Time is against us, against all of us – against Israel, against the Palestinians, against the moderate Arab regimes, and against the United States. The geopolitical processes going on in the Muslim world in general, and in the Middle East in particular, have accelerated in the past decade and will inevitably lead to a head-on confrontation between the two main alignments in the region, which have contradictory worldviews and interests.
This confrontation will pit the Iranian Axis, which includesLebanon, Syria, and in the future will probably include parts of Iraq and maybe even Turkey, against the Pragmatic Axis, which includes the moderate Arab countries – Egypt, Jordan, several of the Gulf countries, and, in recent years, it seems, Saudi Arabia as well.
Time is against the Pragmatic Axis for several reasons and as a result of several synergetic processes that are taking place. One such process is the growing Iranian hegemony in the Middle East, a process that began by winning over the sympathy of many during the Khomeini Revolution in the late 1970s and that has continued with Iran's military buildup, which should reach its peak in the next few years as Tehran achieves nuclear capabilities. Another is the aging of Arab leaders in many of the Pragmatic Axis states, a process that, coupled with the trend of Islamist radicalization which is widespread among the populations of these countries, has led to the alienation of many citizens from their own governments.
But, above all else, time is against the Pragmatic Axis due to the lack of leadership necessary to guide these countries to victory over the Iranian Axis. The role of leader should naturally be filled by the US. However, President Barack Obama is either uninterested or unable to assume that task.
In recent years, these two processes – the strengthening of the Iranian Axis and the weakening of the Pragmatic Axis – have been occurring simultaneously, creating a zero-sum situation whereby any additional victory for one side automatically weakens the other side.In the middle of this complex and dangerous environment, the Palestinian theater finds itself torn between the two alignments. On the one hand, the Hamas movement and the Islamist Palestinian organizations have chosen to remain under their Iranian patron’s protection. On the other hand, the Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, is identified with the Pragmatic Axis. As a result, the PA finds itself fearing the strengthening of Iran and its puppets in the Palestinian and Middle East theaters.
Israel, naturally, shares the same interests as the Pragmatic Axis. Time is against Israel just as it is against the entire Pragmatic Axis, and maybe to an even greater extent. In addition, unlike in the past, the status quo is also against Israel, as the Fayyad Plan, meant to prepare the infrastructure for the future Palestinian state, is about to be realized this year. Over the past few years, the PA has founded, with the help of European countries and the US and with the indirect help of Israel itself, government frameworks, an industry and a functioning economy as well as an effective security structure, all of which have created a new de facto reality in the West Bank.
Over the last few weeks, Abbas has launched a successful campaign to obtain international recognition of the Palestinian state, a dangerous trend that Israel cannot stop. At the same time, Israel is facing waves of criticisms and attacks that are undermining its own legitimacy. Moreover, the relative security calm stemming from the lull in terrorist attacks is false and misleading, akin to sitting on a powder keg. Hamas and Hezbollah, with the aid of Iran and Syria, are being reinforced daily and are not only increasing their weapons arsenals, but are adding military capabilities they did not have in the past. Iran’s proxies have their finger on the trigger and, whenever they wish to, they can drag the entire region into a bloody military confrontation.
What is needed now is reinforcement of the pragmatic elements in the Middle East, and particularly in the Palestinian theater. Achieving an accord between the Palestinians and Israel is therefore of the utmost importance at this time, as it is vital element in strengthening the Pragmatic Axis. However, the window of opportunity to do so is closing. The religious radicalization, the ideological escalation, the military armament, the governmental changes, the generational crisis, the political alienation, the hatred and despair – all of these processes are bringing about one result: a complete sealing of this window.
The question being posed is whether this window of opportunity even exists. Is it possible to resolve a 100-year-old bloody conflict between the Palestinians and the Jews in this region?
Up until the release of Palestinian documents by the Al-Jazeera network, which revealed the secrets of the negotiations that took place between Olmert’s government and Abbas, it could only be estimated that there were merely small differences between the Palestinian and Israeli stances. With the publication of these documents, however, this can be said with certainty. Based on the Palestinian position depicted in these documents, it can be determined that an Israeli leader striving honestly and earnestly for a peace accord with the Palestinians can feasibly bridge the gaps, and that a historical agreement is within reach.
Until the release of these documents, it was clear that most of the territorial issues between Israel and the PA have been resolved and that only three core issues remain – the Palestinian right of return, Jerusalem’s status, and the State of Israel’s Jewish identity. The published documents reveal that even on these core issues the parties are closer to a resolution than ever before.
Some may ask, if the Israelis and Palestinians are so close, then why have they yet to make the required additional step to achieve a sustainable accord? This is because of the fear on both sides that, even if an accord is reached between the leaders, their people will not accept it. The leaders fear that they will not be able to keep their obligations and, even more that they will be denounced by their own people as traitors and may even pay for their actions with their lives. The problem then is less in the actual content of an agreement, whose layout is quite clear, and more in the packaging or the ability to market the agreement amongst the respective populations.
In order for Palestinian and Israeli leaders to reach an agreement, a process must be constructed that will alleviate the fear these leaders have of the radicals amongst their own populations. It would seem that the most effective way of accomplishing this is to reach a conditional accord by holding marathon negotiations with the objective of bridging the differences and arriving at an agreement on issues that have, until now, remained unresolved.
The accord that is reached will be initialed but will not be deemed a binding agreement until it is ratified by both peoples in a referendum. Before bringing the agreement to a referendum, it will receive the support of the Pragmatic Axis countries, the international community and the US, who will agree to take part in and contribute to the implementation of the accord if and when it is ratified in the respective referendums.
A conditional accord is therefore the most efficient and perhaps the only valid solution at this sensitive and dangerous point in time for both the Palestinian theater and the region as a whole. Israeli leaders must strive to quickly achieve a conditional agreement and must recognize that, while they have a historical opportunity to end the conflict, the hourglass for doing so is running out, and a continuation of the status quo is too dangerous for Israel.
Dr. Boaz Ganor, Founder and Executive Director of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliya
Published: 02.06.11, 18:02 / Israel Opinion