Israel-Palestine Peace Is a Priority, Not a Sideshow

Resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the wider Arab-Israeli conflict, should be seriously grasped as a global priority.

The major developments in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict last week were simultaneously tragic and comic—tragic at the level of Palestinians and Israelis killing each other by the handfuls each week and more or less on individual whims, and comic at the level of their incompetent governments and the equally failed mediation efforts by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Most political analysts around the world say that the Palestine-Israel conflict is a secondary side show to the much bigger dangers in the region that also threaten the world.

This is a mistaken view, because the Israel-Palestine conflict is central to the dynamics over the past century that have led to today’s regional turmoil. Resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the wider Arab-Israeli conflict, should be seriously grasped as a global priority, because this would indirectly impact positively on reducing some current regional tensions and promoting positive new developments.

The tragi-comedy show we have witnessed for two decades now in the form of the United States as sole mediator between Israel and Palestine has achieved zero results. This reached something of a climax last week when John Kerry visited the leaders in both Palestine and Israel, found them both unyielding in their positions that are at a chronic stalemate, and returned home saying that the United States has no more ideas—meaning that the United States has absolutely no idea about how to mediate in this situation.

The bankruptcy of American mediation caps decades of colonization of Palestinian land by the Israeli state—not rogue militants, but the elected government itself—and the steady loss of credibility, legitimacy and control by the government of the Palestinian Authority, which most Palestinians view as a subcontracted security operator for the Israeli occupation.

The rising tides of Israeli racist colonialism, alongside mass humiliation and hopelessness among Palestinians, especially the youth who have never known any life other than under Israeli occupation, finally erupted into the current frenzy of mutual killings by the Israeli occupier-colonizer and desperate occupied Palestinians.

The links between the Palestine-Israeli conflict and the current turmoil across the region may not be obvious or direct. The most important one is that the single greatest scourge of the modern Arab World is the legacy of military rulers who become presidents for life in many Arab states. They usually grabbed power by arguing that only their military rule could protect Arab states from Israeli threats, as in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Libya and other lands. There is a direct line from prolonged Arab military rule to the hollowing of states and the current battles within them, due to factors like mass corruption, incompetent management, resource misallocation, lack of citizen rights, over-militarization, ravaged environmental resources, wasteful wars, and foreign alliances that serve the military’s incumbency more than national development.

Arab leaders and military systems have not protected the Arab countries against Zionism, which is one reason why many Arab publics lost faith in their leaders. Government legitimacy declined in many Arab lands both for domestic and regional failures, which contributed to driving the recent and continuing uprisings to topple incompetent and often brutal Arab regimes—in some cases leading to new chaos and wars.

Many people in the Arab region also see Israel as the cutting edge of Western imperial and colonial manipulations in our region, making the conflict a constant reminder of our difficult history with foreign powers. The seriously imbalanced support for Israel that defines American policy in the region drives much anti-American government sentiments among Arab publics, which in turn regularly promotes tensions between Arab citizens and their governments.

Iranian-Israeli and Iranian-Arab tensions also have been stoked in large part by the continuation of the Palestine-Israel conflict; these tensions would probably drop a notch in the wake of a Palestinian-Israeli peace accord. Across the region one of the reasons for the growth of non-violent Islamist political movements, like the Muslim Brothers especially, has been their opposition to Israeli policies in Palestine and other adjacent Arab lands.

Finally, the example of resolving such a difficult conflict through peaceful negotiations based on the rule of law—as happened with the Iran-P5+1 accord—could prod the resolution of other local conflicts in the region. So justice and peace in Palestine-Israel could have a salutary effect on many aspects of Arab domestic, regional and global policies, including less military spending and warfare, and real socio-economic development.

These issues suggest that for nearly the past century the Palestine-Israel conflict has been, and remains today, probably the single most destructive, radicalizing, and destabilizing force in the Middle East. If the American secretary of state is baffled about why his country’s incompetent and biased mediation has failed, that dysfunction and dishonesty is for Americans to resolve. The rest of us should act like serious and ethical adults, and focus on resolving this conflict as quickly as possible, for the good of the region and the world.

Rami G. Khouri is published twice weekly in the Daily Star. He was founding director and now senior policy fellow of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. On Twitter: @ramikhouri.

Copyright ©2015 Rami G. Khouri — distributed by Agence Global