The Schizophrenia of the International Community

In recent weeks we have seen a slightly bizarre phenomenon. European and American diplomats have been making highly critical remarks about the Israeli government's position vis-a-vis the peace process, and European and American analysts have noted a distinct change in the tone of politicians to this same effect. Netanyahu has been described as "disruptive" by one politician and has been called "the obstacle" by another. This criticism has been accompanied by growing concern over the deteriorating state of the peace process, and those in diplomatic circles end their assessments by raising the question of what can be done in order to rescue it.

Since the negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians are not based on any balance of power, the intervention of a third party or parties is a definite precondition to its success, and the absence of such intervention is a prerequisite for failure. However, in spite of the growing international realization, particularly among those parties most concerned -- the United States and European countries -- that the problem in the peace process is an Israeli government which is not committed to fulfilling its obligations and is in fact avoiding implementation of signed agreements, the increasingly critical attitude is not being translated into practical steps, even at the most minor levels.

Israel has an extremely pragmatic society and leadership, contrary to the popular understanding outside. Israelis will not give any consideration to verbal criticism when such positions are not likely to carry any negative implications for Israel's day-to-day economic and political relations with the outside world. Eventually, the lack of any "bite" to such criticism serves as indirect encouragement to Israel to persist in its current policies. You could go even further and say that within the context of the peace process and in spite of Israeli actions which are clearly detrimental to any progress therein, Israel has recently carried off some tremendous public relations coups. Furthermore, Israel has also gone a long way toward achieving its objective of greater participation in the economic globalization process, whether on the European and American fronts or among the southeast "tiger" Asian economies, including Japan.

A constructive policy on the part of those important countries with political and economic interests in the Middle East would be to link their relations with Israel, particularly in the economic arena, with Israeli attitudes and actions in the peace process. With the pragmatism of Israeli society, this could be highly effective, because if not the Israeli government, then the Israeli public will work out for themselves, by intellectually or instinctively doing some kind of cost-benefit analysis of what their government is doing. This in turn could well lead to some kind of modification in the policy of the current government or in the government structure itself, which would allow progress to be made in the peace process.

Otherwise, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu will only continue with policies of settlement and refusal to implement interim-phase articles which effectively close off any future prospects for peace.

In the meantime, he will continue to put forward proposals such as his recent suggestion that Israel redeploy from a meager six percent of the West Bank. While these suggestions may continue to deceive some people outside, in the long run they only help to anger the Palestinian leadership and further erode the hopes for and trust in the peace process which are already dying among the general public in the Middle East, especially the Palestinians.