An expected ending to a sad story

It seems that the attempt to achieve a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians as part of the implementation of phase I of the roadmap has collapsed, with a return to the usual vicious circle of violent actions and counteractions.

The publics of the two sides accepted the short period of relative tranquility with eagerness and a strong wish not to regress to the former condition of violent conflict, and yet, when it collapsed, nobody seemed to be surprised. This deserves an explanation. If the vast majority of the two peoples wants a resumption of the peace process, supports implementation of the roadmap and longs for an end to the bloodshed, why are the two sides regressing to mutual violence so easily and so quickly, and nobody is really surprised? What is the explanation for this wide gap between public opinion and the leadership decisions of the two parties?

One possible explanation is the discrepancy between the yearning in each camp for tranquility and the belief that it is indeed possible. Each party believes that its side wants a peaceful solution but that it cannot trust the other side. Because of this mutual mistrust, neither party accepted the roadmap in good faith and neither believed it would really be implemented. The only purpose of accepting it was to transfer the ball to the other’s court, and create a perception among the third parties and especially the United States that the failure was the fault of the other party.

Another explanation is the inability of the two leaderships to change well-rooted patterns of behavior. The Palestinian leadership continually makes empty promises that it will deal with terrorism. Then it does nothing, while hoping that somehow things will fall into place and everything will be fine. When everything is not fine, they rush to utter excuses and tell the external world the fairy tale that if they do anything against the armed groups it will lead to a civil war. They continually talk in two tongues, one aimed at their people and the other aimed at the outer world, because they do not have the courage to tell the truth to their people. They cannot stop bickering and fighting for personal positions instead of uniting around a common positive policy that will bring them closer to the realization of their national goals.

Israeli leaders also lack the courage to tell their people the truth; therefore they prefer to hide behind outbursts of emotional response. The best example is the Israeli cabinet decision to work for the expulsion of Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon knows that it is not feasible due to international outrage. Moreover he knows that it will not help to ameliorate the situation. But it is very convenient for him to accept such a decision that will satisfy the right-wing elements in his government and some angry elements in the Israeli public, instead of telling the Israeli people the sad truth that his policy has reached a dead end.

The Israeli government and security establishment cannot overcome their urge to react with violence to any violent provocation by the Palestinians, not understanding that the pacification of the Palestinian population is a process that will take time, and that Israel’s almost automatic response does not give this process the slimmest chance of succeeding. Nor is the Israeli leadership capable of ceasing to personalize the problem, believing that if it gets rid of this Palestinian person or has another Palestinian figure as its interlocutor this will solve the problem.

Is this a hopeless situation? Can anything be done? Technically speaking, the nomination of Ahmad Qurei (Abu Alaa) as Palestinian prime minister provides an opportunity to resume the hudna (ceasefire) and put the train back on the track of implementation of the roadmap. One could also argue that Abu Alaa has a better chance of success then former Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), because he enjoys better support among the Palestinian leadership and has adopted a more intelligent modus operandi of trying to manipulate Arafat to accept his policy instead of entering a direct public confrontation with the Palestinian leader. It is also possible that it will be easier for Sharon and Abu Alaa to reach an understanding regarding phase II of the roadmap, which establishes a Palestinian state with provisional borders, because Abu Alaa already developed the concept of such a state together with Shimon Peres and with the backing of Sharon, when Peres was in Sharon’s government, while Abu Mazen basically objected to the concept of additional interim arrangements.

The real problem is that the fundamental mutual distrust and the inability of the two leaderships to get out of their familiar patterns of behavior will mount the same obstacles against any attempt to build something positive with Abu Alaa’s government. Assuming this is the case, it is time to return to developing ideas that seek to combine unilateral steps by the two sides with more intensive international involvement, as a way of maintaining a more stable and quiet situation that could later enable the rebuilding of mutual trust and political progress towards reconciliation.