June 1, 2009
Why, after the meeting between Barack Obama and Binyamin Netanyahu, do I see a glimmer of hope? On the face of it, what hope is there of real peace negotiations? The Israeli prime minister leads a coalition which includes right-wingers, religious extremists and xenophobes: his own his past record militates against peace. The Palestinians, on the other hand, are engaged in a civil war between their two main factions, Fatah and Hamas.
There are several reasons for my thinking – or you may say clutching at straws.
First, the Iran factor (see post of 31 May). Both leaders agreed that negotiations with Iran would run parallel with Israeli-Palestinian ones, as there was a fear that Netanyahu would introduce conditionality.
Second, the Arab world recognizes that it has more worrying problems to face – Iran, terrorism aimed at Arab regime change and serious recession. There appears to be an increasing recognition that a bilateral peace settlement has to be accompanied by a comprehensive peace between Israel and the Arab countries.
Third, the majority of Israelis are prepared to give up land for peace. Netanyahu’s refusal to agree the principle of a two-state solution does not mean that he will not accept one.
Fourth, most of the settlers live on 3% of the Palestinian land and contiguous to Israel, so that a single land swap will bring them into Israel.
Fifth, Obama appears determined to act and will not unconditionally support Israel. In particular, he will continue to insist on settlement activity being halted.
Sixth, a tough right-wing leader is more likely to persuade Israelis to accept a negotiated settlement. Netanyahu can finesse his coalition by holding a referendum.
However, peace does not mean peace of the type that exists between Israel and Egypt and Israel and Jordan. Peace means the full establishment of diplomatic, political, economic and cultural relations and the acceptance of Israel in the region.
Many discreet negotiations, involving the Arab world, are taking place, and there is a sense that, paradoxically, it may be easier to reach a settlement with the Arab world as a whole (over 50 countries) than just between the Palestinians and Israelis.
There, of course, remains some serious obstacles. Mentioning but two: a large number of settlers will have to abandon their homes; and the messianic views of the ultra-religious will have to be ignored.
We now await President Obama’s speech in Cairo on 4 June, the Lebanese elections on 7 June and the Iranian Presidential election on 12 June.
Author : Stanley Crossick