The Middle East is all about new directions right now.
On Sunday, Lebanon went to the ballot box and voted in a Western-backed government instead of, as pundits feared, Hezbollah. On Tuesday, Sa’ad Hariri, who is favored to become prime minister, ruled out peace with Israel and said Lebanon may not sign onto the Arab peace plan.
That the pro-Western government won out instead of Hezbollah is certainly a major feat worthy of celebration. It seems to us, however, that while the leaders are changing in the Middle East, they’re singing the same old tunes, which will only increase tensions and push the region closer to confrontation.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to make a major speech on Sunday about his vision for moving the peace process forward, while some Likud officials are saying that the coalition would not break apart if the premier uttered the elusive “two-state solution” phrase the United States has been pressing for. Hamas, meanwhile, announced earlier this week that it, too, would lay out a new strategy following Netanyahu’s speech – but the terror group has no plans to abandon violence. Lastly, Egypt is once again pushing for reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, a necessary step before any peace deal can move forward.
The Palestinians are waiting for Netanyahu to soften his position; Netanyahu is waiting for the Palestinians to put their house in order. In short, both sides are waiting for the other to step in line.
In 1977, Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat visited Israel for the first time. This visit was a statement of peace that no Arab leader has matched since then. It carried so much weight because it created a realm of possibilities for Israelis and Egyptians – it caused a change in the regional reality.
In order for the peace process to move forward, we need another statement.
There is an old Vulcan adage: Only Nixon could go to China. Speeches are nice, as are goodwill gestures. If Hariri or Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal want to really forge a new path, however, perhaps it is time they booked a flight to Jerusalem.