So, the curtain is raised once again, the actors emerge, and the crowd applauds – it’s the latest scene in the tragic comedy of the Israeli-Arab conflict.
As Barack Obama, the US president, welcomed his guests at the White House to unveil the resumption of direct “negotiations” between the Israelis and Palestinians, it was almost difficult not to feel a sense of déjà vu.
President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, King Abdullah of Jordan, Benyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas all took it in turns to impress upon us the importance of “seizing this moment” to achieve peace. Each leader emphasised just how critical it was that this latest round of negotiations succeed for, after all they “are all fathers, blessed with sons and daughters whose generation will judge them” – as President Obama so eloquently put it.
But then again so were Bill Clinton, Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat, as were Bashar Al-Assad and Yitzhak Shamir. Yet peace remains as far fetched today as it was in Madrid and Camp David.
The question is why?
Is this conflict so complex and complicated that it is unsolvable?
Many people are inclined to believe it is. However there are millions who remain optimistic that a solution can and must be reached, and my view as that so long as there is a determination to achieve freedom then there is a possibility to secure peace in the region. Unfortunately (for the political establishments) it requires a total change in approach, rhetoric and above all – action.
Obama noted the scepticism clouding this latest endeavour in his opening remarks. Many will note this as a sign of maturity and realism, however for millions in the Arab and Muslim world it is the opposite. It is a symbol of the lack of understanding the US has of the core issues that fundamentally shape and affect the conflict.
Some 1.5 million Palestinians living under a three-year siege are not sceptical a family torn apart by a concrete wall in the occupied West Bank is not sceptical hundreds of millions of Muslims and Christians who see the continuous attacks on their holiest of sites are not sceptical. Decades of illegal occupation does not breed scepticism – distrust maybe, disillusionment possibly, resentment probably, resistance most definitely.
And it is in this word – “resistance” – that the answer to a solution can be found.
There is a famous Arab proverb that says: “There is no war with Israel without Egypt, no peace without Syria and no recognition without Saudi Arabia”. It was probably this that convinced Bush to hold the miserable failure that was Annapolis, and it is this formula that probably still dictates the policy makers and thinkers at the state department. However, as true as this statement was during the first three decades of the conflict, it is just as untrue today.
The real players today are not the ailing, corrupt and out-of-touch regimes of the Arab world. Millions will not flock to demonstrate in support of Mubarak, Abbas or either of the two King Abdullahs. Resistance fighters will not give a second thought to the words coming out of Cairo, Riyadh or Amman.
It is not coincidental that the only two wars Israel has failed to win (2006 against Hezbollah and 2008 against Hamas) were not against nation states. It is not by chance that despite years of siege, bombardment and deprivation of the most basic human necessities – Hamas is still more popular in Gaza than any Arab regime in its own land.
What is needed for a solution is not more summits of “leaders”, or talk of “an economically viable Palestinian state” (yes that’s directed at you Mr Blair). What is needed is tangible changes on the ground coupled with brave political decisions to speak and listen to the real players and stakeholders in this conflict.
Whether it is Ireland, South Africa or even Soviet Russia, Western countries would never have come near a solution had they not begun talking to those whom they did not agree with. For after all, it is easy getting someone who agrees with you to say that they agree with you.
When I reported from the “Freedom Flotilla” as it tried to break the siege on Gaza, I remember the words of an Arab woman who was crying over the lifeless body of one of the aid workers killed. I asked her if he was related to her.
She said “No, I’m crying because none of our governments or Arab leaders will raise a finger to help us, they left it to us to save the people of Gaza and now they’ve left us to be killed! Do they not have children of their own?”
Well we now know that they do, however, many “sceptics” will say that the words of these leaders carry little weight with anyone, bar their children.
It will be somewhat interesting to see how this latest phase in the “peace process” pans out. Somehow I’m certain that we’ll be having a similar discussion, with the backdrop of a similar summit, possibly after another Israeli-waged war in the not-so-distant future. Please excuse my scepticism.