New Pressures for Mideast Peace

With hardliners controlling the Israeli government and the Mideast ablaze, prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace seem as dim as they have in decades, but the worsening conflict and its regional impact also create new pressures for some kind of resolution, writes Alon Ben-Meir.

By Alon Ben-Meir

The upheaval sweeping the Middle East suggests that it will be extraordinarily difficult if not impossible to resume the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and reach a successful outcome. On the contrary, because of the prevailing political conditions and the continuing rise of extremism in both communities, the resumption of peace talks is as timely as it has ever been and these conditions may, in fact, lend even more urgency in the search for a peace agreement.

Moreover, waiting for these raging conflicts to settle down before resuming the peace negotiations is not an option. Many of these violent conflicts will last for years and may well get much worse before they presumably create a more conducive environment to restart the talks in earnest.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

There are six fundamental reasons that explain why the present geopolitical environment is conducive for the resumption of peace negotiations and why outside constructive intervention has become sine qua non to reaching an equitable peace with security.

First, the regional turmoil: Contrary to common wisdom, the turmoil sweeping the Middle East, the convergence of multiple conflicts, and future uncertainties have created new compelling circumstances that support the resumption of peace talks.

Whereas the regional conflicts particularly in Iraq, Syria and Yemen distract attention from the currently less violent Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the relative low level of violent clashes is deceiving and cannot be taken for granted.

As the Palestinians’ frustration continues to grow, so does the risk of an even greater violent flare-up, which can be avoided. Recent violent disturbances in Jerusalem and several Israeli cities only attest to this eventuality.

Although the Netanyahu government denies any connection between the occupation and the violent frenzy sweeping the region, most Israelis and moderate Palestinians are alarmed about the possibility that ISIS will find, if it hasn’t already, fertile ground among radical Palestinians who detest the Israeli occupation and their own leaders more than they loathe ISIS.

It is true that this has not manifested itself in any significant way as of yet, but it is only a question of time (even if defeated in Iraq and Syria) when ISIS will establish active cells to act against both Israelis and moderate Palestinians. Opening Israeli-Palestinian negotiating channels would prevent such an outbreak and would allow the Arab states to focus on the present danger posed by ISIS and the Sunni-Shiite proxy war (led by Iran and Saudi Arabia) over regional hegemony.

Second, the Arab States’ eagerness to end the conflict: The Arab states have for more than two decades been calling for an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on a two-state solution, which was formalized by the introduction of the Arab Peace Initiative in 2002.

With the exception of Egypt and Jordan (who forged their own peace agreements with Israel in 1979 and 1994, respectively), the rest remain tied to their position not to normalize relations with Israel before the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is settled.

Interestingly, many of the Arab states in the Gulf and North Africa have developed clandestine relations (including exchanging intelligence) with Israel over the past ten years, and they no longer view Israel as an enemy but instead as a potential ally against their common enemies, Iran and ISIS.

As they see it, once peace with Israel is established, they can create a crescent from the Gulf to the Mediterranean that will be a formidable bloc against the Iranian crescent, which includes Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Third, the Arab Peace Initiative (API): The API is still on the table and can provide an overall umbrella for the negotiations, which would allow the Arab states to lend significant psychological and practical support to the Palestinians and the peace process.

Furthermore, since Israel is particularly keen on ending the Arab-Israeli conflict, the API provides a clear road map to peace between Israel and the Palestinians in the context of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace.

The U.S. and the European Union can use their leverage on the Israeli government to also embrace the API, particularly since the majority of Israelis, including former top security officials, strongly advocate for the adoption of the API.

Fourth, Hamas’s new disposition: The Arab states — especially Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt — are in a position to exert political and material pressure on Hamas to formally adopt the API, which will provide common denominators with Israel about the principal idea of a two-state solution. Consistent with the API, on more than one occasion Hamas has clearly stated that it is willing to negotiate a peace agreement with Israel based on the 1967 borders.

This is not to suggest that Hamas is ready and willing to make the necessary compromises to achieve peace, but it does suggest that Hamas also understands that Israel is there to stay and is now looking for ways to accommodate the Israelis in return for easing the blockade and eventually lifting it altogether, bringing an end to the occupation.

Fifth, the U.S. position: President Barack Obama may well be more inclined at this particular juncture in his presidency to breathe new life into the peace process. However, he realizes that any resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations fashioned along the line of previous negotiations with U.S. mediation will fail, not only because of political factionalism in Israel and among the Palestinians, but also because he is domestically constrained to pressure Israel unilaterally, especially during presidential elections.

That said, Obama stated in March 2015 that the U.S. is reassessing the situation and is considering a different approach to tackle the conflict. Given that the U.S. has a moral and material stake in Israel’s well-being and is committed to its preservation, it is in a position to shape and influence any international initiative to achieve that very objective.

Notwithstanding the fact that Israel has enjoyed tremendous political support from both Congress and the American people, there is a definite shift among the public and leading politicians toward putting the blame on Israel for the continuation of the conflict.

By demonstrating tough love, the U.S. can fulfill its moral obligation to best serve Israel’s national security and preserve it as an independent Jewish and democratic state, which for nearly all Israelis is their most cherished dream.

Sixth, the E.U.’s growing stakes in peace: Given the increasing turmoil in the Middle East, the E.U. is more eager than ever before to play a larger role in settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which they view as another flash point that adds more fuel to the regional fire.

Europe is suffering from domestic Islamic radicalization and considers the resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as one of the central components to significantly reducing radicalization at home while protecting its extensive interests in the region.

Moreover, the European community has come to the conclusion that Israel’s intransigence is behind the stalemate and that by not acting now, they will in fact render serious disservice to Israel which they view as an important strategic ally, especially from a security perspective.

In spite of the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement throughout Europe, they prefer to avoid taking such punitive action against Israel without the support of the U.S. That said, they appear to be determined to formulate a joint action plan led by France in an effort to end this debilitating seven-decades-old conflict, which is bound to explode to their and their regional allies’ detriment.

A careful review of the above suggests that due to unfolding regional events, the shifting geopolitical dynamics within the Arab states, the changing nature of the bilateral relations between Israel and the Palestinians, and the strong Western desire to bring an end to the conflict, the conditions are ripe to reach a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace.

That said, neither Prime Minister Netanyahu nor, to a lesser extent, President Abbas will come forth with a framework for peace where critically important compromises must be made. A change of leadership will be necessary to bring this about, but that can happen only under intense U.S. and E.U. pressure.

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies. alon@alonben-meir.com.          Web: www.alonben-meir.com

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4 comments for “New Pressures for Mideast Peace

  1. Peter Loeb
    November 13, 2015 at 8:37 am

    THE ZIONIST PROJECT FROM DAY ONE WAS ….

    Extremist. Colonial. Oppressive. Agressive. Murderous.

    How can one consider those being oppressed as “extremists”?

    Even Validimir Jabotinsky wrote in THE IRON WALL that
    Zionists wanted no “homeland”, no “state”. The Zionists
    wanted a colony. Being of a superior race and blood,
    he blieved they were entitled to Palestine which was
    their land. He was convinced that Palestine could
    only be won as a colony through military conquest.
    The rest—claims of improvement, getting along etc—
    was—putting it mildly—just bunk.

    How can there be “negotiations” between the oppressed,
    the murdered, the raped, the dispossessed and
    their oppressors?

    Should the Jews during World War II begged for
    negotiations for peace with Hitler and the SS?
    Of course, it would have only been fair to have
    a representative from Auschwitz. Perhaps even two
    if half alive…

    —-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  2. November 13, 2015 at 12:31 am

    Mr. Alon Ben-Meir is probably a Zionist, or at the very least speaks in accord with the USraeli imperial view. Every honest and even halfway intelligent, independent observer has concluded that the two-state solution died after 1967, at which point Israel became totally committed to the Greater Israel project. From that point on the only purpose of maintaining the illusion that Israel was “negotiating” was to blow smoke while the incremental process of ethnic cleansing continued in earnest. Correction – there was also a parallel bit of play acting by the PA, which is the Palestinian version of Vichy. It is maintained, handsomely, by Israel and the US – see the Wikipedia page “United States security assistance to the Palestinian National Authority.”

    I am surprised that Consortium News would publish this bit of deception.

  3. Zachary Smith
    November 12, 2015 at 1:05 pm

    Mr. Alon Ben-Meir finally mentions BDS, but only casually, and most definitely does not advocate it in any way. In fact, France has actually criminalized the only effective pressure on Holy Israel. Does the author agree with the French – is BDS a sin as well as a crime? I doubt if we’ll ever learn the answer to that one.

    In France — self-proclaimed Land of Liberté — doing that makes you a criminal. As The Forward reported, the court “cited the French republic’s law on Freedom of the Press, which prescribes imprisonment or a fine of up to $50,000 for parties that ‘provoke discrimination, hatred or violence toward a person or group of people on grounds of their origin, their belonging or their not belonging to an ethnic group, a nation, a race or a certain religion.’” Because BDS is inherently “discriminatory,” said the court, it is a crime to advocate it.

    hxxps://theintercept.com/2015/10/27/criminalization-of-anti-israel-activism-escalates-this-time-in-the-land-of-the-charlie-hebdo-free-speech-march/

    I know Mr. Parry has told us not to dump on his authors, but the following passage simply made me gag:

    Furthermore, since Israel is particularly keen on ending the Arab-Israeli conflict, the API provides a clear road map to peace between Israel and the Palestinians in the context of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace.

    This is pure nonsense – unless the author defines Israel’s actions in escalating the thefts and murders of the Palestinians as activities which will soon enable them to justify Nakba 2 and “end” the conflict by a final death march. It’ll be a fun experience for the thugs in the IDF – the most moral army in the world – for they’ll get to crush the beasts who walk on two legs like stomping grasshoppers, and smash Paleo heads against the boulders and walls.

    http://www.nytimes.com/1988/04/01/world/shamir-promises-to-crush-rioters.html

    He {Eitan} often used blunt language. He once said: “When we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like drugged cockroaches in a bottle.”

    Israel has ZERO intention of returning any of the stolen lands.

    “We declare openly that the Arabs have no right to settle on even one centimeter of Eretz Israel…Force is all they do or ever will understand. We shall use the ultimate force until the Palestinians come crawling to us on all fours.” – Rafael Eitan, April 13, 1983

    All essays like this one do is reassure people that “something can be done” while Israel finishes the job of nailing down the stolen lands.

  4. Mortimer
    November 12, 2015 at 10:03 am

    Netanyahu Visits White House Seeking Massive Arms Aid
    By Patrick Martin

    Monday’s White House meeting between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu combined cynical posturing about peace with closed-door discussions about how to reinforce and strengthen the Israeli war machine against both the Palestinian population and neighboring Arab states

    US Escalates Air And Ground Operations In Iraq And Syria
    By Thomas Gaist

    The US must prepare new deployments of ground forces to Syria as part of military operations that will continue for years to come, US Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said Tuesday at the Dubai Air Show. “Air power is extremely important,” James said. “It can do a lot, but it can’t do everything. Ultimately, it cannot occupy territory and very importantly it cannot govern territory.” James continued: ”This is where we need to have boots on the ground. We do need to have ground forces in this campaign.” The US war in Syria and Iraq is “going to take years” to win, she added

    Remaking The Middle East: How The US Grew Tired And Less Irrelevant
    By Ramzy Baroud

    The Russian military campaign in Syria, which was half-heartedly welcomed by the US. has signaled a historic shift in the Middle East. Even if Russia fails to turn its war into a major shift of political and economic clout, the mere fact that other contenders are now throwing their proverbial hats into the Middle East ring, is simply unprecedented since the British-French-Israeli Tripartite Aggression on Egypt in 1956. For now, the Middle East will continue to pass through this incredibly difficult and violent transition, for which the US is partly responsible

    http://www.countercurrents.org

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