Thinking Aloud: “After Gaza: Getting Back to the Peace Process,” Part II

Nov. 25, 2014 by Darius 

[Last week, I attended the Middle East Institute’s annual conference.  One of the panels was on “After Gaza: Getting Back to the Peace Process.”  All four panelists had interesting remarks.  Yesterday, I shared the comments of Shlomo Ben-Ami, a former Israeli politician, member of the Knesset, and member of Israel’s delegation to the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference.  Today, I’ll share the comments of Daniel Kurtzer and Khalil Shikaki.]

Daniel Kurtzer was the US ambassador to Egypt from 1998 to 2001, ambassador to Israel from 2001 to 2005, and a career State Department official.  Kurtzer said that the current spate of violence will only get worse without the two sides seeing some hope of an end to the conflict since “status quos do not stay static.”

Kurtzer said the US is not being helpful to the conflict at the moment.  According to Kurtzer, the US has no credibility with either side at the moment because the US does not follow up on its rhetoric with concrete action.  The US talks about how much of a problem both Israeli settlements and Palestinian incitement and violence are, but the US never follows up with any consequences to either side.  As a result of this lack of credibility, Kurtzer felt that now is not the time to launch a new peace initiative.

Instead, Kurtzer believes the US should focus on revisiting its own policies and priorities relative to Israel and Palestine.  He noted that 47 years after the ’67 war, the US still has no policy on what it would like to see happen.

Khalil Shikaki, a Palestinian pollster and visiting professor at the University of Michigan, discussed some recent trends in Palestinian public opinion.  According to Shikaki, there are growing perceptions among Palestinians in the West Bank that (1) there is no way to shift Israeli positions except through violence, (2) the other Arab states are preoccupied and not interested in the Palestinian cause, and (3) the United States is withdrawing from the region.  All these perceptions are leading to increasing admiration for Hamas and what Hamas as done, as well as a desire to emulate Hamas in the West Bank.

According to Shikaki, Hamas and its leader, Ismail Haniyeh, would certainly win Palestinian elections if they were held today.  As a result, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has one avenue left: to go to the UN in the hopes of securing greater recognition for a Palestinian state.  But Abbas going to the UN will bring about economic sanctions on the PA from the US and Israel, which will diminish the PA’s capacity, weakening Abbas and strengthening radical factions.  Right now, Abbas is finding it difficult to control his own party, Fatah, much less Hamas.

Shikaki felt, though, that as long as the Palestinian Authority exists and its security forces continue to cooperate with Israeli security forces, an intifada like the last one is impossible.    Ironically, if the US and Israel cut off support for the PA, this cooperation will crumble and a violent intifada could result.  Shikaki felt that neither Abbas nor the PA as a whole could survive such an intifada.

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