Is­rael must crawl out of its co­coon and help in the es­tab­lish­ment of an in­de­pen­dent Pales­tinian state. A dig­ni­fied and vi­able Pales­tine, liv­ing side by side with Is­rael, will not di­min­ish the se­cu­rity of Is­rael, but for­tify it.

Southasia - - Cover story - By Tayyab Siddiqui

Will the Mid­dle East peace process ever

turn into a re­al­ity?

The Mid­dle East peace process hav­ing re­mained dor­mant for twenty two months since Novem­ber 2007 was re­vived in Septem­ber 2010 af­ter in­ten­sive diplo­matic ef­forts by Pres­i­dent Obama. The talks were, how­ever, aban­doned just af­ter five days as Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ne­tanyahu re­fused to ex­tend the freeze on Jewish set­tle­ments and the Pales­tini­ans de­clined to con­tinue ne­go­ti­a­tions un­less set­tle­ment con­struc­tion.

The winds of rev­o­lu­tion­ary change sweep­ing across the Mid­dle East since the be­gin­ning of this year have rad­i­cally al­tered the strate­gic land­scape of the en­tire re­gion, of­fer­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for a sta­ble and eq­ui­table po­lit­i­cal sys­tem. A sig­nif­i­cant man­i­fes­ta­tion of the new mood and mind­set is the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion move be­tween war­ring fac­tions of Pales­tini­ans in the form of the Unity Ac­cord signed in Cairo on May 4.

Fatah and Ha­mas, the two main bit­ter ri­vals, an­nounced putting aside their dif­fer­ences to cre­ate an in­terim unity gov­ern­ment and to hold gen­eral elec­tions within one year. The agree- ment has re­vived hopes of pos­i­tive change in the Pales­tini­ans’ for­tunes and opened a new chap­ter in their strug­gle for an in­de­pen­dent state. The Unity Ac­cord, be­sides set­ting up an in­terim gov­ern­ment also pro­vides for in­te­gra­tion of se­cu­rity forces of the two main fac­tions – Fatah and Ha­mas; “a turn­ing point not only for the con­cept but also for the Pales­tinian and re­gional sit­u­a­tion.”

The re­ac­tion to the ac­cord from Is­rael and the U.S. has, as ex­pected, been neg­a­tive. In­stead of rec­og­niz­ing the chang­ing po­lit­i­cal con­tours of the re­gion and emerg­ing re­al­i­ties, both have re­mained en­gaged in neg­a­tive diplo­macy, in­sist­ing on a pol­icy that has failed to bear fruit till now and in­deed has been a cat­a­lyst for the Unity Ac­cord. The Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity lead­er­ship, sorely dis­ap­pointed at the con­tin­u­ing stale­mate and the in­abil­ity of the West and U.S. to force Is­rael to pur­sue the peace process, was deeply en­raged at the U.S. veto in Fe­bru­ary against the UNSC res­o­lu­tion urg­ing Is­rael to stop set­tle­ments.

The veto sparked large demon­stra­tions in the West Bank against the U.S. Pales­tinian youth held mas­sive ral­lies, mak­ing pas­sion­ate calls for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and unity which res­onated through­out the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries. Salam Fayyad, the PA Prime Min­is­ter, floated the idea of form­ing a unity gov­ern­ment with Ha­mas which, through the good of­fices of the Egyp­tian gov­ern­ment re­sulted in the Unity Ac­cord be­ing signed in Cairo on May 4.

Ne­tanyahu de­clared the unity pact as a tremen­dous blow to peace and said “…when Abu Mazen (Mah­mood Ab­bas) em­braces Ha­mas, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that praises Osama bin Laden as great mar­tyr and is com­mit­ted to Is­rael’s de­struc­tion – that is a tremen­dous set­back for peace and great ad­vance to ter­ror.” Ne­tanyahu car­ried this mes­sage to Lon­don, Paris and Wash­ing­ton, where he was in­vited to ad­dress a joint session of the U.S. Congress.

Dur­ing his talks with Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron and French Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Sarkozy, he urged them to pres­sure Ab­bas “to com­pletely can­cel the agree­ment.” He re­ceived lit­tle en­cour­age­ment as

Cameron re­garded the unity move as a “step for­ward” and Sarkozy has pub­licly an­nounced his in­ten­tion to rec­og­nize the Pales­tinian state if the talks do not make any head­way by Septem­ber. The U.S. Am­bas­sador to the UN, Su­san Rice called on the Pales­tinian lead­er­ship, ask­ing them to re­turn to di­rect talks. “Ne­go­tia- tions be­tween the par­ties re­main the only path to a so­lu­tion to re­solve all is­sues and es­tab­lishes a sov­er­eign state of Pales­tine along side a se­cure state of Is­rael.” The ap­peal could only draw con­tempt, given the pre­vi­ous his­tory of di­rect talks and to­tal and un­crit­i­cal sup­port of the U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion to Is­rael which has so far stymied any so­lu­tion to the Pales­tinian prob­lem.

The Pales­tinian ef­forts for an in­de­pen­dent Pales­tinian state are gain­ing mo­men­tum. Pres­i­dent Mah­mood Ab­bas has an­nounced that he will seek recog­ni­tion of state­hood in the Septem­ber UNGA session. A UN re­port has en­dorsed a Pales­tinian state stat­ing that the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity “has built up progress in de­vel­op­ment of ar­eas such as gov­er­nance, rule of law, health and so­cial ser­vices and in­fra­struc­ture up to a level ex­pected of a state.” The Unity Ac­cord would fur­ther bol­ster this. Ear­lier the World Bank and the IMF have made sim­i­lar as­sess­ments.

There is grow­ing recog­ni­tion even in Is­rael of the im­per­a­tive need for a Pales­tinian state com­pris­ing the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries. A group of 60 most dis­tin­guished Is­raeli cit­i­zens, in­clud­ing in­tel­lec­tu­als, artists and literati – win­ners of Is­rael Prize – the most pres­ti­gious na­tional award, have signed a dec­la­ra­tion on their in­de­pen­dence day en­dors­ing cre­ation of a Pales­tinian state on the ba­sis of the 1967 borders. The dec­la­ra­tion held that an end to Is­raeli oc­cu­pa­tion “will lib­er­ate two peo­ple and open the way to last­ing peace.”

The in­flu­en­tial Is­raeli daily Haaretz in an editorial com­ment has ob­served that rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with the Pales­tini­ans of­fers Is­rael a strate­gic op­por­tu­nity and has crit­i­cized Ne­tanyahu for his op­po­si­tion to the unity move. The pa­per fur­ther states: “The Pales­tini­ans hope this recog­ni­tion will ad­vance their lib­er­a­tion from the Is­raeli oc­cu­pa­tion. Is­rael… has be­gun an ag­gres­sive cam­paign to de­stroy the rec­on­cili- ation, as if a sit­u­a­tion in which Ha­mas quar­rels with Fatah pro­vided greater se­cu­rity, or as if Is­rael had been will­ing to sign a peace agree­ment with the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity be­fore the two fac­tions rec­on­ciled.”

These two ar­gu­ments are noth­ing more than a sleight of hand in­tended to dis­guise the tra­di­tional Is­raeli view that a union of the two move­ments is a threat.

Sim­i­lar sound ad­vice has been ten­dered by an erst­while ally of Is­rael. Pres­i­dent Ab­dul­lah Gul of Tur­key in a New York Times op-ed has the fol­low­ing to say:

“I call upon the lead­ers of Is­rael to ap­proach the peace process with a strate­gic mind­set, rather than re­sort­ing to short-sighted tac­ti­cal ma­neu­vers. Stick­ing to the un­sus­tain­able sta­tus quo will only place Is­rael in greater dan­ger. His­tory has taught us that de­mo­graph­ics is the most de­ci­sive fac­tor in de­ter­min­ing the fate of na­tions. The new gen­er­a­tion of Arabs is much more con­scious of democ­racy, free­dom and na­tional dig­nity.”

In such a con­text, Is­rael can­not af­ford to be per­ceived as an apartheid is­land sur­rounded by an Arab sea of anger and hos­til­ity. Many Is­raeli lead­ers are aware of this chal­lenge and there­fore be­lieve that cre­at­ing an in­de­pen­dent Pales­tinian state is im­per­a­tive. A dig­ni­fied and vi­able Pales­tine, liv­ing side by side with Is­rael, will not di­min­ish the se­cu­rity of Is­rael, but for­tify it.

His­tory is wit­ness that lead­ers who in their hubris and ar­ro­gance do not reckon such facts place them­selves in the way of harm. Is­rael’s in­tran­si­gence will in­evitably lead to more in­sta­bil­ity and in­se­cu­rity in the re­gion. The writer has served as Pak­istan’s am­bas­sador to Zim­babwe, In­done­sia, Egypt and Switzer­land. He is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to lead­ing in­ter­na­tional pub­li­ca­tions.

Look­ing for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion be­tween Is­rael and Pales­tine.

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