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Thwarting efforts for peace

Sep 16,2014 - Last updated at Sep 16,2014

One potential winner in the international and regional drive to fight and destroy the Islamic State is Israel.

Less than a month has passed since a tentative ceasefire was reached between the Palestinians and Israelis over the Gaza war, and already there is little interest in the need to find a lasting solution to the conflict, restart peace negotiations and hold Israel accountable for alleged war crimes and other atrocities committed in the 51-day assault.

The focus is, and will be for some time, on IS and the threat it poses to the region and the rest of the world.

The US-led coalition, involving at least 10 Arab countries, will be occupied with intensive efforts to dislodge the terrorist organisation from its bases in Iraq and Syria.

This will be a protracted and complicated process, relieving Israel of regional and international pressure to make peace with the Palestinians.

This is bad news for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who, only recently, announced that he was ready to unveil a “new” plan for peace.

Judging from Israel’s reaction and its lack of respect for the Gaza ceasefire agreement, there will be little regional and international interest in pursuing a new peace process at a time when the world is preoccupied with the challenge IS is presenting not only to the Middle East, but to Western Europe and the United States as well.

President Barack Obama’s strategy to “degrade and destroy” IS failed to draw attention to the endemic conflicts that plague the region.

Many of these conflicts, the Arab-Israeli struggle amongst them, contributed to the phenomenon of Islamist extremism.

And in spite of new regional challenges, the Arab Spring, sectarian tensions, Sunni-Shiite confrontation, the spread of radicalism, the Iranian nuclear issue — in addition to persistent political, social and economic problems in most Arab countries — the Palestinian cause remains central for the region.

It is the one issue that still unifies Arabs and Muslims today.

Those who claim that the plight of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation no longer matters for the people of this region are gravely mistaken.

The unprecedented global sympathy for the people of Gaza recently is a case in point. But even if there are fewer expressions of public solidarity with the Palestinians in the Arab world, Arabs continue to express hatred towards Israel and support for the Palestinians.

When the dust settles on the war on IS, the region will still face a myriad problems and conflicts.

There is an inherent fault in this latest campaign, and it is that it lacks a comprehensive political approach to the region’s many conflicts.

After everything is said and done, the basic issues of democracy, freedom, pluralism, social and economic justice, and openness towards others will still be there.

The question is, will the US and the West overlook the many faults of their Arab partners in the coalition for the sake of keeping the alliance united?

The Obama administration, which has backed the Arab Spring and the quest for political, social and economic reforms, will be forced to look the other ways in order to maintain a united front against IS.

But once that war is over, the world will continue to be challenged by this region’s deep-rooted problems.

And if such problems are not confronted, the triggers of fundamentalism and extremism will be at work again.

The US, which invaded Iraq in 2003, contributed to that country’s failed policies and miserable reality. This is why Washington is careful today to build an exclusively Sunni coalition to confront IS.

But salvaging Iraq will require much more work. And the crisis in Syria will test regional and international relations, as it has done since its outbreak in 2011.

Lack of a political vision, now and in the near future, to address and confront regional challenges will undermine efforts to fight extremism and placate large segments of society who feel marginalised and disenfranchised.

President George Bush Sr. launched the Madrid peace process immediately after the eviction of Iraq from Kuwait in 1991.

He, too, led an international and regional coalition to fend off the menace Iraq’s occupation posed to regional stability and security.

The Arab countries that joined that coalition sent ground forces to help the effort. The peace process that ensued brought a decade of relative tranquility to the region because people believed there was hope to put an end to the injustice that befell the Palestinians many decades ago.

But Israel managed to derail that process and reneged on its commitments. As a result, the struggle resumed and the region succumbed to a number of military conflicts, creating a breeding ground for extremism.

Without a renewed US and international commitment to revive a comprehensive peace process that addresses the Arab-Israeli struggle and fulfils Palestinian aspirations, the root causes of extremism will thrive.

Without a commitment to help the countries of the region battle social, political and economic challenges, frustration and anger will breed radicalism.

This region has suffered enough and has now become the source of insecurity and instability for the rest of the world.

Solving the Palestinian issue will go a long way towards reversing that trend.

The writer is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

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