In 1991, and following the war in the Gulf, the US was able to mobilize both the Arabs and the Israelis to start bilateral peace talks that were hoped to result in a long and lasting peace between the two sides that had been involved in continuous wars for more than five decades (Freedman, 1993, p. 262). Today, and after seven years of starting the peace talks, the peace process in the Middle East faces the danger of being terminated due to Israeli failure to meet the expectations of the Arab countries. The stubborn Israeli position towards the peace process in the Middle East is now threatening the region with the possibility of a political disaster that could result in destructive outcomes for the whole area.
When war broke out in the Gulf in 1990, the US was able to bring the majority of the Arab countries into an alliance against Iraq. Basically, this resulted in the liberation of Kuwait after a few months of the invasion. However, this also enabled the US to become a strong and powerful sponsor of a peace process that was to started in the following year between the Arabs and Israel. The US had been the historical ally of Israel in its conflict against the Arabs. Accordingly, the role that the US played in liberating Kuwait provided it with the ability to become a peacemaker in the conflict between the Arabs and Israelis. The US administration was willing to take this opportunity in order to sponsor the peace process in the Middle East (Freedman, 1993, p. 262). Indeed, soon as the war came to an end, the Madrid Conference was started in which Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the PLO were involved in bilateral talks directly with Israeli representatives. The theme of these talks was peace for land. Accordingly, the Arabs would agree to reach a historical peace with Israel on the condition that Israel withdrew from the occupied Arab territories. The US was of course the sponsor of these talks which were flowing very quickly and softly due to the goodwill of the two parties and their desire to bring the war in the region to an end (Mallat, 1996, p27).
As the peace talks went on, a major change took place in the Israeli government in 1996 when the radical right represented by Prime Minister Netanyaho was able to win the elections and reach power (“Beginning a permanent end,” July 41997, p.1). Netanyaho was not able to form a government, however, without supporting himself with the radical religious groups which considered that giving up any part of their territory to the Arabs was a betrayal to Israel. From that point on, the peace process began to collapse, and the result was that the Arab countries, one after the other began to withdraw, leaving only Jordan and the PLO to continue these talks with Israel (Mallat, 1996, p. 28).
Basically, the radical right in Israel did not want to give in any more territories to the Arabs. As a result, this strained the relationships between the two sides and further embarrassed the US which considered itself as the sponsor to the peace process in the region. As a result of these changes, the US immediately started a campaign to convince the Israelis and Arabs to return to the peace talks in order to reach an agreement. This, however, was impossible as the Israeli government continued to reject the bases on which the peace talks were built (“Beginning a permanent end,” July 4, 1997, p. 1).
As a result of the Israeli position, the Palestinian authority in Gaza and the West Bank began to suffer economically, especially that the failure to achieve a peaceful agreement with Israel made it impossible for the Palestinians to start building their economy. As a result, economic pressures continued to grow, and with them, poverty and violence were also growing (“Stepping on Israeli toes,” March 21, 1998, p. 55).. The Islamic radical groups such as al-Jihad and Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza became very influential and there, they were able to gain a lot of support from the population which was convinced that the Israeli government was not willing to reach any peace with them. Consequently, due to Israeli rejection of the basis of the peace process which were land for peace, is now threatening the area with rising religious and fundamental conflict and violence.
The collapse of the talks between Syria, Lebanon and Israel also created another problem. When the peace talks started in 1991, the involved parties were betting on the consequences of the peace. If the peace had been realized, the Arab markets would have been open to Israeli products and commodities, which would have helped Israel to prosper economically. However, the collapse of the peace process was detrimental to these plans and the Arabs announced that they were no longer willing to accept any economic dealing with Israel. As a result, pressures on the Israeli economy began to rise. Due to such pressures, the radical religious groups in Israel are growing in influence, calling for more violence and for increasing the number of settlements on Arab territories (“Stepping on Israeli toes,” March 21, 1998, p. 55). This in turn has resulted in increasing the pressures inside the Palestinian side, which in turn is resorting to religious pressures. The end result of these pressures could result in the outbreak of wide scale violence in the region between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and this could pull a number of Arab states into the conflict, causing a regional war.
So far, the conflict seems to be on the percentage of territory which the Israelis have to withdraw from in the West Bank. While the Palestinians are demanding a 13% withdrawal, Israel insists on a 9% withdrawal. However, it is clear that the Israelis are only playing to gain time. The US has not be able to press the Israeli government to do anything, and this weakness of the American administration has now convinced the Arabs that the US may not be a good sponsor of the peace process, especially that it has the ability and the will to put pressures on the Arabs alone, but not on the Israelis (“Stepping on Israeli toes,” March 21, 1998, p. 55). As a result of these negative feelings, the Arabs are likely to stop believing in the US, and they may start moving towards violence against the Israelis, especially in the occupied territories in the West Bank and Gaza. The uprisal (Intifada) that broke out in 1988 was the result of frustration and failure to reach a solution, and today, the situation is very similar to what it was like ten years ago. This could result in another outbreak of violence between the Palestinians and the Israelis if the peace process is not resumed.
Netanyaho may be interested in peace with his Arab neighbors, especially with the Palestinians. However, he is unable to seek peace because his religious partners in government refuse to accept these conditions. In order to not to lose power to his competitors, Netanyaho is siding with the religious fundamentalists in the Israel in order to keep his government intact. However, this is coming at the cost of the peace process. Netanyaho does not even dare to give any positive signals towards the peace talks with the Arabs otherwise his religious supporters in the government will their support to him, and as a result, his government will collapse. Consequently, Netanyahu’s lust for power is preventing him from seeking peace with his neighbors and is threatening the region with a war that could be destructive to all sides.
The initiation of the peace process between the Arabs and the Israelis came after more than five decades of struggle, conflict and wars. It also resulted from the ability of the US to play a major regional role in bringing the two sides to the peace tables with trust and confidence. However, the behaviors and attitudes of Netanyaho’s government have undermined the possibilities of peace in the region, especially as Netanyaho insists on preventing the Palestinians from getting their rights. At the same time, Netanyaho is ignoring the right of the Arabs to have their occupied territories back in return for peace, a situation which may result in war in the future. Today, the collapse of the peace process is destroying the hopes of the Arab and Israeli people in compromise and it may result in growing tensions between the two sides, especially due to economic and social pressures. The results can never be know, but it is certainly not a peaceful result.
“Beginning a permanent end.” (July 4, 1997). www.weiser.net, pp. 1-2.
Freedman, Robert O. (1993). The Middle East after Iraq’s Invasion of
Kuwait. Miami: University Press of Florida.
Mallat, Chibli. (1996). The Middle East into the 21st Century. London:
Peres, Shimon. (1993). The New Middle East. New York: Henry Hold and
“Stepping on Israeli toes.” (March 21, 1998). The Economist, pp. 55-56.