Looking forward, looking back

"Keeping a pulse on developments in Israel and the territories will be essential for a peaceful and secure 2014."

In his Rosh Hashana message in August, President Shimon Peres spoke with his usual passion and forthrightness about the tough situation facing Israel.
“We are going through a stormy time, but there is no room to lose hope and to lose faith. I do believe that out of this very complicated situation we can carry the hope of a better year for all mankind, for the Jewish people, for all your families, for each of us.”
This message underpins the issues that Israel faces year after year – a chaotic Middle East, extremism on our borders, the Iranian threat, and the ever shifting peace process with the PLO.
Last year saw more than half a dozen trips by US Secretary of State John Kerry to the region to work on an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. In April alone he made three trips. The new year begins with yet another piece of Kerry shuttle diplomacy. Most of this work and the ongoing negotiations have been opaque. The narrative presented is that Kerry is “rescuing” or “saving” the peace talks. He said on December 15: “I’m personally encouraged that very tough issues are beginning to take shape in terms of various options that may or may not be available to the leaders to choose between to help resolve it.” The talk now is of a “framework declaration of principles” that will be unveiled.
One of the major themes of 2013 in regard to this issue has been the government’s failure to speak with one voice.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni told a conference recently that “the settlements are not part of Israel’s security, they are hurting it.” At about the same time, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said the Palestinian leadership was not a partner for peace. Meanwhile, Likud lawmakers led by MK Miri Regev have sought approval of a bill annexing the Jordan Valley.
This gave the public the sense that last year was one in which the government had no clear policy. The triumphant return of Avigdor Liberman to the Foreign Ministry in November after being acquitted of corruption charges might have brought some consistency to the coalition, but so far he does not seem to have put his imprint on Israel’s policy. It is our hope that the government will in the coming months be able to finally formulate a clear vision and regional policy.
In 2013, American foreign policy and influence once again seemed to falter and weaken in the Middle East. This was seen on several fronts, particularly the Iranian nuclear issue. The signing of an interim agreement in November seems to give the Iranians more time to develop their nuclear facilities while the West gets little in return. The Iranian nuclear negotiator told the press on December 31 that, “based on the conclusions the talks held with expert delegations, the implementation of the Geneva accord will start at the end of January.”
The Saudis have accused the US of abrogating its responsibility toward confronting Tehran. Riyadh has been saber-rattling that it will “go it alone.” That leaves open the possibility that 2014 might be the year that the Saudis and Israelis cooperate together on the Iranian issue. Another side of faltering US policy was President Barack Obama’s decision in September to scrap plans for air strikes on Syria. The process of dismantling the regime’s chemical weapons capability is ongoing, and 2014 will see whether Obama’s choice was wise.
Last year, the Egyptian revolution that began in January 2011 ended abruptly as Mohamed Morsi was overthrown in July and a military regime imposed on the country. The military seems to have widespread support because of the public’s disdain for the Muslim Brotherhood, the regime has banned the Brotherhood and Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has emerged as the country’s strongman. As the horrific Syrian civil war rages on, it increasingly spills over into Lebanon and Turkey, while assassinations and chaos threaten Lebanon, Libya and Tunisia. In Turkey, corruption scandals and infighting in the ruling party are shaking the iron grip of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Israel was able to stave off conflict last year, but terrorism reared its ugly head toward the end of 2013 as the government released security prisoners and advanced peace talks with the Palestinian Authority. Keeping a pulse on developments in Israel and the territories will be essential for a peaceful and secure 2014.