A series of high-profile events in the Middle East, from the Arab Spring to the rise of the Islamic State, have pulled the world’s gaze away from the Israeli­­–Palestinian conflict. Elisabeth Marteu argues that because its resolution is not anyone’s priority, this open wound in the Middle East is taking a turn for the worse.

Israel police

By Elisabeth Marteu, Consulting Senior Fellow for Middle East Politics

Since the outbreak of the Arab revolts in 2011, little attention has been paid to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Given the rise of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, the humanitarian and political disaster in Syria, the war in Yemen, the rising tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia and the internal security challenges faced by Egypt and Jordan, it is hard to find any actors ­– whether in the Middle East or beyond ­– interested in addressing this conflict.

In June 2016, France hosted a conference to reboot Israeli–Palestinian peace talks (without the Israelis or the Palestinians). This initiative was unsuccessful and faced several obstacles posed not just by Tel Aviv, but also by Moscow and Cairo, which put forward alternative and concurrent proposals. Furthermore, after several failed American diplomatic initiatives, it is doubtful whether the Obama administration will make a final attempt to solve the crisis.

More than a decade since the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords, the problem is far from being solved. In Israel, the continuation of the settlement policy supported by a right-wing government, the exhaustion of the ‘peace camp’ and the securitisation of the public debate have marginalised the Palestinian issue. In the Palestinian Territories, the durable separation between the West Bank and Gaza, internal tensions within Fatah and the fragile ceasefire with Hamas in Gaza have led to the freezing of any possible step forward.

But this fake status quo is likely to lead to a deterioration of the security situation in both Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Indeed, since 2015, a new wave of unpredictable political violence has emerged, taking the form of individual Palestinian attacks against Israeli citizens. Labelled as a ‘stabbing’ or ‘knife’ intifada this wave, which has become part of the daily life of Israeli and Palestinian civilians, is partly a result of the lack of any hope of a political solution.

In Gaza, Hamas has been able to control the growing opposition from Salafi groups so far but their connections with active Islamic State affiliates in Sinai remain a security concern. At the same time, thanks to the singularity of the Palestinian national struggle, the Islamic State has failed to gain significant support among Palestinians. The Israeli–Palestinian conflict has thus remained relatively contained, but this explains why its resolution is not a priority for anyone.

If it is clear that the two-state solution has failed and is not likely to be revived soon, one has to consider the local and regional impacts of such a collective failure. First, it will undeniably continue to inform popular frustrations, identity tensions and people’s perceptions of double standards in the region. The Middle East as a whole will continue to be driven by popular anger, which will undeniably benefit the most violent extremist groups.

Second, the normalisation of relations between Israel and the Arab world will probably continue to depend on the fate of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Of course, Israel already has close pragmatic cooperation with Egypt and Jordan, and seemingly discreet contacts with the Gulf states. But an official recognition by Arab states would be highly risky if the Palestinian issue were not addressed.

With all actors turning a blind eye to this explosive situation, the Israeli–Palestinian conflict remains an open wound in the Middle East that is already taking a turn for the worse.

This is part of a series of posts for the 2016 Manama Voices blog, which provides analysis and commentary from IISS experts throughout the IISS Manama Dialogue, to be held in Bahrain on 9–11 December 2016.

For full coverage of the proceedings visit the IISS Manama Dialogue 2016 website. All participants will be encouraged to use #IISSMD2016 to share their insights on social media.

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12th Regional Security Summit

IISS Manama Dialogue 2016

The 12th IISS Manama Dialogue will take place in the Kingdom of Bahrain from 9–11 December.

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