Reflecting on the Mideast

By George Anesi

In any serious and long-lasting conflict, it is sometimes necessary to take a step back. The goal of doing so is to remove the tunnel-vision effect that tends to plague both participants and observers of such a conflict. In the current Israeli-Palestinian crisis, we must stop examining the seemingly endless cycle of an Israeli invasion in response to a terror attack, and a terror attack in response to the invasion. This is a cycle that will obviously go nowhere. By taking that step back, we can see the larger picture and try to shed some light on the problems that exist, the forces behind them, and possible solutions—or at least potential paths to those solutions.

If we ignore Hebron, Jerusalem, Nablus, and Ramallah, we find two nations (or at least nationalities) struggling for survival. The primary problem is the almost daily loss of life on both sides. However, there are other problems to consider as well, such as economics. Both the Israeli and the Palestinian economies are in shambles. Israel is seeing a devastatingly high level of poverty and unemployment, brought on by a departure of foreign investments, military spending, and budget disputes, the most recent of which led to the crumbling of Prime Minister Sharon’s government. The Palestinians suffer from unemployment due to Israeli curfews, checkpoints, and border policies, as well as from the constant squandering of aid money by a corrupt Palestinian “government.” As a consequence of this economic crisis and damage from Israeli military operations, more and more Palestinians are being forced into refugee camps, contributing to a human rights crisis.

A second problem is the inability of the two sides to negotiate with each other. The Likud party, currently the ruling party in Israel, has deemed Palestinian Chairman Arafat irrelevant to the peace process. And since Arafat cannot control his own people enough to bring “a promise of peace” to the negotiating table, it seems that unless something changes, the violence will continue.

In a conflict of this depth, there are always many changes that must be made. There are some that could help ameliorate the situation from now on. One is the presence of an intermediary between the two sides. The two parties have reached the point where they cannot communicate directly and an intermediary is necessary for any negotiation to take place. What entity could fill this position? The U.N. couldn’t do it. Not only would Israel be reluctant to trust an entity with an Arab majority, but also the U.N. has proven it has little to no political power in the conflict; its resolutions have been ignored by both parties for years. Any Arab country could also be ruled out. It could not be any European country, they simply don’t care enough. So, as expected, the responsibility falls to the U.S.

There are two problems with the U.S. once again stepping up to face this crisis. First, the U.S. is not in any position to take on another round of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The war on terrorism and a possible invasion of Iraq have essentially monopolized the energy of the U.S. On top of that, there is the possibility of temporary disorganization ensuing when the newly established Office of Homeland Security gives way to the largest reorganization of the U.S. government since the end of World War II. The second problem facing a U.S. entry into the conflict is President Bush. It takes a certain kind of person to stand between an Israeli and a Palestinian. Bill Clinton pulled it off on the White House lawn in 1993, but I doubt Bush ever could. The U.S. will not be able to enter such negotiations until the current issues facing the nation are resolved, and the U.S. will not be able to finish such negotiations until there is that unique type of president in the White House.

Also needed, along with the U.S. acting as an intermediary, is the presence of great leaders in Israel and Palestine, who are capable of inspiring their people. Two unified peoples are much more likely to reach a middle ground than two fragmented peoples, a situation we unfortunately have now on both sides. This would help not only negotiations, but also both economies. For Palestinians, corruption would be removed, jobs would be created, and aid money would be funneled to where it is needed most. In Israel, the budget arguments will be quelled, and faith would be restored in foreign investors. The Israelis have already had the gratification of a great leader, but the Palestinians have not; Rabin was that leader for Israel, but Arafat will never be that leader for Palestine.