Falling on Deaf Ears
Living in the Middle East sure makes it hard to be an optimist. Try as you can, events are more powerful than any wishful thinking one may be tempted to indulge in. “Assad uses chemical warfare”, “Iranian/Hezbollah drone dropped by jets”, “settler stabbed”, “price-tag violence ensues”, “huge surprise military drill in the north”. Every day is celebrated by a new alarming headline and plenty of crazed radio clatter that drowns out voices of reason and obscures alternative outcomes.
A few days ago, a Qatar-led delegation of Arab states reiterated the Arab League’s support of the Arab Peace Initiative – the 2002 call for a normalization of relations between Arab states following a resolution of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict based on a return to 1967 borders. Interestingly, this time the reaffirmation of the initiative was coupled by an acknowledgement that some land swaps may be needed and legitimate.
This carrot, a normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world, is considered by the American State Department to be the incentive for both sides to return to the negotiation table. Yet, the Arab League’s declaration fell on the deaf ears of the Israeli government, and the stubborn necks of the Palestinian Authority. Israeli reaction was almost non-existent, with no official statement or press release. The Palestinians used the opportunity to reiterate longstanding conditions for resuming talks, but at least affirmed their support for the plan’s comprehensive outline.
The Arabs’ inclusion of land swaps should be recognized for what it is – a significant positive shift, but what the new initiative actually managed to do is expose the strains within the new Israeli government, whose only member to positively address the proposal was Livni, a featherless minister with an even more meaningless mandate. Currently, there is no real willingness on the Israeli side to do what’s necessary to move forward, and it looks like the derailed process will continue to stagnate in the near future, despite the new members of the coalition.
Before the elections in Israel , I correctly predicted in this blog that Netanyahu would be reelected, that he would form a centrist coalition (though I was wrong about the Labor party), and that he would openly support a resumption of talks with the Palestinians without pre-conditions. I was even right about the apology to Turkey.
However, as things stand now, I seem to have erred on two main accounts. Firstly, that the new elements in Israeli politics would pull Netanyahu towards a resumption of the peace talks – all existing evidence seems to prove the opposite, including the new motion spearheaded by Lapid and Bennett to bring any future peace deal to a referendum. Secondly, that Netanyahu himself would believe that a policy shift is in Israel’s best interest. The weak reaction to the renewed Arab initiative, or lack thereof, proves that I was overly optimistic in this respect as well.
So no carrot for these deaf and stubborn rabbits. Instead, perhaps a huge stick in the shape of a third intifada and regional calamity. But hey, at least we can take comfort in the fact that catastrophes are often catalysts for change.