The Danger of Unilateralism
Now the dust has started to settle over the Israeli elections, it's time try and make some sense of what all this will mean for the sputtering Israeli/Palestinian peace process.
One Israeli political commentator summarised the election results as "the right have lost but the left haven't won". Likud's crash-landing, juxtaposed with Kadima's less overwhelming than expected victory makes this a fair comment.
I'll assume for now Kadima will find a political partner(s) to allow them to implement their "unilateral disengagement" plan. Basically this plan implies that if a negotiated settlement cannot be found by 2010, Israel will define its borders unilaterally.
The unilateral solution is of course the most undesirable outcome possible, at least to those who wish a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Not only will non-negotiated borders inevitably mean that the Israeli Government will have to accommodate at least some of the demands of the right, and the settlers in particular, invariably leading to borders that will be unacceptable to the Palestinians. And a non-negotiated definition of borders will always be thorn in the Palestinian side and block the way for future negotiations.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks remains Hamas' reluctance to recognise Israel. On the face of it the Israeli demand for recognition of its right to exist is reasonable and logical: how can they be expected to negotiate with a partner that doesn't recognise their existence?
The main reason, in my opinion, why Hamas isn't willing to recognise Israel, at least not without some concessions from Israel in return, is that they feel recognising Israel also means recognising the Occupation, thereby legitimising it.
The West, as usual, remains squarely behind their Middle East ally but it's easy to forget that this "reasonable demand" on the part of the US and Europe is in fact rather two-faced.
To date, Egypt and Jordan are the only members of the Arab League to recognize Israel as a state. The state-run press in Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iran still refer to Israel as the Zionist entity.
Some of the West's most loyal Muslim allies like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia do not recognise the State of Israel either.
This refusal to recognise Israel on the part of so many Muslim countries must be seen as a protest against the Occupation. It may be politically expedient to single Hamas out but they are clearly not alone in their position.
Then there is the rhetorical call for "the destruction of Israel". Rhetorical it is because an empty threat that cannot be carried out is not a real threat. Palestinians simply don't have the means to "destroy" Israel. Suicide bombers and Kassam missiles can cause considerable human misery, suffering and terror but they cannot capture any terrain. Nonetheless, the Palestinians should completely renounce armed struggle, for tactical reasons: this "war" cannot be won by military means. It's important to note that a unilaterally declared Palestinian cease-fire has been largely, albeit not completely, observed for about a year now.
It's to be hoped that Ehud Olmert's four years of grace will be used to find a way out of the quagmire by means of small, tentative steps from both sides, in order to avoid the spectre of a "unilateral solution". They'll make awkward dance partners, Olmert and Hamas. The former an experienced political tactician, more or less devoid of ideology, the latter brimming with ideology but inexperienced in the minefield of politics...
Keywords: Israel, Palestine, Israeli elections, Kadima, Hamas