by Gabriel Bacalor
In an exclusive interview, economist Gabriel Bacalor consults the former Minister of Justice of Israel and promoter of the Geneva Peace Initiative, Yossi Beilin, about his view regarding the reality of the Middle East today.
What results have come of the "Arab Spring", a year since it began?
Liberation uprisings among the Arab peoples have many similarities to the popular demands for emancipation which led to the breakup of the Soviet Union. Two decades after that historical episode, many Eastern European countries have developed stable democracies, but authoritarian rule is still seen in some countries of East Asia, and some others even exhibit Soviet profiles, such as Ukraine and Belarus.
In this sense, it is difficult to estimate what will happen in the Arab world. Liberation processes exhibit domino effects, and a democratic trend may become a new dictatorship. In Egypt, for example, mosques served as a refuge of freedom of expression for the people silenced by the Mubarak regime and this explains, to a large extent, the overwhelming popular support for the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist Party in recent elections.
It remains to be seen whether the new governments in the Arab world are able to offer their people the freedom they claim. They could replicate a moderate model similar to Turkey or an Islamic fundamentalism like that of Iran. The Arab world will find itself somewhere within this arc between Iran and Turkey.
What is the true dimension of the Iranian nuclear threat?
Iran 's nuclear capability would consolidate its position as a regional power, primarily vis-à-vis Turkey and the Arab countries . This would be detrimental to Israel, as it would intensify the Islamic republic's support of its allies in Hezbollah and Hamas.
I consider it unlikely that the goal of Iran's nuclear program is to attack Tel Aviv. I'm not saying that circumstances could not actually make this happen. I just think that taking into account the historical background of Iran's nuclear program, as well as the consequences Iran would suffer if it took unconventional military actions against Israel; it is unreasonable to believe that the goal of the program is to destroy Israel.
In light of the current situation, a likely scenario is one where, in order to impose its regional influence, Iran would develop civilian nuclear capacity which could be transformed in a short time into one for military use.
Why are Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) so inflexible about peace negotiations?
The current PA government does not have the means to close a comprehensive agreement and the Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, has no serious intention of doing so.
Netanyahu does not seem willing to pay the price of peace, which involves putting half of Jerusalem on the negotiation table and recognizing a Palestinian state under agreed borders based on the boundaries before the 1967 war.
President Abbas shows a willingness to reach an agreement, but does not control the Gaza Strip, from which Hamas attacks, often at Israeli civilians.
What is the thinking behind the Israeli government's continuing construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank?
I believe it seeks to gain time, asking of the Palestinians preconditions which are not acceptable, to claim that it is the PA who do not want to negotiate.
Netanyahu hopes that the Republicans prevail in the upcoming U.S. elections, and this will reduce the international pressure on Israel.
In your opinion, which current public figures can offer positive advances for the peace process?
There are many capable people with high moral values in politics. Internationally, I think Barack Obama is one of them, not only for his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but for his internal and global political outlooks as well.
In Israel there are also very good politicians. I can think of Dan Meridor of Likud, as well as many others. However, none of them are willing yet, or have the political circumstances, the power or the courage, to execute the actions that are required of Israel for peace proceedings.
If Israel agreed to discuss a Palestinian state, would it improve its international standing?
Certainly. Taking the peace proposal of the Arab League, the Arab Peace Initiative as a reference, the creation of a Palestinian state is the key to normalizing relations between Israel and its regional neighbors. The vast majority of the world's 57 Muslim countries would support this initiative and would encourage Israel's position at international meetings.
Should Israel talk with Hamas?
I am in favor of opening dialogue with Hamas as with anyone open to discussion, but Hamas is not ready for dialogue with Israel.
The dialogue with Hamas must involve both the operational aspects that improve the quality of life for Gazans, as well as the structural issues that allow a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Perhaps in the future, Hamas may join the Palestine Liberation Organization, and Israel will be able to negotiate with a unified entity. Unfortunately, the current dispersion of the Palestinian leadership, seen by the fact that Hamas controls the Gaza Strip while Fatah governs the West Bank, is an impediment to achieving a comprehensive agreement.
What agreement could reasonably be reached under the current circumstances?
An interim agreement, based on the parameters set by the Geneva Initiative. Today, every feasible solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict involves East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state, negotiating the territorial division based on the limits of 1967, and settling the problem of Palestinian refugees mostly within the limits of the new Arab state.
However, the fundamental problem is not "the solution", but who will be the leaders with the courage to run and pay, on both sides, the price of peace.
Gabriel Bacalor, who carried out this interview, is Managing Director of Bacalor Strategic Consulting; www.bacalor.com