The Middle East Peace Process
Have you ever wondered why today the little country of Israel is the center of international attention today? The Israeli Government has been under intense international pressure to cede vital territories to the Palestinians. This, it is widely touted in diplomatic circles, will bring about an end to hostilities in Israel and return to the Palestinians large portions of what is now Israel into their 'rightful' hands. This is a dilemma that no peace treaty will solve. Each time a break-through occurs, a faction within one of the two parties* usually protests or resigns from the Government or threatens (and sometimes carries out) terrorist attacks. This seems to be a never-ending cycle as the two sides' work frantically for some sort of peace settlement. Today, the focus is on Syria and a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights (See Map). This strategic piece of land is essential for Israel's Security. The new Israeli Prime minister is much more amenable to the Syrian demand for the return of the Golan than his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu was. Mr. Netanyahu was defeated in the last Israeli elections and his defeat was welcomed by The US administration, who went out of its way to snub the Prime minister during a key visit to the US. The tension that was growing between the US and Israel has now subsided to some degree now that a more conciliatory leader is in place. Interestingly, some key Clinton people were involved in Barak's election campaign. Suffice it say, the US administration shed no tears at the defeat of Netanyahu. While today the prospects for peace are better, there is still a very difficult road ahead. If Barak attempts to take the country too far, serious divisions in Israel could result leading to civil unrest. Unfortunately, he could also wind up like the last prime Minster who ignored what many felt to be Israel's legitimate security concerns, Yitzak Rabin, who was shot by a radical right extremist with troubling ties to elements within the Israeli Government. This terrible tragedy is an unfortunate reality in current Middle East politics. The Prime Minister must tread carefully if he is to retain civil order and have productive peace negotiations with the Syrians. Nor can he ignore the six million Jewish Americans who have tremendous influence in the US political system. All of these factors, in addition to Israel's legitimate security concerns must weigh on the Israeli Prime Minister's mind when coming to the peace table with Syria, or for that matter, the Palestinians. How long will these negotiations continue? Despite the headlines over the past 25 years about breakthroughs and treaties, how much as really changed since the 1973 war? Beyond the Palestinians gaining a moderate bit of autonomy, not much. Though there does seem to be some real movement for a change this time. Late last year and early 2000, the Syrians began a campaign to reduce the influence of more radical and reactionary elements in Lebanon, where Syria has great influence, which would oppose a peace settlement. This portends a seriousness on the side of the Syrians that has not previously been readily apparent. The stabilizing of Lebanon, is very much a key element in the current negotiations. The US has even floated the idea (though it is far from policy) that the US could act as a guarantor with the insertion of US troops in the area. In fact, the idea of a US-Israeli joint defense pact has been discussed. Additionally, Israel has stated that it is willing to withdraw its forces from southern Lebanon. These overtures while not earth shattering are significant. The peace process, it seems can and will continue with many more breakthroughs and setbacks. However, once the problem of the Golan Heights is solved, the Issue of The Palestinians is still very much a looming concern. Yassir Arafat has been making public statement about declaring statehood in the year 2000. This would indeed cause some serious problems in the Middle East and set back negotiations with Israel back significantly. The Palestinians are getting restless with what is still perceived as second class status, being without a state and international diplomatic representation. Yet the dynamics of the Palestinian Authority are such that a more responsible and less corrupt form of governance would be required to earn itself international legitimacy. Corruption of the Palestinian Authority is widespread and is causing a real crisis of confidence in Mr. Arafat and his cronies among many Palestinians. These issues should be effectively dealt with by the regions largest donor (US) before further progress in Palestinian statehood is even remotely suggested. Yet some of the entrenched leadership among the Palestinian Authority will be less than receptive to criticism and the potential loss political face and of illicit gain such reform will certainly bring about.
The Road to peace is laid with many political and religious land mines and long-standing baggage that will be extremely difficult to remove without the support of the elements of extremism each side must deal with within their own respective populations. Whether or not this can be accomplished is yet to be seen, what has been seen so far, is the apparent real desire for Israel and Syria to come to some sort of settlement soon. Copyright © 2000 Mark S. Watson
*Many more parties if you count the Syrians, who want the Golan Heights from Israel, or the Lebanese who have factions within their borders who have worked both for Israel, Syria and Iran, or the Egyptians who have already signed a treaty with Israel or Jordan and the entire middle East, who all feel for one reason or another they have some claim on Israel, or some part of her territory or want to have a role in a diplomatic or military settlement.
State Department Page
USIA Page on Peace Process
Foundation for Middle East Peace
Middle East Daily