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Issues of the Day Dialog in the Middle East Today: What if it Worked?
 

In a region where force is often the only means pursued to resolve conflicts, there have been some noteworthy developments occurring in the Mideast lately. It is easy and perhaps imperative to be skeptical about the outcomes, yet three channels of dialog have recently opened up here that could auger better prospects for this violence-wracked region.

 

That they could be a sign of better things is far from a sure thing, but a start is better than none and focusing on talking rather than shooting is a welcome respite from the threat or deployment of armed might.

 

Israeli and Palestinian Negotiations

The resumption of direct talks between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, which had lapsed for more than three years until their improbable jump-start in mid-August, is fraught by mutual suspicion and condemned by maximalists on both sides of the divide. Yesterday, though, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Jerusalem for their seventh meeting in two months. While there are no indications that any of the myriad issues have been resolved, concrete signs of movement are evident.


Encouraging Movement

The continuation of talks is encouraging in itself. Further, today's issue of Haaretz reports that the Israeli cabinet has approved a series of economic easements aimed at the Palestinians. These include: expanding the number of Palestinians allowed to work in Israel, which is slated to achieve its highest level since the 2000 Intifada; the reconvening of the Israel-Palestinian Joint Water Committee and an increase by four million cubic meters a year in water allotments to the West Bank; the building of a new water pipeline to Gaza, and;  permitting cement, iron and other building materials into the Strip. The operation of the Allenby Bridge between Israel and the West Bank is to be extended by two hours a day.

 

Reciprocity

These are not insignificant measures and they could have an appreciable effect on improving the quality of life for Palestinians. Such gestures would be even more meaningful if they were expanded and coupled by a halt to settlement activity in the Territories. For their part, the Palestinians must offer concrete expressions of a commitment to coexistence with Israel in the context of two states. Such willingness needs to be manifested by the Authority in ways that include educating for peace, the assumption of a more reconciliatory stance on the part of its officials, and  fostering tangible relations between Israelis and Palestinians in the social, economic and other spheres.

 

Reciprocity is the key to a two-state solution, which I believe is the only workable and just resolution to the conflict. 


Is that Tehran Calling?

Given the incendiary verbiage and policies of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who guided Iran from August 2005 to August 2013 toward crippling sanctions, economic siege and international isolation due to his determination to make Iran a nuclear power, his pillorying and baiting of Israel and homosexuals and his denial of the Holocaust and general antagonism toward the world community, there seemed to be little prospect that a dialog with Tehran could take place soon.

 

The election by the slimmest of margins of Sheikh Hassan Rouhani as Ahmadinejad's successor last summer hardly boded well for a new era. Yet there are signs that the Iran's new leader, a cleric, lawyer and diplomat  backed by the ayatollahs and other pillars of the Islamic Republic's establishment, may be intent on entering into a dialog with the world community.


Contacts Resume

Rouhani has apparently been corresponding with US President Barack Obama and other Western leaders in a manner suggesting an interest in rapprochement, including concessions on the most contentious of issues: Iran's nuclearization


The Iranian president and his American counterpart and the Iranian and British foreign ministers may be meeting during upcoming conclaves at the UN General Assembly and the Hague. He also reportedly tweeted Rosh HaShanah greetings to Iran's besieged Jewish community, which some observers see as a promising sign.

 

Whether this is a desert storm intended to throw sand in the eyes of a gullible West remains to be seen. For the time being though, these signals warrant attention.

 

The Syrian Impasse: Untying a Single Knot

The successful negotiations last weekend held between the US and Russia, and the two together with the regime of Syrian President Bashir Assad, leading to an agreement that would, if fully implemented, would enable locating and destroying all chemical weapons stocks within the borders of Syria were notable for several reasons.


Least significantly, the diplomatic agreement enabled Barack Obama to not very deftly emerge from the corner he painted himself into behind a red line. More importantly, it cooled the rising heat between the two superpowers that have intensified recently owing to myriad disagreements,  not the least of which is Moscow's foreign policy and the backing of Syrian and Iran that are among its anchors. On the symbolic level the agreement marks a modest success for diplomacy and its possible utility in stanching the bloodshed in the Syrian Arab Republic.

 

Assad: A Hereditary Dictator

It should be recalled that Bashir Assad is a hereditary dictator who has ruled his country since 2000 after taking over from his late father, Hafez, who governed Syria for nearly three decades, from 1971-2000 and who came to power as the result of a military coup. The current Syrian president, like his father, is a stalwart of and controls  the Syrian branch of the  radically nationalist Baath Party, which long vied with its Iraqi wing under Sadaam Hussein and his predecessors for dominance in the pan-Arab movement. The Baath exercises indoctrination programs in Syrian schools, oversees the military and trade unions and is virtually synonymous with the state and thereby is a focal point of ongoing discord in that country.

 

Sustained by Baathist infrastructure and the military , Bashir Assad can stave off the rebellion against him for the foreseeable future. Deploying the same murderous techniques his father did during his reign where suppression and violence against dissidents and other civilians were commonplace, the current Syrian leader may not rule comfortably but he can definitely continue ruling for some time to come.

 

For the time being, whatever developments occur in Syria a faint glimmer of hope has been lit with respect to the chemical weapons issue which is, admittedly, only one of a host of explosive ones looming on Israel's northeast border. Israel would be the first victim of a miscalculation of Assad's and for that matter Tehran's intentions and Jerusalem's military and diplomatic strategists cannot allow our defenses to sag.

 

On the other hand, it the possibilities of dialog are enticing. No less important than being prepared for the failure of such contacts is to ponder what could happen if they worked. 


© Yosef Gotlieb, . All rights reserved