A Comfortable War in the Middle East

The problem with where we are in the Middle East peace process is that both sides are still operating within their comfort zones. The situation can be contained. A peace flotilla here, a rocket attack there, and activists on both sides have something to shout about. It keeps them happy; they feel they have something to do. Add in a bit of global condemnation and give the bloggosphere something to rage about too. Then, six months later, mix the ingredients and repeat the process.

Abbas and Netanyahu can carry on with this game indefinitely, and it’s easy to understand why. The reward for bringing about a lasting peace is not worth the pain of bringing their own extreme elements face to face with reality. It’s just too difficult. Netanyahu is dependent on his settlement-building religious right, while for Abbas, Hamas are about as hostile towards him as they are towards the Israelis, so he’s going to get precisely nowhere with them. In fact, Hamas are in their own comfort zone too. They have a low-key war to manage, with ample money and weapons coming in from their friends in nasty places. “Managing” the situation is easier than fixing it.

All that leaves Obama high and dry. He can say all he wants to say to the Israelis about the settlements, which is the issue of the moment, but to them it is all just so much noise, and compared with Hamas’ rockets, it’s not much noise at all. Obama needs to move all parties out of their respective comfort zones because none of them have a vested interest in ending the stalemate. If Obama fails to stir them to action, then sooner or later the Iranians will. That’s the real danger. It’s like that urban myth of the frog in a pot of cold water, remaining there while a fire underneath raises the temperature to boiling point. It doesn’t realise the danger until it’s too late. Doing nothing in this situation is not an option.

However, doing nothing is precisely what they’re doing, and settlement building is being used as an excuse by both sides with well-briefed media teams spinning the story and keeping their own supporters on-side. Netanyahu and Abbas are not partners in peace, they are partners in a charade. If they really want peace, they have to negotiate, they have to get out of their respective comfort zones.  They cannot hold each other responsible for extremists they cannot control.

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