Old paradigms for peace have failed and as the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas indicated before the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), the Oslo Accords signed in 1993, to fulfil “the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination”, are now virtually defunct. It takes two hands to clap and, unfortunately, Israel has wielded its mighty hand to slap down an occupied people, strangling their dignity and their hopes.
Sure, Palestine has been recognised as a “non-member observer state” and its flag now flutters over the UN headquarters in New York, but if anything, the lives of Palestinians are far worse than they were 22 years ago when the Accords were signed by Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin.
The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, courted voters pledging no Palestinian state on his watch — a stance he has since softened. But, sadly, it looks like all the main players, including Abbas, who has threatened to disband the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), are giving up the ghost.
It was notable that United States President Barack Obama made no mention of “Palestine” during his recent speech before the UNGA and Netanyahu’s passionate speech days later was primarily devoted to warning the world about the dangers inherent in the Iran nuclear deal; his invitation to Abbas to resume talks sounded like an obligatory afterthought.
That said, he did hold out an olive branch to Arab states. “Common dangers are clearly bringing Israel and its Arab neighbours closer and as we work together to thwart those dangers, I hope we’ll build lasting partnerships,” he said.
For once, his words can be taken at face value, given Israel’s reaction to an interview conducted by Associated Press with the Egyptian President, Abdul Fattah Al Sissi, who was quoted — or, rather, misquoted — as saying that Egypt’s 40-year-long peace treaty with Israel should be expanded to include more Arab countries in order to expand cooperation against terrorism and to secure a Palestinian state.
Interestingly, prior to the Egyptian government’s correction, Netanyahu praised Al Sissi’s ‘call’ and urged Abbas to immediately return to the peace table. His enthusiasm was echoed by just about every Israeli newspaper. There is an appetite within Israel to improve relations with its Arab neighbours and it’s an open secret that Israel and some Arab states conduct backchannel talks on matters of mutual interest.
In this case, provided Arab leaderships — particularly those concerned about Iran’s burgeoning belligerence — were open to new beginnings based on the principle ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’, a new geopolitical reality could emerge, one that would be more conducive to a real Israel-Palestine peace process.
As outlandish as that might sound to some in light of so many decades of hostility between the sides, Anwar Al Sadat was courageous enough to take the bull by the horns to stem serial wars and the gnawing poverty they had caused. Israelis were so astonished when they heard his plane was in the skies, they suspected it was a bomb-carrying Trojan horse. He stepped bravely into the lion’s den to make a historic speech.
“I took this decision after long thinking, knowing that it constitutes a grave risk for, if God almighty has made it my fate to assume the responsibility on behalf of the Egyptian people and to share the fate-determining responsibility of the Arab nation and the Palestinian people ... to exhaust all and every means to save my Egyptian Arab people and the entire Arab nation the horrors of new shocking and destructive wars ...,” he had said before demanding Israel’s withdrawal from Arab territories taken by force.
If the Arab world had backed him instead of vilifying him as a traitor to the cause, it’s more than probable there would be a Palestinian state today on almost all the territory annexed by Israel in 1967 in accordance with a framework set out in the Camp David peace treaty, whereby Israel agreed to fully implement Resolution 242, stipulating Israel’s withdrawal from all territories occupied in the recent conflict.
But that was then and this is now when a very different reality prevails. Sticks have made little impression on Israeli leaderships, so perhaps it’s time for Arab leaders to take a leaf out of Al Sadat’s book by holding out the carrot of a comprehensive peace treaty, which is a prize Netanyahu appears to covet. And why wouldn’t he when he’s increasingly cutting a lonely figure within the international community that he accuses of being obsessively anti-Israel.
It’s a step requiring a sea change in thinking, but when all else has failed, there’s little point in covering the exact same ground down the exact same path. Neither conflict nor US-mediated negotiations have brought about a state called Palestine. Could peace between Israel and the Arab states be a conduit? There are no certainties, but when Palestinians have little left to lose, it’s worth a try.
Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org