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THE PEACE PROCESS MAY BE MORTALLY WOUNDED

March 19, 2010 9:10 PM

The recent visit of the Vice President Joe Biden to the Middle East and the US condemnation of the approval of 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem has once again highlighted the pressures on the so-called peace process and the time may have arrived for him to announce that the peace process is 'mortally wounded.'

The US administration will never admit to this even though talk within senior circles of the US administration is to limit the number of settlements in East Jerusalem and hope that somewhere along the line, a political change in Israel may create the opportunity for a new peace partner within the State. Yet, on the Palestinian side there is increasingly a lack of hope and a distinct feeling that talks for peace are a cover for further settlement activity and for the loss of further land for Arab East Jerusalemites. For many Palestinians, the loss of East Jerusalem as a future Palestinian state is non-negotiable and for many Israeli Jews, Jerusalem should not be divided. However, one thing is a fact, one side will lose out in the clash of these ideologies and the current administration in Jerusalem is ensuring that it does not lose out.

This throws up hundreds of questions and dilemmas. What happens to the rights of Arab residents in East Jerusalem and the continued loss of land? If there is no capital in East Jerusalem, what is the future of Palestine? Will the loss of Jerusalem ignite further tensions in the region? The consequences of actions taken now, will no doubt be felt for decades and possibly for many generations. Yet, these are questions that need a response that is rational and which does take into account the implications and impacts. Real peace cannot be achieved through the barrel of a gun and force. Nor can it be achieved by denying the rights of others since future generations will simply have to pick up the pieces of the conflict. Today, actions on the ground in East Jerusalem are storing up problems for generations and they assume that force and confiscations will triumph over common sense and having to live with neighbours who happen to be Arab. That I am afraid is something that puts into danger future Israeli Jewish and Arab populations in these areas and creates a new front line in an increasingly complicated and confusing landscape.

Recent comments from Saeb Erakat, who is the most pragmatic of all advisors and politicians in the Palestinian camp, have also voiced a sombre note of fatalism. He has talked of the end of the peace process and of the need to look towards ensuring that civil rights within Israel for minorities are protected since the only option left is for One State. The comments have been made through numerous press sources and the degree of fatalism has been alarming for those who believe in a Two State solution. Allied to this, any partner in peace needs a viable economy and the economies of scale within Palestinian controlled areas are far from viable. They are based at the micro-level due to the political instability and the hardships that many face through the roadblocks and various other social pressures on them. However, it is also a fact that there is liquidity in banks in Palestine and these are not being released due to the political instability and the economic development of Palestine is therefore in a cycle and a loop. No bank will release the liquidity without peace and the people in Palestine continue to become poorer. This is a vicious and self serving cycle which needs to be lifted by all our efforts coming together to ensure that there is a way forward.

So, the fatalism has to have a glimmer of hope otherwise we all suffer, whether in Israel or Palestine, or within the UK or the US. The global resonances of no peace in the Middle East are clear for us and the recent killing of Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh has also moved the conflict into a wider sphere. Bombings in Syria, the Dubai assassination and extra-judicial killings in other parts of the region all mean that the conflict is spreading once again and cannot be isolated to one region. Such killings only serve to add more fuel to the fire and create harder and more vicious leaders, less willing to negotiate and more willing to use the barrel of a gun to achieve their objectives.

Joe Biden therefore has his work cut out ahead of him, though I am sure that the visit is also to discuss Iran and the threat that Israel feels about its continued nuclear enrichment activity. Behind closed doors, the talks will be on Iran, yet externally, the talks will be portrayed as being about the re-invigoration of the peace process. I just hope that the peace process is not drowned out in the discussions otherwise we all lose out to the politics of opportunism and spin. Let us also hope that the peace process is not mortally wounded since it increasingly looking like that is the case.