Natalie Portman’s award winning performance in Black Swan has renewed interest in the ballet Swan Lake. The ballet itself has the hopeless feel of a Greek tragedy where nothing can be done to prevent the inevitable heartbreaking outcome.
Too often the Arab-Israeli conflict has the same feel. With events in the Middle East unfolding in a dramatic fashion, along with its unknown consequences for the Arab-Israeli conflict, I went to see the State Ballet Theatre of Russia perform Swan Lake. As I sat down in my seat and read the synopsis of the ballet I could not help but feel a sense of doom as I thought of events taking place in the Middle East and perhaps another opportunity for peace between Israel and her neighbors that might tragically be lost.
The harsh reality is that the three major movements toward peace in the Middle East all emerged only after the stasis of the geo-political status quo was violently shaken. The first was the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty of 1979, the second was the Oslo Accords of 1993, and the third was the Jordanian-Israel Peace Treaty a year later in 1994. In 1973 Sadat felt forced to launch the October War after his overtures to peace with Israel were rejected. He knew that the only way to get Israel to the negotiating table was to cross the Suez Canal and regain a small amount of territory Egypt lost in the Six-Day War of 1967. As Sadat said, “The time has come for a shock.” The war led to a re-engagement by the United States in the region with Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy culminating in two disengagement accords between Israel and Egypt in 1974 and 1975, followed by Sadat’s historic visit to Israel in 1977, and the signing of the peace treaty in 1978.
The convening of the Madrid Peace Conference at the end of 1991 only took place as a result of the regional realities that were shattered by the First Gulf War earlier that year. The Conference led to the secret negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians in Oslo and the signing of the Oslo Accords two years later in 1993, and the signing of the Jordanian-Israeli Peace Treaty of 1994.
With all the efforts of the Obama administration these past two years the negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians have gone nowhere. Some in the administration seem resigned to the notion that nothing will happen if history is any indication until there is a major shakeup in the region. The dramatic fall of Mubarak in Egypt and of Ben Ali in Tunisia, along with spreading unrest in Yemen, Jordan, Iran, and Bahrain may be that very shakeup.
Israel has reacted to the events taking place around her with a very understandable fear of what it all could mean. The ground is shifting in the Middle East; however unlike a natural earthquake where there is nothing humans can do to stop those tectonic shifts within the earth, this is a human made earthquake where we are the players and instigators. As former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel insightfully said, “Never let a serious crisis go to waste.” Crisis creates crisis, it also creates opportunity. Israel can sit passively by and let the events within her neighbor’s borders define and dictate the reality that she will face, or she can seize the moment and be part of the change, and by so doing create a better reality for herself, and the region.
New governments will begin to emerge in the Middle East in response to the mobilization of the Arab street. Another cause close to the hearts of the Arab street is that of the Palestinians. The new governments that emerge will be very aware of that strong sentiment; over that issue, as well as others, they will need to show that they have street credibility. With whatever government emerges in Egypt we can be assured that without an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians the peace between Israel and Egypt will go from cold to frozen, and in Jordan the anti-normalization movement against Israel will only become stronger. It is for that very reason that Israel needs to seize the moment and actively engage the Palestinians in working toward an agreement. The recently released documents of the Palestinian negotiators showed both flexibility, creativity, and a grip on reality by the Palestinian and Israeli negotiators. It also confirmed that there is not much left to negotiate within the rubric of the Taba Summit, the Clinton Parameters, the Arab Peace Initiative, the Road Map and the Geneva Accords.
As new governments come into being in the Middle East throughout this year it would be in Israel’s best interest to have an agreement with the Palestinians completed as those new governments decide what their relationship with the Jewish state will look like. Netanyahu must recognize that Abbas is not reluctant to enter into serious negotiations with Israel. He showed that with Olmert. Rather, Abbas will not enter into negotiations with Netanyahu unless Netanyahu gives him some clear indication that negotiations will pick up close to where they left off with Olmert.
As Act 4 of Swan Lake started I waited for its sad ending. But then something remarkable and unexpected happened, the choreographer changed the ending from tragedy to triumph having Siegfried and Odette defeat the evil sorcerer and be united in their love. It is clearly easier to rewrite the ending of a ballet than it is to write a peace treaty between Israelis and Palestinians; it is however just as easy to squander an opportunity. The next time the earth moves in the Middle East it will be much more violent. It would be another tragedy if that moment becomes the moment, and not the present moment, that we need to move the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations forward.
This article originally appeared in the Arabs News