The Israeli-Palestinian political arena has never looked worse. This is a reflection of the negative political situation internally in both areas. It seems that the main political agenda of the Israel government today is survival and once that become apparent to the people of Israel, the government's days are numbered.
On the Palestinian side, the choices range from political stagnation to civil war. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has continued to threaten the Hamas-led government of Ismail Haniyeh that it must accept international demands of recognizing Israel and moving forward toward peace, but so far, Hamas has rejected Abbas's demands. It doesn't seem that his threats are being treated too seriously, even within his own Fatah movement. Judging on his past performance, it is likely that Abbas's threats will not be implemented and the current status quo of a paralyzed PA will continue.
Abbas can declare a state of emergency and appoint a temporary government for 30 days or perhaps even 60 days, but there is no legal way that he can undo the decision of the electorate or even call for new elections. The only alternative to agreement between Abbas and Haniyeh, which seems unlikely, is civil war, and almost no one on the Palestinian side is interested in that disastrous adventure.
Both Israel and the PA have spoken about the need to renew the peace process. Abbas has been promised both by US President George W. Bush and by Olmert that the peace process would be renewed, launched by an Abbas-Olmert summit. It seems that Olmert has no intention of convening the summit until the kidnapped IDF soldier, Gilad Shalit, is freed from his abductors. But even if and when Shalit is safely returned home, it is important to recognize that history did not begin with his kidnapping. The Israeli-Palestinian relation was dead-ended long before June 25, 2006. The Shalit kidnapping is but just another excuse not to renew the dialogue.
IT IS TRUE that with the current chaos and almost complete breakdown of law and order on the Palestinian side, it seems almost absurd to renew the peace process. However, it is also absurd not to understand that the developing alternative to Hamas, if the situation there continues to deteriorate, is not a return of Fatah but the rise of al-Qaida and similar groups. There is a fundamental interest on both sides to prevent this negative trend, and a partnership in real deeds is the only preventative cure for this deadly ailment.
The Israeli-Palestinian relationship has always been a dialectic one in which the statements and actions of each side have a deep impact on the statements and actions of the other. In the political dreams of both sides, there has always been a desire to wish this relationship away. Israelis and Palestinians share the dream of having the land without the other people, but this will never happen. There is no political validity for even considering how to turn the clock back to the pre-Oslo era, even if many Israelis and Palestinians would actually prefer for that to happen. It simply is not possible. This is political fantasy and we must confront our dismal realities and not run away from them.
In the real world, the options for both sides are limited. Israel does not want to reoccupy Gaza, even in light of the apparent huge build-up of weapons and ammunition there. The Palestinians will not give up their struggle for freedom and statehood no matter how many losses they suffer. Neither would we if the situation were reversed.
Both sides believe that the other side is not a partner and does not want peace. There is no trust whatsoever across the conflict line, nor is there any particular reason why there should be any. Both sides hold responsibility for the catastrophic situation we are in, neither side can excuse its own responsibility by placing the blame entirely on the other. There is no luxury of time to even engage in the blame game. We can either continue to say that there is no one to talk to and watch as the situation continues to deteriorate, knowing full well that many more Palestinians and Israelis will pay with their lives, or we can do every thing humanly possible to rebuild a partnership with the hope that it will have an impact on the internal Palestinian political scene.
We know the results of the current policy of mutual no recognition, no negotiations and no peace. (And yes it is mutual, at least in the eyes of both societies.) There is no guarantee that political reengagement will produce the desired results of advancing real peace, but there are no alternatives that could do it either.
Most of the world believes that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has deep impacts on the destabilization of the entire region. The current trends in the wider region pose even greater threats to Israel than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For the time being Israel has real allies in the region for advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Egypt and Jordan have the strongest interests for advancing a renewed peace process. Both of these allies also understand very well the dangers of Islamic extremism in Palestine to their own regimes and would be willing to contribute even more significantly than they do today in helping to bridge gaps and reach understandings between Israel and the Palestinians. More important, both sides would be willing to play a constructive role in helping both sides to implement future agreements, and this has been one of the weakest aspects of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking until now.
The "mini-quartet" of Israel, the PA, Egypt and Jordan can provide the mechanism for renewing the peace process. This partnership of four interdependent neighbors is the best, and perhaps, the only way that we can move forward toward a political horizon of hope.
The writer is the co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.
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