Talks on resolving the Arab-Israel conflict have taken place on the international round table time and again and have failed miserably. Peace has daunted the Middle East for so long and the civilians on both the sides are paying the price for this discord. It seems that the parties involved in the conflict are irreconcilable and antagonistic, and the mediators are complacent. Even the latest round of Middle East peace talks ended without a breakthrough, let alone any visible signs of progress on the settlement issue. Is peace in the Middle East really an unachievable and unconquerable goal?
It seems that the recognition of Hamas and its status has been a bone of contention. Both the governments, the US as well as Israel, consider Hamas a terrorist organization. It is true that as an organization, Hamas’ history is paved with excesses like kidnappings and suicide bombings committed in the name of the Islamic militarism. But Israel’s agenda too is covered with excesses and violence; the attack on the peace flotilla and Israel’s stubborn denial till date to take onus for its action is just an example of it.
Hamas has often been portrayed as a fundamentalist Islamic organization seeking the restoration of an Islamic caliphate and the defeat of Western powers. Israel has had Western support since at least the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, Hamas came into being in 1983 following the Lebanon war and the slow disintegration of the PLO, long before any semblance of an Al-Qaeda network – whose own emergence is traced to 1986/7. In 2008, the White House spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, called Hamas the Islamic group ‘thugs’. However, it is Israel that has been guilty of displaying religious xenophobia and fanaticism. For instance, take into account the very recent remarks of Naftali Bennett, the director of the Yesha Council, to the Israel radio after Hamas’ attack on four Israeli civilians: “Palestinians have no goal to create a peaceful state for themselves but are entirely driven to destroy our state and our people….We will start work this evening and build all across Judea and Samaria.” Consider how the director has referred the West Bank with its ancient biblical name. The Jews’ quest for a separate homeland has always been about reclaiming their past glory as Israelites, the superior race, and reestablishment of Jerusalem as their kingdom. Hence, they consider Palestinian Muslims their biblical enemy and have engaged themselves in a holy war against them.
And for the achievement of this goal, no price is seen as too big by the Jews, particularly, the loss of human lives. For instance, Israel’s air strikes in Gaza in 2008, which killed more than 200 people in just one day, was justified by Israel as a necessary step for eradication of Hamas. The Israeli settlement moratorium has been the recent bone of contention between the two parties. The 10-month settlement freeze is due to expire at the end of September, after which the situation is prone to become more precarious. Although the Quartet, comprising the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia has lauded the effectiveness of the ban, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reluctant to continue it for the fear of losing support from the pro-settler factions in the government. Both the parties have backed out of the peace talks for one reason or the other, which makes one wonder about the seriousness of their intentions and that of the mediators. For instance, Hamas offered Israel a 10-year ‘hudna’ in 2008, a conditional truce, which required Israel to withdraw from the lands it seized in the 1967 Middle East War in bargain for its recognition. The offer was repelled by Israel as well as the US, as they failed to see any promise in it. This lack of faith was criticized by the former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who received this offer from the Hamas leaders in a much-criticized meeting in Syria. “The problem is not that I met with Hamas in Syria,” he said. “The problem is that Israel and the United States refuse to meet with someone who must be involved.” The then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided ‘conveniently’ not to meet with Carter in Israel because he did not wish to negotiate with Hamas. Carter further felt that Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking had ‘regressed’ since U.S. hosted a Mideast conference in Annapolis.
Indeed the US role has been somewhat questionable. The US has been the strongest ally of Israel and has maintained that Israel has the tight to defend itself. In 2006, The then Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice met the Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in an attempt to urge the emerging Palestinian government led by Hamas to recognize Israel and renounce violence. However, Livni still continued with the ad nauseam of calling Hamas a terrorist organization at that occasion, whereas Rice decided to keep a diplomatic front and refrained from any name calling attempts. She acknowledged that the "two-state solution has to begin from the premise that both Palestinians and Israelis have a right to exist." But till date, the US policymakers haven’t done much to grant the Palestinians the right to co-exist. After the deadly air strikes by Israel in 2008, Washington did not call for an end to the Israeli attacks despite urging both sides to avoid human casualties. Yet the US was quick enough blame Hamas for provoking these attacks. The same behavior was exhibited when Israel attacked the peace flotilla and got out without even a slap on the wrist. The US aversion towards Hamas and its interpretation as a terrorist organization shows the US’ biasness. Hamas has come a long way since joining the political process and winning the democratic election in 2006. It is clearly an important stakeholder in the Israel-Palestine conflict by virtue of being elected by the Palestinians themselves; and hence, the denial of its position, importance and legitimacy by the US and Israel is a fallacy and the undermining of the democratic process. After all, the US, by virtue of being the world power and the propagator of the warrior against the axis of evil, has been willing to march its forces in to the likes of Afghanistan and Iraq and threaten others like Iran with similar consequences. However, whenever it comes to peace talks and reconciliation processes, the US has been unwilling to use its influence and persuasive powers and has always preferred to sit on the sidelines instead.
Conclusively, it is clear that the dream for world peace cannot be achieved without the resolution of the Middle East crisis. Hence, the US and the Quartet need to be more involved than they currently are in the peace process. Meanwhile, the Palestinian and the Israeli leaders have to learn to meet halfway. Both need to recognize the worth and sanctity of human lives and each others’ religious places. Be it Israel’s air strikes on Gaza or Hamas’ firing of rockets into Israel; both kind of excesses are violence. Violence is never justified, whether as a means to an end or an end itself. It is a fallacy either ways.