Numerous Middle East countries have been rocked by domestic turmoil, two
dictators have been removed by their own citizens and a third may face the same
fate. It’s a changed world, but the Israeli-Palestinian conflict looks the
This past Tuesday, President Shimon Peres met with US President
Peres undoubtedly traveled to the US with Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu’s full support and backing and after close coordination on
the content of the meeting, out of which came some significant
“With the winds of change blowing through the Arab world, it’s
more urgent than ever that we try to seize the opportunity to create a peaceful
solution between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” Obama said.
evidently believes that now is a good time to move ahead on the peace process,
especially with dramatic political and social changes – the “Arab spring” –
taking place in the Middle East.
Israel’s position appears similar. As
reported in The Jerusalem Post
Tuesday, Netanyahu is aware of Peres’s belief
that the upheavals in the Middle East make it imperative to try and quickly come
to an agreement with the Palestinians before a new Middle East order is set, so
that when the rulers of this new order come to power, the Israeli-Palestinian
issue will no longer be at the top of the regional agenda.
Peres and Netanyahu are in agreement that Israel would be less wise to just wait
and see how things develop in the region; rather, it is smarter for it to get
ahead of the curve and set facts on the ground that will then become givens when
the new rulers come into power.
HOW EXACTLY Israel can “get ahead of the
curve” – and how the US can help – was one of the main topics of the Peres-Obama
Other leaders share this ambition, but also believe that the
Israeli-Palestinian issue rests at the core of the larger Middle Eastern
problem. The EU Institute for Security Studies published a report in December
2010 quoting the 2003 European Security Strategy, which states that the
“Arab-Israeli conflict is a strategic priority for Europe,” and “as long as it
remains unresolved, there will be little chance of dealing with other problems
in the Middle East.” The EU Foreign Affairs Council Meeting held in Brussels in
December 2010 adopted the conclusion that “the EU believes that urgent progress
is needed towards a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian
On Wednesday, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs
Catherine Ashton said, “I reiterate that the EU considers that settlement
activities in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, are illegal under
international law, undermine trust between the parties and constitute an
obstacle to peace.” And in February, Ashton told the United Nations Security
Council in New York that the unfolding change in the Middle East was making
progress on the Middle East peace process more vital now than ever.
according to Prof. Mordechai Kedar, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University’s
department of Arabic and a member of the BESA Center, if the world wishes to
bring stability and calm to the Middle East, there is no choice but to let the
modern Arab countries – those whose boundaries were set by colonialism –
collapse and break up into small states, each based on one homogeneous
This has major implications for the Middle East, since each of
those Arab states could break up into dozens more if every ethnic, religious,
denominational and tribal group were to get its way.
According to Kedar,
the fundamental problem characterizing Middle Eastern states has nothing to do
with Israel; rather, it is that they have “no legitimacy in the eyes of their
citizenry because their borders were marked by European colonial
British Prime Minister David Cameron admitted this recently
on a visit to Pakistan, when he said that Britain was responsible for many of
the world’s problems. According to The Telegraph
, Cameron said Britain was to
blame for decades of tension and several wars over the disputed territory, as
well as other global conflicts.
THE EU has invested a lot in peace talks
and is working hard to ensure they rematerialize. In a press release on
Tuesday, the EU announced it was contributing 20 million euros (around NIS
100m.) to the Palestinian Authority’s payment of March salaries and pensions of
almost 85,000 Palestinian public service providers and pensioners, both in the
West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.
Europe’s role in trying to resolve the
Arab- Israeli conflict has been secondary, mostly providing financial aid to
Palestinians, as the US predominantly heads peacemaking efforts. Now, European
leaders would like to change that dynamic and gain a central role in mediating
At the EU-Israel Association Council’s session held in
Brussels in February, Hungarian Foreign Minister János Martonyi said the peace
process was “crucial.”
“We are convinced that progress on the peace
process is more imperative and more urgent than ever before,” he
Countering this, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the
current instability in the Middle East was mainly caused by poverty and misery,
but by no means by the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.
the US Peace Index – a new study just released by the Institute for Economics
and Peace in the US, and whose groundbreaking research includes the Global Peace
Index (GPI) – researchers found that peace is significantly correlated with
factors related to economic opportunity, education and health. It also found
that the potential economic gains from improvements in peace are
This week, the International Monetary Fund gave the
Palestinian Authority a strong vote of confidence, saying it was capable of
running a national economy after achieving significant economic reforms. This is
notable, since a stronger economy would be conducive to creating a viable
EVEN IF the PA did acquiesce to Israel’s request to return to the
negotiating table, it would not happen – at least at this point – until after
Israel fulfilled certain conditions. The PA on Wednesday reiterated its
demand for a full cessation of settlement construction as a precondition for
resuming peace talks with Israel.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who met in
Amman on Tuesday night with David Hale, assistant to US Middle East special
envoy George Mitchell, also demanded that the Quartet members, who are supposed
to meet in mid-April, issue a “clear statement” that calls for a complete
cessation of settlement construction and defines the terms of reference of the
talks on the basis of a twostate solution on the 1967 borders.
spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudaineh, said that a Palestinian delegation headed by Saeb
Erekat, the chief PLO negotiator, would hold talks in Jordan with
representatives of the Quartet – which, in addition to the US, includes Russia,
the EU and the UN – to relay the PA demand to them. Erekat said the Quartet must
assume its role in the Middle East peace process by calling for a settlement
freeze during the Israeli-Palestinian talks.
Erekat stressed that the PA
was not setting preconditions for returning to the negotiating table, but “these
are obligations that Israel is required to meet under the terms of the road map
However, according to a senior government source, Israel was
never bound by the road map because the Palestinians never kept their part of
the first phase of the agreement, which includes the stipulation for a complete
cessation of terror, violence and incitement. He reiterated that even
when Israel did freeze building for 10 months, the PA still did not come to the
Netanyahu, at a press conference with German Chancellor Angela
Merkel Thursday, said the issue of settlements should not hinder a final peace
solution with Palestinians.
A group of prominent former members of the
defense establishment, including former heads of the Mossad and the Shin Bet
(Israel Security Agency), presented an initiative for peace with the Arab world
this week. The plan calls for a Palestinian state comprising most of the West
Bank and Gaza, with east Jerusalem as its capital. The initiative also calls for
an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.
It may be the first of a
number of new initiatives going the extra mile to get ahead of the curve.