Israel is making the same mistakes the Arabs made when they tried to fight the inevitable
Israel may be able to win wars, but its victories will not bring security
No Jordanian official attended the reception at the Israeli embassy in Amman held to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of Israel in Arab Palestine on May 14, 1948. Not many private citizens accepted the Israeli invitation either. Every year the isolated Israeli mission organises a function to mark its "independence". And every year the Jordanians shun it.
For what Israel sees as a day of jubilation the Jordanians, and the rest of the Arabs, remember as the Nakba, the catastrophe that resulted in the loss of Palestine and the displacement of its people. The Arab and Israeli narratives of the history of the conflict are irreconcilable. Neither side will concede to the other's viewpoint of what has happened on, and since, 1948. But it is not the conflicting narratives that have denied the Middle East the peace it has so long sought. Peace continues to evade the region because Israel continues to rely on power politics to dictate the course of the future.
While collective Arab culture remembers the Nakba as a humiliating defeat, the majority of the Arabs have accepted the reality that Israel has become. From Jordan to Morocco, the Nakba is remembered as a crime against Palestinians. But all Arab countries are willing to recognise its main political consequence: the existence of Israel. No longer is Israel fighting for Arab recognition of its right to live in defined secure borders. It is the Palestinians who are demanding that Israel acknowledge their right to statehood in part of historical Palestine. The Arab League has offered Israel full peace and normal relations in return for withdrawal from Arab land occupied since 1967 and the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. Israel has rejected the offer, which embodies the internationally endorsed two-state solution.
To make things worse, Israel, along with its main supporter, the United States, used the 60th anniversary of its establishment to send an unbending message to Palestinians mourning the occasion a few kilometres away. It basically told them it will remain the fortress it has been since its creation, relying on its superior power to ensure its security and protect its existence. Israel is thus making the same mistakes the Arabs made when they tried to fight the inevitable. If there is any lesson to be learned from the six decades of the conflict, it is that military power will not bring peace to the region. Israel can win wars, but these wars will not bring it security. On the contrary, failure to reach a mutually acceptable solution will threaten Israel, directly through the eruption of painful rounds of violence, and indirectly by marginalising Arab moderation.
By any standard, Israel has emerged a winner from 60 years of conflict. Continuing to rely on power politics to determine the course of the future, however, will ensure that all are losers. Denying the Palestinians their state and prolonging the occupation will only radicalise the region and bring Israel face-to-face with the emerging powerful non-state players sworn to the destruction of Israel. These new players will not defeat Israel. But they will pose a real threat to its security and inflict painful losses on it.
Maintaining the status quo will also keep Israel isolated in the region. The Arab-Israeli conflict has defined the modern Arab political culture. The passage of time did very little to weaken the memory of the Nakba or reduce the amount of support for the Palestinian cause on the Arab street. Two official peace treaties, with Egypt and Jordan, did not change the public perception of Israel as the enemy.
Arab moderate regimes that have advocated peaceful negotiations to resolve the conflict are losing their credibility. But radical regimes that have manipulated the conflict to stem progress and democratisation in their own countries are thriving in the environment of despair that is engulfing the region due to the failure to end the injustice against the Palestinians. So are extremists, who are gaining more ground among disgruntled populations.
The defeat of moderation will make the Middle East a worse neighbourhood than it already is. Israel may think that there is glory to be gained by distancing itself from the region and presenting itself as the only developed democracy in the Middle East. That, however, will not change the fact that it is part of the neighbourhood and will not be able to escape the simmering social and security tremors that are certain to shake it.
Only peace will bring Israel the security it wants. Officials at the Israeli embassy in Amman know that more than others. In the early years following the 1994 peace treaty, the government was represented in their May 14 celebrations and some private individuals even joined. But that was a time when the promise of peace was credible and peace advocates saw value in taking chances for it. The dominant argument in the Arab world now is that these chances were taken in vain. This is a defeat for Israel and for the cause of peace.
Ayman Safadi is a former editor of Alghad in Jordan, and is a commentator on Middle Eastern issues