The plain fact of the matter is that the question of Israeli-Palestinian peace has been permanently removed from the historical agenda. There are many honest and highly motivated activists, who are still devoting time and energy to the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace, and who, naturally enough, will bitterly challenge this assertion. With all due respect, I shall do my best to explain.
There are three main developments which have effectively removed the Palestinian issue from the international diplomatic and political arena: a) The hardening structure of Israeli politics; b) The weakened state of US hegemony in the Middle East; 3) The growing turmoil in the Arab world.
Before going on to analyze these developments and their role in eliminating the Palestinian issue from current consideration, I must offer a sad commentary on the role of the discussion of the issue – and not the issue itself, in current discourse. Many friends of peace are involved in long, complex, even convoluted discussions as to the comparative benefits and disadvantages of the two apparently possible solutions; I am referring of course to the long standing debate between the two-state and the one-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A tremendous amount of sincerity and emotion, deep thought and ingenuity have been marshaled by both sides to the debate. I myself was quite active in this sense, having been for years a strong devotee of the 2-state solution. The sad fact is that the discussion has become increasingly meaningless in that there is no real connection between the debate and any existing political perspective. The periodic news items on this or that meeting devoted to the resuscitation of the “peace process” only serve to stress that we are dealing with a mockery and that, effectively, it is Israel which is calling the shots. For better or for worse, this debate about the relative virtues of either “solution” has become meaningless, passé, i.e. totally irrelevant to real life of Palestinians and Israelis.
The historical elements which created diplomatic space for the possible for the settlement of the conflict have more or less withered away. Not all of the new relevant elements concerning the future of the Jews in the Middle East have come into play, but there are clear signs of their emergence. Nowhere, now or in the new future, are we able to discern the outlines of an agreement for peace in Palestine. The old structures in the region will die, sooner than later. Let us return here to the three main causes for this development.
Bibidom and Israel as a Regional Hegemonic Power
The broadest coalition in Israeli history now rules the country.
Ninety four members of 120 in the Knesset (Parliament) compose an unassailable coalition. All polls indicate that Netanyahu’s policies, especially those on Palestinian and security issues, enjoy widespread support in the public.
Since there are absolutely no serious challenges to the status quo, both the US and Europe see Israel led by Netanyahu as an irreversible and reliable fact of political reality. This reality is not at all bad for the US and its allies. It means that the Palestinians are, for all practical purposes, “pacified,” and there are a lot of useful things that can be done in the management of the region with the co-operation of an unencumbered Israel.
The saddest thing here is that the current leadership is the freely chosen product of Israeli democracy. The great majority of the Israeli Jews want to maintain the status quo and genuinely fear any compromise. Much of this sentiment is a result of manipulation, but most is the direct product of the very political structure. Israel has moved on from successful management of the conflict with the Palestinians and is more and more dedicated to maintaining and expanding its regional hegemony. Life is bearable for the colonial masters of the region. But any real change or advance towards justice and equality is seen by the Jewish masses in the country as an unacceptable threat.
The US in Retreat
The facts and figures of the US global retreat are well known. It is not only a question of the ongoing financial and economic crisis. It is impossible to exaggerate the fall in intellectual and moral prestige that has made the US an embarrassment to many of its most loyal supporters. By its own admission, the US is strapped for cash, cannot fund its most essential international commitments, not to speak of a perennial inability to put required troops on the ground. After Iraq and Afghanistan, the US must be ever so cautious in employing its tremendous superiority in military technology, because it is clearly unable to convert even the most successful military successes, in the relevant arenas of contention, into sustainable political and diplomatic assets. The growing political limitations of US influence, even on the background of its military ascendency are the clearest indicator that the US has not the wherewithal to maintain its empire. It’s the old saw about bayonets. The US cannot get anyone to sit on them for it.
The Middle East in Turmoil
The historical possibility in the past for a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was generated in a situation characterized by the almost complete regional hegemony of the US. Peace was to come as a fruition of Western values. Thinking revolved around the “liberal” idea of peace, symbolized by US spiritual auspices. (“Why can’t you guys just make up?”). One could argue that if the US could not engineer a settlement between the two national movements, it would eventually have to give everyone the vote, in a single secular entity. This was a theoretically achievable goal when the region was under tight US control. But for years now, neither the US, nor any of its allies show any real discomfort with the slightly embarrassing realities on the ground. “Israeli settlement is not helpful,” goes the mantra.
Arabs in Turmoil
The Arab people of the region are in rebellion. It is most unlikely that the peace agreements with Israel will survive the storm. But whatever happens to these political artifacts of the past, it is difficult, and even impossible to imagine the emergence, in this long period of storm and stress, of a major Arab formation that would allow itself to become an open or official partner in the collusion against the Palestinians.
Israel and the US have indeed pushed Palestine off the current international agenda. As for the near future, an unstable Arab world in crisis would not dare and could not afford to be seen as exploiting Palestinian weakness. On the other hand, a stable Arab constellation, when it emerges, would not be willing to turn its back on Palestine. Its minimal program on Palestine, when enunciated, would be an Israeli nightmare.
The momentous changes occurring in the region and beyond it have rendered the old way of thinking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict obsolete. Though, we cannot in this and other important matters chart a clear alternative path forward, we can and should realize that the old game is over. The difficult and challenges of a new reality are no reason to cling to old, outmoded perceptions.
This rendering of Palestinian-Israeli realities on the ground may seem a bit somber. But let us remind ourselves that history in the Middle East is far from over.