I met Dr. Johnathan Spyer at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya last week. Johnathan is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center at the the campus. It was extraordinary to visit this facility that has a project wing that researches radical Islam. Today Johnathan writes on the Appearance of Peace in the Middle East at the Guardian and GLORIA Center:
The peace process of the 1990s collapsed not because of a misunderstanding, but because of the fundamentally irreconcilable positions of the sides – most crucially, on the issue of the Palestinian refugees of 1948 and their descendants. The Israeli left thought that the Palestinian ‘right of return’ was a sort of metaphor, which required only a bit of empathy and a few ritual expressions of guilt to be satisfied. They found out they were wrong. The issue of the refugees remains the single most defining element of Palestinian nationalism. It is also an issue on which Israel cannot concede without ceasing to exist as the expression of the national rights of the Jews – its very raison d’etre.
Is there a substantive basis for supposing that even among the narrow circles around Abbas and Fayad, the idea of the real-life realisation of the ‘right of return’ has been transcended? Well, there was the much reported fact that the guidelines of the new PA government spoke only of a ‘just and agreed upon solution to the refugee problem’, rather than openly demanding the ‘return’ of the 1948 refugees and their descendants to Israel. But the current – relative – flexibility of Fatah is a product of its extreme weakness, not of any historic compromise. And with this movement currently engaged in a battle with the Islamist Hamas for the leadership of Palestinian nationalism, it is unimaginable that it would be prepared to compromise on this defining element of Palestinian identity.
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So there you have it. Various influential parties have an interest in the appearance of a peace process. So the appearance of a peace process there shall be. But there has been no substantive shift in the underlying geology of the conflict to really merit the latest outburst of diplomacy.
The Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center combines twenty-first century technology with high-quality research methods to study, analyze, educate, and advise on international relations with an emphasis on the Middle East.
The Interdisciplinary Center is an impressive facility.