Memorandum submitted by Professor Shai
Feldman, Director, Crown Center for Middle East Studies, Brandais
This testimony attempts to identify the main
strategic, political, social and economic trends in the Middle
East. It then focuses on the prospects for moving the Palestinian-Israeli
conflict away from its present violent course toward negotiations
and reconciliation. The testimony addresses the following questions:
What is the international environment
within which developments in the Middle East need to be understood?
How should we think about the
Middle East? What are the main patterns that characterize the
different developments in the region?
What have been the factors affecting
the efforts to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?
What are the near-term prospects
for Palestinian-Israeli talks?
The current international environment of the
Middle East has three main characteristics:
(a) It has become unipolar: the US has no
(b) The global demand for Middle East oil
continues to grow.
(c) A resurgence of Russian nationalism.
The most important recent developments in the
Middle East include:
(a) The weakening of Arab states, Arab state
institutions, and the Arab state system.
(b) The emergence of Iran as the only local
regional power in the Persian Gulf.
(c) The proliferation of insurgencies in
various corners of the Middle East.
(d) The "American Project" of making
the region peaceful through democratization has failed.
(e) Turkey has become pivotal to determining
the future relations between religion and state in the Middle
(f) The Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains
intractablea victim of adverse internal developments among
Israelis and Palestinians alike.
Currently, the prospects of Palestinian-Israeli
accommodation are affected by the following developments:
(a) The broad support for a two-state solution
in Israel has ended the ideological debate over the future of
the West Bank and Gaza.
(b) Demography has become the primary locomotive
in changing Israelis' approach to the future of the territories.
(c) Israel is unlikely to show any flexibility
with regard to the Palestinian refugees' Right of Return.
(d) Israelis have become disillusioned with
regard to unilateral steps and they now insist that further Israeli
withdrawals should take place only as a product of negotiated
(e) The renewed emphasis on agreements has
made the process hostage to the availability of negotiation partners.
Currently, Israelis believe that they lack a Palestinian partner
and Palestinians believe that they lack an Israeli partner for
Once Israeli and Palestinian interlocutors reappear,
they will face three negotiation options:
(a) Follow the logic and sequencing of the
Quartet's Road Map.
(b) Attempt to negotiate a permanent status
(c) Negotiate a large-scale Israeli withdrawal
from the West Bank and a comprehensive long-term armistice.
In the foreseeable future, the third option,
consistent with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's earlier commitment
to a large-scale disengagement from the West Bank, with Hamas'
concept of a "Hudna", and with Phase II of the Road
Map, seems the most promising.
Professor Shai Feldman is the Judith and Sidney
Swartz Director of the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at
Brandeis University, US In 1997-2005 he served as Head of the
Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. He
is also a member of the Board of Directors of Harvard University's
Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. In 2001-03
he served as a member of the UN Secretary General's Advisory Board
on Disarmament Matters.
Professor Feldman was a Senior Research Associate
at the Jaffee Center since its establishment in late 1977. In
1984-87 he was director of the Jaffee Center's Project on US Foreign
and Defense Policies in the Middle East and, in 1989-1994, he
directed the Center's Project on Regional Security and Arms Control
in the Middle East. In 1995-97 he was a Senior Research Fellow
at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (BCSIA)
at Harvard University's John F Kennedy School of Government (1995-97).
Educated at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem,
Professor Feldman was awarded his PhD by the University of California
at Berkeley in 1980.
Professor Feldman is the author of numerous
publications. These include: Israeli Nuclear Deterrence: A
Strategy for the 1980s (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982);
The Future of US-Israel Strategic Cooperation (Washington
DC: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1996); Nuclear
Weapons and Arms Control in the Middle East (Cambridge: MIT
Press, 1997); Bridging the Gap: A Future Security Architecture
for the Middle East (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield,
1997with Abdullah Toukan (Jordan); and, Track-II Diplomacy:
Lessons from the Middle East (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003with
Hussein Agha, Ahmad Khalidi, and Zeev Schiff).
Professor Shai Feldman, Crown Center for Middle
East Studies, Brandeis University, MS 010, Waltham, MA 02454.
Phone 781-736-5321, Fax 781-736-5324, Mobile 781-985-3390.
The Anglo-Israel Association is an independent
charity (registered charity No. 313523) It was established in
1949 by Brigadier General Sir Wyndham Deedes, it is the oldest
organization for Anglo-Israel friendship in the UK. The purpose
of the Association is to promote wider understanding of Israel
among British people and generally to support activities which
foster goodwill between the two countries.
The Anglo-Israel Association
1. This testimony attempts to identify the
main strategic, political, social and economic trends in the Middle
East. It then focuses on the prospects for moving the Palestinian-Israeli
conflict away from its present violent course toward negotiations
and reconciliation. Thus, the testimony addresses four issues:
(a) What is the international environment
within which developments in the Middle East need to be understood?
(b) How should we think about the Middle
East? What are the main patterns that characterize the different
developments in the region?
(c) What has been constraining the efforts
to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?
(d) What are the near-term prospects for
There are at least three important dimensions
to the international environment of today's Middle East:
2. The first of these dimensions is that
the international system has become uni-polar, with the US remaining
the only global superpower. Thus, if between 1945 and 1989 no
truly important development in the Middle East could be understood
without reference to the bi-polar US-Soviet Cold War rivalry,
no significant development in the region today can be appreciated
without acknowledging US global power.
3. Indeed, US power is considered unprecedented
in world history. According to one estimate, at its height the
British Empire controlled 6% of the world's GDP. By contrast,
the US is estimated today to be controlling some 30% of the world's
GDP. This is an extraordinary feat and it has many important ramifications:
No other country could pour into the region the kind of resources
spent by the US in the Middle East at large since 11 September
4. At the same time, it seems that America's
unique status as the only remaining superpower has provided it
with far less leverage than might have otherwise been expected.
Indeed, long gone are the days of "gun-boat diplomacy"
when a world power could affect developments in a country far
away simply by deploying a single gunboat outside a major harbour
of that state. Today, the US, despite its global power and the
enormous assets it has already deployed in the Middle East, finds
it difficult if not impossible, not only to suppress an insurgency
in Iraq but also to dissuade a fourth-rate power like Syria from
allowing movement of weapons, ammunition and personnel into Iraq,
hosting Palestinian terrorist organizations in Damascus, helping
Hezbollah rearm, and continuing to exercise deadly violence against
its opponents in Lebanon. While today's Middle East cannot be
understood without reference to the new global "uni-polar"
international system, the implications of this new system are
far from clear, as the real leverage derived by the US from now
being the only superpower is challenged on a daily basis.
5. The second dimension of the region's
new international environment is the growing demand for oil. This
additional demand, generated primarily by the rising economic
giants of the EastIndia and Chinahas already resulted
in a sharp increase in the price of crude oil. An important strategic
ramification of this demand is the growing dependence of these
giantsnot only China and India but Russia as wellon
the oil producers of the Middle East. One outcome of this dependence
is that these powers are now reluctant to use pressure against
an oil producer like Iran, allowing the latter far greater capacity
to resist international pressures to curtail its nuclear ambitions.
6. The third important dimension of the
international environment of the Middle East is the resurgence
of Russian nationalism. Some see Russian behaviour in the Middle
East as driven almost exclusively by its economic interests. However,
no less important are Russia's attempts to reassert itself as
an important international player that should not be ignored.
This is particularly the case in the Middle East where Russia
traditionally saw its interest in retaining access to warm water
ports and, later, to important natural resources.
7. To some extent the resurgence of Russian
nationalism can be seen as "payback time" for the humiliation
Russia suffered at the end of the Cold War. Far from being generous
regarding the terms of Russia's surrender, the United States and
its western allies pushed NATO's expansion all the way to the
Baltic StatesRussia's back yard. In the face of protests
that its vital national interests and security concerns are being
ignored, the Clinton administration spearheaded by Secretary of
State Madeleine Albright made clear that NATO expansion will happen
anyway. While remaining interested in keeping open its channels
to the West and in preventing Iran from "going nuclear",
Russia's diplomacy has been less than completely cooperative with
regard to these efforts. In addition to its economic stakes in
Iran's nuclear energy program, the Kremlin seems to be indicating:
"If you ignore us when it matters to us, don't be surprised
when we ignore you when it matters to you." So now that Russia's
cooperation is sought in an effort to prevent Iran from going
nuclear, it is not surprising that some in Russia believe that
"payback time" has come. As a result, Russia seems to
be dragging its feet in the matter, although in late March it
seemed that it, too, had begun to lose patience with the regime
The region itself can be understood through
the prism of six main developments and characteristics:
8. The most important of these trends seems
to be the weakness of the Arab states, Arab state institutions
and the Arab state system. The social, economic and educational
weakness of Arab states has been documented conclusively in a
number of reports published in recent years by the United Nations
Development Program. Similarly, Raja Kamal of the University of
Chicago noted recently in the Lebanese newspaper Daily Star:
"If we are to exclude oil and natural gas
from the various Arab economies of the 300 million inhabitants
of the Arab world, the cumulative Gross Domestic Product would
be less than that of Finland, a country with a population with
just over five million. The Arab world, with a few exceptions,
has failed miserably at catching up with the economic renaissance
of most other corners of the world." (5 January 2007).
9. One result of this weakness is that Arab
governments are now increasingly challenged by sub-state movements
like the Islamic Brotherhood in Egypt, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and
Hamas in the Palestinian territories. These movements have succeeded
in setting up parallel health and welfare systems that provide
better services than the governments of these states.
10. The second significant dimension of
this weaknessitself an important cause of further weaknessis
the decline of national media in Arab states and its replacement
by regional media like the Qatari-financed Al-Jazeera or the Dubai-financed
Al-Arabia television networks. This development has further accelerated
the weakening of Arab states as national governments have lost
their former ability to control what their citizens do or do not
11. The third and possibly the most important
ramification of the weakening of Arab states is that their importance
as a focus of identity has declined and is increasingly being
substituted by sectarianism, thus completely transforming the
politics of identity in the Arab world. Now, fewer Iraqis see
themselves as Iraqis, instead viewing themselves as Sunnis, Shi'a
or Kurds. As of the mid-1970s, this has been increasingly the
case in Lebanon, where few see themselves as other than Sunni,
Shi'a, Maronite Christians, and Druze.
12. Most recently, this politics of identity
has reached another climax, transcending into the labeling of
others. When, during a recent ceremony commemorating the founding
of Fatah, PA President Mahmoud Abbas mentioned Hamas, people in
the crowd began shouting "Shi'a, Shi'a." This was remarkable
given that all Palestinians, including members of Hamas, are Sunni
Moslems. Fatah followers seemed to have been registering their
anger at Iran's support of Hamas by depicting their supporters
as Shi'a, the variant of Islam practiced in Iran.
13. In the region at large, the weakness
of the Arab states has resulted in the Arab League becoming increasingly
impotent, failing completely to prevent or affect the course of
the war in Iraq. By contrast and probably more significantly,
it seems that the fate of the Middle East is now affected much
more by three non-Arab states: Iran, Turkey and Israel.
14. The second important characteristic
of today's Middle East is that the dismembering of Iraq has left
Iran the only local regional power in the Persian Gulf. The full
magnitude of this shift and its various far-reaching consequences
will probably become clear only after the US will begin to significantly
draw-down its military deployment in Iraq. It will be felt with
even greater clarity as Iran moves closer to obtaining a nuclear
capability. And, as Iran's external face is increasingly reflected
in President Ahmedenijad, who has made defiance of the West, the
de-legitimization of Israel and Holocaust denial his defining
themes, it is not surprising that Iran's growing power and influence
results in growing nervousness within and outside the Middle East.
15. At the same time any balanced approach
to Iran's role must acknowledge that President Ahmedenijad's powers
are limitedin Iran, it is the Supreme Leader who wields
considerable powerit is he who has powers more similar
to those possessed by the UK's Prime Minister or the President
of the United States. Thus, within the complex Iranian political
system that is run by a form of collective leadership, Ahmedenijad
is not even the first among equals. Additionally, in recent months
he has been increasingly and overtly criticised for his failed
economic policies and for needlessly antagonising the West with
his overly confrontational pronouncements on the nuclear issue
and his obsession with Holocaust denial.
16. The third important facet of today's
Middle Eastalso a result of the weakening of Arab state
structuresis the proliferation of insurgencies and terrorist
groups. These include the different insurgency groups facing the
US and\or the UK in Iraq; Hezbollah in Lebanon; Islamic Jihad
and the military arm of Hamas in the Palestinian territories;
and, al-Qaeda-related cells in the Sinai, in Jordan, in Yemen,
and in northern Lebanon.
17. One result of the rise of these insurgencies
is the growing number of asymmetric confrontations, pitting an
insurgency against an established power such as Israel or the
US Unique to these confrontations is that the insurgencies, facing
the robust capacities of established powers, are not expected
to win. Instead, mere survival in the face of the established
power's robust capacities is viewed as an impressive achievement.
Thus, in this new form of warfare, winning is simply "not
18. At this point it is important to note
that in contrast to some notions that have recently gained popularity,
the radicalism manifested by these insurgencies does not comprise
an "Arc of Shi'a" or a "clash of civilizations."
Shi'a is not necessarily the defining axis of these insurgencies
and their state sponsors. In the axis that connects Tehran, Syria,
Hezbollah and Hamas, Iran is Shi'a while Syria is almost 90 percent
Sunni (and its Shi'a-leaning ruling Alawite minority sees itself
primarily as Alawite, not Shi'a). Similarly, Hezbollah is Shi'a
but Hamas is Sunni. It is also far from clear that Iraqi Shi'a
will see eye to eye with Iran's Shi'a, just as Syria's Ba'ath
party and Iraq's Ba'ath party became one another's sworn enemy.
19. Equally important, the battle-lines
delineated by these insurgencies do not necessarily reflect a
"clash of civilizations." If measured by casualties,
this is largely a clash within the same civilization: Over 90%
of the confrontations currently experienced in the region manifest
Arabs killing other Arabs, or, more broadly, Moslems killing other
20. The fourth important facet of today's
Middle East is that, unfortunately, the American project of advancing
the cause of peace through the democratization of the region has
failed. To be clear, it is not that the efforts to democratize
the Middle East have failed. It is also not the case that Arab
or Moslem societies are incapable of enjoying sustained electoral
systems. Indeed, countries and regions of the Middle East, from
the Palestinian territories to Iran have proven that they can
sustain electoral processes. Instead, what has completely backfired
is the expectation that democracy can bring peace to the Middle
East. In fact, the opposite has happened:
(a) The efforts to bring democracy to Iraq
have produced the bloodiest sectarian conflict in the Arab world.
(b) Elections in Iran produced a victory
for an anti-establishment candidate, but it just happens to be
that this individual hates the West with a passion, and is otherwise
engaged in confrontational politics and Holocaust denial.
(c) Elections in Egypt have resulted in the
largest-ever representation for the Islamic Brotherhooda
(d) Elections in Lebanon have resulted in
Hezbollah now enjoying for the first time a significant representation
in the Parliament.
(e) Elections to the Legislative Council
of the Palestinian Authority resulted in a landslide victory for
Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel and abandon terror.
So while in all these cases Moslems proved that
they can hold relatively free and fair elections, instead of encouraging
moderation these elections have ended up empowering extremists.
21. The fifth facet of today's Middle East
concerns Turkey: It is difficult to exaggerate the importance
of the Turkish experiment. What is this experiment? In the Middle
East there are a number of competing models for the relations
between religion and state: From Egypt and Syria who deny any
role for religion in the state, to Iran where religion has taken
over the state. Turkey represents a rejection of both models:
It is ruled by an Islamic party that accepts the country's secular
state system and seems to be committed to the principles of democratic
government. Thus, Turkey's experience is observed closely by other
states in the region to indicate whether or not Islam and democracy
can co-exist. And, to the extent that economically Turkey's success
or failure depends in the long term on whether it is admitted
to the EU, there is clearly a lot at stake in the EU's decisions
regarding Turkey's application for membership.
22. The sixth facet of today's Middle East
is the unfortunate seeming intractability of the Palestinian-Israeli
conflicta conflict that has eluded so many attempts at
its resolution. And here is the greatest paradox of all: Most
Israelis and most Palestinians know that there is only one formula
for resolving the conflict. What is the formula? Its parameters
do not deviate significantly from those painted in broad brush
by President Bill Clinton shortly before he left office (the so-called
"Clinton Parameters"), with additional amendments and
clarifications provided by President George W. Bush, notably in
a speech he delivered on 24 June 2002.
23. Indeed most Israelis and Palestinians
know what this solution entails:
(a) Two states living in peace and security
alongside one another.
(b) The final border between these two states
will not deviate significantly from the so-called 1967-lines.
(c) The two states will share power in an
undivided Jerusalem, including in the so-called Holy Basin.
(d) Palestinian refugees will be allowed
to return to the Palestinian state but not to Israel. Others will
receive financial compensation and arrangements will be made for
their permanent settlement in Arab states as well as in other
countries who will volunteer to do so.
24. Not only is it clear that there is only
one plausible solution to the conflictpublic opinion polls
indicate that this solution is acceptable to the majority among
Palestinians and Israelis alike. Yet while most Israelis and Palestinians
can describe in general terms the only possible solution, the
same majority seem to manifest similar despair with regard to
the chances of implementing this solution. And the main obstacle
to such implementation seems to be the weak leadership on both
sides and particularly the extreme fragmentation of the Palestinian
societya society that is now torn between:
(a) A secular Fatah and Islamist Hamas, who
subscribe to completely different approaches to conflict and peacemaking
(b) More moderates within Hamas who will
consider co-existence alongside the State of Israel, and extremists
who would not.
(c) Fatah's "old guard" leaders
who are incompetent and corrupt and the Fatah "young guard"
who feel that they have not received their fair share of power
With last January's elections producing a bi-focal
system with Fatah lead leader Mahmoud Abbas as President and Hamas
capturing the legislature and governmentwith each holding
on to their private militiasthere was no single Palestinian
address, no Palestinian interlocutor able to negotiate and, more
important, able to implement a resulting Palestinian-Israeli agreement.
25. At the same time, in the aftermath of
the illness of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and particularly
after last summer's war between Israel and Hezbollah, many Palestinians
understandably feel that they lack an Israeli addressthat
is, someone who can implement any understanding reached with the
Palestinians. They see the current Israeli government and the
Israeli Defence Forces as having been wounded by last summer's
war in Lebanon and as having sunk in any number of inquiry commissions
investigating Israel's conduct of the war as well as in numerous
police investigations of corruption scandals at the top of the
Israeli leadership, at least three of which relate to Prime Minister
Ehud Olmert himself.
A balanced assessment of the prospects of Israeli-Palestinian
accommodation requires that a number of important developments
be identified. Some of these developments have increased the prospects
for such accommodation while others have damaged these prospects.
26. On the Israeli side it seems that the
grand ideological debate about Israel's right to possess all parts
of the Land of Israelincluding the West Bank and Gazahas
been largely resolved. This debate was an integral part of the
history of the Zionist movement since its inception. It erupted
in dramatic form in 1937, when the movement was required to respond
to the British Peel Commission Report offer of an independent
Jewish State in a very small part of Palestine. The debate was
muted after the 1948 war but broke out again in the immediate
aftermath of Israel's conquest of the West Bank and Gaza in the
June 1967 Six-Day War. Yet only 12 years later, Likud leader and
Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, opened the first crack in this
debate when, in the framework of the 1978 Camp David Accords,
Israel acknowledged "the legitimate rights of the Palestinian
27. Paradoxically, an important step in
the erosion of the Israeli ideological debate occurred following
the election in 1996, when Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minister
and accepted the Oslo process. In this framework, he negotiated
the Hebron agreement, and, in 1998, the Wye River Accord. The
latter stipulated transferring to the Palestinians control of
additional parts of the Land of Israel, amounting to some 13.1
percent of the West Bank. The most recent development in this
context has been the public acknowledgement made by Likud leader
and Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, to the effect that Israel's
control of Gaza and the West Bank comprised "occupation".
28. In the aftermath of these many concessions,
Israelis continue to debate the magnitude of possible withdrawals,
the security context and requirements for such withdrawals, and
whether Israel should be prepared to concede territory inside
the 1967 lines in exchange for some of the large settlement blocs
in the West Bank which it would wish to retain (the so-called
"swap"). However, the grand ideological debate about
Israel's right to proclaim sovereignty over the entire Land of
Israel (that is, including the West Bank) is over.
29. Over the years, a number of considerations
have persuaded Israelis that they cannot and should not attempt
to assert sovereignty over the entire Land of Israel. Among such
considerations has been the growing recognition that such an attempt
would condemn Israel to an indefinite violent clash with its neighbours
and that as long as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains acute,
Israel would not be able to normalise its relations with its regional
environment. However, no issue proved as powerful a locomotive
for the Israelis' opinion change in this realm than their growing
concern about the demographic changes taking place in Israel,
Gaza and the West Bank and the implication of these trends for
Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic state. These trends,
manifesting a persistent gap in the population growth rate between
Jews and Arabs in these areas, have been recognized as soon resulting
in the Jews' loss of majority status in the areas under its control.
As long as Israel remains the only sovereign in these areas, such
loss means that Israel could either attempt to maintain its Jewish
character by denying the Palestinians full political participatory
rights, thus compromising its character as a democracy, or it
can attempt to retain its character as a democracy by granting
the Palestinian such rights. But given these demographic trends,
the application of majority rule in this area would immediately
compromise Israel's character as a Jewish state. This realisation
has gradually transformed Israel's perception of Palestinian statehood:
from a mortal threat to an imperative. Thus, many more Israelis
have come to realize that Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic
state requires the creation of a Palestinian state.
30. The fact that demography has now become
the most important consideration pushing Israelis to yield the
West Bank also accounts for greater Israeli willingness to compromise
on different issues that are associated with such a withdrawal:
The future borders between Israel and the prospective Palestinian
state, the future of the Israeli settlements, etc. But regarding
one issue this locomotive has transformed Israel's approach from
hard-line to entirely unyielding: namely, the Palestinian refugees'
Right of Return. Thus, Israelis now approach this issue by insisting
that if the fear for Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic
state is driving them to concede lands which were considered for
centuries part of their homeland and for decades as necessary
for their security, they cannot be expected to make any concession
that might further erode the demography within the pre-1967 borders.
Thus, at best, they will not accept a formula for the refugees
issue other than that expressed in the so-called "Clinton
Parameters": A return of Jews to Israel; a return of Palestinians
to the Palestinian state."
31. While a growing number of Israelis are
prepared to make the territorial concessions required for a Palestinian
state to be created, they have recently become increasingly wary
of making these concessions unilaterally. Rightly or wrongly,
they have concluded that Israel's unilateral withdrawal from South
Lebanon in May 2000 allowed Hezbollah to turn the area into a
huge fortress and a weapons stockpile, thus allowing it to launch
massive Katyusha rocket attacks against Israeli northern towns
and villages in summer 2006, forcing a quarter of Israel's population
to sit in air-shelters for nearly 34 days or flee the area altogether.
Similarly, Israelis observe that their unilateral withdrawal from
Gaza has been "rewarded" by incessant Kassam rocket
attacks against Israel's southern towns, including the city of
Ashkelon which has not experienced violence since the 1948 war.
Thus, Israelis have concluded that while further withdrawals are
essential if the demographic challenge is to be addressed through
the creation of a Palestinian state, such withdrawals should be
the product of negotiated agreements between the two sidesnot
a consequence of a unilateral Israeli decision to withdraw.
32. From Israel's standpoint, the insistence
that further withdrawals must be the product of negotiated agreements
makes the availability of a Palestinian interlocutor absolutely
essential. Following the failure of the 2000 Camp David summit,
many Israelisas well as some senior members of the US negotiating
team, including President Clintonseem to have concluded
that despite their expectations to the contrary, Palestinian leader
Yassir Arafat was simply not prepared to make the dramatic transition
from the revolutionary leader to state-builder. Hence he shied
away from making a deal at Camp David and, three months later,
he failed to grab the so-called "Clinton Parameters"
and to immediately embrace them at least as the basis for further
33. The Israelis' experience with Mahmoud
Abbas as a potential interlocutor is different. Few Israelis would
argue with the proposition that Abbas is genuinely prepared to
negotiate a fair and balanced Palestinian-Israeli deal. Yet lacking
Arafat's charisma and standing as the Palestinians' nation builder,
Abbas is not seen as capable of implementing the far-reaching
steps that a deal with Israel would entail. While more than a
few Israelis agree that their government could have done more
to help Abbas by making certain concessions to him personally
(and thus would have been credited to him by Palestinian voters),
even they doubt that such steps could have contributed significantly
to building his leadership. Leadership, they say, is to be asserted,
not provided for from without.
34. Since January 2006 Israel's search for
an interlocutor hit a new snag with the electoral victory of Hamas.
The resulting bi-focal Palestinian leadership, with Fatah leader
Mahmoud Abbas remaining President, while Hamas gained a majority
in the Legislative Council and has subsequently formed a government,
has left Israel once again without an interlocutor. Indeed, it
was not conceivable that the Hamas leadership that refused to
recognise Israel, to reject violence, to accept the Oslo process,
and to abide by the obligations undertaken by the previous Palestinian
government, could be considered an interlocutor for the purpose
of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.
35. As noted earlier, from the Palestinians'
perspective, the Israeli domestic scene now appears almost equally
unpromising. While many among them note with nostalgia the courage
and leadership demonstrated by Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin in
signing the Oslo Accords, they regard his various successors as
having proven to be hard-liners, unyielding, or too weak to compromise.
Thus, they see Shimon Peres as having self-destructed in 1996
with his attempt to demonstrate his defense credentials through
the disastrous "Grapes of Wrath" operation. They view
Benjamin Netanyahu as having first provoked them into a violent
confrontation over the tunnels in Jerusalem's Temple Mount and
then stalling on Israel's obligations under the Oslo-II agreement.
And, they regard Prime Minister Ehud Barak as having come to the
Camp David Summit without a governing coalition that would have
allowed him to implement any far-reaching agreement reached.
36. In the aftermath of Israel's 2006 war
with Hezbollah, Palestinians express renewed doubts as to whether
they have an Israeli interlocutor for peace. Not only was Ehud
Olmert the philosopher behind Ariel Sharon's unilateral approach,
his political future now seems to be hanging by a thread, with
the interim report of the Winograd Commission investigating the
Israeli government's conduct of the 2006 war due to be published
by the end of April; with Olmert's government experiencing countless
police investigations of strong suspicions of corruption; and
with the Labor party almost certainly about to unseat its leader,
thereby also producing a new minister of defence and, by definition,
a new partner to Olmert's own beleaguered office. Under such circumstances
it is not unreasonable for the Palestinians to conclude that until
these developments fully play-out, they, too, lack a negotiating
Once the dust settles, in the aftermath of the
aforementioned developments, it is just possible that the prospects
for positive movements will appear less grim than they do now.
A few more recent developments may point in that direction.
37. The Mecca Accord: While unsatisfactory
and clearly falling short of the Quartet's justified demands that
the Palestinian government should recognise Israel, reject violence
and assume the obligations undertaken by previous Palestinian
governments, the agreement reached between Fatah and Hamas does
contain Hamas' promise "to respect" these agreements
and obligations. More important, it mandates President Abbas to
negotiate with Israel on the Palestinians' behalf, with the condition
that the results of these negotiations will need to be ratified
through a national referendum.
38. In Israel, by mid-June the dust will
probably have settled after the various issues that are currently
shaking the fabric of the Israeli government: By then it will
be clear if Ehud Olmert will have survived the Winograd Commission
interim report and whether the Labor Party will have provided
him a formidable partnera defence minister with sufficient
gravitas to navigate a complicated peace process.
39. The Arab League will have demonstrated
whether it is serious in its attempts to revive the 2002 Arab
Initiative by offering Israel a grand-bargaina comprehensive
incentive package that might induce Israel to be more forthcoming
in subsequent negotiations with the Palestinians.
40. Should these developments materialize
and converge to allow a renewal of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations,
the following question would then need to be addressed: What should
be the focus of these talks? Here the parties face three main
alternatives: (a) follow the Quartet's Road Map; (b) attempt to
conclude a permanent status agreement; (c) negotiate the creation
of a Palestinian state with provisional borders and the establishment
of a long term comprehensive armistice (or "Hudna")
between Israel and the newly created provisional Palestinian state.
41. Follow the Road Map: The logic of following
the Quartet's Road Map is that the progression of its phases is
meant to establish the conditions for a permanent Palestinian-Israeli
accommodation, with implementation of each Phase improving the
environment for the next. Thus it was accepted that Israel would
not be able to contemplate the significant risks associated with
yielding territorial control if the Palestinians did not first
end all forms of violence against Israelis. And, that Palestinians
will not take the more far-reaching steps demanded of them if
Israel did not implement a complete freeze on settlement activities
thereby assuring them that the process is going in the right direction.
Yet this logical approach never "took off" as Israelis
and Palestinians could not be assured that the process would yield
the desired results. Thus, they became bogged down in endless
bickering as to "who goes first".
42. Permanent Status Negotiations: The main
appeal of this option is that its success would allow "closure"
with regard to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It is also only
in the framework of a permanent status deal that the incentive
package offered in the framework of the Arab Initiative would
become relevant. And while large majorities among Israelis and
Palestinians continue to support the parameters suggested by President
Clinton in late 2000 for a permanent Palestinian-Israeli deal,
it is doubtful that the current leadership on both sides is prepared
to implement the dramatic concessions required. In this context
it is important to note that while in the framework of the Mecca
Accord, Hamas had agreed to mandate President Abbas to negotiate
on the Palestinians' behalf, it has not committed itself to support
any agreement that President Abbas would reach. Moreover, it is
highly unlikely that Hamas would approve the kind of concessions
regarding the hyper-sensitive issues like Jerusalem and the Right
of Return that are implied by the Clinton Parameters.
43. Long-term comprehensive armistice with
a provisional Palestinian State: While falling short of finally
ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and while depriving the
parties from taking full advantage of the offer made in the framework
of the Arab Initiative, any serious review of the domestic factors
constraining the Palestinian as well as the Israeli leadership
makes it impossible to escape the conclusion that the only promising
option would be to focus future negotiations on an attempt to
bridge the gap between three closely related concepts:
(a) The Israelis' yearning for a long-term
comprehensive armistice coupled with the willingness expressed
in the past by Prime Minister Olmert to withdraw from up to 90%
of the West Bank.
(b) Hamas' concept of a long-term Hudna.
(c) Phase II of the Quartet's Road Map that
focuses on the option of creating a Palestinian state with provisional
Materialising this option will allow the creation
of a new reality that would comprise a dramatic improvement upon
present conditions without forcing the parties to confront some
of the more hyper-sensitive issues that have plagued their previous
efforts to "end the conflict."
44. Since the end of the Cold War, the Middle
East has become increasingly fragmented. The past few years have
witnessed the dismembering of Iraq, the increased role of sub-state
actors and movements, the proliferation of insurgencies, the decline
of national media, the weakening of the Arab League, and the failure
to achieve peace through democratization. The Palestinian society
has experienced a particularly acute form of such fragmentation,
making it nearly impossible to discuss Palestinian national interests.
Currently, however, Israel's political system manifests similar
paralysis, making it unlikely that near term efforts to achieve
Israeli-Palestinian peace will succeed. Nor are renewed permanent
status negotiations likely to yield anything but disastrous results,
not unlike those experienced in 2001-05. Instead, with support
from within and outside the region by the Arab League as well
as by members of the Quartet, Israelis and Palestinians should
seek more limited goals that may nevertheless redirect them away
from violence and toward greater stability and prosperity. This
can be achieved if the parties directly involved, and those who
comprise their regional and international environment, would focus
their efforts on more limited objectives such as those envisaged
for Phase II of the Road Map: The creation of a Palestinian state
with provisional borders and the implementation of a long-term
comprehensive armistice (or "Hudna").
26 April 2007