In the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict, the progress of the peace process seems like a mirage, especially when it comes to the Palestinian cause. Like water to one who is thirsty, it seems within reach, until he discovers the truth when he comes near! Yet, that peace process has previously appeared within hand’s reach for the various parties involved, with the media going as far as saying there were only a few details left before all parties agreed. Yet, the process typically collapsed and reverted to square one.
What is remarkable is that, despite all the rounds of discussions and exchanges of perspectives, and despite the negotiators’ innovative reframing of acceptable and realistic solutions, the process remains at a standstill. Worse, each round of negotiations begins from scratch – as if it was the first – and the points of agreement that were previously accepted dissipate like fog in the wind!
Despite consensus among Palestinians, Arabs and the international community on the two-state solution as an acceptable and realistic solution, one grounded in the legitimacy of international resolutions, it seems that in practical reality that solution is facing countless obstacles that will remain indefinitely in place in the foreseeable future. International discourse on the Palestinian issue recognises a Palestinian state within the constraints of a two-state solution and also recognises East Jerusalem as occupied territory. But in practice, attitudes contradict this discourse and the pressure placed on Israel by the international community does not live up to that rhetoric. On the contrary, in many instances, it takes the side of Israel, especially in the case of the United States. This bias continues unabated, taking no account of the legitimate rights of the Palestinians, which are recognised and endorsed by international conventions and resolutions.
The question we must ask in this area is: why does the negotiation process stumble and always go back to square one, despite the plethora of agreements and understandings between the parties, and typically under the patronage of the US?
The answer to this question points to the presence of obstacles and impediments in the peace process itself. The nature of the obstacles are historic, political, cultural, cognitive and perceptual, relating to how the parties, in particular the Israeli side, perceive this process. The number and variety of these obstacles go back to the nature of the Arab-Israeli conflict itself, as a long and protracted struggle with deep historical roots.
Particularly prominent among these impediments are those related to the Zionist project, with regards to the founding of the state of Israel, since the end of the nineteenth century when it was first presented by Herzl. This project, which pushed for the establishment of Israel within several decades, was devoid of perspectives and proposed solutions to the issues which would arise after the creation of the Jewish state, nor did it include a vision for the post-victory era, after Israel won in its wars against the Arabs in 1948 and especially in 1967.
Many questions remain unresolved on the nature of the relations between Israel and its Arab neighbours, and on the nature of Israel’s relationship to the Palestinians, the rightful owners of the land. Questions also remain on Israel’s relationship to the Middle East as a whole and its vision for the Palestinians, whether in a single democratic state, or a dual-nationality state; whether in a neighbouring country or deleted entirely from the final map. The fact is that most of the successive Israeli elites have not seriously considered these questions, nor have they laid down a constituent vision regarding the post-victory state.
As a result, Israeli visions relating to peace became temporary and accidental, responding to tactical circumstances, and thus prone to breakdown and erosion with changing circumstances and positions. In addition, these visions did not receive a unanimous national consensus in Israel, nor were they able to overcome the ideological boundaries and political trends of the parties and elites. This may explain why the peace process rebounded after Rabin as well as the Gulf War, along with the rise of extremists and far-right nationalists. It may explain the weakness of the moderates and the ongoing circles that annul the gains made by the peace process and return us once more to square one.
Abdel-Alim Mohamed is a counsellor at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.