Middle East status quo unsustainable

Published October 12th, 2009 - 10:55 GMT

By Terry Lacey*

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman recently said there is no chance of a peace deal for many years. But when King Abdullah of Jordan tells the Israelis they should “Disavow the illusion that the status quo can be perpetuated”, he is also right. (The Jakarta Post 09.10.10).  

Jordanian security works in Jordan as part of a package deal based on strong national identity, an elected parliament and government, economic and social development and modern public administration and services, underpinned by a strong Hashemite leadership, backed by a solid, reliable army and a long track record of reliable security, despite problems.


Jordanian style security may not be sustainable in the West Bank via a weakened Palestinian administration under Israeli occupation, without credible political leadership commanding broad support.


The only way out of this is a Palestinian unity government accepted by all parties including Hamas and Israel, and an end to the blockade of Gaza. 


The Israelis are complacent because they apparently believe the status quo is sustainable, but this means increased risks for Jordan and Egypt.


King Abdullah sees the Jerusalem tinder-box right next to Jordan and wants a solution.


Israelis have gone through previous cycles of complacency on defense and security, and have sometimes been poor at picking up key trends.


They miscalculated the impact of driving the PLO out of Lebanon, because what the Palestinians saw on Israeli TV for the first time was that they had an army, that marched out of Beirut. This led to the intefada.


The Israelis had to retreat from Lebanon under military pressure from Hizbollah, suffering major political blows, and losing intelligence support in South Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories. This also brought a large-scale drug culture into Israel.


The Israelis did not see the first intefada (civil uprising) coming, or grasp why it came, and for a week they were fought to a standstill by Gaza schoolchildren.


Later when Hizbollah turned part of South Lebanon into a well-armed bunker, and opened a northern front against Israel, they faced major internal criticisms over the conduct of the war. 


They took a hammer to crack a nut in the Gaza Strip, lost the propaganda war outside the US, and managed to buy some time at the price of high Palestinian casualties and a UN war crimes report, and could still face more missiles and another war on the southern front.


But this also opened the door to a possible long term truce and economic coo-operation with Gaza and Hamas, separately or as part of a Palestinian unity government.


The Iranian option is diversionary and would only buy time to head off US pressure. There is no strategic threat to Israel from Iran. Not yet. Anyway nuclear deterrence should work for Israel as well as Iran. And an attack on Iran would trigger instability.


But a security crisis in greater Jerusalem or the West Bank would be a political blow.


The Israelis are not invincible. They do not always win. They are not winning now. They are treading water and going nowhere. Time and demographics are against them.


Their support in the US has peaked and is declining. 


Many countries in the Arab and Muslim world want this dispute over with and increasingly see it as a divisive parochial diversion rather than focusing on the global problems the world now faces. They favor normalization of relations with Israel and Palestine but cannot move without a deal, and not to the backdrop of a crisis over settlements and Jerusalem.


Ten million people share one economic and political space criss-crossed by walls, barbed wire and roadblocks. They all need peace, security and political rights in two states, one unitary or cantonized state, a confederation or in a wider Middle Eastern Economic Union with political cooperation. The longer they leave it, the less chance for separation and the twin state.  


As the focus of political and social conflict gets nearer Jerusalem, Merkava tanks and F16s are of no use. These are not the weapons with which you win a political struggle on home ground.


If peace talks are blocked there has to be a sustainable modus operandi for the Palestinian Territories. The claimed pursuit of the first, is not an adequate basis for the second.


A long term truce and economic cooperation look more appealing, either as part of progress on a long road or as a convincing long term interim solution. This is preferable to instability in Jerusalem and the West Bank, or that things slide towards a war on three fronts. The choice is simple, control events, or wait until events control you.


* Terry Lacey is a development economist who writes from Jakarta on modernization in the Muslim world, investment and trade relations with the EU and Islamic banking.



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