By Mahmoud Labadi
In an effort to revive the Middle East peace process Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice paid several visits to the region to push Israeli and Palestinian leaders to move forward on a on the peace process. This move came in the framework of President Bush’s endeavor to rally Arab moderate states to support his new strategy in Iraq and against Iran’s nuclear projects. However, whenever the US approached Arabs, they were told that they cannot join Bush’s efforts without solving the more than 40 year’s old Palestinian-Israeli conflict. However, no Arab state, even the most moderates among them can afford to join Washington new front as long as the Palestinian question is not yet settled.
Up till now Washington showed little interest to settle the aging Middle East conflict for fear to antagonize the powerful Jewish lobby in the U.S… Stuck between the two fires Washington had to show its Arab allies some leniency in order to entice them to join President Bush’s new strategies. Accordingly, Mrs. Rice was sent to the region to revive the peace process, or to move forward peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
However, Mrs. Rice good will mission was not enough to push the Israelis to make a dramatic gesture towards their eternal victims, such as withdrawing at least partially from the occupied territories, or easing restrictions on Palestinian circulation inside their own territories, or lifting the financial boycott on the Palestinian Government etc… Nonetheless, Rice was faced by the traditional Israeli logic of intransigence and throwing the blame on the Palestinian victims. Surprisingly, Mrs. Rice charmed by the Israeli foreign minister Zippi Livni lost the compass of her mission and thus, her mediating role. During her shuttles between Israelis and Palestinians She failed to act as an even handed peace broker.
Paradoxically, she was very cautious with the Palestinians and adopted generously Israeli positions regarding the boycott of the Palestinian National Unity Government, or the stop of Palestinian futile Kassam missiles, or the liberation of cpl Gilad Shalit. In raising such marginal issues she was distracted from her main goal of peace making and occupied herself with little steps as a substitute to an over all process. In the frame work of confidence building measures she came out with bi-weekly meetings between Abbas and Olmert who insists on limiting his talks with Abbas on humanitarian or security matters only. In compliance with the Israeli position Mrs. Rice even relayed Israeli arguments to President Mahmoud Abbas on the release of cpl Shalit without any mention to the eleven thousand Palestinian prisoners languishing in Israeli jails.
Walking on the foot steps of the former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger She sufficed herself by following an incremental step-by-step policy. While conducting silk gloves diplomacy towards Israel Mrs. Rice found a face saving formula by talking about “political horizon”. This means that her diplomatic drive will not be confined on humanitarian and security issues and should be given a political dimension. But unfortunately, the Israelis are not yet prepared for and especially the weak Olmert government.
The dormant Arab Peace Initiative was revived in the middle of Mrs. Rice’s peace mission. It could be a coincidence, or a go between. It could also be considered a support to Mrs. Rice peace drive as well. The Arab peace initiative endorsed by the Arab League states provided Mrs. Rice the requested “political horizon”. It offers a peace treaty with Israel based on the principle of “land-for-peace”. This Arab peace initiative was floated by Saudi Arabia in 2002 in the Arab Summit of Beirut, but was totally dismissed by the Israelis and neglected by the U.S. Administration. The U.S. Government identified itself with the Israeli position and the Arab peace plan was put on a dusty shelf. In a changing world a new opportunity came up and life was breathed in the dormant Saudi file again. The U.S. need to build an Arab front of moderates against the extremists, or a Sunni front against the Shiite axis imposed itself.
Overwhelmed by the new development and in order to score some success points Rice called upon Arab states to start by normalizing their relations with Israel before a peace treaty is reached, but her call was dismissed on the spot. Similar normalization calls were uttered by Zippi Livni asking Arab moderates to normalize relations with Israel before the establishment of a Palestinian State. However, due to past experience with Israel in never honoring its agreements and never having sacred dates, the Arab response was negative. Amr Musa Secretary General of the Arab league declared that the “Arabs will not offer Israel any thing for free”. However, Israel is hasty to pickup the fruits of the peace tree before its fructification. .
Israel which has been playing a delaying tactic and buying time policy since more than forty years under different excuses or justifications was put for the first time on the touchstone. It cannot continue playing the victim while simultaneously creating facts on the ground (Wall, settlements, East-Jerusalem etc.) in order to undermine the foundation of a Palestinian state in the 67 occupied territories. The rise of the Iranian nuclear threat and the sliding of the U.S. in the Iraqi quagmire raise new questions and imply the formation of new alliances. How can Israel, the closest ally of the U.S. in the region be an obstacle to American plans and strategies? After all, Israel is more concerned about the mounting Iranian threat and is launching large scale media campaign in the U.S. reminiscent of that launched previously against Iraq. If American strategic interests and those of the Israelis are compatible, then Israel has to be more forth coming on the peace level with the Arabs and Palestinians in order not to undermine U.S. new plans and strategies.
This unexpected new political development was beyond all imagination. Old fronts crumble and new contradictions emerge. Consequently, this requires new alliances and new responsibilities. The formation of a new alliance together with Arab moderates against the extremist axis, called by Washington “the axis of evil” cannot take place as long as Israel occupies Arab land and oppresses Palestinians. If the would be allies of tomorrow haven’t settled their hostilities the new proposed “axis of moderates” cannot see the day light. Meanwhile Israel is asked to get over its ostensible complexities and unjustified fears to conform to the “political horizon” and pay its long over due liabilities.
-Mahmoud Labadi served as the spokesperson of the PLO until 1983. He was the director general of the Palestinian Legislative Council until his retirement in 2005. (www.amin.org)