their people.
The assassination of Mr. Rabin and the defeat of Mr. Peres at the ballot box was and still is a tragedy. It reflects the deficiency of a democratic process that at times may go astray. What time will it take the new leadership of Israel to learn, understand and put into practice what Mr. Rabin knew, understood and achieved? My impression is that time to learn this is running out so quickly that in the Middle East nowadays everything is possible including incidents of all kinds that may lead to the escalation of military conflicts.
Can we do away with the set of dogmas that constitute "the mirage of peace" in the Middle East? How to achieve a solid basis for establishing "Golden era" in this region? It boils down to some intelligible, easy to understand actions, which, if taken, would lead to the brotherhood of nations in the Middle East. The years of prolonged conflict are taking their toll. The vision of peace in the Middle East is blurred. The fruits of the Oslo accord are in danger of fading.
International community may speculate about the future of this region, the cradle of two world religions - Christianity and Islam, for many years heart to heart talks with different participants may continue but it appears rather clearly that the conflict will not be solved without establishing the main pillars of the Great Compromise, which can show us the way to the Golden Age.
These three pillars are:
The withdrawal of occupation troops from all or almost all Arab territories.
The satisfaction of the legitimate national aspirations of the Arab people of Palestine, including their right to create their own state.
Security guarantees for all states in the Middle East, including Israel.
Oslo accords reflect the shadow of these pillars but the latter are still to be erected and fortified.
This is indeed a delicate time when nobody has the right to rock or overturn the boat of the peace process. All participants in negotiations on the Middle East ought to be very careful not to offend each other. Otherwise the process will again stuck in the mud of mutual allegations and unacceptable demands.
Pragmatism conducts foreign affairs, especially conflict resolution efforts, in such a way that excludes unrealistic hard line pretensions. All kinds of preconditions that are put forward before negotiations take place should be avoided. Very often politicians would like to have it their way even before negotiations start. When Mr. Netanyahu was sworn in as prime-minister, he called for negotiations with the Arabs "with no preconditions" - and at the same time immediately put forward his own preconditions: no Palestinian state, continued Israel occupation of the Golans Heights, no talks on Jerusalem. On the other hand, Mr. Netanyahu said that he intends to put forward "pragmatic proposals for moving the peace process forward". (The Economist, June 22nd-28th 1996, p. 47.) "Pragmatic proposals" - where are they?
The fourth dimension of success in the Middle East is by all means to avoid aggression on the part of individuals. Die-hard rhetoric and actions at the top stir up hatred in the masses. They have a demoralizing effect on the peace process, diminish any hope of progress at peace talks.
Combat between Israeli troops and Palestinians already took place. All this happened due to the desire of extremists in Tel Aviv to increase Israeli presence in the holy city's Arab quarter by providing a second entrance to the tunnel that adjoins both Islam's holy site, the Ab Aqsa Mosque and the ruins of Judaism's Second Temple. Such a sensitive issue was dealt with in a way the victor behaves towards a defeated opponent. The tunnel opening, Mr. Netanyahu proclaimed, was "an expression of our sovereignty, our history". (Newsweek, October 7, 1996, p. 26) It was a very contradictory and unpractical statement. Even schoolchildren know that the history of Jerusalem is not only "our history" but "common history", arab as well as israeli's history. To think otherwise is contrary to the truth and an attempt to place ideology of far right above reason and desire to compromise.
Bad policy in the Middle East triggers physiological mechanisms for violent behaviour. People begin to accept factors affecting the actual elicitation of aggression.
It is wrong to condone and use individual aggression. The latter quite often amounts to terrorism against innocent people. Promoting justice by taking the law into "our own hands" brings the worst in the behaviour of individuals. Such actions complicate efforts to proceed with conflict resolution.
In the Middle East a long record of belligerence is a fact of life. The most dangerous aspect of any policy is when religious values become individual aggression and warriors values. In this case soldiers and citizens see themselves "fighting the good fight".
We should remember that early Christians adhered to pacifism. Only in the 4th century they began to accommodate to militarism and justify the participation of Christians in wars. A pragmatic policy should do away with any moral justification for Christian participation in violence. Violence can not avenge injustice or to maintain justice. It leads to retaliation from the other side and horrors of war. The only way to brake this vicious circle is through statesmanlike actions of top political leaders who should act as pragmatists and not as conquerors. Prevention of further hostilities demands the development of new code of ethics regarding peaceful interaction between Middle East nations.
To win universal respect is very difficult, to lose hope and lower oneself in the eyes of nations and international communities is easy. Mr. Rabin and Mr. Arafat achieved international respect. They began to deal with major issues relevant to the promotion of the peace process. They began to destruct "the wall of hatred" that exists in the Middle East, when "the other side" is seen as evil, dangerous and sub-human.
Modern pragmatic way to deal with the issue of peace in the Middle East is to understand that there are innumerable interrelations among many factors that make it difficult to put Oslo accord into practice. Still one must not lose hope. Implementation of these agreements into life is an absolute necessity if peace is to be achieved.
The main cause of international conflicts is to be found in human and social dimensions. This is a non-quantifiable area and often it is ignored. Suppressed feelings and denied rights of the people, or even a group of the people, produce humilation and anger, provide enormous amounts of fuel that can easily ignite a war. De-escalation of the Middle East problem without solving the problem of sovereign home for the palestinians is impossible.
Every human group needs identity, recognition and security. To withhold the right of self-determination to the palestinians is the main motivation for present tensions in the Holy Land, the main root of all sufferings which cast a sinister shadow on the whole Oslo accords.
The Middle East conflict is a problem to be solved and not a contest to be won. The sooner the creation of a palestinian state is achieved, the better for all participants in the peace process. There is more sense and security for Israel in taking part and building a palestinian state as a friendly neighbour then in generating ill-will and hatred.
All international conflicts involve interests and needs. Security matters are one of the main. Israel made a "security issue" the major obstacle to the conflict settlement. Israel as a state and its people have a legitimate right to negotiate such security arrangements. This is a categorical imperative. Here we come to the focal point of any conflict resolution process - how to take into account the rights of the Arabs, notably Palestinians, and the rights of the Israelis? How to create for them real security?
For decades of its existence the Middle East conflict produced a mountain of stereotypes that block any possibility of an agreement on Great Compromise. One such stand is an opinion that the Middle East conflict does not need international security guarantees for all states in that area. In the past it was used in order to bar the Soviet Union out of the region, it undermined the Geneva Peace Conference and kept the process of negotiations in a state of paralysis. What was the outcome? The Soviet Union was involved in the conflict not as an international peace guarantor but as one of the main weapons suppliers.
Strangly enough today history repeats itself. Israeli government again refuses to agree that Europe, of which it claims Israel is a part, has a right to play a big role in the negotiation process. This is a short-sighted approach that contradicts logic. One cannot conduct talks on the basis that Europe and Russia are to be excluded and must only donate finances and trade. If the USA has a right to participate in the settlement of the Middle East conflict, why Paris, Moscow or London should stand aside? France, Russia and Britain have a lot of interests in the region, as well as Israel and the USA.
International conflicts are better solved through comprehensive international mechanisms. Its driving-gear can work as a supplement to the framework, established by Oslo accords. Israel and the Arabs are the main parties to bargain over, alter and trade their interests and needs. But they should also listen to the advice of other actors in the field without traumatizing their dignity.
Peace in the Middle East is not far away if all sides act in a responsible fashion and refrain from aggressive behaviour. An axiom should be the security for both Israel and Palestinian states and the right of their peoples to leave in peace with each other inside secure state borders. Their mutual trust, created by pragmatic actions, is the best security guarantee for Israel and Palestine to reach the Great Compromise and the Golden Age era for the Middle East.
The map of the Middle East region should be fixed once and for all with the israelis and the palestinians living peacefully side by side. Who knows, perhaps, simple down to earth work on demarcation of their borders will do more for peace than diplomatic conferences. The time for such work is almost ripe. I hope this vision of mine at least is not enforced. It is evoked by the experience of a successful soviet-chinese demarcation, concluded recently, of the longest in the world state frontier.
No way is without its dangers but those who seek reach their goal.