Jun 16 2006

2006 – Breakthroughs yes, but no peace

Published by at 1:24 pm under Articles,Palestinian politics

By Daoud Kuttab

Jerusalem. – At the close of last year, I was commissioned by an international NGO called Search for Common Ground to write about my expectations of the new year. United Press International ran my piece under the title “2006, year of hope”.

My piece began with this quote: “Political changes in Palestine and Israel, as well as changes in attitudes in both societies and in the international community, provide a rare glimmer of hope that important changes on the ground are a serious possibility.”

In the article I argued that radical ideologies are being sidelined in favour of those representing the political centre. I gave the example of the creation of Kadima and Sharon’s breakaway from the hardline Likud, the rise of Marwan Barghouthi’s pragmatism and the weakening of the neoconservatives in the US. I even reflected on some moderating hints coming from Hamas in the run up to the elections.

My piece was concluded with the following quote: “With radical ideologies being discarded in return for pragmatic policies, one hopes that 2006 will not only witness a considerable reduction in violence but will also see some genuine political breakthroughs that can put the region on the right track after years of turmoil and failed attempts at a historic reconciliation, peace and tranquility.”

The Palestinian political collapse during the past three months since the parliamentary victory of Hamas, the internal fighting between Hamas and Fateh and the recent violent escalation in the Gaza Strip make what I wrote six months ago seem completely unrealistic. While I might be willing to agree I was mistaken in predicting the future, I am not yet willing to completely throw in the towel about the future. I still think that some time in the next six months to one year, we will witness some major breakthroughs in the conflict. My expectations of a breakthrough stem from different local and regional developments.

Internationally, the push for some kind of resolution has never been greater. US President George W. Bush, in his second term, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in his last year, would love nothing better than to clean their Iraqi record with some kind of accomplishment in the Palestine-Israel conflict. Regionally, the Arab League, and neighbouring Arab countries like Egypt and Jordan (and to a lesser degree Lebanon) are also pushing to see a breakthrough. Locally, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s so-called convergence plan seems to be collecting steam even though Bush and Blair have not given him total support. The Olmert plan is putting major pressure on the nationalist Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who understands the importance of time. Olmert has made it clear that Israel will not wait forever.

On the other hand, Hamas is clearly not worried about time. Several Islamic officials have stated publicly that unlike Fateh, which is interested in a quick end to the occupation, the Islamists are not so keen. This statement is based on the Islamists’ understanding that at present, the balance of force is not in favour of the Palestinians and therefore any solution now will not be the best one for Palestinians. Of course, this talk is being overshadowed by the sudden escalation of the internal Palestinian fighting and the potential of a civil war of varied intensities. Abbas’ brilliant referendum proposal is aimed at forcing Hamas to take a decision one way or another. One way might be the acceptance of the three international conditions, the other might be dissolving the Haniyeh government and creating some kind of emergency government.

The more the pressure mounts for either the more escalation of the internal fighting there will be, as well as attempts at diverting attention by attacks against the Israelis. The escalation of the internal and external fighting could lead to a breakthrough. But a political breakthrough this year doesn’t necessarily translate into peace. While acceptance by Hamas of the existence of Israel could help Abbas negotiate with the Israelis rather than allow the Israelis to act unilaterally, it is unlikely to lead to a comprehensive solution. The weakness of the Palestinian strategic position in the balance of force with Israel is unlikely to help Abbas reach an equitable solution.

On the other hand, a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from parts of the West Bank will provide some short-term relief by having the checkpoints removed for internal travel, but unless it is done in direct cooperation with the Palestinians and with the possibility of free travel to Jordan, it will not produce any long-term relief. 2006 might be bloody at present and a breakthrough is still a possibility, but it is hard to predict any peaceful outcome within the coming six months.

No responses yet

Comments RSS

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.