Time for Israel to Talk Peace

By Peter Lavelle

Democratic change is spreading throughout the Middle East: Syria continues to reel from large and sustained protests; Egypt has announced that it will open a key border crossing with the Gaza Strip within days; and rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah have agreed to form a unity government.

So Israel’s neighbourhood is transforming before our very eyes, and people’s power and democratic processes are at work. Nonetheless, it would appear that Israel and the United States fear democracy in the Arab Middle East and both are in denial that democracy is the only true partner for peace.

Israel has long liked to claim that it is the only democracy in the Middle East. Considering how over 20 per cent of Israel’s own population are treated as second-class citizens, this claim has always been more of a PR myth than reality. But when democracy is genuinely attempted – as in 2006, when a free and fair election brought Hamas to power in Gaza – Israel, the US and a handful of Western powers call this terrorism.

Another PR trick successive Israeli governments like to play is to claim they “have no partner” to negotiate a peace settlement with the Palestinians. But when Hamas and Fatah reconcile their differences to present a united front for negotiations with Israel it is called a “setback for peace”.

If that is not enough, the Israeli government has now decided to punish representatives of the Palestinian people – by taking it out on ordinary Palestinians. Thus, the transfer of $89 million in tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority has been suspended.

Again we see the Palestinian people being collectively punished because they decided “the wrong way” when pursuing their own self-determination. The US Congress has also chimed in, saying that funding for the Palestinian Authority could be axed if a Hamas-Fatah government came to power.

The current US administration claims it wants to be on the right side of history as the Arab Spring continues along its course, but apparently this does not apply in the case of the Palestinians.

Israel says Hamas must renounce violence, abide by past agreements with the Israelis and recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Let’s unpack these demands in light of today’s realities.

Hamas has actually been remarkably consistent in honouring ceasefires with Israel. The fact is that Israel breaks its own self-announced ceasefires against the people of Gaza more often than Hamas when it comes to their own unilateral cessation of violence. We need to remember that the people of Gaza are under siege and are victims of an illegal blockade.

Then there’s the issue of abiding by past agreements. Again, when one moves away from media hysteria and political smear campaigns, logic dictates that Hamas working in unison with Fatah would de facto abide by past agreements. Remember, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will continue as lead negotiator for the Palestinian people when a real peace process starts.

Why Hamas must recognise Israel has always been quite farcical. Hamas is a political party, not a sovereign state. States recognise states under the conditions of international law. Democratically-elected Hamas is demanding an independent Palestinian state, recognised under international law.

Thus, for Israel any negotiated settlement must, by definition, be one-sided. Real negotiations and real diplomacy are considered by Israel counterproductive and a political defeat.

Israel should have a hard look around the neighbourhood. There is growing popular support in Egypt to amend the one-sided peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. It was Egypt that negotiated the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation and Cairo is poised to do the right thing and end its role in the imprisonment of the Palestinians in Gaza.

Israel is loathed to admit it, but any meaningful regime change in Syria could also become a new security headache for Tel Aviv. Very soon Israel could see itself surrounded by regimes that have popular support at home that are very hostile to the Israeli state. Israel’s only allies in the region would be the Sunni-led dictators in the Gulf.

It would be wise for the Israeli government to make peace with the Palestinians while it can. Tel Aviv’s entire security arrangement, built up over four decades, faces uncertainty. More democracy at home and peaceful engagement with its neighbours may be the only strategy left to Israel to secure its very existence.

– Peter Lavelle is the host of RT’s debate programme “CrossTalk”. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. (This article was first published in The Moscow News – http://themoscownews.com.)

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