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Why Has the International Community Failed to End the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict?
Perhaps the pertinent question to ask is the following: Has the international community intervened in ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and failed? Or has it simply not made sufficient efforts towards a serious and effective involvement?

In my estimation, past international participation has been more tentative and less vigorous than expected. There is a big difference between attempts at intervention and genuine and earnest involvement that gets translated into practical steps and policies through implementations on the ground.

An Impenetrable Front

The international community has long realized that the Palestinian question, ever since it has come to prominence with its regional and international dimensions, has been completely and exclusively linked to the directions in American policy, and has been subject to the fluctuations in its position and its unwavering bias towards Israel. A thorough scrutiny of the American voting pattern in the United Nations, whether in the General Assembly or the Security Council, will show the clear and overt U.S. slant in favor of Israel, irrespective of the issue under consideration, its magnitude or ramifications.

This unflagging American stance, exemplified by statements and declarations coming from the White House, the State Department or the U.S. ambassador to the UN, is testimony to the degree of commitment of the successive American administrations to the Israeli side in the conflict with the Palestinians or the Arabs in general. All this leaves no room for doubt about the precedence that American-Israeli relations take over American-Palestinian relations that are quasi-nonexistent, or over American-Arab relations that are contingent on strategic interests. The latter relations remain unaffected by any development in the American position regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or by the preferential relationship between Israel and the U.S.

Convinced of the certainty of the American-Israeli strategic relationship and of the influence of the Jewish lobby on the American administration, the international community has largely accepted the reality imposed by the U.S. and Israel on the world, as well as its own incapacity to penetrate this strong American-Israeli front. This acquiescence has led to a state of despondency on the part of the international community which has evolved into a willing renouncement of its right to direct intervention, leaving the door wide open for U.S. unilateral action. It is only within the corridors of the UN General Assembly that the international community has been able to circumvent the American position and to articulate a clearer and relatively more independent stance regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Even this little measure of international freedom would often collide with the great economic and political influence of the U.S., often curtailing such attempts at independent stands. Certain retractions would follow in the face of American intransigence and pressure or direct Jewish influence. Nonetheless, the General Assembly remains the only venue recognized internationally, in spite of its diminished clout and pressurizing mechanisms.

The Cold War Era

During the Cold War, there was an understanding between the two great powers about the management of the conflict and the rejection of solutions that favored one party over the other. The underlying reason was the need for a continual conflict (in addition to other incidental or pressing ones) to ensure the perpetuation of the Cold War and to feed it, yet without allowing matters to get out of hand. Additionally, both sides needed to periodically review their agreement regarding the concept of the Cold War and its constraints, which was possible due to the existence of one conflict or another. The protraction of the Cold War meant that the rest of the international community could not overstep this bi-polar order, except to revolve around it without ever generating the sufficient dynamics or desire to form a third pole. Although the non-aligned nations made certain attempts in that direction, they did not manage to impose themselves as a recognized third pole alongside the other two.

A Uni-Polar Order

With the end of the Cold War and the formation of a uni-polar organization, it became obvious that the second great pole had vaporized completely with the unraveling of the Soviet Union and the failure of Russia to fill its place. This resulted in a radical redrawing of the parameters that were based on the recognition of the bi-polar order. The non-aligned countries, for their part, have turned into an expanded international forum devoid of substance or implementation mechanisms, reinforcing U.S. uni-polarity even further. Consequently, it is the wishes of the U.S. that get implemented worldwide and countries have been vying to win its goodwill at the expense of former alliances or their previously principled positions regarding international crises, including the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

U.S. partiality to Israel became an indisputable fact, as revealed by the declarations and stances of the American administration with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. During the past decades, successive American administrations flouted their unstinting support for the Jewish state, and the use of the U.S. veto in the UN has become a foregone conclusion in the case of any resolution deemed prejudicial to Israel. Israel did not fail to exploit this situation fully and to impose itself as the darling state within the context of a uni-polar system. Israel became untouchable. The other states, on the other hand, became well aware of the heavy price they were liable to pay if they refused to comply with this reality, or pressed ahead with their attempts to isolate or to condemn Israel in international forums. As a corollary, a country stood to gain by establishing a close relationship with the American administration through a rapprochement with Israel. The countries also understood that it was in their interest to refrain from condemning Israel in any international forum, limiting themselves instead to raising the issue of symmetry and asserting the right of Israel to exist and to be recognized by the Palestinians, as well as its right to defend itself against "Palestinian terrorism."

U.S. Domination, International Complaisance

The voting pattern of the U.S. in the Security Council where Israel is concerned has imposed itself on the rest of the international community. The big blocs forming the international community have become very complaisant in dealing with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. They have become increasingly reticent vis-à-vis American and Israeli intractability, adopting instead more lenient and less confrontational stances. The European Union, as the strongest of these blocs, has espoused the principle of evenhandedness and began to use the terminology and buzz words of the American and Israeli political discourse. The bloc of non-aligned nations has completely lost its prestige with the break-up of the Soviet Union, and with the majority of the former Soviet states tying their security and economic interests to the U.S. and Israel.

As for the bloc of Muslim countries, it lacked - and still does - the mechanisms for the implementation of the set of resolutions taken by these countries. Most of these resolutions are basically for internal consumption and not external confrontation, especially because of the multiplicity of interests, the disparity in positions and the formation of alliances. The moving principle behind these countries ceased to be the religious factor, which has become a burden after 9/11, but primarily their economic interests and their political and security alliances.

The Arab League countries, which are in any event members of the Organization of Islamic Nations and non-aligned nations, haven't got much left to offer to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict other than what they produced in the Beirut Summit of 2002. In it they proposed the Arab Peace Initiative, which represents the ceiling of what these countries can offer to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and to achieve a permanent and comprehensive peace between all the Arab countries and Israel.

All this data leads to one conclusion: that the members of the international community do not possess the power - even if they had the will - to impose a stand that contravenes the U.S., especially regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Once these countries realized their total powerlessness to influence developments on the ground as far as the conflict is concerned, they resorted to new and disparate middle positions. This means, in practice, the withdrawal of the majority of the international community in the face of the clear and unwavering American position pertaining to the conflict or other regional conflicts, giving the U.S. free rein to define not only its own position, but, through it, that of the international community regarding any issue without exception. And while the American position regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is clear in its absolute bias towards Israel, it means any new move must first come from the U.S. or with its agreement; otherwise any other attempt would be futile and doomed to fail, in spite of its importance to the Palestinian side.

What Are the Possibilities for an International Solution?

The important conclusion to draw here is that the international community did not exhaust its potential to mediate or intervene to end the conflict. It did not get involved to the limit of what can be viewed as direct, or even indirect, intervention according to internationally recognized understandings.
The question then arises: Are there new possibilities for the achievement of a solution through the auspices of the international community? The answer to this question is in the positive, but how can this be executed? The response revolves around the following:

* The presentation of independent initiatives by more than one international body for the solution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and their justification against the backdrop of their own interests and the achievement of peace and stability in the region.

We have recently seen the Franco-Spanish initiative with Italian and Portuguese backing, which was presented at the European summit in mid-December 2006, in spite of it being censured by the Israeli government and ignored by the American administration. At the same time, there are constant calls by Russia, France and Spain for a comprehensive international conference for peace in the area which would incorporate the rest of the regional conflicts. It is not possible for these calls to keep on being ignored, especially since they emanate from countries with strong ties with the U.S. and Israel.

* Direct pressure on the American administration by countries most closely allied with it, to convince it of the importance of direct action in order to solve the problem, which is in the interest of international stability and security.

In this respect, it appears that the British government is willing to get involved through the person of its prime minister. He has resolved to pursue this file during the end of his tenure and to commit to it as part of his direct responsibilities, banking on his special ties with the American president and his persuasive capacity in this domain. With the confirmation of the Franco-Spanish initiative, the EU may be able to perform the same job on the level of the G8, through European-American lateral contacts or through the Quartet.

* The reactivation of the Quartet and the amplification of the role of the rest of the partners in it, after its having been hijacked by the U.S. since its formation.

It is possible to put to advantage the latest developments on the internal political scene in the U.S., with the Republican defeat in Congress and the resignation of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld due to the failure of the American intervention in Iraq.

There have been repeated calls by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as by the moderate Arab states, for the revival of the Quartet. This has been echoed by the other partners forming the Quartet, who are willing to resume their roles and to intervene directly in the achievement of a permanent settlement.

* A demand by the parties to the conflict for the international community to intervene in order to end the conflict.

In the absence of a consensus in this respect, it would be sufficient for the Palestinian side to pursue this demand through continued pressure on the various components of the international community. In his speech commemorating David Ben-Gurion's death Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert asserted that a military solution to the conflict was not possible and that the Palestinian situation was to be dealt with through contacts and communication with the concerned parties on the Palestinian side. This is a positive step, especially with the existence of a reciprocal desire on the Palestinian side to deepen these contacts and the dialogue for the sake of reviving a comprehensive negotiating process. Indications are pointing towards a shift in the Israeli position, as well as in Hamas, regarding an understanding of the conflict and the need for an acceptable formula to end it peacefully.

Olmert's need for a positive development on the Palestinian arena is growing by the day, with mounting problems on the domestic front. Hamas is also convinced of the necessity of an extended hudna as a basis for a future agreement, or a part of it, especially since Hamas is now in the Authority and is interested in safeguarding the achievements reached and in amplifying them in order to remain in power as long as possible. In this sense, the interests of both sides coincide, and the time factor becomes of the essence for a bilateral Israel-Hamas agreement.

* The conviction on the part of the international community of the need for serious and collective action to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to assist the peace process and establish stability in the area, which will impact directly and indirectly on international stability and peace.

There is heightened awareness among several international parties about the centrality of the Palestinian question and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, consequently, of the need for a serious search for a solution. The American administration has been listening, but apparently not enough, to embark on an American initiative or to lead a wider international move for the purpose of bridging points of view or imposing peace on the parties. This could translate into an adoption by the Security Council of a new resolution to replace 242 and the rest of the relevant resolutions in accordance with Article 7. The new resolution would comprise implementation mechanisms, including the dispatch of international forces to patrol borders and to enforce peace during a limited transitional period.

* To take preliminary steps on the part of the Palestinian and Israelis to impose a tahdi'a and a cease-fire as a first stage towards the implementation of wider measures and putting the peace process back on track.

This would allow the two conflicting parties to return to the negotiating table, and to produce comprehensive peace plans which would allow for a gradual shift from tahdi'a to withdrawal and the implementation of the stages comprised in the Road Map and other signed agreements between the two sides.

Conclusion

It is important to revise the reading of the international map with its different components - American, Israeli, Palestinian - and within its Arab and regional dimensions, especially the Lebanese situation and the effects of the last war on Israel, as well as the Iranian problem and its impact on the region. Other elements to consider are the American failure in Iraq and the possibility of the fragmentation of Iraq along sectarian lines, with a spillover of Sunni-Shii'a alignment in the region; the Arab division into moderate and non-moderate camps, including the success of moderate Islam in more than one Arab election; the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections; the result of the American elections, and the Baker-Hamilton Commission and its repercussion on American foreign policy in the region. It is imperative that all the above issues be considered along with other factors. This will contribute to the reevaluation of the situation under a new light, conceivably with some cautious optimism, which will lead to new paradigms of political actions and external intervention in favor of a bilateral agreement with broad international backing. <

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