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Middle East: Breathing Life into the Moribund Peace Process

15 février 2010

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Peace prospects in the Middle East are bleak.  Deeply troubling is Israel’s gradual transformation in attitude toward the occupation of Palestinian territories seized after the 1967 war.  The incremental change has been from discomfort of being an occupier to perfect ease of being the legitimate proprietor of territory that had been allegedly occupied by Jordan during the 1948 to 1967 period. The attitude change is partly a defense mechanism to cope with sharp national guilt and partly a public relations ploy to deal with Israel’s international image as a colonial state.

Equally troubling is the fratricide among Palestinian leaders and their inability to get their act together in the face of a defiant occupier.

Few observe a stark new reality: In 1948, the Arabs did not want peace but Israel did; Israel received a generous portion of partitioned Palestine. Arabs then felt that the Jewish minority in Palestine did not merit statehood. Now, the pendulum has swung: It is the Arabs who want peace, not Israel. Israel’s sense of entitlement has grown with its dramatically enhanced military and financial power.

The way Palestinians resist the occupation offers Israel on a silver plate additional excuses to continue the oppression and deepen its impact. As Palestinian factions battle one another, split into a Gaza political entity and a West Bank entity, advocate Ghandi-style resistance in one corner and military jihad in another, delegate national leaders of fading credibility, offer contradictory plans for national elections, fail to acknowledge unanimously that Israel has the right to exist, seek allies of opposed ideology, the Palestinians unwittingly serve the occupation and extend its life.

Things will have to change drastically, if peace is to be realized.

For its own good, Israel’s arm needs to be twisted.  Israel should not be free to ignore international law, which prohibits the occupier from annexing any occupied land.  The Jewish state receives maximal support from Washington with minimal strings attached. The organized American Jewish community, as well as the Israeli lobby, manages to stop Congress and the White House from holding Tel-Aviv accountable under international law. The world Jewish community ought to recognize that the occupation harms the future of Israel. For this selfish reason alone, Washington ought to apply strong pressure on Israel to move towards peace.

In Israel, the current far right regime is popular because the national mood has shifted to the right. Regimes may change in Israel as a result of failed military operations, external pressure from the world community, severe economic disruption, a dramatic deterioration in national security or serious changes in Palestinian resistance. A strong Palestinian shift to non-violence in resistance would undermine the raison d’etre of the current Netanyahu regime. It is difficult to predict when a new peace-friendly Israeli regime would assume leadership. Of all the factors which Palestinians can control, national unity and peaceful resistance stand out.

Left out of the peace process, Syria is the big spoiler. Bringing in Syria to the peace process would enhance the peace prospects immensely. Syria’s signing of peace with Israel, in exchange for the occupied Golan Heights, would open the floodgates of cooperation by the entire Arab world. Lebanon and Hezbollah’s issues are tied to the Syrian claims. A significant improvement on the Palestinian track would activate the Syrian track, and vice versa.

Iran is relevant to changing the regional dynamics of war. Currently, Iran is a major distraction from peace. A favorable regime change in Tehran would facilitate honest dialogue with the West. Israel and the US must morally support the Iranian opposition to change the regime. However, any US or Israeli military intervention in Iran would certainly backfire. Iran is the country that is most likely to experience dramatic change in the Middle East in the near future. If Iran becomes secure politically and economically, its military support of Hamas and Hezbollah may transform to human empowerment. Would improved Israeli-Iranian relations generate peace dividends for Palestine, Syria and Lebanon? Hopefully, but not necessarily.

Europe is needed for pushing peace. Since Europe played a significant role in the creation of Israel it should play a significant role in positioning Israel in a safe regional neighborhood. Europe can provide border security between Israel and a future Palestinian state.  Since Israel objects to the formation of an armed Palestinian state on its borders, the presence of NATO forces for peace keeping is vital. The European community could open for Israel and a future Palestinian state candidacy for joining the EU.

Breathing life into the peace process requires dramatic change on several fronts inside Israel, in the region and in the US. One single positive change might lead to the unraveling of the existing deadlock. This change may first happen within the Israeli side or the Palestinian side. Palestinians should never underestimate their ability to undermine the occupation by waging a relentless campaign of peaceful resistance against the occupation. Once Arabs unanimously blanket Israel with peace, the occupation days would be numbered.

Source: Global Arab Network

By Ghassan Michel Rubeiz, a social scientist and political commentator, is the former secretary of the Middle East for the Geneva-based World Council of Churches.

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