Three years ago, a handshake in Washington was to have ushered in an unprecedented era of peace in the Middle East. While the return of the Likud to power has focused the attention of mainstream media on the questionable future of this “peace process,” it would be a grave error to see Binyamin Netanyahu and his Likud-led government as constituting a radical break from former Prime Ministers Rabin and Peres, his Labor Party predecessors. As Netanyahu admits, his policies on settlement expansion, the “judaization” of East Jerusalem and so on merely follow those set by earlier Labor governments. The opening of the tunnel, excavated alongside the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, in the heart of the Old City in East Jerusalem, while a deliberate provocation on the part of Netanyahu, was only the latest in a series of humiliating measures imposed upon the Palestinians since the negotiations began in Oslo.
In this context, September’s violent clashes between Palestinians and Israelis are less a “breakdown” in the political process and more a ripening of its fruits. Indeed, as this issue of MER illustrates, a peaceful resolution to the conflict remains as elusive now as before the “peace process” began.
While Bill Clinton may be riding a wave of post-election euphoria in the US, American policies in the Middle East have not met with as much popularity. In a searing critique of US policy and the role of Western journalism in supporting it, Robert Fisk (The Nation) suggests, “The unspoken truth is that US policies, and the Arab leaders who have endorsed them, are becoming ever more unpopular throughout the region.”
Indeed, continued US political and military hegemony requires alliances with some of the most repressive regimes in the region. US-backed Gulf countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, continue to suppress any, even moderate, calls for democratic reform. Likewise, perceived American interests in the region continue to require the bolstering of Israel’s dominant position in the “peace process.” Israeli provocations — heightened settlement expansion, intensified confiscation of Palestinian lands, the demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, the frenzied construction of bypass roads — reveal more about the “final status” than the “interim arrangements” which the US and Israel would impose upon the Palestinians.
It is this imbalance of power — dictated by the maintenance of US preeminence in the region — that must be addressed in revamping the “peace process.” Unless US foreign policy gives priority to the promotion of democratic reform and the defense of basic political, civil and human rights, it will remain impossible to hope for any regional stability in the Middle East or a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.