A few weeks ago, when the “attack Iran chatter” in Israel took an upgrading shift in quality (of the people doing the chatter) and in quantity (the amount of times the chatter focused on operational options), I was convinced that a decision had been taken to hit Iran. In thinking about the consequences of that attack, I immediately pondered the unintended consequences as well.
One of the concerns of the West, if in fact Israel does attack Iran, will be the rallying of the Arab and Islamic world behind the Iranian regime. Many Iran analysts in the West believe that the regime of the ayatollahs is on the decline and that opposition forces are just waiting for the opportune moment to reemerge on the streets and challenge the Revolutionary Guards once again. In the aftermath of an Israeli attack, the forces of opposition would feel compelled to support the regime, as would most of Iran’s neighbors, including the Saudis.
No doubt the Palestinian street, too, would back Iran and cheer the incoming rockets and missiles falling on Israel no matter where they came from. One of the best ways for the West to combat Arab and Islamic support for Iran would be for the US and Europe to exert extreme pressure on Israel to move forward on the Palestinian track.
It seems that after Netanyahu’s United States trip, the impending Israeli strike has been postponed in order to allow US-led sanctions to have their full impact. At the same time, Israel’s attack rhetoric has reached new heights, with the Auschwitz comparison now imbedded in the Jewish collective memory. The notion that Netanyahu surely wanted to deliver is that in the face of existential danger, Israel will take extreme measures to ensure our survival. The “landlord has gone crazy” attitude, which the West calls using disproportionate force, that was employed in the second Lebanon war and in Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008-9, has proven its effectiveness in creating deterrence both in the north and the south.
Acute tension and anxiety in Israel, both in government and in society, are likely to manifest themselves as a very short fuse should any security situations arise in the West Bank or in Gaza. Palestinian Authority suggestions of ceasing security coordination at this time would likely result in an immediate tightening of a renewed closure regime on the West Bank and renewed and regular Israeli army incursions into Palestinian cities. I imagine that those who are responsible for the daily coordination at field and command levels have already passed on the message that the Palestinians shouldn’t even consider such an option at this time.
The relative calm from Gaza will probably continue, with the understanding that “relative” means about 20-30 rockets a month, almost all landing in open spaces. Hamas is not taking orders from Tehran, and even if there is an Israeli strike against Iran I don’t think there would be a significant retaliation from Hamas. Islamic Jihad would respond and Hamas would initially not stop it, but after some disproportionate Israeli force being used in Gaza, Hamas would plead with the Egyptians to convince Israel that it is willing to impose a ceasefire.
With all of Israel’s attention and political and military energies focused on Iran, there seems to be nothing to spare for thinking creatively about using the opportunity to move some kind of political process forward with the Palestinians. No one in the Israeli government believes that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is interested in reaching an agreement with Israel to end the conflict. Naturally, on the Palestinian side they say the exact same thing about Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Almost no one in Israel or Palestine or in the international community believes that any peace process can exist at this time and everyone seems resolved to accept the notion fostered by Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe “Bogie” Yaalon that we can speak only about conflict management.
Going against this trend, I believe from private discussions with Abbas that he is quite prepared for serious negotiations to end the conflict, including making all the well-known concessions that the Palestinian side would have to accept. He is quite convinced that Israel is not prepared and is, indeed, even ideologically opposed to the creation of a viable Palestinian state next to Israel.
Netanyahu and his ministers continue to exploit the internal Palestinian split to claim that there is no one to negotiate with. But when the Palestinians plan to move forward with their internal reconciliation, Netanyahu threatens to cut all contacts because Hamas is committed to Israel’s destruction. Abbas’ refusal to enter talks without Israel freezing settlements and Israel’s refusal to do so have put an end to negotiations.
Both sides are quite aware that agreeing to negotiate is not doing a favor to the other side. They also know that there is no chance of resolving the conflict without negotiations. The Palestinians’ United Nations plans have reached a dead end, even if they have not yet pronounced them dead.
The Chinese say that crises create opportunities. The Israeli-Palestinian track certainly is in need of a new opportunity. Without it, the current crisis between the parties will definitely deepen and become much more dangerous.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.