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Anyone Who Undermines Negotiations Must be Thinking of War - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The Arab Summit was held in the city of Sirt, Libya, to discuss an extremely complicated situation, which necessitates political decisions of a particular kind. Were the Arab kings, and heads of states, ready for this?

For nearly 20 years, specifically since the Madrid Conference (in late 1991), Arabs have made political decisions with the intention of negotiating with Israel, considering peace as a strategic option. Accordingly, all Arab meetings were held on the grounds of this generally accepted political rule, no matter what inter-Arab differences were raised. We could guess beforehand the type of decisions that were issued. However, the current political situation suggests the emergence of a new direction, which necessitates making political decisions based on principles different to those previously adopted. Israel is insisting on negotiations without any frame of reference, refusing to negotiate on the 1967 territories, refusing to cease settlement construction, and is eagerly looking forward to claiming the city of Jerusalem. Furthermore, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is insisting that he will not enter into direct negotiations unless a decision is taken to cease settlement construction.

If Abbas – a character known to support the negotiation approach – has come to this conclusion, then Arab leaders, whether kings and heads of states in the Summit, or foreign ministers in the Monitoring Committee, are able to deduce the logical political result. The result is that it is now time for a new Arab decision, which states: We have tried to follow the road of negotiation and peace, and it has been proven that Israel neither seeks negotiations nor peace. This was proven, not only because of how the Palestinian issue has been handled, but also because of how the Arab peace initiative was handled.

This new Arab decision, which puts an end to the question of negotiation and compromise, subsequently presents fundamental tasks to be undertaken by the Palestinians and Arabs.

For the Arabs, the following task becomes paramount: shifting from dialogue to confrontation. Confrontation should start by pressuring the ‘hypothetical’ Arab allies; mainly the US, Europe, France, Britain, Germany and Italy. Each of these parties share numerous political, economic, oil and armament-related interests with the Arabs, which represent potential bargaining chips in return for revised political positions.

In a political environment in which the positions of Arabs and Israel are utterly disparate, their positions will inevitably move from the area of dialogue towards different levels of confrontation, and will eventually arrive at a stage where a military confrontation is probable. Therefore, Arab leaders are now facing the need for new political decisions, whether they are discussed during the Summit or outside of it. They need to take decisions that break with the past, and at the same time, safeguard the future. If they fail to do so, the result will not only be a virtual standstill, but it would show that the Arabs have not learned their lesson, and this can by no means be the outcome of an emergency summit.

When we say that Arabs, due to Israeli policies, may be forced to give up on negotiations, and begin to impose pressure, or prepare for a confrontation that could eventually be military, this does not mean that we are announcing an extremist or hard-line position. Rather, we are attempting to interpret the political logic of failure, and the need to be prepared to face the consequences of failure.

This decision is necessary in the wider Arab domain, just as it is required by the Palestinians themselves, because of the experience of negotiations, and their largely fruitless results. This decision is especially necessary considering recent Israeli initiatives. Having interpreted and drawn conclusions regarding the course of events, from their [Israeli] scope of vision, they have taken the appropriate action for them and their interests.

In their interpretation of events, the Israelis have arrived at the fundamental conclusion that Israel should be ready for war – and a war with the Arabs in general, not merely with this group or that. They talk of war through a prominent spokesman, the IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. In a meeting between Ashkenazi and members of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Subcommittee, Ashkenazi spoke explicitly of what he considers to be the dangers threatening Israel. The Israeli press contented themselves with publishing extracts from his speech, due to the potential implications of what he said. However, these extracts were sufficient to show how Israel has concluded that the situation’s development has reached the dangerous and decisive point of war.

Ashkenazi said: “What is going on around Israel is akin to a volatile movement, deep underground, which leads to earthquakes”. He then went on to list seven current dangers threatening Israel as follows:

First, the current stage of the Iranian nuclear programme. Second, the consequences of America’s withdrawal from Iraq. Third, the new regional equations that have emerged after the growing capabilities of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Fourth, the unprecedented level which the Hamas movement has reached in Gaza, in terms of increases in its military capacity. Fifth, the development of Turkish foreign policy. Sixth, consequences of the current tension in Lebanon, as caused by the International Criminal Court’s rulings, indictments, and the issue of false witnesses. Seventh, the implications of the failure of direct negotiations in the Palestinian arena, and the subsequent possibility of a new Intifada in the West Bank.

Although this talk was in the strategic arena, and aimed towards the decision-makers, there is also evidence of training and practical measures. Haaretz newspaper, in its issue dated 6/10/2010, reported the following military information:

“The Israeli army is being trained in al-Naqab, they are being prepared in a manner similar to what is going on the ground, in Gaza, the West Bank, or Southern Lebanon”. The newspaper, citing a senior Israeli officer, went on to say that “In its training, the army is taking into account the likelihood of being attacked from Syria.” Haaretz concluded that “observers believe that a war will break out soon, and that the Israeli army has been preparing for such an event for a long period.”

This is what Israeli military leaders are saying, and what Israeli soldiers are currently doing. Based on such statements, and reports of military training, there can be no doubt regarding Israel’s plans, in the event that the negotiations end in failure.

When Israel thinks this way, drawing military conclusions from the development of events, Arabs would be jeopardizing themselves, and the security and stability of their countries, if they failed to think likewise. In situations of conflict and confrontation, anyone who rejects peace must necessarily be considering the probabilities of war.

Whilst Israel is contemplating war, it is futile for Arab discussions to be limited to whether or not they should go to direct negotiations if settlement construction is ceased. Or rather, only if settlement construction is ceased!

One should view the overall Arab regional milieu and then assess the situation accordingly, just as the Israelis are doing. This is the duty of leaders and leadership, whether before, during or after the summit.

Bilal Al-Hassan

Bilal Al-Hassan

Bilal Al-Hassan is a distinguished journalist and political analysts specializing in Arab–Israeli affairs. He is based in Paris.

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