Peace between Israel and Palestine is becoming even more important now than ever before. There are, however, forces at work which are pushing the peace process forward, and others which are holding it back.
Both Netanyahu and Abbas are coming under considerable pressure to show some measure of progress on the peace front. Abbas has expressed his intent to seek UN recognition of a Palestinian state, based on the 1967 borders, in September 2011. Presumably, if such recognition were to be given, then a Palestinian state would come into being without resolving such contentious issues as the status of Jerusalem, and the “right of return” of the refugees. If Israel refuses to recognize Palestine, or refuses to cooperate in implementing the U.N. mandate, then Israel could find itself further isolated in the international community, with the resulting calls for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). And yet, without Israel’s cooperation, it is hard to see how a Palestinian state could emerge and become viable.
Abbas, and the Palestinian Authority for that matter, are also under a great deal of pressure to move forward on peace. Fattah, the political faction in the West Bank, and Hamas, which controls Gaza, find themselves vying for power on an existential level. Much of the economic and institutional gains that have been achieved by Fayyad in the West Bank could be undermined by a Hamas takeover of the West Bank. Such a takeover is seen by much of the West Bank leadership as a dead end for their aspirations to build a free and prosperous Palestine. The dismal conditions in Gaza do not bode well for a Palestine run by Hamas. It is reasonable, therefore, to assume that Abbas sees a peace deal with Israel as something which would give Fattah some measure of credibility in the eyes of his people, and as a way of consolidating political opposition to Hamas. On the other hand, Hamas could easily portray the search for peace as a sign of weakness on the part of Fattah. Alternatively, reconciliation between Fattah and Hamas, which remains unlikely, could lead to a sharing of power, and a more united approach in finalizing a deal with Israel.
The current unrest on the Arab street increases the pressure on Netanyahu and Abbas to negotiate a peace agreement. No one really knows who in the Middle East will end up assuming the reigns of powers. However, it is more likely than not, at least in some of the Arab countries, that the new leaders will be more responsive to the aspirations of the people. For example, for 30 years Israel could count on Mubarak of Egypt to keep the peace, even a cold peace at that. Now, however, with Mubarak out of the picture, the new leadership will probably take the will of the people more seriously. And if the people demand justice for Palestinians, then Egypt, and other Arab states, will reflect that attitude in their dealings with Israel, and with the West. A peace deal would therefore make relations much easier between Israel and her newly-constituted neighbors, and also between the Middle East and the West.
And of course, much of the West’s obsession with the Middle East is about the oil. The free flow of oil is indispensable to Western economies. Therefore, to the extent that a peace deal between Israel and Palestine fulfills the aspirations of the man on the street, and takes away the convenient tool that extremists use to inflame passions, and improves relations between Arab States and the West, then to that extent, the free flow of oil will be assured, and the West can take comfort in being able to run its economic engines.
As if these considerations weren’t enough, there is one more reason to push the peace process forward at this particular time. It could well be argued that under the right circumstances, Israel could end up playing a major role in revitalizing the Middle East with good paying jobs. The people on the street want two things in particular: decent jobs and the freedom to live their lives as they wish. To a great extent, these two noble aspirations are what Israel is all about. As an example, of the three judges who recently convicted President Katzav of rape, two are women, and the chief judge is an Israeli Arab. Where else in the Middle East would such a thing be possible?
Many choose to see Israel as the problem in the Middle East. But in reality, Israel is the solution for the Middle East. Israel has precisely what the Middle East needs. A peace deal between Israel and Palestine will help to neutralize at least some of the hate, and will open the door to allow Israel to partner with her neighbors to revitalize the region consistent with the will of the people.
Therefore, we call upon Netanyahu and Abbas to rise to the occasion and to leave no stone unturned in their quest for peace. No doubt there is a long history of failure in this regard. And no doubt there will be bitter pills to swallow on both sides of this conflict. However, the circumstances on the ground, even as we speak, all point to the possibility of a new beginning, a chance for peaceful co-existence, and the prospects for a new Middle East, where peace, prosperity and freedom reign supreme, and a Vision of Hope
is finally allowed to take hold.
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