The Israeli-Palestinian peace process, as we have known it since the 1993 signing of the Oslo accords, essentially died more than three years ago with the demise of the final status talks between then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Whatever happens in the months ahead between Israel and Iran or between the United States and Iran will not directly affect a non-existent peace process.
Theoretically speaking, if indeed there was a flourishing Israeli-Palestinian peace process, this might soften the impact of an armed conflict with Iran and reduce instinctive Arab popular anti-Israel reaction and support for a besieged Iran. But that is not the case and is not likely to be the case, at least throughout 2012. Thus all parties concerned should bear in mind that a war with Iran could ignite violence in the West Bank and (despite recent Hamas assurances to the contrary) in Gaza as well.
Yet an attack on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is not likely in the coming months. That is one of the conclusions we can draw from the statements made in recent days during the AIPAC convention and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington. Yet this reality, too, does not render a peace process more probable or more likely to succeed.
So where is the linkage?
Paradoxically, if the Palestinian leadership wants to encounter a more forthcoming Netanyahu government and generate more intense international pressure on Netanyahu to get serious about a two-state solution, it has to hope that the current confrontation with Iran eliminates Tehran’s nuclear threat. Whether this happens through diplomacy or by force of American or Israeli arms is immaterial. With the Iran nuclear issue off the regional and international agenda, attention would and could again be focused on the Palestine issue.
To a more limited extent, the collapse of the Alawite regime in Syria might also help refocus attention on Israel-Palestine. By eliminating a major supporter of Islamic Jihad, Hizballah and (until recently) Hamas and, more significantly, by weakening Iran’s penetration into the Levant and by extension the threat Tehran projects toward Israel, the fall of the Alawites would also help restore the Palestinian question to the top of the agenda.
Some argue that Netanyahu is using the Iran threat to avoid dealing with the Palestinian issue. Personally, I take the threat posed by Iran more seriously than that. But regardless of Netanyahu’s motives, we have to concede that he has succeeded in focusing the world’s attention, and particularly Washington’s attention, on Iran, and that this–in addition to the Obama administration’s electoral preoccupation–comes at the expense of the Palestinian issue.
At the same time, we must also acknowledge that neither Iran nor the American election season is the only reason the international community is neglecting the Palestinian issue. The Arab revolutionary wave has effectively relegated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to lower priority than, say, the events in Syria. Egypt, once a key catalyst for peace, has partially shifted its support to Hamas. Efforts to bring about Fateh-Hamas reconciliation have foundered. In all these issue areas, Iran is not a primary factor.
Nor, indeed, can the Iran issue explain the demise of the Oslo formula for ending the conflict. That we need a new peace paradigm is demonstrated by Abbas’ search for an international formula that places the conflict on a state-to-state basis. Abbas apparently realizes that his positions on pre-1967 "narrative" issues like holy places and the right of return are irreconcilable with those of any Israeli prime minister. Even in ideal negotiating circumstances, Netanyahu’s pro-settlement government is not the only obstacle.
At the end of the day, the combination of Iran, Arab revolutions and US elections has placed all these calculations on the back burner. Those in the international community who are not otherwise preoccupied should be exploiting the hiatus of 2012 to think about better alternatives to Oslo.
From this standpoint, the problem is not Iran.