Gaza stalemate could lead to lasting peace
Rarely, if ever, in the difficult and sordid history of the Arab-Israeli conflict have we seen a moment when the stars have been so perfectly aligned. For the first time there is the potential to turn a cautious cease-fire into a permanent peace.
This may sound optimistic just weeks after Israel and Hamas last fought each other, but a discerning review of the changing circumstances, and the new rules and rulers surrounding the conflict, augurs well for a new turn in the narrative.
The first change of note is the formula upon which the most recent cease-fire has been built. Unusually, there was clearly no winner or loser in the latest exchanges. Israel’s hesitation to pursue a ground invasion of Gaza is a clear signal that something has changed. As is the end of rocket fire from Gaza. Whether the cause is Israel’s lack of appetite for human and material loss or a conviction among Palestinians that they can live with what was achieved, the result speaks for itself.
Second, the Arab Spring has made it possible for some regional governments, notably Egypt’s, to become more responsive and hence more responsible in the manner in which they approach the conflict. It is to be hoped that direct engagement by the Egyptian and other governments can hasten a settlement.
Third, the clear mandate President Barack Obama received in the recent US elections suggests the American people have rejected the neoconservative approach to international relations, including in the Arab-Israeli conflict. This raises hopes that Obama will take an active role in negotiations.
Fourth, the international community’s interest in peace in our region has never been so stark. This point requires detailed discussion, but suffice to say that it would be easier to convince all actors in the region that they do not need nuclear weapons if solid success had already been achieved in resolving the area’s most contentious conflict. Progress toward an Arab-Israeli peace would remove any excuses from Israel, Iran and others for the retention or acquisition of such weapons.
Fifth, the international community, and the US in particular, stands to benefit immensely from progress toward a lasting peace. Imagine the positive consequences this would have on US plans to withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq, or the long-term benefits it would bring to the relationship between the Muslim and the Western world. Even more significantly, imagine how an Arab-Israeli peace could undermine the appeal of extremist and terrorist groups’ appeal. The impact is simply incalculable.
In addition to this conducive environment, there is a clear-cut and available road map to peace. In 2002 the Arab leaders in unison accepted an Arab peace plan, containing within its clauses the most important requirements for a lasting peace: Recognition of Palestinian human rights, including a viable state as outlined by the international community, in exchange for Israel living in harmony with the Palestinian, Arab and Islamic worlds. It took the prestige and persuasion of King Abdullah to secure such a landmark agreement. The world, including Israel, can neither afford nor bear the consequences of ignoring it.
A number of steps can be taken immediately to pave the way to real peace.
First, Israel should immediately lift its siege of Gaza and the international community must collectively announce a plan to deliver humanitarian assistance there.
Second, Israel should accept the Arab peace plan as the framework for meaningful negotiations.
Third, the international community needs to reconvene the Madrid conference, or a similar forum, as the proper arena in which to arbitrate and mediate a comprehensive settlement. The conference should eventually ratify elements of a solution and authorize the resources needed for its implementation.
Prescriptions for peace are plentiful. But the will to pursue them has always been in short supply. Yet today there is a sense in this part of the world that we are about to usher in a new era, one in which hope and dignity will be abundant. For many decades the Palestinian people have been deprived of both. More than any other group, the Israeli people can surely sympathize with such a plight.