The Danger of Peace
Reading the news today, one can’t help but be a little depressed. The terror attack that took place near Hebron last night was a chilling reminder that while most people are simply cynical about the peace process, there are groups who are dead set on stopping it. The most significant of these spoiler groups are Hamas and the more radical elements of the Israeli settler movement. It is not clear how the facilitators (or the parties themselves) plan on dealing with these groups but the events of last night were surely intended to remind us all of the spoilers’ existence, their opposition to the talks taking place in Washington, or at least of their exclusion.
History has shown that whenever there is a slightly tangible prospect of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, attempts will be made to derail it. The first move (this time) was made by Hamas, but we can be almost sure it won’t be the last move. Hamas, as the party that last won any elections in the Palestinian Authority, certainly feels that if there are to be any talks at all that they should at least have a role. Naively forgetting for a moment that they probably wouldn’t agree to participate even if they were invited, it is much more difficult to forget that they effectively control the entire Gaza Strip. There is no possible way that any peace deal would be recognized – with any legitimacy – by the Palestinian people if it only applied to the West Bank.
Only because this author refuses to believe that Abu Mazen and Netanyahu are so naive to think they can either destroy Hamas by force or come to a legitimate agreement without them, it must be assumed that if the US-sponsored talks progress, it will have to be with the inclusion of Hamas at some point. This could take the shape of a Palestinian reconciliation process built into the over-all peace process – something that would be extremely dangerous to hinge peace on. An even less likely scenario is that Hamas will at some point be invited to directly participate in the talks, or at least the process. However, one thing is for certain. Without meaningfully engaging Hamas in some way: there is no chance for a two-state solution. Maybe a three-state solution, but not two.
The second spoiler group is smaller in numbers and less armed, but just as dangerous for any peace process – the radical elements of the settler movement. Less than a few hours after the Hamas shooting attack, news was already spreading of random vigilante reprisals taking place similar to the modus operandi of the settlers’ “price tag” policy. These reprisals are extremely dangerous in their ability to escalate the cycle of violence that we all know too well. This is especially true considering that the Israeli army will no doubt be forced politically to act in response to the attack, already risking an escalation of a previously volatile situation. But this is only one aspect of the danger that this group poses.
The radical settler movement poses the same internal threat to a chance of peace for the Israelis as Hamas does for the Palestinians. They are both groups whose political interests are directly threatened by the prospect of a two-state solution and whose movements’ religious motivations are almost completely incompatible with it. We shouldn’t expect anything less than a full-fledged fight from the radical settlers should the prospects of peace become too real for them. Although this group doesn’t necessarily control an autonomous territory, heavy weapons or the same electoral legitimacy as Hamas, they too will need to be meaningfully engaged – or included in some way – in any peace process for it to have any chance of successful negotiation and implementation. Bibi knows the impossibility of excluding them and their interests completely, just as Abu Mazen knows that he cannot simply forget that Hamas exists.
The parties to the talks taking place in Washington know that they have an unimaginably difficult task ahead of them. The spoilers who find themselves on the outside (and inside) know that their task is exponentially easier. The rest of us, Palestinian and Israeli, will soon realize that our world will likely be a more dangerous, volatile and violent place while this process takes place in closed rooms thousands of miles away. If you are optimistic enough to have hope in the prospects of those talks succeeding, then I suppose we’ll just have to hope it doesn’t get too much worse. Maybe the old maxim is right and things truly do get worse before they get better. Let’s just hope they get better.