Will Kerry succeed in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian struggle?

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s task of finding a settlement for the Israeli-Palestinian struggle is like searching for the phoenix

Abdel Monem Said

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s task of finding a settlement for the Israeli-Palestinian struggle is like searching for the phoenix. There hasn’t been a real opportunity to resolve the struggle ever since the failure of the Camp David II conference. It was too late to resolve the struggle when President Bill Clinton tried to do so. The second Palestinian intifada erupted and the struggle turned armed and deadly. The Americans and the Europeans tried their luck at this mission through what was dubbed the road map, but there hasn’t been any success worth mentioning. Ariel Sharon, out of all people, thought that withdrawing from Gaza would pave way towards a solution, but the occupation remained. George Bush’s attempts during his second presidential term also failed, but he did succeed at helping resume negotiations between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Premier Ehud Olmret.

There’s been a whole decade of futile attempts. So what makes success possible this time? It’s said the issue has to do with a special sentiment for Barack Obama who also failed at the aforementioned task during his first presidential term. But presidents seek to make history during their second presidential term. And there’s no better way towards that end other than achieving peace in the land of the prophets. It was also said that John Kerry aims to serve his own interests as succeeding at this task will make him competent for running for presidential elections again. But sentiment and interest are not enough to achieve success. All one has to do is take a look at the region to realize it possesses all the components of failure. The entire region is in a state of chaos due to developments in Iraq, Syria and Egypt. All these developments make the region unprepared for either, a deal between the Arabs and the Israelis or a deal between Israel and the Palestinian authority. There’s an extremist right-wing government in Israel, skilled at building settlements whenever an American envoy or minister visits. Meanwhile, the Palestinians are divided. Following the collapse of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas is not ready to hold Palestinian elections but is fully prepared for a domestic Palestinian war if that’s what it takes.

Next moves?

So, how will Kerry have a chance to succeed? Is the whole issue a maneuver aiming to deal with the upcoming Iranian-American nuclear deal which may lead to Iran’s exit from the Arab-Israeli struggle? At this point, the U.S. is not going to resolve the conflict but it’s going to restructure the Middle East and its balance of power by disarming the region’s countries of their weapons of mass destruction - that is disarming Syria of its chemical weapons and disarming Iran of its nuclear weapons. Iraq was deprived of its chemical and nuclear weapons during the second and third gulf wars. The importance of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations here is that they calm down the conflict. Who knows, this might be an incentive for Arab countries, particularly Gulf ones, to be more prepared for the expected deal with Iran. In the end, Israel does not really have a reason to make significant concessions. Israel is currently witnessing its best economic era. Its rivals in Iraq and Syria are being deprived of their weapons and Egypt is busy with its own internal problems. So why would Netanyahu make the necessary concessions for reaching a solution?

Even so, optimists beg to differ

Despite that, optimists have another opinion. They think there’s a real chance to succeed because there’s a real motive this time. The motive is that failing to achieve a solution will mean that Israel is one state for two nations. This is an Israeli nightmare which Israel wants to wake up from as soon as possible. The Jews have gathered from across the world, engaged in different wars and produced the atomic bomb, and they did not do so to end up living in a state of which the majority are Muslim and Christian Arabs. Optimists believe that failing to achieve a solution will strike the Zionist idea at its core. Israel can, of course, establish a state based on oppressing Arabs, as is the case is in the occupied or besieged territories. But the presence of Arabs and Jews in one state will make the situation different because the world is no longer the way it was.

So how will Kerry have a chance at succeeding? Is the whole issue a maneuver aiming to deal with the upcoming Iranian-American nuclear deal which may lead to Iran’s exit from the Arab-Israeli struggle?

Abdel Monem Said

The motive and the incentive are thus available. There are also other strategic factors. There are threats of an “existential” nature. These threats harm both the Arabs and the Israelis. According to optimists, the most prominent of these threats is linked to Iran. A nuclear deal may be reached with Iran, but regardless of whether this deal will be achieved or not, Iran will use this deal to gain time and mature its nuclear program. It will also use the deal to serve its schemes in the Gulf and reach the Mediterranean Sea via Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Iran thus has arms and presence in all cases.

Current regional developments are no reason to relax and postpone resolving the Arab-Israeli struggle. They are a motive towards making negotiations succeed for at least two reasons. The first one is that leaving the situation as it is will lead to further extremism and chaos. This will eventually lead to the emergence of terrorist groups aiming to destroy countries, and these groups will later fight among one another. The region will thus be on the brink of war. The second reason is that what happened in the region, particularly in Egypt, has proven that civil parties are capable of resisting the regression which the first waves of the Arab Spring brought about. The current generation wants the region to live in a manner based on development and progress. This cannot be completed without resolving the Arab-Israeli struggle which no longer structures the region as the latter party is bringing up the struggle all over again. America cannot lose such a chance.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Nov. 27, 2013.


Abdel Monem Said is the director of al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. He was previously a board member at Egypt’s Parliament Research Center at the People's Assembly, and a senator in Egypt's Shura Council.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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