By The Daily Star
US envoy George Mitchell’s visit to the Middle East this week serves as a reminder of the challenges that must be overcome if a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal is to ever be reached. One of these is that the Obama administration’s effort to push the Palestinian-Israeli peace process forward is being hampered by the distraction tactics of groups and individuals who fail to see the urgent need to end this decades-long conflict.
The strategy that they employ is simple: Draw attention away from the issue of Israeli occupation and
toward Iran, which they portray as a far greater threat to regional security. Campaigns that rely on this method tend to downplay the destabilizing impact that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory has on the region, and argue that the Islamic Republic is the main – or indeed the only – source of regional violence.
Those who use these tactics often point to the publicly aired concerns of Arab states, which along with Israel, are increasingly worried by the Iranian threat. But in doing so they ignore the fact that Israel and the Arab regimes have dramatically different perceptions of what exactly the Iranian threat is, as well as how it ought to be countered. For the Arabs, the issue of Iran is one of centuries-long competition, whereas the Israelis tend to portray the Islamic Republic as a threat of Holocaust proportions.
Shifting all of the focus to the issue Iran misses the point: The Israeli occupation is dangerous for the region, regardless of whether other dangers to the region exist. The main reason that this is the case is because the illegal control of territory by means of military force invokes an inevitable backlash.
It’s not just Israel that suffers from this backlash, either. The occupation has led to the empowerment of non-state actors at the expense of Arab and Muslim states, especially those that
are seen as keen on making accommodating gestures toward Israel. Al-Qaeda is destabilizing countries from Morocco to Pakistan and beyond while Hamas has broken down the state structures in Palestine. Both of these groups gain traction among Arab and Muslim populations by repeatedly mentioning the Israeli occupation of Palestine and portraying themselves as carrying out the religious duty of resistance.
It is hard to understand why Israel and its supporters fail to comprehend the costs and consequences of maintaining the occupation. It’s as if they are reluctant to let go of the old dream that Israel can one day be an empire that stretches across vast swathes of Arab land. The age of empires has ended, and this is no longer an option for any state in the modern world. What is an option is a stable state with internationally recognized borders. That is something Israel can hope to achieve – if it abandons the occupation.