EDITORIAL: Faint prospects for Middle East hot spots
A ray of light is emerging from the Middle East after all the turmoil in Syria, Libya and Egypt. So many attempts have been made over the years that we are not going to hold our breath at this early stage.
It was recently announced that a thaw is in the making with respect to the turbulent relations between Palestine and Israel. At last the United States State Department has broken the ice and gotten the parties to agree to talks, seemingly with some preconditions.
Secretary of State Jon Kerry has worked hard to get the parties to the negotiating table since assuming office earlier this year, although the three major sticking points remain unresolved: the Palestinian Authority’s recognition of Israel, the expansion of settlements and the 1967 borders.
It must be astonishing to most people that 46 years after the June 1967 war that saw Israel occupy the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, the two sides still cannot agree on the premise that there should be a permanent peace between them along 1967 borders, with any agreed modifications.
The rest of the world probably has not given up hope that a negotiated peace could one day be achieved, but most people pretty much have given up hope that it can be attained through negotiations mediated by the United States.
The decision by Israel to free Palestinian prisoners as a response to Kerry’s persuasion is a welcome move. If reports are to be believed, Tel Aviv has decided to release a number of high-profile prisoners, some of whom have been in jail for decades.
The other important recent development was the European Union’s (EU) instructions to its member states to forbid dealings with institutions or organizations based in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem.
This move is seen as “highly significant and praiseworthy”, but also unusual for the EU that has had such a hard time in recent years reaching agreement among all its members on a common position toward Israeli occupation and colonization.
This constitutes a radical shift of opinion and these two new developments could suggest that Western patience with Israel is wearing thin. However, we will have to wait and see how the EU and the United States react if or when Israel’s allies start their counter-offensives to roll back these moves.
Already Israeli demands that Palestinians should not join the International Criminal Court in the foreseeable future as the price for restarting negotiations is another sign that it would not be plain sailing.
Recently, columnist Rami Khouri of the Lebanon Daily Star said Kerry’s approach to prodding both sides to resume negotiations is laudable and must be supported and encouraged every time he flies to the region to seek progress.
Khouri said however that Kerry’s strategy for moving forward is like “a pig with lipstick – an ugly essence beautified with superficial surface cosmetics” as he was using failed approaches that are unlikely to succeed.
Such pessimism is justified as the situation is much the same as it was 46 years ago and nothing was achieved during the first term of President Barack Obama.