Barring a Miracle


The Middle Eastern emotional rollercoaster is picking up speed. In a region well acquainted with surging hopes on the one hand, and crushing disappointments on the other, Secretary of State Kerry’s announcement Friday on the agreement to renew the peace process, is generating a huge amount of skepticism.

As someone who has repeatedly called for putting an end to the continuing status quo, and the passive and evasive policies led by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, I‘m finding it extremely difficult to dampen the mood with pessimistic prophecies.  Finally, the long lasting impasse is over and after three years of inaction Israeli and Palestinian representatives will be meeting to try and put an end to the conflict that has defined the Middle East for over one hundred years.  Surely, talks are much better than no talks, right?

Of foremost importance in correctly assessing the chances of success in this latest attempt to resolve the conflict, are the circumstances bringing the two leaders to the negotiating table.

For Netanyahu, as he himself has defined it, the renewal of talks is an Israeli strategic interest. The reason for this is the so-called “Diplomatic Tsunami”, a catch-phrase that stands for high-level global isolation of Israel as punishment for its policies,  which has been on everyone’s mind in Israel for the last few days. Israel is smarting from a recent wave of symbolic blows highlighting international opprobrium in new and painful ways, culminating in the new EU guidelines.  In that respect, the timing of the guidelines – precisely at a crucial point in Kerry’s efforts to convince Netanyahu to come to the table – should be seen as an unprecedented coordinated effort by the U.S. and Europe to mount pressure on Israel. Of equal importance is the need to stabilize the rising disquiet in the West Bank. Netanyahu has rightly heeded the IDF’s assessments about the positive effect talks have on the situation on the ground.

Paying what can be gathered from the little information made public as a minimal price, Netanyahu has managed to thwart any future unilateral diplomatic moves by the Palestinians and start afresh with the international community.

For Abu Mazen, the renewal of talks helps alleviate a situation that can only be defined as dire. The deteriorating economic situation in the West Bank is giving room to rising concerns of an Arab-Spring style uprising that might not be solely directed at Israel. Fatah is concerned about losing all traces of credibility, and desperately needs to shore up support through large breakthroughs, and the talks might be an opportunity.

Abu Mazen needs the pictures of prisoners parading in the streets of Ramallah to show that not just Hamas can achieve real results, but he especially needs the economic support promised by the Americans and the Arab League.

These conditions mean that the real reason bringing the two leaders to agree to Kerry’s diplomatic overtures were ultimately superficial. Both said yes due to significant pressure placed on them by the outside world.  There is no real trust between the two sides, or belief that the talks will bring about tangible results.  The bottom line is, that barring a miracle, the gap between the two sides is simply too wide to bridge.  A miracle in this case would be the two leaders deciding to take the opportunity destiny has chanced upon them –  to become the great leaders who made the historic deal putting an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

My general assessment is sadly negative. In the field of International Relations, “ripeness” is defined as a crucial factor in conflict resolution. Each conflict has its own point of ripeness. In our case, when the price for not reaching a peace deal is perceived by both sides as being higher than that of  maintaining the status quo and playing for time, the conflict will be “ripe” for resolution. Sadly, we are not there yet.

I’ll end with a Palestinian tale, narrated by Feisal Husseini, a Fatah leader, to Ron Pundak, an Israeli negotiator, during the Oslo process 20 years ago, that places Kerry’s diplomatic achievement into the correct perspective:

Once a upon a time, there was a poor Palestinian who wished to sew himself a suit. The cloth he had was not enough, and the tailor he found did not have the skills to complete the job. The result was poor: one sleeve was too short, the other too long. The collar was uneven, and the back-end of the suit tight in one spot, and slack in another.

“What’s the problem?” said the tailor. “Where the sleeve is short, shrink your shoulder, and where it is long, reach forward. Turn your neck, walk on your side, and everything will be fine.”

When the pauper walked the streets, by passers remarked: “Look at this poor Palestinian.  Look what nature has done to him. All awkward like that, limping and hunchbacked.  But the tailor did a fine job – somehow he sewed him a fine suit.”

Taken out of “Secret Channels”(Hebrew), by Ron Pundak (Mascal, June 2013). 



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