The audacity of hope for Palestine
Kishore Mahbubani | May 29, 09 10:59am
The world will be enveloped in a heavy cloud of gloom and
doom this year. Economies will sputter, governments will fall, and companies
will fail. But the biggest danger of all is a sense of hopelessness. Preventing
this requires resolving some large and apparently intractable problem. Closing
the Doha Round of world trade talks provides one such opportunity. But an even
better opportunity is provided by the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Many people around the world, especially in the West, have
convinced themselves that this conflict is beyond resolution. Several efforts
have been made since the famous Oslo
accords of 1993. All failed. But few have noticed that an unusual constellation
of forces has emerged, opening a remarkable new window of opportunity for a
solution. Such geopolitical opportunities are rare, and it would be a great
tragedy not to seize this one.
For a start, there seems to be a near-universal consensus
that any solution will be based on the Taba accords worked out by President
Bill Clinton in January 2001. Palestinian diplomats have told me they can
accept this package.
Equally important, there is now a near-universal consensus
among virtually all the Arab states that a peace settlement is in their
interest. Many, including Egypt
and Saudi Arabia, are more
concerned with the rise of Iran.
An agreement with Israel
could strengthen their hand in dealing with Iran
and deprive the Iranian government of an opportunity to whip up Arab popular
sentiment against Arab governments' position on Palestine.
The big question is whether Israel is ready. But, despite the
difficult political situation in Israel,
there seems to be a growing consensus among the Israeli elite that time is no
longer on Israel's
It may also help that Israel's foreign policy will now be
run by two perceived hardliners, Binyamin Netanyahu (right) and Avigdor
Lieberman. Just as it took a Richard Nixon to go to China,
it will take a Netanyahu to enforce a peace settlement that will require a
withdrawal from most of the West Bank
When I visited Israel in 1997, I called on
then-Prime Minister Netanyahu, as he and I had been colleagues when we both
served as ambassadors to the United Nations. I will never forget what he said
to me: "Kishore, ignore the media stories. I am in favour of peace".
The broad coalition, including Lieberman and Ehud Barak,
also makes peace more likely.
Any good peace settlement requires a powerful mediator. Fortunately,
a candidate has arrived in the person of United States Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton (right). Her two predecessors, Colin Powell and Condoleezza
Rice, did not have the most important credential: trust from both sides. She
I have only shaken hands with Clinton
once, early one Sunday morning in a synagogue in New York City several years ago. I was truly
impressed that this small synagogue could marshal the presence of New York's two senators,
Clinton and Charles Schumer, and several other congressmen for an early
breakfast gathering. I could see at first hand that Clinton
enjoyed the trust of the Jewish community - a necessary requirement for any Middle East mediator.
also showed her diplomatic skill when she visited the region in March 2009. She
reaffirmed her commitment to Israeli security. She showed concern for the
humanitarian plight of Gaza's
residents. Her deftness is not surprising. Her husband, Bill Clinton, studied
the Middle East problem intensely, which
showed in the quality of the peace proposal that he put together.
Undoubtedly, the perception that Clinton will be completing the work that her
husband began in the region will be a major motivating factor. Such personal
considerations do matter. There is also no doubt that if she succeeds in
brokering a two-state solution, she would be a prime candidate for the Nobel
That outcome would be applauded around the world. Few
Americans are aware that rapid globalisation of the Islamic world has produced
a political grid that links all 1.3 billion Muslims on some key issues. The
Israel-Palestine conflict has produced negative political repercussions that
travel instantly to all corners of the Islamic world.
Barack Obama's election as US president and his natural
popularity in the Islamic world have helped to curb some of these
repercussions. If this could be combined with a peace settlement, the world
would suddenly experience a rush of hope that would break through today's
global cloud of gloom. And the audacity of hope is what the world needs most
Kishore Mahbubani is Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of
Public Policy, National University of Singapore. His most recent book is ‘The
New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East'.