Every year has its moments and memorable events. Some, obviously, much more than others. Some years, such as 1968, go down in history on a global level as landmark years: years that shaped and defined a generation.
On a local level, some years are much more memorable than others because of highly significant events that unfolded. For example, 1967 was seared into our consciousness because of the Six Day War; 1973 because of the Yom Kippur War; 1993 because of the Oslo process; 2000 because of the failed Camp David talks and the launch of the second intifada; and 2005 because of the disengagement from Gaza.
The recently departed year, 2012, will not be so remembered.
Granted, there were memorable, dramatic and historic moments – such as the second-term election of US President Barack Obama, the continuing bloodbath in Syria and the rise to power of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. But when the year 2012 is recalled some 10 years from now, it is unlikely to stand out that strongly from the rest. That, however, was not the prediction.
When 2011 turned into 2012, there was great expectation that this year would be the decisive year regarding Iran, much as there are those now predicting the same thing about 2013. And the Iran prediction about 2012 was not unique. The same was said about Iran in 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008, when speculation was rife that Israel would take action before US president George W. Bush left office.
At the cusp of each new year, voices are always raised saying it will be the decisive Iran year, that this will be the time when the Iranian nuclear issue will be taken care of, once and for all. And yet it never is.
Last January, just 25 days into the new year, Yediot Aharonot analyst Ronen Bergman wrote a mammoth 7,600-word story for The New York Times’s Sunday Magazine headlined “Will Israel attack Iran?” His conclusion: Yes, it would...by the end of the year.
“After speaking with many senior Israeli leaders and chiefs of the military and the intelligence, I have come to believe that Israel will indeed strike Iran in 2012,” Bergman wrote in the piece’s final paragraph. “Perhaps in the small and ever-diminishing window that is left, the United States will choose to intervene after all, but here, from the Israeli perspective, there is not much hope for that. Instead there is that peculiar Israeli mixture of fear – rooted in the sense that Israel is dependent on the tacit support of other nations to survive – and tenacity, the fierce conviction, right or wrong, that only the Israelis can ultimately defend themselves.”
Well, Bergman was wrong. The over-discussed and much-predicted Israeli attack did not materialize. Such an attack – had it happened – would indeed have set 2012 apart, just as the attack on the Iraqi reactor set 1981 apart, and the attack on the Syrian nuclear installation did the same in 2007.
The 1981 and 2007 attacks were taken when Israel’s leaders felt their backs were against the wall, that it had to act then, or forever regret a lost opportunity. That Israel did not take a similar move in 2012 against Iran indicates that with all the noise and ceaseless chatter, the country’s leaders still do not believe the country’s back is up against the wall.
Certain things took place during the course of 2012 that pushed the decision-making point off, if only for just a while: The Europeans embargoed Iranian oil, overall sanctions against Tehran were ratcheted up a notch, and the shadowy war inside the country against its centrifuges, installations and scientists continued, not without success.
The can was kicked down the road yet again, in the hope that in the interim something would happen inside the beleaguered country to get the ayatollahs to change their minds – perhaps an “Iranian Spring,” perhaps sanction-induced pressure from below forcing the leadership to conclude that the price is beyond what the people will be willing to pay. This kicking of the can down the road was highly significant, probably the most significant diplomatic development of the year for Israel, because it forestalled a need for an Israeli attack. Not forever, perhaps; but at least until 2013, or beyond.
On the Palestinian front, 2012 started with a tiny opening – preliminary talks between Israelis and Palestinians for the first time in 16 months in Amman – but ended with even that opening long slammed shut.
Indeed, if 2012 will be noted for anything diplomatically, it will be for the Palestinians’ success at the United Nations – against both the Israeli and US desires – to get an upgrade of its status to that of non-member observer state.
Though, as predicted, that move has changed nothing on the ground, it has altered the accepted premises about how the conflict with the Palestinians will be dealt with. Over the years, the Palestinians have significantly altered the tactics they employ to achieve their goals, and the stated goals by at least Fatah and the Palestinian Authority are a state within the 1967 lines, with east Jerusalem as its capital, and – if not the “right of return” for the descendents of Palestinian refugees from 1948 – then a “fair and just” accommodation for them.
In the ’70s and ’80s Yasser Arafat tried to further these goals through random acts of terror – hitchhiking airplanes and throwing wheel-chaired-bound passengers off cruise liners – and through the delegitimization of Israel (the 1975 Zionism equal racism resolution at the UN).
In the early 1990s Arafat switched gears, and realized – apparently – that what he was doing up until then was not moving him along, and that to achieve his goals he needed to try something different. That something different was called the Oslo process. Arafat negotiated, negotiated and negotiated – not deterred by continued Israeli construction in settlements – until he came to Camp David in the summer of 2000.
At Camp David the Palestinian leader saw something interesting. He saw that the most he could get from a left-wing Israel prime minister, Ehud Barak, did not meet his minimum goals.
Yet, instead of giving up – or compromising – on his goals, he launched the second intifada. The reasoning was simple: If you can’t get what you want from the Israelis by talking to them, hit them in the teeth, blow up their buses, and they will bend.
In an interview with Dubai TV earlier this month, according to a translation from the Middle East Media Research Institute, Arafat’s widow, Suha Arafat, said in a moment of candor, “Immediately after the failure of the Camp David [negotiations], I met him in Paris upon his return.... Camp David had failed, and he said to me: ‘You should remain in Paris.’ I asked him why, and he said: ‘Because I am going to start an intifada. They want me to betray the Palestinian cause. They want me to give up on our principles, and I will not do so.’” Israel, however, beat the intifada.
When the violence of the intifada failed to bring the Palestinians to their goals, and when the negotiations with prime minister Ehud Olmert also left the Palestinians with what PA President Mahmoud Abbas told The Washington Post were gaps that were too wide to bridge, the tack changed again. This time it was to get the world to step in and impose a solution.
Which is exactly where the diplomatic process stands today. Rather than negotiations, the Palestinians are doing what they can to get the world to set the terms of a solution.
The Europeans, for instance, have already determined that the solution will be based on the 1967 lines with east Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital. And if the Europeans have already divided Jerusalem and given half to the Palestinians, then what need is there for the Palestinians to negotiate with Israel. Why negotiate, when in the course of negotiations it would probably be necessary to give up something in return? The Palestinian tactic is for the world to set the terms, making it unnecessary for them to then have to cede any concession to Israel in return.
There will be no need to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, no need to relinquish the “right of return,” no need to agree to an end of conflict, and no need even to agree security arrangements for Israel.
As 2012 folds into 2013, the Palestinians have emerged with the diplomatic upper hand – pushing forward with their newest goal-achieving tactic, and leaving Jerusalem trying to figure out how to fend it off and regain the upper hand, something not made any easier with the country in the midst of an election campaign.