Middle East

Jerusalem: Middle East's oldest unresolved conflict

Holes on a bus window after an explosion in Jerusalem (23 March 2011)

If there was a moment when the world did not want to be reminded of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in such violent terms, then it is now.

With the largely Western coalition's intervention in the skies over Libya still in its first week and political upheavals continuing across the region - in Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain - the bombing in Jerusalem is a painful reminder that one of the modern Middle East's oldest conflict has not gone away.

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's effort to present the coalition's actions as reminiscent of the medieval crusades seems not to have resonated widely in the Arab world, at least for now.

But Arab societies are in an unfamiliar place. They remain fascinated by both the possibilities and dangers prompted by the political transitions under way in Tunisia and Egypt.

Simmering conflict

Indeed they have largely turned inwards, focusing on their own domestic affairs. Egypt's relative silence about the dramatic events unfolding across its western frontier with Libya is a case in point.

But the bus stop bombing in Jerusalem is a reminder that an old spectre still lurks that could return to haunt the democratic feast.

The simmering low-level conflict across Israel's border with the Gaza Strip has cost the lives of Palestinian civilians in recent days, while last weekend Palestinian militants in Gaza fired dozens of missiles into southern Israel - their heaviest such barrage in two years.

Many were shocked by an attack on an Israeli settler family

And an attack on an Israeli settler family in the West Bank a little over two weeks ago shocked many in Israel.

The Israeli government responded by giving the green light to 400 new housing starts in the occupied West Bank, a move that was condemned in Europe and the US, as was the original murder of the settler family.

Who exactly is behind the bus bombing remains unclear. Some may point a finger to Palestinian groups with connections in Damascus or even Tehran, but you don't necessarily have to look that far.

There are many Palestinians who are angered by the lack of progress in the peace process and who are doubly frustrated by the largely diplomatic path pursued by the Palestinian Authority leadership.

It seems to be focusing on gaining greater recognition abroad and building up its future state institutions.

Elusive peace

However, the attempt by the Palestinian Authority at the UN Security Council last month to win a formal resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity was vetoed by the United States - the Obama administration's first use of the veto since it took office.

This, together with the Israeli announcement of new homes in the West Bank, rather underscores the limits of the Palestinian Authority's current approach.

There is talk that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may soon launch a new initiative of his own on the peace front.

However, in the current climate, this may be more of a reflection of the dynamics in relations between Israel and Washington rather than those between Israel and the Palestinians.

A generation has grown old with the current "peace process" and real peace is still as elusive as ever.

It is hard to see any progress coming when there are so many other pressing problems in the region.

But as the British Foreign Secretary William Hague has underlined repeatedly, amidst the dramatic changes elsewhere, the urgency of finding a comprehensive peace between Israel and the Palestinians is only growing.

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