Israel and Palestine: An Alliance of Orphans

Despite their mutual loathing, Israel and Palestine must cooperate in order to survive.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority have once again become embroiled in the loathsome procedure known as the diplomatic process. After all, the conditions for success are known, and their absence is what has caused every previous round to fail: The political pressures on both sides aren’t new, and they are what ultimately ended all previous attempts at dialogue.

Nor did the American pressure suddenly erupt out of nowhere: It accompanied all the previous meetings, for better or for worse, with power plays, enticements and demonstrative cold-shouldering, sometimes toward Israel and sometimes toward the Palestinians. And nothing proves better than the current meeting just how impotent this pressure was in the past.

Nevertheless, something substantive really has changed: Israel and Palestine are now locked in an alliance of orphans, and despite their mutual loathing they must cooperate in order to survive.

Israel and Palestine have both lost standing in their respective worlds – the former in the West, which it had previously seen as a permanent supporter of its positions, and the latter in the Arab world, which had previously served it as a defensive shield. The shock that swept Israel after the European Union decided to boycott Israeli products from the territories and restrict cooperation with institutions that fund Israeli activity in the territories was not due solely to the economic blow. This is a historic turning point in the diplomatic positions of the Western world, which for the first time is defining Israel as a pariah state.

The decision was a translation into practice of the public mood that has taken root in most European states in recent years: They may not be overly hard on rulers such as Syria’s President Bashar Assad or Sudan’s President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, but they shudder when a country like Israel, which belongs fully to the West, stomps on Western behavior codes. The EU both drew the “red line” and declared that Israel had crossed it.

Israel, which had previously enjoyed the status of a spoiled adopted daughter, suddenly lost its mother. No catastrophe there: It still had the United States, the greatest superpower of all.

But then Washington grew disenchanted with its sudden single parenthood. America’s strategic interests, from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to its desire to prevent a nuclear Iran, require international cooperation – not with Israel, but with the real world powers: Russia, China and the EU.

This cooperation has its price, and this time it was Europe that put a price tag on Israel – and not only on Israel. Europe made it clear to Washington that anyone seeking to formulate a common Western policy will have to take Europe’s views into account, because Europe will no longer be an American satellite. Anyone seeking the reason for the change in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s positions, including his decision to release Palestinian prisoners, won’t find it in his sudden political maturation or an outbreak of longing for peace. What frightened Netanyahu was fear of “losing his father” in Washington.

Fortunately the Palestinians have also been feeling lonely for the past year. Egypt, their traditional patron, has no attention to spare for foreign policy, so the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been shoved to the bottom of the drawer. The other Arab states are worried about the Syrian crisis, the tension and outbreaks of rebellion in their own streets or economic threats.

In their view, Palestine is the Palestinians’ problem. So if the Palestinians want to once more mobilize international support in advance of the next negotiating session, they must present an agreed political and territorial framework that could in the future be defined as a state. Otherwise, they’ll continue to be an orphaned entity deserving of compassion and humanitarian aid only.

Given the situations of both Israel and Palestine, renewing the peace process is not an opportunity, but a necessity. This lifeline, thin and frayed though it might be, can still save both sides from the danger of becoming of no more account than satellite debris in space. This fear has already effected a slight change. It might be the only chance remaining for these two orphans.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, walks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu