Has the Israeli-Palestinian peace process passed its sell-by date? Writing in Ha’aretz, Israel’s liberal daily, center-left columnist Ari Shavit eulogizes the Israeli-Palestinian peace process:
[T]he old peace is dead. Really dead. The Islamic revolution in Egypt has removed the southern anchor of that promised peace. The murderous oppression in Syria has neutralized its northern guarantor, and the gradually warming relationship between Fatah and Hamas eliminates its central axis.Anyone who observes the reality that has emerged around us now understands what was not fully understood a year ago: That the Arab awakening has killed the diplomatic process. In the coming years, no moderate Arab leader will have enough legitimacy or power to sign a peace agreement with Israel. What we’ve yearned for since 1967 and what we believed in since 1993 simply isn’t going to happen. Not now, and not in this decade.
Shavit then advocates shifting future peace efforts from the implausible to the possible:
[T]he death of the old peace requires some creative thinking about a new peace – a peace that won’t be imminent, but gradual. A peace that won’t be final, but partial. A peace that will not necessarily be based on signed agreements. A peace that will learn lessons from the death the old peace and will adapt itself to a new, stormy, historic reality. This new peace won’t be the peace of our dreams. It won’t be the peace that puts an end to the conflict. It will not even be a peace that ends the occupation.But perhaps this new, modest peace will enable us to forge a path through the storm, to manage the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and somewhat abate it.
The US and other outside powers have almost always been more enthusiastic about the peace process than either the Israelis or the Palestinians. Israelis aren’t sure they can trust the Palestinians to keep the peace once they have returned all the land and recognized a new state; the Palestinians don’t want to make the concessions (like giving up the ‘right of return’) that peace requires. We end up bribing and cajoling both sides to take part in a process that in many ways serves our interests more than it does theirs.We want peace and need a peace process; therefore peace must be near at hand. No matter the obstacles–revolutions, rockets, polarized public opinion–the peace process industry has cheerfully proclaimed that the agreement which would transform the Middle East into Shangri-La was just around the corner.But just as democracy wasn’t just around the corner in Iraq, Egypt or Libya, and may not be today in Syria, so peace was more elusive than it looked. It may be time now to for a step for many in the peace-process industry has long been unthinkable: to think about managing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rather than ending it outright.To argue against sinking more and more political capital into this increasingly quixotic quest was to be “against peace.” But in fact, it is those who push deeply unrealistic solutions to real problems who raise expectations, fail fantastically, stoke discontent and cynicism, and prevent progress on the ground. Shavit’s prescription for a more modest and realistic approach is part of the answer.But we need to do more. Newt Gingrich and others to the contrary, the Palestinians are a real people. Palestinian nationalism may not be hundreds of years old; indeed it was formed in part by the experiences of Palestinians in the Arab-Israeli conflict — including the cynical use and abandonment of the Palestinians by other Arabs. The Palestinians are a fact and their feelings matter.The time may not be ripe for a peace agreement, and conditions may be too adverse for a meaningful peace process to survive. But there is much to be done to reduce the suffering on both sides that the unresolved conflict entails. Peace between Israelis and Palestinians remains an important American interest; preparing the foundations for a peace that offers both peoples a road to a more secure, prosperous and dignified future comports with our values as well as our interests.Keeping the old peace process on life support looks less and less like the best way to promote that enduring interest. It’s time to rethink our approach from the ground up.