Rami G. Khouri| The Daily Star
Major developments in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict last week were simultaneously tragic and comic: tragic because Palestinians and Israelis have killed each other by the handful recently, usually on the basis of a whim; and comic because of the incompetent governments on both sides, and the failed mediation efforts by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Most political analysts around the world say that the Palestine-Israel conflict is a sideshow to the much bigger dangers in the region that also threaten the world. This is a mistaken view. The Israel-Palestine conflict is central to the dynamics over the past century that have led to today’s regional turmoil. Resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict and the wider Arab-Israeli conflict should be global priorities. This would indirectly impact positively on reducing some current regional tensions and promoting positive new developments.
The tragicomedy we have witnessed for two decades now in the form of the United States as the sole mediator between Israel and Palestine has achieved zero results. This reached something of a climax last week when Kerry visited the leaders in Palestine and Israel, found them both unyielding in their positions that have produced a chronic stalemate, and returned home saying that the United States has no more ideas – meaning that the U.S. has absolutely no idea about how to mediate in this situation.
The bankruptcy of American mediation caps decades of colonization of Palestinian land by the Israeli state – not rogue militants, but the elected government itself – and the steady loss of credibility, legitimacy and control by the government of the Palestinian Authority, which most Palestinians view as a subcontracted security operator for the Israeli occupation.
The rising tide of Israeli racist colonialism, alongside mass humiliation and hopelessness among Palestinians, especially the youth who have never known any life other than under Israeli occupation, finally erupted into the current frenzy of mutual killings by the Israeli occupier-colonizer and desperate occupied Palestinians.
The links between the Palestine-Israeli conflict and the current turmoil across the region may not be obvious or direct. The most important one is that the single greatest scourge of the modern Arab world is the legacy of military rulers who become presidents for life in many Arab states. They usually grabbed power by arguing that only their military rule could protect Arab states from Israeli threats, as in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Libya and other lands. There is a direct line from prolonged Arab military rule to the hollowing out of states and the current battles within them, due to factors such as mass corruption, incompetent management, resource misallocation, lack of rights, over-militarization, the ravaging of environmental resources, wasteful wars and foreign alliances that serve the military’s incumbency more than national development.
Arab leaders and military systems have not protected Arab countries against Zionism, which is one reason why many Arab publics lost faith in their leaders. Government legitimacy declined in many Arab lands due to domestic and regional failures. These contributed to driving the recent and continuing uprisings to topple incompetent and often brutal Arab regimes – in some cases leading to new chaos and wars.
Many people in the Arab region also see Israel as the cutting edge of Western imperial and colonial manipulations in the Middle East, making the conflict a constant reminder of our difficult history with foreign powers.
The seriously imbalanced support for Israel that defines American regional policy drives much anti-American government sentiment among Arab publics. This in turn regularly generates tensions between Arab citizens and their governments.
Iranian-Israeli and Iranian-Arab tensions also have been stoked in large part by the continuation of the Palestine-Israel conflict. These tensions would probably drop a notch after a Palestinian-Israeli peace accord. Across the region one of the reasons for the growth of non-violent Islamist political movements, the Muslim Brotherhood especially, has been their opposition to Israeli policies in Palestine and other Arab lands.
Finally, the example of resolving such a difficult conflict through peaceful negotiations based on the rule of law – as happened with the nuclear accord with Iran – could inspire the resolution of other conflicts in the region. So justice and peace following a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict could have a salutary effect on many aspects of Arab domestic, regional and global policies. That includes less military spending and warfare, and real socio-economic development.
These issues suggest that for nearly the past century the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been, and remains today, probably the single most destructive, radicalizing and destabilizing force in the Middle East. If the American secretary of state is baffled about why his country’s incompetent and biased mediation has failed, that dysfunction and dishonesty is for Americans to resolve. The rest of us should act like serious and ethical adults and focus on resolving this conflict as quickly as possible, for the good of the region and the world.
Rami G. Khouri is published twice weekly by THE DAILY STAR. He can be followed on Twitter @RamiKhouri.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 28, 2015, on page 7.