The Middle East Channel

The expiration of the ‘Peace Process’: Where now for the Middle East?

A ‘peace process’ that, from its inception, took Israel’s self-definition of its own security needs as the sole determinate of the walls within which any solution for Palestinians was to be conducted, has reached exhaustion. Based on such a reductive premise, its arrival at this deathly nadir, with no more than a prospect of disjointed ...

AFP/Getty images
AFP/Getty images

A ‘peace process’ that, from its inception, took Israel’s self-definition of its own security needs as the sole determinate of the walls within which any solution for Palestinians was to be conducted, has reached exhaustion. Based on such a reductive premise, its arrival at this deathly nadir, with no more than a prospect of disjointed alleviated occupation, possessing the most hollow trappings of statehood as its final security-led outcome, should evoke no surprise.

The non-solution to which such a premise would take us would defuse nothing: indeed, it might well prove to be the spark that could exacerbate or explode simmering regional animosities — even if these animosities were not ostensibly linked directly to the Palestinian issue.   

Any thought that such a hollowed-out solution — alleviated occupation, posing as statehood — will defuse anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world is likely to prove to be resoundingly misplaced. On this, the critics from the political Right are correct: a flawed Israeli-Palestinian agreement, per se, will not drain-off anti-western regional sentiment; it will exacerbate it. It will feed it. But the corollary the Right pushes in its place, that defeating Iran somehow precisely is that elusive magic bullet the West so ardently desires (the key to soothing regional tensions and defusing hostility towards the West) represents an even greater pathology and disassociation from reality. It is one that is no less illusory for having the apparent endorsement of America’s Arab clients, whose talk is no more than a reflection back into the looking-glass of American diplomacy, as it stares at its own face.

What these American protégés really fear is the growing groundswell of scorn — scorn towards the western élites on whom these interlocutors wholly depend — but more precisely it is fear of the parallel disdain, directed towards these pro-American, self-enriching élites, themselves. Any show of western muscularity indirectly gives these anxious oligarchs, feeling their authority decay beneath them, a further lease on survival. Thus they speak their deeper fears into the American looking-glass in its own thinking. All these worrying, popular stirrings can only be Iranian: for they fear they carry the gene of revolution.

The peace process solution-phantasm has not only divided the Palestinians; but also shaped the political structure for the region for the last decades: polarizing the region — on the false premise — between those who were ‘opposed’ to peace and those who ‘supported’ peace. Many of those who were termed opposed to peace in reality were opposed more to Israel’s self-referencing security-led paradigm — than to a peaceful solution per se. 

Contrary to general western expectations, there will be many in the region who welcome evidence of the clinical death of ‘the process’. They will see its passing away as a welcome and necessary catharsis that opens new possibilities; new politics. Already the polarized cold war architecture of the peace process has begun to dissolve: Turkey’s shift of orientation is one example of the shifts taking place — as the former regional division into two sculptural solids, spoilers versus supporters of peace, melts into a much more fluid and mobile regional mass.

As the old regional political structures that were defined in support for, or in opposition to, the peace process, erode with the demise of the Oslo two-state process, so too the polarization in the Palestinian sphere is likely to melt — bringing new fluidity to the formerly divided Palestinian polity. In short, we can expect a Palestinian emphasis away from a state-building that has veiled its purpose in ushering West Bankers towards alleviated occupation, towards a greater emphasis on nation-building, with its emphasis on inclusivity, pluralism and community. 

Disdain and repudiation of the West’s ‘solutions’ qua solution on Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Iran has already shifted the balance of power away from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, towards an emerging northern tier — Syria, Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, Qatar and now probably Iraq — loosely termed the resistance axis. In addition to Turkey, we can expect other new players to enter the regional political arena, such as Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia.  These new faces will loosen-up and further erode existing political structures, and dilute the influence of Arab states who have adhered strictly to the US and European line, in the coming more pluralist and fluid era.  

What is key here is a growing popular belief that neither Europe nor the US has — within themselves — the potential, the energy, to change tack and find new ways of approaching these tensions. Western solutions have taken on a dated appearance that is dissonant with the contemporary political fabric of the Middle East. Increasingly, solutions are sought from within the region. Hopes for a solution to the current crisis in Lebanon, for example, are not vested the West. They rest on internal solutions brokered across the old peace process divide, by Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey and Iran.

The WikiLeaks cables will reinforce this dynamic of disdain. For a Middle East already disillusioned with the western discourse, the mass leaking of documents will have its effect in the region: it does not matter whether the leaks are gossipy, related to long-suspected US ambitions, comprise wishful-thinking or are nothing new. The lack of a major revelation is not the point. What is significant is the sheer breadth and quantity — the tsunami of leaks — that speaks, not of grand missions or fine intentions, but of unrelenting petty cynicism and manipulation. This may not be new to its élite practitioners, but laying it out so plainly, and in full view, will undeceive profoundly the narrative of a western superior mission.

The leaks in one sense symbolically brings down this edifice of discourse. Embarrassed by the revelations, no doubt we shall see the Wiki interlocutors either denying or setting in context the discourse and ideas that once they so readily espoused — thus, erstwhile western allies will find themselves forced to turn against the narrative, in their own self-defense, now that their complicity has been so comprehensively exposed — to the contempt of the broad public.

The future of Iran occupies a central position in the region. Iran is, to a lesser or greater extent, an actor at all the main political fault lines of the Middle East. It is the future of Iran that has become the new pole. It is around the Iranian pole that, on the one hand, the so-called resistance axis is now grouped; and it is around the same pole, on other hand, that stand the ranks of the opposition. This regional re-shaping is displacing the poles of the erstwhile peace process as the defining component or signifier of regional politics. 

The reflection in the American looking glass therefore is, and will be, Iran. But the Iran of the looking glass is no more than the refracted image of the emergence of a new Middle East order; with newly self-confident states and movements emerging to global stature. Iran is also the reflected symbolic image, representing the wider political stirrings, symbolizing the fear of the gene of 1979 transposed into a new era; and of the end to the old era of deference.  

It is these evolutions that lie at the focus of both the Israeli and the US fears for their own futures in the region. It is these fears, refracted back at them, that they see in their diplomatic looking glass — changes that supersede for these two states the peace process in terms of importance, or threat. Thus the iconic Israeli-Palestinian clash has become subsumed as a part of this impending collision of opposing dynamics between Iran and US/Israel — a ‘pièce de theâtre’ within a bigger setting: its diminution a reflection of the new dynamics emerging here. This is a subordination that implies that the Palestinian issue is now contingent on what happens in the wider regional dynamics, rather than regional politics being contingent on the Palestinian issue. This is a significant inversion in politics.

Alastair Crooke is the director and founder of Conflicts Forum. 

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