Instead of resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, both sides just want to contain itby Ahmad Samih Khalidi / March 22, 2006 / Leave a comment
Published in March 2006 issue of Prospect Magazine
After four decades at the centre of Arab-Israeli politics, the notion of a comprehensive final peace deal is disappearing. The mutual violence and the realities on the ground since 2000 have made it harder to re-engage in talks, resolve outstanding issues and sustain any negotiated agreement. The violence has also served to consolidate the notion of “no partner” on both sides.
Ariel Sharon had long argued that the essence of the conflict was existential and irresoluble. Partly as a result of failure at Camp David in 2000, and partly as a result of Sharon’s own success in pulling out of Gaza unilaterally, this view is now entrenched at the centre of Israeli politics, as is evident in the continuing popularity of Sharon’s new Kadima party.
Instead of resolving the conflict, the Israeli view is that it is better to manage it via unilateral acts and a new long-term incremental process that may or may not lead to an agreed resolution. Unilateralism, in the meantime, allows Israel to preserve its core interests, such as maintaining a state with a Jewish majority, at the price of marginal concerns, such as the sacrifice of isolated settlements in areas of Arab population density.
Ever since the mid-1970s, the Palestinian mainstream as represented by Arafat and his secular nationalist Fatah movement has adopted the notion of a comprehensive settlement based on a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem and a resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem. But things are changing on the Palestinian side as well. Camp David’s ill-managed attempts to force a settlement, Israel’s subsequent attempt to besiege and break Arafat and “sear the Palestinians’ consciousness” with superior force, in Moshe Ya’alon’s words, and the devastating consequences of massive settlement construction and the separation wall in the West Bank had all already combined to shape a growing Palestinian perception that there was no Israeli partner a…