Borderline views: Taking the lead in conflict resolution

Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin are neither our enemies nor our closest buddies – they are interested in ensuring a more stable and secure region.

US President Barack Obama addresses United Nations General Assembly (photo credit: REUTERS)
US President Barack Obama addresses United Nations General Assembly
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In US President Barack Obama’s speech at the United Nations, he didn’t mention the Israel-Palestine conflict even once. Clearly, most politicians and commentators are arguing, this is an indication that Obama couldn’t care less what happens in Israel and is quite prepared to leave it to deal with its own problems.
For those who have spent the past seven years creating an aura of hate around Obama, portraying him as a secret Islamist and, without stating it categorically, suggesting that he is an anti-Semite, the absence of any mention of Israel-Palestine strengthens the case. He is not, in the view of AIPAC and many other Jewish machers in North America, a friend of Israel, is not to be relied on and – intuitively – it is essential to replace him with a presidential candidate from the Republican Party a year down the road, in order to get the US-Israel relationship back on track. In other words, to elect a new US administration which will fall in line with the right-wing Israeli government – as though that is the only issue on the table for almost 200 million American voters.
Yet, we spend most of our time bemoaning the fact that the world media seems to have nothing else on its agenda except Israel-Palestine. Forget about the genocides taking place in Africa, the mass abuses of human rights in China, or the mass migration of refugees fleeing for their lives from the violence and brutality of Islamic groups in the Middle East – why is it, we continually ask, that the world has an obsession with Israel, often at the expense of almost every other major news event? Why don’t they leave us alone and let us deal with our own affairs without continually interfering or attempting (largely unsuccessfully) to boycott us? And if they have nothing constructive to offer other than to condemn the occupation as the root of all evil in the world, why don’t they go peddle their advice elsewhere? We can’t have it both ways.
Either we want the world to be concerned about the future stability and security of Israel, in which case we have to expect that the world’s leaders will continually focus their attention on us, even obsessively. Or we really want them to leave us alone, stop criticizing those policies with which they disagree and which, they believe, are preventing any form of conflict resolution taking place in our region, and let us deal with our own problems, away from the glare of the intruding world media and the United Nations general Assembly – and the world will be a better place for it.
Either way it’s a zero-sum game. The world is either anti-Semitic because it cares too much, or it is anti-Semitic because it is no longer interested in our fate.
Global geopolitics is changing rapidly, especially in the Middle East, but the one unchanging element remains the Israel-Palestine conflict. Israeli leaders live under the delusion that somehow time remains on their side, and that the policy of not doing anything (a good scenario) or undertaking actions which make the occupation even more difficult than it already is to unravel (a worse scenario) will serve its long-term interests. And anyway, they argue, look at what is going on around us – how can we undertake any unilateral steps aimed at conflict resolution if the region is in flames and falling apart, threatening the very existence of the state in the long term? “When,” they argue, “we have a serious partner with whom we can talk, then – and only then – can we return to a process of dialogue aimed at resolving the conflict.”
It is an entirely false argument. Neither do the “other” side believe that they have a partner in an Israeli administration which utters increasingly intransigent statements, even on a weekly basis.
Ministers who now negate the very essence of a twostate solution or some alternative version of power sharing which will allow two peoples to equally hold their heads proudly and in the dignity of independence and self determination.
Since each side firmly believes (or at least claims to) that they do not have a partner, the situation is so bad that the only way forward is to force the nontalking partners to come together and, metaphorically, to beat their heads into the wall (as it appears Jimmy Carter did to a certain extent at Camp David) to make the extremely painful concessions which are necessary. To force the two sides into an agreement which is acceptable only to the extent that both sides will be equally dissatisfied at what they have had to give up on – because, to put it simply, neither side can achieve everything it desires without the ultimate obliteration of the other side, or the continuation of violent and murderous conflict for many generations to come.
The world is tired of Israel not doing anything to even suggest that it desires to resolve its conflict, regardless of what is taking place in the surrounding countries. But the world, including the major powers of the United States and the re-emerging power of Russia, is not insensitive to the need to ensure the long-term security of Israel. They are not taken in by the arguments that were the Israel-Palestine conflict to be resolved all the problems of religious fundamentalism, Islamic State (IS), global terrorism and violence would miraculously disappear from the face of the earth. But equally, such conflict resolution would remove a major element and would enable a structural reassessment of the underlying issues causing regional instability without obsessively focusing on Israel-Palestine.
The Middle East is a very different place to what it was just 10 years ago – the state system is on the verge of collapse, globalization of terrorism continues to spread exponentially, and it is not going to revert to where it was even five years ago – even if Russian intervention prevents the collapse of the Assad regime in Syria in the face of the ever-growing threat of IS.
For years, Israel has been the strongest partner in the regional equation. Its military superiority thanks to the United States remains supreme. Its borders are fortified, and its population and economy are growing at a rapid rate. It is a country which wants to be accepted as an equal partner in the family of states, those which espouse the highest values of democracy and human rights. It is time that Israel started to act out of strength and lead the way, rather than continue to portray itself to the world as the weak and the threatened.
The nations of the world will only be interested in the long-term security of Israel for as long as they believe that this strong nation is prepared to take its future in its own hands. To lead rather than follow, to engage the states and the leaders of the world powers and to recognize that the world is changing so rapidly that what was a truth yesterday is already the lie of tomorrow.
At the end of the day it makes no difference whether the world deals with us obsessively or whether it leaves us out of its speeches and public discourse.
Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin are neither our enemies nor our closest buddies – they are interested in ensuring a more stable and secure region, within which Israel will continue to exist.
They wait to see whether Israeli leaders can wake up to the changes taking place and use them as another window of opportunity, rather than sink deeper into the bunker mentality of a state constantly under siege.
The writer is dean of the faculty of humanities and social sciences and chairman of geopolitics at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The views expressed are his alone.