Lieberman and the Peace Process

By Rawhi Afaghani – Washington, DC

Hours after his handover ceremony, the new Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told the Ha’aretz newspaper that "Israel is not bound by the Annapolis process", the US-backed declaration that initiated the final status talks on establishing a Palestinian state. Instead, Lieberman wants to revert to the situation in 2003, when the Middle East "Quartet" (the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia) introduced the "road map" for peace, essentially eliminating progress made during year-long intensive talks with the Palestinians.

Lieberman’s renouncement of Annapolis and its associated negotiations on borders, Jerusalem, the future of the Palestinian refugees and the formation of a viable Palestinian state represents a major Israeli policy shift away from a two-state solution and the land-for-peace formula. The return to a political discourse that only includes the road map is a calculated step by the new Israeli government meant to lead to failure.

Many conflict resolution specialists have considered the road map an “obstacle to peace”. Instead of promoting mutual interests between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the road map refocused the two rivals’ attention on incompatible goals with an antiquated approach to resolving the conflict. The road map disregarded the fact that the physical infrastructure inside the Palestinian Territories had been completely destroyed under the leadership of then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in a series of intensive military operations. This rendered the Palestinian Authority incapable of meeting the road map’s demands. In fact, the frail and divided Palestinian Authority is still unable to do so, particularly in the aftermath of the Israeli war on Gaza.

Some analysts say Lieberman’s commitment to the road map indirectly implies his commitment to a two-state solution. But like Ariel Sharon, Lieberman places responsibility first on the Palestinians to stop terrorism, build strong institutions and improve security—and only then is he prepared to negotiate over Palestinian statehood. These demands, unattainable under the current circumstances, are intended to generate a situation where Israel can claim that it has “no partner for peace” on the Palestinian side, just as Sharon did with Yasser Arafat.

Without a doubt, Lieberman’s comments signal a bumpy road ahead for President Barack Obama’s Middle East policy, which embraces the two-state solution. But there is no better time than now for the Obama administration to show real commitment to the peace process. During his landmark visit to Turkey, President Obama pledged to pursue a two-state solution and reconfirmed his commitment to the Annapolis and road map processes. This is a positive step. Arabs—moderates and conservatives—are now encouraging the Obama administration to take tangible steps toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

If the Israeli government pushes forward its new policy, Palestinians will have two options: one is tactical, the other is radical.

The first option would be for the Palestinians to concentrate on resolving their internal differences instead of resisting the policies of the new Israeli government. Eventually, these steps of forming a viable government would win the support of the international community and would consequently lead them to put pressure on Israel.

The more radical option, which has been suggested by several academics and political analysts, is to dissolve the Palestinian Authority. Supporters of this alternative suggest that the Palestinian Authority is no longer serving the Palestinians’ national goals, and instead provides valuable assistance to Israel as it administers the land that Israel does not want to relinquish. This radical approach would put Israel, as an occupying force, back in the “hot seat”, holding the Jewish State responsible for its actions and forcing it to confront a stark but inevitable choice: The “one-state solution”—a future as a bi-national entity, which would essentially be the end of the Jewish state, or the two-state solution. Will it take implementing this radical alternative for the Israeli right-wing camp to realize that the two-state solution is the only viable option for a peaceful future?

– Rawhi Afaghani is a conflict analysis and resolution specialist and media analyst. The author grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank and now lives and works in Washington, DC. Contact him at: rafaghani@gmail.com. (Published in Common Ground News Service – www.commongroundnews.org – April 16, 2009).

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