Only a few hours ago a fourth rocket to hit Israel since a truce was agreed to with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip has cast further doubts on the durability of this stopgap measure. That coupled with an increasingly wobbly Olmert, besieged on all fronts by his own Kadima party, Labor, and Likud, feeds a cyclical dynamic that is wearing thin the patience on both sides.
Competing internal actors retain perverse incentives to play spoiler in order to preempt a resolution that leaves them weakened or excluded from power. In the case of the most recent rocket attack, it is the Fatah-aligned Al-Aqsa Martyrs that seems to be playing spoiler to a Hamas-initiated truce. Robert Malley and Hussein Agha had warned against such possibilities earlier this year writing:
The truth is, none of these two-way deals is likely to succeed. In tandem, no two parties are capable enough to deliver; any one party is potent enough to be a spoiler. There can be neither Israeli-Palestinian stability nor a peace accord without Hamas’s acquiescence. Intra-Palestinian reconciliation will not last without Israel’s unspoken assent and willingness to lift its siege. Any agreement between Hamas and Israel over Abbas’s strong objection is hard to imagine.
For any of these dances to go forward, all will have to go forward. Synchronicity is key. Fatah and Hamas will need to reach a new political arrangement, this time not one vigorously opposed by Israel. Hamas and Israel will need to achieve a cease-fire and prisoner exchange, albeit mediated by Abbas. And Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will need to negotiate a political deal with Abbas, who will have to receive a mandate to do so from Hamas.
The current mind-set, in which each side considers dealmaking by the other two to be a mortal threat, could be replaced by one in which all three couplings are viewed as mutually reinforcing. For that, the parties’ allies ought to cast aside their dysfunctional, destructive, ideologically driven policies. Instead, they should encourage a choreography that minimizes violence and promotes a serious diplomatic process. Otherwise, no matter how many times President Bush travels to the region, there is no reason to believe that 2008 will offer anything other than the macabre pattern of years past.
Perhaps the vacuum opened with the United States going MIA allowed some durable options to emerge through regional leadership from Ankara and Doha. But despite some recent success on other fronts, the Middle East will continue to command U.S. attention and remain the defining challenge of this (and perhaps future) decade(s).
To examine these prospects and the contours of a durable equilibrium and why these Middle East challenges won’t go away, the New America Foundation will be hosting a discussion with American Strategy Program Fellows Ghaith Al-Omari and Daniel Levy — two of the most prescient observers of the conflict. Joining them will be Aaron Miller, a former U.S. negotiator and important voice on this issue.
For those who cannot attend in person, the discussion will stream live by webcast on this page.
— Sameer Lalwani