By Farid Mirbagheri
The visit last month of the former foreign minister of Palestine, Dr Nabeel A Shaath, who is now serving as the commissioner of international relations of Fatah, to Cyprus took place at a time of rising tension between the Israelis and the Palestinians. His address at the University of Nicosia on May 10, well attended by local and international dignitaries on the island, could not have been more timely.
The conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis appears further from a solution than any other time. In a bid to prevent the collapse of his government the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, appointed Avigdor Lieberman, head of Yisrael Beitenu, as defence minister on May 25. His predecessor, Moshe Yaalon, did not hide his anger when asked to resign his post in favour of Lieberman. The government had been taken over by “extremist and dangerous elements”, he said.
It can be argued that the current Israeli administration led by Netanyahu since May 15, 2015 is the most right-wing and extreme in the history of Israel. Some of the views expressed by Lieberman in the past, who is rather inexperienced in military affairs, lend credence to that statement. He has called for the emigration of the Arab-Israelis, who comprise 20 per cent of Israel’s population, and has reportedly declared the two-state solution dead as well as the end of negotiations with the Palestinians.
Amongst the Palestinians themselves divisions continue to weaken their negotiating position. Other than the Fatah-Hamas dichotomy there may now be suitors for the Palestinian presidency held by Mahmoud Abbas. It is rumoured that Mohammad Dahlan, a Fatah leader who is vying for presidency, has been in contact with Lieberman; their common objective is believed by some to revolve around the ousting of President Abbas. Lieberman is said to believe Abbas is the instigator of violence committed against the Israelis, and Dahlan views (Abu Mazen) Abbas to be an obstacle for his presidential ambitions.
All this at a time when the political atmosphere is rife with rumours of a new Israeli-Hamas conflict. The wars of 2008, 2012 and 2014 may not have had any clear winners for the media but it has indicated Israeli intention and readiness to contain the military capabilities of the organisation. In spite of the losses incurred in the last three wars the new Israeli defence chief may wish to live up to his radical image and use military force in pursuit of political goals.
However, after nearly seventy years of conflict and bloodshed one can confidently say that there is no military solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. If peace is the ultimate goal, then the occupied territories must be given back to the Palestinians and all illegal settlements vacated. The questions of the return of refugees and the status of Jerusalem can be settled in negotiations by the belligerent parties.
Dr Shaath appeared to be pragmatic in his approach when he delivered his speech. He stated the willingness of his side to come to a reasonable and workable agreement whilst indicating that the absence of a solution would increasingly strengthen the hands of the extremists and fuel the fire of sectarianism and religious conflict that has engulfed Western Asia.
Professor SM Farid Mirbagheri is professor of international relations and holds the dialogue chair in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Nicosia