The Last Opportunity for Peace in the Middle East?
Today, Singapore 19/10/2006
Israel’s studious ignorance of recent developments in the Middle East leaves little room for doubt: The Jewish nation is in a deep state of denial with regard to realities in the region. To be sure, Israel is not alone in this but is likely to suffer dearly from the consequences. The fact that Israel has failed before to react in time to evident regional changes with severe outcomes gives rise for deep concern. The 1973 Yom Kippur War, coming in the wake of seven years of stubborn diplomatic inaction is just one case in point, as is the recent Lebanon war that was inspired by a total lack of political process to resolve issues with Lebanon, Hezbollah and Syria after Israel’s withdrawal from the former in 2000.
PM Ehud Olmert, after getting elected on a political agenda that put emphasis on the convergence plan which would have given some hope to advance a peace process with the Palestinians, has abandoned this approach without suggesting any alternative. This in reaction to the inopportune but completely democratic election victory of the radical Hamas movement which, under impossible conditions is being prevented from assuming its responsibilities as the ruling party in Palestine. Israel has made absolutely no effort to assuage the enormous enmity of this movement and preferred the routinely used and often failed approach of total confrontation. Not surprisingly, the Gaza Strip is now a boiling humanitarian disaster zone and the Palestinians are importing weapons through a porous border with Egypt at an alarming pace. All Israel is contemplating, is further military action against radicals in the Gaza Strip, an approach that will eventually negate Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from that area in 2005.
A peace initiative vis-à-vis Syria, never on Israel’s Prime Minister’s agenda in the first place, has been rejected when it was proposed, inconveniently, by Syrian President Bashar Assad. Israel feels secure enough not to have to deal with Syria at the negotiating table and would rather keep the Golan Heights, Syrian territory it occupies since 1967. After all, Bashar Assad only has hundreds of ballistic missiles and one of the most advanced chemical weapons arsenals in the world. And, encouraged by the successful performance of Hezbollah’s rocketry in the recent Lebanon war, the Syrian President has casually mentioned, more than once already that negotiations are not the only alternative to recoup the Golan Heights.
But Ehud Olmert should not be accused of being against peace: He has repeatedly called on the Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, to meet with him face to face and discuss peace. This one month after he had the Israeli Air Force bomb Lebanese civilian infrastructure to ruins and despite the fact that Lebanon has repeatedly stated that it will be the last Arab nation to make peace with Israel.
Deeply concerned about the increasing Iranian and Shia influence in Lebanon and Palestine, Saudi Arabia has just let it be known that it is ready to talk with Israel, even directly, on the basis of the Arab Peace Initiative from 2002 which calls for negotiations based on the 1967 borders, a two-state solution and an agreed upon solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. This is an offer which now, more than ever before, deserves serious consideration by Israel and by Hamas in Palestine although both have already rejected it once.
Israel, rightfully scared of Iran’s efforts at obtaining nuclear weapons, is making considerable diplomatic efforts to get the world at large to recognize the looming threat from Teheran. It would certainly be prudent if Israel would spend a commensurate effort dealing diplomatically with the much more imminent dangers closer to home. The Arab Peace Initiative, now energetically promoted by the Saudis, should be welcomed by Israel and all nations concerned about peace in the Middle East. History has shown repeatedly that absence of diplomatic progress in this area where conflicts are still unresolved, will eventually result in renewed conflagrations.
It would be an interesting twist of developments if the shadow of Iran and its President Ahmadinejad who continues to call for the destruction of Israel will, in the end, get Israel and the Palestinians to get their act together and work things out along the lines of the Arab Peace Initiative. This may very well be the last opportunity for peace in the Middle East for a very long time.