Get off the beaten tracks and back into the matchbox

Only a few decades ago, it would have been relatively simple to explain the Arab-Israel conflict to the most uninformed visitor: Arab land had been invaded, occupied and even annexed by Israel (the latter claiming ever more loudly to be acting in self-defense with every act of aggression), even though UN resolutions clearly defined the legal parameters of the admissible and set the date of June 4, 1967 as the starting point of redemption. It was obvious that land had to be returned in exchange for peace, an idea put to practice in the Camp David agreement between Egypt and Israel.

Today, it is difficult to know where to begin explaining how things went wrong and why the alliances of yesteryear have morphed into the strangest partnerships of "moderate" Arab states (notwithstanding extremist clerics laying down the law) opposing "radical" ones (that happen to remain vocally anti-Israel) supporting different Palestinian parties. The equation of land for peace, as inadequate as it may have been for implying a concession from Israel, has given way to peace for peace, with a growing list of prerequisites and guarantees demanded from Israel’s victims who now wait on separate tracks.

Before Israel and its allies started linking all regional events to Iran, they had marketed their obsession with Iraq, making it the lowest common denominator in these equations. Working up from the war of 1991 (the liberation of Kuwait), the men who would be kings planned the steady process meant to provoke a clean break for securing the realm, a model presented to the current Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, during his time in office in 1996.

Today, with the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the attempted isolation of Syria and two destructive wars unleashed by the Israeli war machine on Lebanon and Gaza, it seems that securing the realm has been the one on track, at the expense of all the peace tracks that were supposed to be explored, mostly at Israel’s convenience. Having nearly reached the declared destination on the Syrian track in 2000, Israel quickly retraced its steps and jumped with wild abandon onto the Palestinian track, navigating the perilous stages of due "painful concessions" through emergency exits, thoughtfully provided in the American roadmap bestowed after a vision by Bush.

Years of a peace process with no due process have taken their toll on the most wretched of victims, standing by the tracks and watching the stationary peace train gathering dust. The very fact that the word track has become an integral part of "peace talk" should alert us to the absurdity of the situation. It doesn’t take an expert to realize that the concept of tracks is at odds with that of a comprehensive peace settlement; nor does it take an expert to conclude that the partition of interlocutors into more manageable teams–in the true spirit of divide and conquer–speaks volumes about intentions.

Israel has spent the last decades, alas mostly successfully, dividing Arabs. In its defiance of every legal and moral restriction imposed by man or God, Israel enforced separate tracks to foil a comprehensive peace agreement, lest it be cornered into actually ceding Arab land it acquired unlawfully, into accepting Palestinians’ right of return and compensation that it has negated despite every universal declaration or binding resolution, and into recognizing Jerusalem’s position as Palestinian also.

There is nothing Israel has disdained more than international agreements, or, even worse, reconciliation proposals. In 2002, in response to the Arab Peace Initiative adopted by all Arab League members during their summit in Beirut, Israel unleashed its fiercest assault yet on Palestinians in the West Bank, killing hundreds, destroying millions worth of infrastructure and brazenly putting the Palestinian president under a siege from which he would only emerge on his deathbed. Having delivered the Oslo accords, Yasser Arafat had outlived his usefulness and Israel needed a constant enemy.

This is why one should only feel suspicion and alarm at the sudden re-emergence of a comprehensive peace plan about which Israel seems receptive, regardless of the official declarations of a government that refuses to recognize Palestine’s right to exist, or of the racist aspirations of a foreign minister wined and dined in Europe’s capitals.

In a second address inside a Muslim world he seems eager to convince, but to which he has not yet delivered a coherent message, President Obama is to announce a new Middle East initiative, one even worse than all its predecessors. From Cairo, Obama will peddle a peace proposal offering Israel normalization with the Arab and Muslim worlds (an idea that the Jordanian king has dutifully marketed as the 57-state solution, whose alternative is war, presumably by Israel, in the next 18 months), but more importantly a normalization that would not depend on negotiations on the Palestinian issue. In other words, as Palestinians continue to despair, alone, and as Gaza struggles under an Israeli blockade, Israel would be offered a ticket for a smooth ride with current foes.

This would be a disaster for the Palestinian cause, which has continued to decline with each peace agreement Israel has deigned accept. Sixty-one years after the catastrophe of Palestinian dispossession, it beggars belief that the world’s only superpower still needs to cajole the country in breach of the most United Nations resolutions and in contravention of every law on weapons of mass destruction. Likewise, it beggars belief that the UN itself daren’t even publish a full report about Israel’s attacks on its own sites and personnel, let alone on the civilians it is supposed to feed, shelter and protect. If there is one place that should have retained credibility, and that should be regarded as the most honest of brokers, it is the United Nations.

Until now, discussions hovered between two main tracks: the Palestinian and the Syrian. With Obama’s entrance into the peace game, for it seems to be nothing but a game to Israel and its friends, these tracks will merely give way to one superhighway, and one miserable side road that Israel will be free to continue ignoring, thereby pushing dispossessed Palestinians into a point of no return. Bringing the added injustice of total desertion of the Palestinian cause, the Obama doctrine seems destined to failure.

The Arab-Israel conflict will not be solved in the Oval Office, but in the matchbox, under the protection of the real international community, the General Assembly. For now, however, despite the guiding principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, some states at the UN remain more equal than others.


First published by the Bitterlemons International.