x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The peace process is not captive to Israeli intransigence

It is time for Israel and the United States to realise they are not the only decision makers in the peace process.

Seasons may change, but renewal is never a guarantee. This is especially true for Middle Eastern peace, where an autumn of possibility has given way to a winter of discontent.

Latin American support for a Palestinian state may be one way to help break the ice. This week Argentina and Uruguay joined the BRIC heavyweight Brazil in recognising an independent Palestine. Bolivia and Ecuador are expected to follow suit.

The driving force behind these unlikely pronouncements is not entirely clear, but one possibility is a resurgent Turkey. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, who was visiting in Turkey this week, said Ankara has urged Latin American countries to step up their support. Turkey has sought to bolster economic ties with South America, which may help explain these countries' alignment on Palestine.

Many Arab states already recognise a de facto Palestinian state by hosting its embassies, and as recognition increases the result will very likely further isolate Israel and its policies. That may be the only way to sway Israeli opinion towards a more reasonable stance.

That Ankara may be assisting in this push is not surprising, but it is welcome. Turkish foreign policy has been on the ascendency, a fact that both the United States and Israel have been concerned about. In fact, a more critical approach should be welcomed. More assertiveness from Turkey could help break the gridlock in the peace process.

However, the limits of a unilateral state need to be recognised. Renewed calls for a Palestinian state will not settle key issues such as borders and refugees. Many Palestinians worry that a partial state, in the absence of a comprehensive deal with Israel, will forestall the resolution of legitimate demands.

But something has to change. The peace process hangs by a thread and Benjamin Netanyahu's administration is unwilling, or perhaps unable, to reach a reasonable deal. If the United States is unwilling to apply the necessary pressure, and Israel unwilling to move without it, progress towards an independent state is necessary to move beyond intransigence.

Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has already made strides towards economic development in the West Bank. What is important is that these are no substitute for a sovereign state, but a precursor. It is time for Israel and the United States to realise they are not the only decision makers in the peace process. The Palestinians have friends beyond the Arab world, and this is no time for them to remain silent.