While predicting the future is a very difficult task, the looking glass of the Middle East is not so murky. The last century has carried with it very significant regional trends that seem to be continuing into this new century. These trends embrace internal Arab dynamics, Arab-Israeli relations, and individual state relations with the major international superpowers and players. So where do we stand today?
The gap between Israel and the Arabs has widened significantly on all fronts. This gulf includes different visions of the future, contrasting ideologies, and an imbalance of power. The combination of these inequalities and the growing gap in ideology and politics promises the continuation and probably even a deepening of the tensions between the two sides… unless the population, the people of Israel and Palestine decide to finally look at each other and respect each other.
All along, international involvement in this conflict has been a negative factor in aggravating the situation. In the past, the Middle East and the Arab-Israeli conflict was negatively affected by the Cold War. Both the United States and the Soviet Union were competing in the Middle East by supporting and encouraging both Israel and the Arabs. The result was the inflammation of the dispute. More recently, we have seen how international involvement in the region, whether in the Gulf War or in Afghanistan, has negatively impacted Middle East dynamics and affected the population.
The third significant trend sustained through most of the last century has been the growing gap in the economies of the Arab world on one hand, and both the West and Israel, on the other. The great failure of developmental projects in the Arab world and growing poverty has been responsible for an increase in religious fundamentalism. The combination of increasing poverty, lagging development, poor education, and slow modernization, against a backdrop of little political progress in solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has maintained and deepened that same conflict.
But three sources of hope remain to mitigate these ongoing trends: First, one cannot rule out the possibility of a leveling of the balance of power between Israel and the Arabs – a leveling that will make Israel take Palestinian rights and concerns more seriously. That balance would create a situation more conducive to a lasting peaceful future.
Another mitigating factor would be a more serious, responsible, and balanced intervention by the international community that might influence regional developments towards closer alignment with the demands of international law.
But the third and most promising source of hope comes from inside Israel itself. The last few years have witnessed increasing Israeli public understanding and recognition of Palestinian rights and concerns. Beginning in 1991, with the start of the peace process, the Israeli public began to demonstrate an acceptance of the idea of a Palestinian state, an end to the Israeli occupation in most of the territories, and the agreement to share the city of Jerusalem. If that trend continues, the Israeli people, and consequently the Israeli government, will recognize the rest of the Palestinian’s legitimate rights (which are the same rights that Israelis enjoy and Palestinians have already accepted and recognized), and the future will indeed be different from the past.
Otherwise, the year 2025 is going to bring with it a continuation of the same trends and characteristics we see now, only accompanied by a few changes for the worse. Demographics will dramatically aggravate the situation, but what may prove more dangerous will be the advancements in science and technology, especially information technology, making conflicts such as the one we are living in a great deal more dangerous and harmful.
One might say that the Middle East is now at a crossroads, with many signs pointing to a continuation of negative trends and a snowballing of the current hatred and regional violence. On the other hand, perhaps the recent suffering of the two peoples will alarm them and make them decide to minimize, if not stop altogether, the current negative trends, and give an opportunity for change.
Student of the Yala Academy