Commentary

Debating the Prospects for Israeli-Palestinian Peace

Middle East In Focus

Middle East In Focus

Following news of the recent negotiated agreement between Fatah and Hamas on a unity government headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, attention has turned again to the prospects for peace between Israel and Palestine. Although a potential game-changer for intra-Palestinian relations, the agreement appears to have struck the wrong cord with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu.

Reflecting on the news of the accord between the two parties, the Gulf Times noted in an editorial that now that the deal has been struck, “the former bitter rivals now must conduct their affairs with greater maturity and responsibility….A unity government in Palestine, therefore, will not only be a blessing for the people — who in the past have been often let down by their leaders — but will also give them as a nation better bargaining powers in their dealings with Israel…. Palestine should not be treated as a piece of real estate to be divided among politicians. Otherwise they stand to lose all the goodwill they have, and in the process strengthen Israel further.”

Given PM Netanyahu’s negative response to the news, the Haaretz editorial warned: “By avoiding peace, Netanyahu is punishing Israel…. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented Abbas with a simplistic ultimatum — peace with Hamas, or peace with Israel…Netanyahu's ultimatum looks like a pretext for torpedoing talks on a final-status agreement based on the Quartet's outline and U.S. President Barack Obama's speech last May…. The ongoing crisis in the diplomatic process is playing a key role in tilting the political balance in the territories toward the opponents of a compromise.... Netanyahu must end his obsessive search for flaws in the internal Palestinian agreement and focus instead on an initiative for ending the conflict.”

Netanyahu’s reaction was applauded by the Jerusalem Post’s editorial staff, who noted: “If all goes as planned, Hamas will become an integral part of the official Palestinian political leadership….The only problem with all of this unity is that Hamas remains an anti-Semitic terrorist organization committed to the destruction of Israel….Under the circumstances, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s reaction to the Doha Declaration was eminently reasonable….Many in the international community might be under the false impression that recognizing a Palestinian government that includes the terrorist organization will enable the more moderate Fatah to effect change in Hamas. But we believe it is much more likely that Hamas, riding a wave of new-found popularity in the region, will gradually take over Fatah.”

The Israeli response doesn’t seem to have caught many by surprise, even though some worry about the signals the international community is sending to the Israeli government by standing idle. Jordan Times’ Hasan Abu Nimah is concerned about what he sees as “[m]ore rewards for Israeli extremism…. The more intransigence [from] Israel…the more generous rewards it continues to receive from its Western sponsors.…While touring the region to urge parties to resume stalled negotiations (due to Israel’s rejection of all demands to halt its illegal settlement building on Palestinian land), UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged Israel to ease the siege on Gaza by allowing some building material in. He did not, however, demand that the siege be ended…. The people of Gaza are indeed busy smuggling basic necessities for their survival through tunnels. Like moles, they had to build an underground network of transportation and clandestine trade to circumvent the ongoing siege which has become a new normal situation to which no one any longer objects.”

But not everyone is convinced. Adam Reuter, writing for the Israeli Yedioth Ahronoth, argues: “Palestinians have turned their misery into an economic strategy that benefits them. As a result, they receive more money than all the damage they allegedly incur. Moreover, the current situation is economically beneficial for them, to a great extent…. The Palestinians claim that the conflict with Israel harms them economically. There is no doubt this is true. Yet on the other hand, it seems they profit much from the conflict. Had it not been for the conflict, the Palestinian would barely receive any global aid. So do they have a genuine economic interest in putting an end to the conflict?”

In an exchange between two well known Palestinian and Israeli commentators, Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher recast the debate about the peace process in the context of the recent regional political and social transformation. Khatib, presenting a Palestinian view, comes to the conclusion that “[t]he relationship between the ongoing uprisings and revolutions in the Arab world and the Palestinian-Israeli peace process is a convoluted mix of cause and effect….Israelis tend to argue that recent developments in the Arab world justify the stagnation in the peace process.…This does not… mean that the majority of the Arabs are not interested in peace with Israel….[I]n the coming era, new Arab regimes will try to maintain their commitment to peace with Israel, while connecting this with the need to reach a peaceful solution that will end the injustice of the occupation.”

Writing from an Israeli perspective, Yossi Alpher strikes a different note on the prospects for peace: “The Israeli-Palestinian peace process was dead well before the Arab revolutionary wave began a little over a year ago. Nor does it appear likely that the Arab revolutions, in and of themselves, will catalyze its revival. Still, they have affected the peace process in a number of significant, albeit still evolving ways…. Now Abbas finds himself…juggling three balls at once: his own ‘revolutionary’ appeal to the United Nations for state recognition, the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation process, and Quartet and Arab pressures to return to some sort of peace process.…Apropos Quartet pressures — on both the PLO and Israel — if the parties can’t discuss territory and security, let them exchange confidence-building measures. There is no room for Hamas, and none for the PLO's UN initiative. At the heart of this approach is the Obama administration's refusal to take on any new risks in an election year.”

Yet it is becoming clear with every passing day that the prospects of resuscitating the “old” peace process are dim and grow dimmer with every passing day. As Haaretz’s Ari Shavit puts it, “Anyone who observes the reality that has emerged around us now understands what was not fully understood a year ago: That the Arab awakening has killed the diplomatic process. In the coming years, no moderate Arab leader will have enough legitimacy or power to sign a peace agreement with Israel…. Without a hope for peace, there is a greater risk that the Palestinian front will deteriorate .…That's why the death of the old peace requires some creative thinking about a new peace — a peace that won’t be imminent, but gradual….It won’t be the peace that puts an end to the conflict. It will not even be a peace that ends the occupation. But perhaps this new, modest peace will enable us to forge a path through the storm, to manage the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and somewhat abate it....Now that the old peace is dead, we must quickly replace it with a new, realistic peace.”


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