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Security Dilemma in the Middle East

By Aurobinda MAHAPATRA (India)

Security Dilemma in the Middle East

The ongoing conflict in the Middle East is a case of security dilemma in which parties to the conflict misperceive each other’s positions and craft policies which further contributes to tension in the region. On 29 November 2012 the Palestinian Authority received overwhelming support in the United Nations in terms of its elevation as a non-member state. Though the symbolic value of Palestine’s success is no doubt significant from Palestinian perspective, it in near future will not likely contribute much to the solution of the conflict. The bigger players in the conflict US supporting Israel, and Russia, China and India supporting Palestine’s bid has reflected complexities in the situation.

Palestine has every right to statehood. It is not the question of whether Palestine should be a state or not, but when? President Mahmoud Abbas appeared jubilant at the United Nations (UN) when he declared that this was the “last chance to save the two-state solution” with Israel. The Palestine bid got the support of 138 UN members, with 41 abstentions and nine against the bid. Palestine’s symbolic victory was celebrated with thousands of people thronging the city of Ramallah with cut outs of Abbas and Yasser Arafat. Abbas further declared in the UN “we will accept no less than the independence of the State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, on all the Palestinian territory occupied in 1967.” However, the situation on the ground remained the same. On the other hand Israel declared the UN vote as a “piece of negative political theatre” that will “hurt peace.” President Obama’s idea during his first term of Palestinian statehood within a year still remains a non-starter and it received flak from Israel and its supporters in the US. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had openly expressed support for the Republican candidate Mitt Romney during the presidential elections which took place last month.

The symbolic victory of Palestine at the UN was met by the Israeli announcement next day on 30 November of building another settlement consisting of 3,000 new housing units in the West Bank. Despite protests from the Palestinians, the Israeli government is determined to go ahead with the project. The project will likely create obstacles against communication between northern and southern parts of the West Bank. The point is: how does this symbolic victory will help Palestine in face of its apparent weakness before the might of the Israeli armed forces… While Mahmoud Abbas is an advocate of peaceful resolution of the conflict, he could not achieve much due to lack of support from the Hamas, and also from the intransigence of the Israeli government. Israel is afraid that the Palestinian Authority may use its newly gained status to draw Israel into International Criminal Court, which will further flare up the conflict and bring it into international arena. The lack of international support to Palestine in terms of diplomatic engagements towards a two-state solution has further compounded the situation.

The Middle East conflict has its wider layers, not only confined to Israel and Palestine. Since its creation in 1948, Israel suffers from this security dilemma and construes Arab world its enemy. The war of 1967 further polarized the relations. Some of the countries in the region do not recognize the Israeli state, further abetting the security complex of Israel. But that in no way justifies violence in the region, and Israel’s enlarging settlements in West Bank. The building of settlements by Israel is not under the purview of international law. The ideal scenario of two-state solution is far receding from reality with these developments. Mahmoud Abbas, considered to be a moderate is marginalized by the extremist Hamas. This lack of unity among Palestinian leaders makes their bargaining position before Israel weak. The violence last month killing more than hundred people in Gaza did not add anything to the conflict discourse in the region, except death and destruction. Diplomatically Egypt could reassert its regional balancer role with the US in declaring a ceasefire, but on the ground the conflict remained the same or rather further protracted.

The Middle East quartet comprising UN, EU, Russia, and the US have so far could not evolve a common agenda on the Middle East. Two of the players Russia and the US took different positions during the Palestinian bid in the UN. While Russia and France supported the bid, the US opposed it, while the UK abstained from the voting. The lack of cooperation among the international players has made the Middle East a crucible of power politics. The rigidity of positions and violence persist, with the territory under the control of Palestine particularly in the West Bank getting shrunk with passing years. Though the symbolic victory at the UN may bring some respite to Abbas and aid him in asserting his authority, he is increasingly viewed as dovish, and his difference with Hamas is reiterated by Israel as his inefficiency to represent the whole Palestinians.

Unless crucial supporters of Israel particularly the US exert requisite pressure and pool diplomatic resources for a long term solution of the conflict, the mayhem in the Middle East will likely to continue. The emerging powers like Russia and China can also play a positive role to bring peace in the region. With the rise of BRICS players, it may be possible that the conflict will witness more involvement of international players in the region. Without systematic and time-bound diplomatic intervention from international players, the two-state solution will not likely to be realized in near future. The victory of Palestine may restore some legitimacy to Abbas before the Palestinian people in West Bank. But unless Palestine and Israel come together, with the cooperation from major players including the Quartet and perhaps BRICS, and also regional players like Egypt, a solution to the Middle East conflict does not appear in horizon in near future.

Source: Strategic Culture Foundation

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