A Rough Road Towards Peace in the Middle East 20.3.2009

A rough road toward peace in Mideast

Jakarta Post, Indonesia | Fri, 03/20/2009

Hamas’ ascent to power in Gaza, first through elections in 2006 and then by military coup in 2007, is nothing but another symptom of a regional development; the demise of secular-nationalistic forces in favor of their more religious competitors, not only in Palestine but in the Middle East on the whole.

Israel’s attempt to choke Hamas, clinging to the losing side, (Abu Mazen’s secular Palestinian Authority) and the attempt to reinstate its power in Gaza, is thus running contrary to the flow of a historical process and is therefore likely doomed to fail.

Unfortunately, Hamas got carried away with its success and, under Iranian prodding, ended up provoking Israel’s recent entry into Gaza.

The outcome of Israel’s attack cost the organization dearly in the eyes of the Palestinian public
who paid a heavy price, while Hamas’ leaders stayed in hiding in Gaza or in the security of their Damascus exile. Nevertheless, Hamas’ position in Gaza remains essentially unchallenged.

All sides should now reflect on the road ahead – Abu Mazen will miss no opportunity to remind the Palestinians what Hamas has brought upon them in Gaza, and pressure brought to bear on the organization by Egypt, Israel and the international community will certainly have
an effect.

Israel initiated the attack on Hamas, but instead of destroying the organization limited itself to demonstrating that the price exacted from the Palestinians for the continued rocket shelling of Israel will be prohibitive.

Eventually, Israel will have no choice but to accept a Palestinian unity government that includes both Hamas and Fatah, the formation of which was until a couple of weeks ago by no means certain.

Now, enticed by the promise of huge amounts of money from donor countries for the reconstruction of Gaza, the unity government’s formation (a prerequisite for receiving the money) has almost become a foregone conclusion.

The sudden resignation of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad will further facilitate negotiations between Fatah and Hamas, leaving both parties more room to maneuver.

Only the evolvement of a Palestinian unity government and its silent acceptance by Israel will enable the revival of meaningful discussions toward a peaceful solution to the Palestinian conflicts.

Hamas’ participation would finally impart on the organization the responsibility to improve the lot of the Palestinian population through peaceful means.

Hamas’ recognition of Israel (a sine qua non for a unity government if it wants to be effective) is by no means certain, but the Palestinians are likely to find a way around this problem by separating the commitments of a unity government from those of Hamas as an organization.

The outcome of the Israeli elections on Feb. 10 gave rise to a right wing coalition whose main parties committed themselves, during the campaign, to destroying Hamas.

Incoming Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party even renounced the two-state solution – not an auspicious opening vis-à-vis the US administration which, just like the Europeans and almost everyone else, is committed to that very solution.

For Israel’s incoming government, a vibrant peace process is thus likely to be problematic at best, and anathema at worst. To achieve any progress under these conditions will be even more of a challenge.

With both sides still entrenched in potentially non-starter positions – Hamas not recognizing Israel, and Israel’s incoming government renouncing the two-state solution and likely contemplating the destruction of Hamas in Gaza – the responsibility for any positive movement towards peace in the Middle East falls squarely on the shoulders of the Obama administration.

In view of its preoccupation with the economic breakdown in the US, this is not a cheerful thought.

The writer is a retired Israeli diplomat who served in Southeast Asia from 2000-2003

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