Ingredients for Peace
What a pleasantly surprising headline! In a ceremony held in the Washington headquarters of the World Bank yesterday, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority signed an agreement green-lighting the construction of the Red Sea-Dead Sea pipeline. The Red Sea–Dead Sea conduit, also known as the Two Seas Canal, will carry some 100 million metric cubes of water to the north annually, thus hopefully slowing down the desiccation of the Dead Sea. As part of this cooperation, a joint water purification plant will be constructed and Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians will share the water.
I can’t recall the last time I heard such positive news. We are now in the midst of yet another crisis in the talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and are confronted almost daily with pessimistic and negative reports of the flailing process. As if taken from a different reality, this report serves as a optimistic reminder that agreements in this difficult region are possible. Before the cynics object to this flowery proclamation, let me put things into proportion myself. The agreement is not a peace accord, merely a practical confluence of interests: the Palestinians and the Jordanians are in dire need of water, and Israel seeks to stop the receding water line of the Dead Sea, and to top it all – international funding will help fund the project.
So, we have practical interests, together with international sponsorship, bringing Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians to sign a deal. Now, why am I getting this nagging feeling that perhaps this model can and should be applied elsewhere? Ah, yes. The Israeli – Palestinian peace process. Those never ending negotiations that never actually seem to achieve anything. Those countless summits, conferences, meetings and discussions that never seem to culminate in real progress, only in frustration and violence. Surely, both the ingredients of the successful model above can be applied to the bigger and more crucial framework of the Israeli – Palestinian talks?
Let’s try and redraw the Israeli and Palestinian map of interests to prove the existence of the first ingredient of the Two-Seas Canal model:
- The assurance of a democratic Israel with a Jewish majority
- Improved status within the international community
- Thawing of relations with a large part of the Arab world
- A free and independent state/autonomy
- Improved economic and social conditions
- Acceptance into the international family of nations
Oh, and there’s that small matter of ending one of the most intractable conflicts in the history of the region, thus putting an end to the endless bloodletting and accompanying agony on both sides.
The second ingredient – international sponsorship – hardly needs specifying here. The world has repeatedly expressed it’s willingness to pay in real and concrete terms for any deal ending this long lasting conflict. The Americans have committed a huge amount of time and resources to its resolution, and even the Saudis have offered economic incentives to the Palestinians to try and lift off their diplomatic initiative.
Admittedly, making a comparison between the two cases is an over simplification of reality. The stakes in the case of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict are extremely high, and the political circumstances are entirely different. But the reason I insist on drawing a parallel line is to point out what’s lacking today and what’s obstructing any real progress. Because the benefits of a peace deal are less tangible than in the Two-Seas Canal case, where a 4 year construction project of a pipeline will result in millions of cubes of water, it is much harder to see the abstract benefits of a peace deal. Diplomatic recognition, international acceptance, Jewish majority and democracy – all these terms are much harder to understand, let alone visualize. But that is precisely what is needed at this point in time – visionaries. Leaders who are not afraid of taking risks and making historical compromises. Helmsmen steering their respective ships through stormy weather but to a better future.
With all due respect to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s self-perception as a great statesman, and his repeated declarations of his willingness to make the historical compromises needed to resolve the conflict – Netanyahu is no visionary. Neither does he have the strength of character and political willingness to make any historical decision. And that is why simple practical interests and international backing are not going to cut it in this case. To be fair, there is also an obvious lack of leadership on the Palestinian side, though Abu Mazen is probably the most moderate Palestinian leader Israel will find on the other side of the negotiating table in the near future. Moderate – yes, willing to make an historic compromise – not sure.
The sad truth is, and I’ve said this before, the majority of Israelis side with Netanyahu’s obsession with Iran. The Palestinian issue is of secondary importance at best. So I’ll end with the words of Yuval Diskin, Israel’s ex-Shin Bet chief, who was quoted last week as unequivocally asserting that the “implications of failing to solve the Israeli – Palestinian conflict are far more existential than the Iranian nuclear issue.”