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Regional interests mean the ceasefire might lead nowhere - Daily News Egypt

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Regional interests mean the ceasefire might lead nowhere

Beyond the current Palestinian-Israeli ceasefire there may lie nothing at all: no peace process, not even an interim process or agreement. If that is the case, then the ceasefire itself will not last long. On the Palestinian side, President Mahmoud Abbas appears to have given up on the project of forming a unity government and …


Beyond the current Palestinian-Israeli ceasefire there may lie nothing at all: no peace process, not even an interim process or agreement. If that is the case, then the ceasefire itself will not last long. On the Palestinian side, President Mahmoud Abbas appears to have given up on the project of forming a unity government and is casting about for alternatives that may include elections. This could mean postponement for months, if not more, of a prisoner exchange and formation of a new Palestinian government – the missing components of the package needed to launch new Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Meanwhile, at Sde Boker last week, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert set out a fairly reasonable set of conditions for renewing negotiations designed to lead to a far-reaching process of additional Israeli territorial concessions. Yet the situation is not ripe for renewing negotiations, and in any case it is doubtful that Olmert has the political support to make good on his offer to cede additional West Bank territory to the Palestinians and remove settlements. So much for expanding the ceasefire into a peace process. That leaves the ceasefire itself. It will soon dissolve into renewed violence unless the Hamas government in Gaza can completely and unequivocally stop the firing of Qassam rockets and cease the smuggling of arms and ordnance across, or under, the Philadelphi corridor separating Gaza from Sinai. Nor, without these measures, is there any hope of stabilizing the ceasefire by extending it to the West Bank. Without a ceasefire there as well, any violent West Bank incident is liable to end the lull in Gaza. In this sense, Olmert’s “vision speech last week was premature. The political peace process he described cannot begin to be contemplated until the ceasefire is stabilized and expanded, prisoners are exchanged and a Palestinian political dynamic takes place that strengthens Abbas’ hand and creates a more respectable Palestinian Authority government. Moreover, beyond all these “local considerations, the ceasefire must be understood as but one aspect of a complex and interactive regional reality – a chain inexorably linking local and regional issues. First, for the ceasefire to be enhanced requires that Hamas signal clearly that it does not intend to exploit the relative quiet and absence of Israeli military pressure in the Gaza Strip in order to build up its own military potential there, as Israel suspects. This in turn requires that Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and his Syrian backers, whose “green light made the ceasefire possible, resolve to accept realities on the ground. They must concede a measure of their power in Palestine and enter into a process whose only natural outcome is a two-state solution, de jure or de facto, that falls short even of what Abbas dreams of achieving (no right of return, less than 100 percent of the West Bank, Israeli forces remaining in the Jordan Valley). But Syrian decision-making regarding Hamas and the Palestinian issue is itself linked to the crises in neighboring Iraq and Lebanon, the wishes of Syria’s ally Iran and the possibility of changes in Washington’s Middle East policies. In other words, any positive follow-up to the ceasefire is linked, like the ceasefire itself, not only to daily Israeli-Palestinian realities, but also to the broader regional conflict scenario dominated by the United States’ disastrous occupation of Iraq and Iran’s growing success in projecting its hegemonic ambitions. Even the modest goal of a more stable and comprehensive ceasefire depends on the external Palestinian leadership, its regional state supporters and their confrontation with the US. In this regard, perhaps the most significant parts of Olmert’s Sde Boker speech last week – beyond his readiness to free prisoners with blood on their hands and the promise of a Palestinian state with “contiguous territory . full sovereignty and defined borders – were the Israeli prime minister’s partial recognition of the 2002 Saudi peace plan and his call for closer cooperation with the moderate Arab states. Implicit here is the acceptance of the new and expanded regional context of any Israeli-Palestinian dynamic that might emerge from the ceasefire. While the prognosis for this particular ceasefire is not encouraging, the regional interlock that links the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the crises in Iraq and Lebanon and the threats emanating from Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and jihadist terrorism bespeaks a broad new geostrategic arena that offers both opportunities and dangers. Yet here Iran and its clients have thus far displayed a far more coordinated strategy than have Israel, the West and the moderate Arabs. Yossi Alpher was director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and was senior adviser to former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. This commentary is taken from bitterlemons.org, an online newsletter that publishes contending views of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Topics: Wael Ghonim

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