A strange architecture of time in the Middle East

Netanyahu sees no reason to move the peace process forward, or to halt settlement construction (Photo: Cherie Cullen, US Department of Defence)
Netanyahu sees no reason to move the peace process forward, or to halt settlement construction (Photo: Cherie Cullen, US Department of Defence)

Israel does not distinguish amongst the Arab regimes, regarding them all as a threat. This insensitivity to regional political developments undermines US interests in the region. Israel further believes it has no interest in furthering the peace process, which could destabilise an already shaky government coalition. The architecture of time as seen by Israel is radically different to that perceived by Washington, Riyadh and Ramallah.

The Jewish Daily Forward of June 3 reports that in a passionate appeal for supporting his Middle East peace effort, US Secretary of State John Kerry warned that time is running out on a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Kerry was speaking at the annual meeting of the American Jewish Committee. In his speech he called on American Jews to support his effort and to provide political backing for leaders willing to take risks for peace.

In April Kerry persuaded the Arab League to re-launch, with slight changes meant to entice the Israelis, its peace initiative of March 2002.

The initiative was first launched at the Beirut Summit of the Arab League by then-Crown Prince King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and re-endorsed at the 2007 Riyadh Summit. It attempts to end the Arab–Israeli conflict, which means normalising relations between Israel and the entire Arab region, in exchange for a complete Israeli withdrawal from the  Palestinian and Syrian territories occupied in 1967, and an agreed settlement of the Palestinian refugee crisis based on UN Resolution 194.

In April 2013 the Arab League changed its stance and agreed to an exchange of territories in the framework of the agreement.

However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a cool reception to this renewed peace offer. During a 5 June parliamentary debate on the peace process, Netanyahu made scant mention of the plan, referring to it as a “dictate” and giving no indication that he was willing to embrace it. On the contrary, Netanyahu said Israel favours “negotiating without preconditions immediately”.

Conversely, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas explicitly expressed the Palestinian wish to return to negotiations “as soon as possible” in order to achieve peace based on a two-state solution.

In a press conference on 4 June, Abbas endorsed the Arab peace initiative, stressing “that the Arab and Islamic world would recognize Israel if it withdraws from the occupied lands, and a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital was established.”

In the background of Kerry’s Middle East efforts is the escalating situation in Syria and the military failures of the Arab League-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA). Abbas understands that regardless of the outcome of the Syrian conflict, his time is over if he doesn’t make substantial achievements towards the materialisation of a Palestinian state.

The insular perspectives of reality characterising Netanyahu’s regime disregards regional developments.

The Arab League is concerned that the military failures of the FSA, alongside growing divisions within the dissenting forces in Syria, will strengthen the grip of the Ba’ath regime in Syria and further reinforce its allies in Lebanon. This plausible scenario is already destabilising the region as unrest spreads over the Gulf, Iraq and Jordan.

Abbas believes that developments in Syria will have a negative impact on his future, regardless of the outcome of the crisis. The outcome of a victory for the Ba’ath and Hezbollah in Syria may result in a popular uprising in Palestine, similar to the October 2000 uprising that followed the Hizbullah’s military victory and the retreat of Israeli forces from Lebanon in July that year. But a victory in the hands of the Islamist FSA will strengthen Hamas’ positions, and even assist the Islamic organisation to become the hegemonic political force in the Palestinian national liberation movement.

For Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, the only hope is to present the Palestinian people with a state that actually exists and is recognised, and in which at least part of East Jerusalem is its capital. Abbas is ready to go a long way towards this achievement. However, he can’t capitulate and accept a state on 40% of the West Bank with temporary borders, no access to Jerusalem and not even minimal recognition of refugee rights while Abbas will have recognised Israeli as a Jewish state, as demanded by Israel.  This would be suicide.

PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat said on June 4 that the Palestinians were making “every possible effort” to help Kerry succeed in bringing the two sides to the table.

“No one benefits more from the success of Kerry’s peace efforts, and no one suffers more from the failure, than the Palestinians,” he added.

Europe is also engaging in the sense of urgency regarding the need to boost the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The Israeli daily Maariv reported on June 6 that Europe may support Palestinians efforts in the UN institutions and the International Court of Justice if efforts to renew the political process fail due to continued Israeli settlement construction.

According to Maariv, this message was conveyed  by senior diplomats of a number of major EU countries. The background to this threat is a feeling in some European countries that recent decisions by the Israeli government, especially those concerning the building of hundreds of housing units in East Jerusalem settlements, undermine Kerry’s efforts.

Israel maintains its rejectionist position. Netanyahu and his government see no urgency to re-launch a peace process that will undermine an already shaky coalition.

On the one hand, Israel does not distinguish between the different shades of Arab regimes, regarding them all as a threat. Israel’s insensitivities to regional political developments neglect, and even undermine, US interests in the region.

On the other hand, Israel believes it has no interest in furthering the peace process. It currently indentifies no international military threat and, at the same time, the Israeli army believes it has the power to quell any Palestinian uprising without major consequences to Israel’s economy and international standing. The army has stated that a third Intifada is not on the horizon. Moreover, the government believes that a security emergency such as a war or an uprising will make it stronger, while a peace process would have a divisive impact.

The architecture of time as seen by Israel is radically different to that perceived by Washington, Riyadh and Ramallah.



*  Published by the Alternative Information Center (AIC)



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