By S. Nihal Singh
Even if Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert were not on his way out in a cloud of corruption charges, events in the occupied Palestinian territories are inexorably moving towards a denouement few Israelis want: a one-State solution. Logically, that would represent the end of the rationale for setting up a Jewish State in the heart of West Asia.
After more than seven years of malign neglect, the Bush administration finally bestirred itself to produce a mouse in the shape of the Annapolis process, which is nearing its preordained doom. And with both Democratic and Republican presidential candidates swearing their undying love for Israel, the pulls of US domestic politics ensure that Israelis can do what they like.
Israelis are doing precisely that — expanding their illegal settlements on the West Bank and expropriating even more land on the fringes of the Wall that replicates the doomed apartheid experiment in South Africa. All that the energetic US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice can do in response is to murmur her displeasure in an undertone.
Palestinians themselves are hopelessly divided between the Fatah and Hamas factions, the latter controlling a Gaza Strip converted by Israel into a vast open-air prison. The Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ rationale for continuing his make-believe talks with Mr Olmert on an illusory peace process is that the alternative would be war. Arab efforts at reconciling the two Palestinian factions have yielded little but recrimination.
The truth is that with Americans perennially handicapped by the clout of the American-Jewish lobby and the love of the Christian evangelical Right for Israel, no US administration can do much to resolve the problem. Mr Barack Obama, who flaunts his liberal credentials, was the first to pay homage to the Israeli lobby, promoting the dubious Israeli claim to an undivided Jerusalem as its capital.
That leaves two options: a one-State solution is which Arabs will ultimately swamp Jews or a sea change in the collective Israeli outlook. There have always been divisions in Israel on the merit of occupying Palestinian land and ruling over Palestinians indefinitely. Israel chose to give up the Gaza Strip because its continued occupation was disproportionate to the costs involved.
The Peace Now movement was decimated by the second Palestinian intefada and for a time every Israeli became a hawk. But a growing number of sober Israelis are now pondering over the central dilemma: if they do not give up their occupation, they would constantly remain a nation at war seeking to subdue Palestinians at great cost to themselves and peace in the region.
The tragedy is that even as Israelis have greatly benefited by the end of the Cold War and the unilateral phase of American supremacy, US actions in the region by invading Iraq, diplomatically confronting Iran and ostracising Syria have made the central Israeli-Palestinian conflict more complicated. For America’s "war on terror" has again strengthened Israel’s case and made the conflict more difficult to resolve.
Israel has made attempts at breaking out of this vicious circle though they have been half-hearted. One recent indication is the series of indirect talks with Syria being mediated by Turkey. It is, of course, tempting to take Syria out of the anti-Israel phalanx by giving it back the occupied Golan Heights. But Israelis have balked in the past over returning the whole of the area, wanting to retain a crucial strip of land adjoining the water.
A further complicating factor is the state of the Arab world, with most countries dependent upon the American military umbrella. The oil-rich countries have their resources to guard even as American policymakers fret over the immense transfer of wealth that is taking place from the developed and non oil-producing developing countries to those endowed with natural resources. The Bush administration’s enthusiasm for democratising the Greater Middle East has waned considerably as it seeks to pursue policies dictated by realpolitik.
Many Israelis realise that the only true path to ensuring peace and prosperity for their state is to give Palestinians a viable State of their own. But each day that passes makes this choice more difficult to achieve because more Palestinian land is sequestered, Israeli settlements and apartheid roads pockmark the West Bank and the Palestinians’ daily misery of negotiating Israeli checkpoints and walls to perform normal tasks grows.
Mercifully, no one now hears about the Quartet, composed of Russia, the European Union, the United Nations and the United States, whose singular contribution to resolving problems was to rubberstamp American decisions. The concept of the Quartet must rank as the greatest American diplomatic coup in recent times for inventing a system to legitimise its partisan actions in the Middle East. Nor is the Quartet’s supposed envoy, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, much in evidence these days and seems to be enjoying a sinecure.
Which brings us back to the Israelis. There are the stirrings of a new debate on their future but we must remember that Israelis are as disputatious as Indians and their system of governance encourages one-man or two-men parties that tip the balance one way or the other. An Israeli President once told me in the Presidential Palace that whatever India did in future, it should not follow the Israeli system of proportional representation.
The world must wait even longer to see some clarity in the Israeli scene. A new leader will take over the Kadima Party and will presumably call early elections. The American presidential election will ensure that the new man in the White House will not make a substantial move on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict until the middle of next year. Mr Abbas will battle on as the titular head of a movement losing steam and credibility while many of the senior representatives of the Palestinian authority have made a career of chasing peace.
Perhaps, the ghost of a one-State solution will impel more and more Israelis to put their heads together to think clearly about their future.
They have made a holy cow of their security needs long enough, and America’s automatic support for Israeli wishes is a double-edged sword. Israelis must live in Israel and must seek peace with neighbours. The price of that peace is a viable State of Palestine.
Source: The Asian Age, New Delhi