Israeli-Palestinian Conflict-Courageous Peace Leaders Wanted

28 Aug

In the lull after the media frenzy around Irene, it is a good time to reflect on the Israeli-Palestinian situation. In a few weeks, the Palestinians will submit a resolution to the UN General Assembly that asks that Palestine be declared a new nation-state. Regardless of where you might stand on this issue, there are a lot of practical problems with the resolution. Besides the fact that the US will veto it in the Security Council, it is politically meaningless as long as Hamas and Fatah remain irrconciliably opposed to each other on fundamental issues of economic reform, governance, and recognition of Israel’s right to exist. It’s pretty hard to organize a nation-state when there are two bitterly opposed parties that cannot agree on what that state will look like.
Khaled Mashaal, who leads Hamas as its political bureau chief, must be wondering what the future will bring. Although safely enscounced in Damascus, he is at the epicenter of the Syrian uprising. He has been watching the revolutions in the Arab world as one corrupt regime after another is challenged by the people. In his Damascus headquarters, he has a front row seat to the violent and brutal repression of the Sunni majority by the al-Assad brothers. Maschaal appears to be a smart man, so he must be aware that the uprisings have had some effect on the Palestinian people in Gaza. Is Hamas’ rule strong or tenuous? Hard to say, but life is not improving in Gaza due to Hamas. I wonder how long the Palestinian people will put up with the deprivation? Mashaal’s power is based on war and violence, not peace. He is able to hold up the Israelis has evil oppressors, occupiers of sacred homeland, and opposed to justice for the Palestinian people. Take away the conflict and his power evaporates.
Fatah, in the West Bank, is slightly better off. Its non-elected “prime minister” Salam Fayyad has worked hard to created the beginning of a nation state, with economic reforms, a vastly improved security system, and relatively clean government. The head of Fatah, Mamoud Abbas, continues to take criticism for Fayyad. Despite the incursions of Israeli settlements, the Palestinians in the West Bank seem much better off than their counter parts in Gaza. Abbas and Fayyad seem to be the moderates in the triangle. While not overt peace leaders, they will endorse any agreement that is decent, fair, and sensible.
The Palestinian Authority, the nominal “government” of a nascent Palestinian state, has limited capacity as a self-governing body, both in policy and implementation. It lacks control over natural resources, borders, revenue generation, and the movement of persons, goods, and services within its walled, fragmented, and colonized territory. It lacks the material resources and institutional infrastructure to be a redistributive and interventionist state. Most of its public revenue comes from other countries, notably the United States (about $600 million per year), and its economy remains under the grip of Israel.
Netanyahu’s government in Israel is facing economic protests over policies that have made the Israeli rich wealthier and have decimated the middle and lower economic classes. Netanyahu has used the conflict with the Palestinians as justification for many of his policies. In addition, Israel sucks up 20 percent of the total US foreign aid dollar. In 2011, the US will give Israel $3 billion in direct foreign aid or about $500 per Israeli citizen. This suggests to me that, like Mashaal, he cannot make peace with the Palestinians for the simple reason that his biggest reason for political existence will disappear with a decent peace agreement. Yes, the Zionist extremists are trying to drive the Israeli bus. At the end of the day, however, a strong peace leader will tell them to shut up, sit down, and behave themselves, and they will.
In the larger context, word is coming out of Egypt that a segment of the Egyptian population wants to revisit the Israeli peace accords. Other countries in the region are struggling with post-regime change reality or are on the verge of dealing with the problems of popular governance. Iran has spies everywhere, doing its best to stir up trouble for its Arab and Israeli enemies.
As the news media moves towards the next international feeding frenzy, which absent some unexpect international catastrophe or political incident, I predict will be the UN Assembly vote on Palestinian statehood, keep in mind that peace only comes with the installation of courageous peace leaders. Neither Israel nor the Palestinians have strong peace leaders. They are led by men who see continued violence and conflict, if properly contained, as serving their personal, political, and economic interests. Thus, for peace to occur, there will have to be regime changes instigated by the people, either through elections or protests, or both. There is no hope for peace as long as the current triumvirate of leaders is in the political mix of Israeli-Palestinian politics.
The UN Assembly vote, if it comes to pass, will be like Hurricane Irene, a lot of wind, water, and froth, but no real significance in the long term prospects for peace. The real hurricane rests with the people, and when they decide to move, change will happen suddenly, forcefully, and in a big storm surge of peace.

Doug Noll is a professional mediator and peacemaker. His latest book is Elusive Peace: How Modern Diplomatic Strategies Could Better Resolve World Conflicts (Prometheus Books, 2011)

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