Political horizons

Why speak of a "political horizon" as if it has to be provided, rather than something that exists?

hamas flags 88 (photo credit: )
hamas flags 88
(photo credit: )
The surprise this time was the lack of a surprise. After major headlines touting supposed plans to be put forth by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice or by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, both top diplomats stood side-by-side and redeclared their fidelity to the Quartet's road map. As Sherlock Holmes once asked, what is to be learned by the dog that did not bark? One possibility is that there are plans cooking, but not yet revealed. In their brief press conference, Livni stressed the need to provide a "political horizon" for the Palestinians four times and Rice did so once. As Livni put it, there is a "need to explore and to find a way to promote a process based on two pillars. One, of course, is the political horizon for the Palestinians, and the other is giving Israelis security. This is going to be part of any process." But why speak of a "political horizon" as if it is something to be provided rather than something that exists? The horizon has been endlessly reiterated: an independent Palestinian state. It has been effectively tabled three times by Israel - in the Oslo Accords, at the 2000 Camp David summit, and via Israel's formal acceptance of the road map. If that were not enough, Olmert recently did so again in his speech at David Ben-Gurion's grave, and Livni has explained why a Palestinian state is something Israel desires for its own interests, not just for those of the Palestinians. Despite this constant reiteration, there is a tendency to pretend that if the Palestinians are not doing what they must do to obtain a state, it must be because the offer is not clear enough. Does anyone, after a moment's reflection, really believe this? Though there is no lack of distrust for Israel among Palestinians, it could not be more obvious that if the Palestinians had abandoned terrorism and given up the demand of a "right of return" to Israel, as opposed to the right to immigrate to their own state, they could have been - as Shimon Peres points out - celebrating at least their sixth anniversary of independence. Before disengagement, one might have believed that Israel would not have the will to dismantle settlements. But after? In exchange for a full peace? It is clear, then, that the obstacle to peace is not the lack of a political horizon for the Palestinians. That is what Oslo, Camp David, disengagement, and the road map are all about. How many more times will we try and unveil the same horizon and obtain the same - or worse - result? What is missing is something else. The horizon is there. The problem is that the Palestinians are too weak, divided, and radicalized to walk toward and claim it. They need help - and not so much from Israel as from the Arab world and the international community. So far, the Arab states, including those formally at peace with Israel, have "helped" the Palestinians by attacking Israel in international forums and refusing to normalize trade and political relations. And the international community has "helped" them by pouring in financial assistance (now by bypassing the Hamas government) and by, in its "honest broker" role, pretending that the onus for the lack of peace is spread roughly evenly between Israeli and Palestinian shoulders. These policies should be reexamined. They do not help the Palestinians or advance the cause of peace. On the contrary, they are making it more difficult for the Palestinians to break out of their spiral of radicalization. What we need is a "domino effect" for peace: the international community pressing the Arab world to lead by example, and the Arab states taking steps toward Israel that give Palestinian moderates support and cover. Both the US and Israel are fully aware, and even captivated by, the possibility that the Arab-Israeli-US confluence of interests in the face of Iranian-led radicalism presents new opportunities. But if Arab states suddenly have such a joint interest, they should be expected to translate it into concrete terms by doing their part to support moderation and undermine extremism. This means isolating radicals by clamping down on the funds and weapons flow to Hamas and Hizbullah. It also means taking steps to thaw frosty relations with Israel by opening trade and political contacts. In short, the current confluence of interests must involve these concerned Arab states helping the Palestinians to find their way forward - forging the path, that is, to a better political horizon.