Sunday, 21 July 2013

Peace In Our Time

The big news coming out of the Middle East, if one ignores Syria as so many seem so capable of doing, is the announcement of a return to peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I'm an Economist, so let's make a few assumptions. Let's assume that peace talks begin; that both sides want peace; that negotiations could be fruitful and heck, that a solution is reached. Picture the scene, Netanyahu and Abbas could stand arm in arm on Temple Mount each waving a piece of paper to the gathered masses. Palestinians and Jews would embrace, the status of hummus as a joint Israeli-Arab dish would be assured and the respective leaders heads of state would proclaim, "(real) Peace in our time," or whatever the Hebrew and Arabic equivalent is, ignoring the previous connotations of that phrase. We could head to my uncle's bakery for a sandwich and then on to a local falafel and shawarma joint to really kick-start the party, sharing many a tale from the past few centuries of conflict joking about how we have managed to fool the West into believing it all began in 1948. Does that not sound all so amazing? I cannot wait.

But then you come back to the real world. You realise that even with the best of intentions on both sides, the above picture is a distant dream regardless of whether Abbas and Netanyahu want peace or can negotiate peace. Many will argue that neither truly wants peace in the first place, so there is not much point in starting them off on whether a negotiated settlement is possible. And even pulling on our Economist caps on, assuming those problems away, it does not look much better. There are many obstacles to peace, on both sides. There are many that a good, honest desire for peace could help erode. There is (at least) one, however, that no desire for peace can erode; one that makes the smell of falafel and hummus together on a sunny evening disappear quicker than you can say 'pitta bread'. That one obstacle is Hamas and the Gaza/West Bank divide.

Abbas may command (minimal) legitimacy in the West Bank (ignoring, as you must, the lack of elections and rampant corruption to mention but two problems with his leadership), but he cannot even see the other half of the territory that he claims to represent with binoculars, let alone step foot inside it. Whether you want to argue that Hamas is the legitimate representatives of those Palestinians (some will argue they were democratically elected) is neither here nor there. What is impossible to argue is that Abbas represents the Gazans. He simply does not, that is just the cold hard truth. For him to be negotiating a peace deal that Hamas has already rejected (http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2013/05/201353144052527593.html), on behalf of Palestinians under Hamas rule, makes a mockery of the proposal. Abbas simply has no authority to negotiate a Palestinian state that includes Gaza which it surely would.

I hope you can forgive my obvious pessimism about the latest announcement. I do sincerely hope, pray and (dare I say it) dream that we will see peace in our time. The Palestinian and Jewish people deserve a lasting peace that has a viable Palestinian state alongside a Jewish state with its security guaranteed. The latest round peace talks, however, can, at best, end with Abbas declaring a Palestinian state in the West Bank with Gaza continuing to provide the home for rocket fire into Israel. That is not a peace that any Israeli leader can or will accept.

Turn off the ovens Binyamin, falafel and shawarma will have to wait.

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