The Middle East and the Peace Process

The middle East & the peace Process-1996


Sulafa hijjawi    

A Paper delivered at the Seminar  held by Tampere Peace Research Institute in Finland on 27/11-2/12/1996


When the Barcelona conference was held in November 1995, an optimistic political atmosphere was prevalent. In his speech at the conference, President Arafat said that a very difficult and crucial stage of the peace process had already been overcome and that efforts were continuing to pave the way along the peace process. Problems and obstacles had not been unanticipated, but there was determination on both sides of the conflict, not to give up and to move forward
Nowadays , and after the formation of the new rightist Israeli government the atmosphere looks gloomy , and a mood of pessimism hangs over the region
   The Netanyahu government has come out with a political agenda that is completely different from that of its predecessor’s. A look into the main guidelines in that agenda would clearly show that they constitute a complete deviation from all the agreements that were signed by the Israeli and the Palestinian parties and endorsed by the international community. The deviation covers almost all the items of the agreements; redeployment, transfer of authority, freeze on settlement activity, the land for peace formula and the final status talks concerning Jerusalem, the refugees, borders, water sharing, unity of the Gasa Strip and the West Bank .The situation has become no less complicated on the Syrian track as the guidelines stipulated the nonwithdawal from the Golan Hights as a precondition for negotiations
The present reversal of all what had been agreed upon has taken place within the context of a new strategic vision completely different from that of the previous government.  The Madrid conference and the subsequent Oslo Accords had taken place within an international strategic vision based on the necessity to rid the region from wars and the danger of non conventional arms proliferation. The end of the cold war and the trepidation of the Gulf war were behind the materialization of this vision, which viewed that conciliation was possible and a must in a region that occupies such a strategic importance, and in view of the two imminent dangers of the proliferation of non conventional weapons on the one hand, and the spread of fanaticism on the other
A deep conviction prevailed that such a conciliation , in order to prevail, must rest in a fair peaceful settlement of the Palestine problem and the Arab- Israeli conflict in general and on the basis of land for peace
THE Rabin- Peres governments were clear about their desire to end Israelis battle with the Arabs before Iran or any other Arab country becomes nuclear. Contrary to the opinion of some analysts that a nuclear Arab state besides Israel could have rectified the strategic balance in the region and led to a more viable comprehensive peace, the Rabin – Peres governments adhered to the institutionalization of Israel’s qualitative military superiority, which meant that it remains the sole nuclear state in the region. Within the context of this qualitative edge, both were committed to the establishing of a regional structure entrenched in peaceful relation, cooperation, and coordination against the so -called Rogue states, including Iran. Although the Arabs could not explicitly accept this formula, which is based on Israel’s superiority, and insisted that Israel should sign the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, there was almost a consensus that a fair peaceful settlement of the Palestine problem and the Arab- Israeli conflict in general would and should lead to the creation of a nuclear- free Middle East. Such a consensus was bolstered by the positive attitudes of the Rabin –Peres governments towards the possibility of establishing a Palestinian State as a result of the final status talks, as well as towards the possibility of almost total withdrawal from the Syrian Golan Heights. Both Rabin and Peres feared that the peace process would founder for any reason before Iran became nuclear, especially that Iran was opposed  to the formula of the regional structure that would emerge  by the conclusion of the peace process . Both of them foresaw that the collapse of the peace process would lead to the nuclearization of the region, would strip Israel of its qualitative edge and plunge the region in extremism and fanaticism
Contrary to the Rabin- Peres formula, the vision of the new Israeli prime minister does not see conciliation with the Arabs as a goal. He sees Fortress Israel as surrounded by hostile states  and regional instability predominating as the only means for having the opportunity to enlarge Israel territorially .Whereas  Netanyahu explains his attachment to the Palestinian West Bank and united Jerusalem with religious and historical pretexts such as” the right of the Israelis to settle anywhere in the land of Israel ” and ” all settlers must be under Israeli sovereignty”, he uses a security pretext to keep hold of the Golan Heights. Netanyahu’s advisor on strategic planning, Abraham Tamer, describes his prime ministers vision as it
Testifies to the rejection of concessions on the Golan before current security threats have been removed on the eastern front  from Iran and Iraq, by way of Syria and up to LEBANON…. AND TO INCREASING CONCERN OVER depending upon Arab states for anything concerning  vital resources such as water and oil
He goes on saying:
But above all, they indicate the assessment and belief that the Jewish state, in the heart of the Middle East, that is full of contradictions and revolution, cannot rely upon the gradual development of a regional security system alone. Its survival over the generations requires that it has its own security valves
Those security volves are the nuclear deterrent to which Netanyahu referred in his address to the American Congress in July 1966, under the term “Defensible Peace” as well as the territorial depth, which could be limitless in terms of strategy
Beside the fact that such a strategy is very dangerous, it is also a flawed strategy. The danger of this strategy lies in the fact that it presupposes that a state of no war no peace can develop in the region for an extended time, thanks to the Israeli deterrent. The fact that the previous cases of no war no peace were in tandem with the cold war, brings into question  the possibility of maintaining such a condition  under the present state of affairs . On the contrary, the interval of no peace no war would rather be filled with hectic arms race, mostly on the nonconventional level. Such a strategy is also flawed unless there is a parallel undeclared strategy for the Israeli prime minister. The flaw in the declared strategy lies in the fact that Netanyahu seems to ignore the possibility of the consolidation of an Iranian- Syrian strategic alliance, a probability that the Rabin- Peres governments were very keen tofoil .SO, Netanyahu is either unafraid of such an alliance, or is ready to challenge it, or that he intends to head towards the formation of an alliance with Iran. Such an alliance would be based on accepting Iran as a second regional nuclear power parallel to Israel. Iran, a pragmatist as it is , would not resist such a temptation, which would set her free in the Arab countries and give her the upper hand in the Gulf
Another related impediment in the envisioned undeclared strategy of the Israeli prime minister is his position towards Islamic fundamentalism and fanaticism . As long as Netanyahu is committed to reverse the trend of conciliation and stability,  he is not afraid of instability, which means that he finds it favorable to his strategies and subsequent policies.  Therefore, Fundamentalism, does not constitute a threat  to the prime minister,s vision. on the contrary , fanaticism could be used as a pretext  to implement his policies, keep hold of the occupied territories and create new facts on the ground.
 The talk of war is rife in the region nowadays . Nobody believes that a state of no war no peace could last long  if the peace process collapsed.  If war broke on the Syrian- Israeli front , it would extend to Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories.It means that  war would take place in the Mediterranean , in the Euro- Mediterranean Partnership Area
 There was understanding between the PNA and the Rabin-Peres governments to combat terror and fanaticism. The terrorist cells were besieged and reduced by the PNA out of the conviction that the purpose  of such operations , as that which happened in February 1995, were meant to derail the peace process and bring the Likud to power
The fact that Netanyahu came to power with a margin of less than 30 thousand votes, testifies to the fact that the Israeli public is almost  equally divided between two different positions: one half for peace and reconciliation, the other for expansion and war. Henforth, efforts should be exerted on the Palestinian, Arab and international level, to sway Israeli pulic opinion towards the option of peace and reconciliation
On the Palestinian side, whereas public opinion was almost totally against terrorist  operations against the Israelis, the percentage of those who approved such an option escalated after the coming of the Likud to power. In a public opinion poll that was conducted in March 29, 1996  in the Palestinian territories, 21% supported armed attacks against Israelis in Jerusalem and Telaviv. Any how, this percentage rose to 52.7% in the poll that was later conducted in September 1996. The PNA is determined to curb this trend, to prevent such operations as much as it can, being quite aware  that, besides being in humanistic, such operations play into the hands of the Israeli right and the Jewish ultra right fanaticism which is on the rise
Any how, with the Israeli right in power, the escalation of violene is a high possibility. It is difficult to predict the scope of the coming confrontations. The cost of violence in the Palestinian territories will be high both for the Arabs and the Israelis.Whether the Netanyahu government will venture to reoccupy the PNA territories is difficult to predict.  But lessons  from the recent past- the September incidents- give the impression that it is liable to launch war on PNA territories from land, sea and air. Any how, the strategy of Netanyahu is very short sighted, because radicalism, fanaticism or terrorism  cannot be orientated or controlled, and the Palestine problem, if unsolved in the near future, will breed different garbs of Islamism, fanaticism and terror
On the Palestinian side, the PNA is commited to the peace process and will exert its utmost effort to keep the process on rail. Anyhow, there are two imminent dangers which if not tackled with international cooperation, will make the task of the PNA too difficult. The first is the economic situation which is deteriorating from bad to worse due to the closures imposed by the Israeli authorities for long intervals. During the last three years, closures amounted to 300 days. Closures prevent about 120 thousand workers from working in Israel in accordance with the economic Protocol signed between Israel  and the PNA in Paris in 1994. The present daily losses of the Palestinians because of closures are estimated around 6-7 million dollars