Linda S. Heard
Gulf News (Opinion)
January 26, 2010 - 1:00am

Middle East peace has rarely seemed as remote as it does now. Instead of coming up with solutions, those involved are hurling accusations, erecting fences or throwing up their hands in despair. The longer this dangerous impasse continues the more the cauldron of violence threatens to boil over. None of the parties are immune from criticism, although some are more to blame than others.

The major hurdle to progress is the current Israeli government led by the hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu; a man who has never believed in relinquishing land for peace. While it's true that under pressure from Washington he has recently paid lip-service to the idea of a Palestinian state, his actions relate an entirely different story.

Under Netanyahu's watch, Israel has rejected calls for a freeze on illegal Jewish West Bank colonies and continues to oust Palestinians from their homes in Occupied East Jerusalem to building housing developments earmarked for colonists. Knesset member Mohammad Barakeh believes Israel intends to empty the holy city of its Arab citizens, which he calls "a crime against the Arab population and a crime against the peace process."

Netanyahu concurrently maintains the three-year-long crippling blockade on Gaza responsible for thrusting 1.5 million Palestinians into dire poverty, destroying their quality of life, eroding educational standards and undermining health care.

A metal wall currently being built by Egypt designed to penetrate deep into the ground will further deprive Gaza's inhabitants of food, medicine and other essentials that are smuggled in via an underground network of tunnels stretching to the Egyptian border town of Rafah. Egypt is bound to prevent weapons smuggling under its peace treaty with Israel and considers the tunnels a threat to its own security.


For its part, Israel believes its vulnerable border with Egypt threatens its security and plans to construct a $274 million (Dh1 billion) "surveillance fence", which Netanyahu says will keep out "infiltrators and terrorists", along with asylum seekers, illegal migrants and illegal workers. When it is completed in two years, it will effectively see Israel all but fenced in from its Syrian, Lebanese, Jordanian and Egyptian neighbours, as well as from Gaza and the West Bank. This is hardly the action of a country seeking friendly interaction with others in the neighbourhood. In truth, no wall or fence can assure a nation's security; only a fair and just peace can ultimately achieve that.

In the meantime, Netanyahu erects insurmountable walls to peace. Just last week, he told Israel's Foreign Press Association that he would only be prepared to accept a demilitarised Palestinian state with an Israeli military presence along its eastern border, ostensibly to prevent missiles being smuggled in from Jordan.

In other words, any such state would not possess the ability to defend itself and would be liable to incursions by Israeli forces according to the Israeli government's whim. Add to this condition the Israeli prime minister's absolute rejection of Israel's 1967 borders, the principle of sharing Occupied Jerusalem between Israelis and Palestinians and the right of return for Palestinian refugees and there's not much left to talk about.

And that's exactly why Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has quit talking. Netanyahu has made no concessions to the demands of the international community or the Palestinians yet he has the audacity to wag his finger at Abbas, saying, "Instead of starting negotiations, the Palestinians have climbed up a tree and appear to be staying there. The more ladders they bring them, they just climb higher up."

Netanyahu must realise that he's kidding no one, but he doesn't care. Some commentators believe he's biding his time until US President Barack Obama falls out of favour and becomes too weak to even think of heaping pressure on Israel. If that's his strategy it may well work.

With his health care bill now jeopardised by the loss of the Democrats' 60-vote filibuster-enabling Senate majority, Obama is in no mood to put whatever is left of his credibility on the line over Middle East peace, evidenced by an interview published by Time magazine earlier this month.

The US leader abandoned his inspirational rhetoric to admit that the issue was the most "intractable" he had ever encountered and blamed Israelis and Palestinians for being unwilling to make bold gestures. "I think it is absolutely true that what we did this year [2009] didn't produce the kind of breakthrough that we wanted and if we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high," he said.

So that's it then! The message from all sides is that there is little hope. Unless the Arab world, partnered with Turkey, decides to get seriously tough, the Palestinian dream will remain just that for a long time to come.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017