Archive | May 2013

Breaking the Impasse

Israeli President Peres, facing representatives of the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar, Morocco, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Pakistan, proclaims Israel is willing to unconditionally resume talks with the Palestinians and make painful sacrifices for the ultimate goal of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.
Not fantasy, this scene will actually transpire in the concluding plenum titled “Breaking the Impasse”, of the World Economic Forum conference currently being held in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Israeli and Palestinian business leaders have been quietly holding talks over the past year, with the aim of pushing their respective governments to agree to a two-state solution that would see an independent Palestinian state created.  
Under different circumstances, this scene, and indeed the conference itself, may have signified dramatic developments in the Middle East. But before jumping for joy, let us put things into perspective: a) The speech will be made by Israel’s President, and not the man in charge of actually making decisions and spear-heading policy – Prime Minister Netanyahu, and b) The conference is being held under the auspices of an international economic forum, and not an international peace conference. These two facts mean that sadly, other than providing an optimistic background to American Secretary of State Kerry’s latest shuttle to the region, the initiative will not amount to much.  
I suppose that if I was Kerry, I’d be optimistic about the prospects of reviving the Peace Process in the Middle East too. Looking objectively, there are certain circumstances allowing for optimism.  Strategically, the Middle East is uniquely aligned, with a moderate and reactionary Sunni axis led by Saudi Arabia and the Arab Emirates, facing an extremist revolutionary and mostly-Shiite axis running through Iran, Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon.  Facing these catalysts of mayhem, the moderates in the region will go a long way to secure the status-quo; including backing, or even brokering, an Israeli – Palestinian peace deal that includes what the Arab world traditionally has perceived as Palestinian concessions of Arab assets.  Looking at the Israeli political map, I would also find reason for optimism in a weakened Netanyahu, who took a blow in the recent elections, and now leads a coalition comprised of centrist elements.    
Well, I’m not Kerry. As a simple bystander who has witnessed both achievements and failures, and who has suffered from both soaring hopes and crushing disappointments, I can only feel skepticism and doubt. The objective circumstances described above constitute only part of a very complex picture. 
Bottom line, though Israeli public discourse is full of repeated automated rhetorical commitments to peace, the peace process is not high on Israel’s priority list. Israel is now busy first and foremost with its economy, the Iranian nuclear program, and the immediate ramifications of the Arab Spring on its southern and northern borders. Always looking from a very insecure perspective, Israel is not ready at this point to make the painful concessions it sees as threatening its security and that are needed to break the current deadlock.
The sad irony of the matter is that firstly, it is exactly Israel’s security that is on the line if the stalemate continues, and secondly, as I have written before in this blog, it appears that only a nasty slap in the face can change Israel’s priorities.  
So we can blame the Palestinians all we want, make excuses, and frighten ourselves to death by comparing the 1967 borders to Auschwitz (seriously?), but the simple truth is that as a whole we are not interested. We are tired, busy, and would rather think and live on a day-to-day basis.  I hope that down the road we at least have the honesty to admit this to the next generation of Israelis when they come looking for answers.
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