It is always difficult to assess change in international politics. Yet what is happening in West Asia, where a conflict has been raging for over 60 years, demands an analysis free of preconceptions. Israel and the Palestinian Authority are trying to negotiate a full-fledged peace agreement, and these negotiations are predicated on a number of truisms upon which it is crucial to reflect.
First, the West Asia situation has moved from a zero-sum game into a win-win situation. Faced with terror, Israel, the pragmatic Palestinian leadership under Mahmoud Abbas, forward-looking Arab countries like Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, etc. and the international community agree on the basic contours of peace in West Asia, broadly agreeing on a two-State solution, with Israel and Palestine co-existing peacefully. Tough decisions will have to be taken by all leaders. Israel will have to deal with the settlement issue and its tough internal ramifications, while the Palestinians will have to deal with the daunting issue of refugees. Gone also should be the days of propaganda and point-scoring.
Second, the Israel-Palestinian conflict is central to the conflict in West Asia. Solving this once seemingly-intractable issue will not deter extremists from using terror to pursue Israel’s destruction. The conflict must be solved for the good of future generations. All other benefits, including regional stability, are vital but secondary, with the parties no longer looking for victory, but for solutions.
Third, there is no military solution to the conflict. Yet extremist organisations, including State-sponsored ones, continue to use terror to achieve their aims. Terrorism does immense damage to the Palestinian cause, a fact that is lost on its perpetrators. The only way to solve the West Asia conflict is through negotiations conducted in good faith, such as those being held currently.
Fourth, extremism threatens to derail the peace process but pragmatic leaders are united in their resolve to not let extremists dictate the agenda. What makes the threat of fanaticism more difficult to counteract is the support it receives from the Iranian leadership, which perseveres in its military, financial and moral support for the terrorists. Let there be no doubt that Israel harbours no negative feelings towards Iranians and has the greatest respect for them. But the leadership’s use of inexcusable language and Nazi terminology calling the Jewish State a “bacteria”, and for Israel to be “wiped off the map”, its moves to achieve nuclear weaponry and its denial of the Holocaust have attracted international opprobrium, and this danger to the peace moves must not be underestimated.
Fifth, Israelis and Palestinians cannot at this stage agree on historical narratives and perceptions. There will always be those who will find fault with whatever Israel does, but both Israeli and Palestinian politicians and diplomats must desist from the propagandistic blame-game.
The complexities of the situation in West Asia are too many to enumerate, and the obstacles to peace are daunting. Yet, there is a need to move forward by all who are interested in helping the two sides reach a solution. Moving towards an election, Israelis are united in the achievement of peace. And after years of stagnation, new winds are blowing in West Asia. Given the peace talks and the realisation that the real battle is between moderates and extremists, it’s just possible that we may be at the threshold of a new era.
Mark Sofer is Israel’s Ambassador to India