by Marc Sabbagh
Renewed violence between Israel and Hamas in Gaza should not come as a surprise given the lack of U.S. attention on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in recent years. While a fragile ceasefire agreement is now in effect, this short-term band aid should not overshadow the urgent need for the United States to facilitate renewed dialogue and a comprehensive peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. Combined with the Palestinian vote for U.N. recognition expected to pass this afternoon, the window of opportunity to make any progress on the issue is narrowing.
President Obama’s first term started out with a firm demand that the Israeli government halt settlement building in the West Bank, but the administration proved unwilling to challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after his government’s intransigence. Every year thereafter, the administration’s policies and public statements backtracked and shied away from serious involvement: in 2010 President Obama tried to regain ground by calling the U.S.-Israeli bond “unbreakable”; in his 2011 U.N. address he criticized the Palestinian Authority’s bid for U.N. recognition; and in 2012 controversy erupted when he did not meet with any world leaders at the U.N. summit. Even now, after the election, the State Department said they were not looking to engage on the issue anytime soon.
The recent violence between Israel and Hamas in Gaza shows the fallout that occurs when the U.S. disengages. The presidential election put numerous important issues involving our country on hold as the world kept spinning – particularly in the Arab world. Now, with the election over, it is time for the Obama administration to truly reengage and take charge on the peace process.
The administration should put a proposal on the table that can be examined, discussed and redeveloped to keep negotiations going and at least create small, productive steps that could lead to lasting peace in the region. There are numerous studies that can serve as a framework for a territorial agreement. The regional goals of the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991 can also provide important lessons for multilateral negotiations on concerns facing the broader Arab world.
There is great value in supporting direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations if both sides’ preconditions for such talks are managed effectively to ensure security cooperation and the promotion of Palestinian institution-building and economic development. Serious peace talks would limit the negative effects of power-sharing between Fatah and Hamas in the Palestinian territories, create an alternative for the Palestinian push for U.N. recognition (a move that may potentially lead to war crime suits against Israel at the International Criminal Court), and provide a legitimate path for Palestinian territorial integrity after the vote.
A resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict constitutes a fundamental American national security interest and prospects for peace diminish every day negotiations are put on hold. President Morsi’s recent power grab in Egypt demonstrates the country’s unpredictable new government, one which could someday revive tensions over the Sinai Peninsula. Despite the humanitarian tragedy in Syria, regime change does not appear to be desired by the Israeli government, which fears another power vacuum in the north. New protests in Jordan, the recent assassination of a top intelligence minister in Lebanon, and Hezbollah’s leader’s comments on destroying Israel in the event of an attack on Lebanon prove that Israel’s neighbors, and the actors within them, lack stability.
It is in both the Israelis and the Palestinians interests to resume negotiations for a two-state solution. The value of a lasting peace goes beyond the small, historic strip of land on the Mediterranean.
Lack of political will of the Israeli and Palestinian governments as well as the current realities of the Arab uprisings and Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons make the environment for substantive negotiations very difficult. The conflict has been manipulated through heightened rhetoric from U.S. candidates during the election, ineffectual policies and safeguards by U.S. incumbents in the past, and provocations and violence by Israeli and Palestinian governments and authorities. To overcome the impasse, it takes political will, risk, and boldness for leaders on all sides to commit to concrete policymaking.
The recent violence shows that it’s time to get to work. President Obama does not have to campaign anymore. There is no need for political posturing or election strategies aimed at gathering enough support to win another round. The U.S. can revive its position as the “honest broker” in the region if the administration turns its attention back to the peace process. A U.N. vote will not be enough to change the realities on the ground. Only direct negotiations and a comprehensive solution can do that.
Analysis: Bound by conflict, the Syrian-Lebanon crisis | IRIN News
For more than a generation, the northern Lebanese town of Tripoli has been a divided city, home to most of Lebanon’s Shia Alawi community, but also a stronghold of Sunni conservatism.
The two sects, in their respective neighbourhoods of Jebel Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh, have been at odds since the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975, with hundreds dying in the worst bloodshed in 1986. The road separating the two entrenched factions - appropriately called Syria Street - is the only demarcation line that still exists in Lebanon 22 years after the war ended.
In recent months, the outbreak of conflict in Syria and the influx of thousands of Syrian refugees into Lebanon has renewed and increased those tensions between Shia Alawis generally supportive of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Sunni sympathizers of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the opposition.
More than 30 Lebanese from both sides have been killed in fighting between the two communities since the beginning of the Syrian uprising in March 2011. While a fragile ceasefire in Tripoli - agreed in early June - seems to be generally holding, sporadic clashes happen on a daily basis and it is common to see civilians carrying weapons.
While there are clear risks of Lebanon being caught up in the Syrian conflict, the reverse is also true: Syrian antagonists are equally in danger of being dragged into age-old Lebanese sectarianism.
The Syrian conflict has already killed at least 10,000, according to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, and displaced as many as 500,000 people inside the country, according to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, and another 86,000 are registered refugees in neighbouring countries. Basic services are not running properly, and the economy has been hard hit, not only by the conflict, but by far-reaching economic sanctions, pushing up unemployment and the price of food. Lebanon, which has already suffered decades of war, is rife with poverty and political instability. Both countries have much to lose.
Photo: Anja Pietsch/ IRIN