Fair Policy, Fair Discussion

January 7, 2010

18 years of ‘process’– Where’s the peace??

Filed under: International politics,Washington's diplomacy — Helena Cobban @ 11:07 pm

I well remember the excitement surrounding Pres. George H.W. Bush’s successful convening of the Madrid Peace Conference on October 31, 1991!  Delegations from Jordan, Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon– all of which had remained in a formal state of war with Israel since 1948– for the first time sat down directly with an Israeli government delegation and started negotiating the terms for a comprehensive and final peace.

(When the members of the Palestinian delegation returned to Gaza and the West Bank, they were mobbed by massive throngs of admirers. Their cars became stuck in the crowd-filled streets for, in some cases, several hours.)

Jordan concluded its final peace with Israel in 1994– motivated in some part by the fact of the country’s intense reliance on U.S., but also no doubt by the strong desire of the late King Hussein to conclude that peace.  But he, like Egypt’s Pres. Sadat before him, still stressed that Israel needed also to conclude land-for-peace peace agreements with all its other neighbors, too.  Including the Palestinians.

But none of those negotiating parties except Jordan is any closer to a final peace with Israel than it was in 1991.

… More than 18 years have passed since then. On the Palestinian track, there have been numerous, completely indeterminate rounds of negotiations, most of them dealing with tiny minutiae of yet another “interim” phase, while the final-status deal that urgently needs to be secured on this track has only ever been addressed sporadically.

As of now, the Israelis and Palestinians have not held any peace talks at all– on either interim or final-status issues– for more than a year.

The situation on the ground is now considerably worse than it was in 1991. Back then, there were 231,000 Israeli settlers in the OPTs. Today, there are more than 500,000. Also, in the years since 1991, the Israeli occupation forces have killed and maimed huge numbers of OPT Palestinians, and Palestinians have killed and maimed significant (though far smaller) numbers of Israelis…

Perhaps understandably those losses– and the very harsh conditions of life that the Israeli occupation has imposed on the OPT Palestinians– have transformed the optimism, hope, and self-confidence that marked the Madrid days into a festering stew of fear and sullen resentment on each side.

The outlook for peace diplomacy is therefore, also, considerably worse now than it was in 1991… Or rather, it is worse if you hold to the viewpoint that’s become so widespread in U.S. power circles in recent years that the “only” way to make peace is for the two parties themselves to make it, with a minimum of intervention from outside.

(Except, of course, that there has never been “minimal intervention from outside”, has there?  What with  the U.S. Congress continuing to shovel mammoth amounts of funding into Israel, while successive administrations have also given the country unparalleled amounts of political, military, and diplomatic support. So all that business about “just leave the two sides to negotiate the peace between themselves” has always been something of a lie, hasn’t it?)

And now, Pres. Obama’s senior peace envoy, Sen. George Mitchell, is scheduled to visit Israel and the West Bank again next week. (Hey, why not Gaza, too, Mr. Mitchell?) There is word from the region, variously, that Mitchell will be pursuing the idea of “proximity talks” between Israelis and Palestinians, and/or that he plans to “restart Israeli-Palestinian talks on a two-year deadline for the creation of a Palestinian state.”

The Israeli analyst Aluf Benn wrote yesterday that,
The peace process, more than any other factor, gave Israelis access to markets and tourism sites abroad, connected the Israeli economy to the global economy and led to Israel’s gradual acceptance as a legitimate neighbor in the Middle East…
He is quite right. I well remember, in the late 1990s, doing some interviews with men who had been aides to the late PM Rabin– and a high proportion of them, by then, received me in luxury office suites in Tel Aviv from which they were busy selling large arms packages to markets in Asia to which they had had no access at all prior to the Oslo “peace” accord.
For many Israelis, it seems never to have really been about “peace”, at all.  It was, as Aluf Benn wrote, much more about maintaining some appearance of a “process” so they keep their access to markets and tourist spots– oh, and also so the settlers could carry on grabbing additional chunks of Palestinian land behind the attractive veil provided by that semblance of a peace “process”.
(Talking of which, I see that Defense Minister Barak has now given the go-ahead to settler municipal authorities in the West Bank to proceed with doing all the planning work required for yet more construction.  That means that once the current– already extremely partial– settlement “freeze” expires later this year, the settlement builders can go straight ahead with building their next tranches of new buildings, without having to wait for any new permitting procedures… And Barak is the head of the Labour Party??)
So perhaps all this latest round of talk about new U.S. diplomatic initiatives really is, as Maariv’s very clear-eyed defense analyst Ofer Shelah wrote recently, just a lot of harta barta [drivel, or empty talk.]
I certainly hope not. Because the stakes in this diplomacy, for Americans, have never been higher.  Back in early November, when our group was in Syria, the well-connected Syrian analyst Samir Taqi told us that “These days, when someone is killing Americans in Afghanistan, he is doing so because of Gaza.”
Tragically, that seems to have been the case for the Jordanian-Palestinian physician Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, the suicide bomber reportedly behind the blast that killed seven Americans and a blue-blooded Jordanian in Afghanistan on December 30.
Gaza matters– and not just to Palestinians, not just to Arabs, not just to Muslims; but rather, to probably a majority of the world’s people.
What the Israelis are doing in Jerusalem, with absolutely no effective demurral from Washington, matters just as much.
That’s why– as I wrote here back in November– the stakes are high for the U.S. in seeing a final resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that is speedy, fair, and based on the globally accepted tenets and principles of international law.
Our country now has more than 200,000 troops deployed in very vulnerable places in majority-Muslim countries, at the end of lengthy and vulnerable supply lines. It makes absolutely no sense that American families and communities should have to see our people put at additional risk simply because so many of our leaders in Congress and also, perhaps, the administration, are so reluctant to stand up for what is right and fair, rather than what the pro-Israel lobby and the Netanyahu government have been trying to dictate to them.
Bottom line: Let’s have a speedy U.S. push for a fair and principled final peace. And if Washington can’t (or won’t) mount that effort, then it should stand aside and let the U.N. Security Council do the job– for everyone’s benefit, including our own.
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3 Comments »

  1. just called the Whitehouse comment line to urge the Pres.to have george m.visit Gaza as well as Israel and the West Bank next week. is our aim to finally achieve peace or is it not to offend the Israeli gov’t. and co.? our we honest brokers or are we dishonest brokers? carl from queens

    Comment by carl scala — January 8, 2010 @ 10:06 am | Reply

  2. No US politician can do anything that the Zionist Lobby disapproves of. George H W Bush found that out the hard way and Obama is not going to repeat that mistake. Helena has it correct: from the beginning it was never about peace: it was always about a “peace process.” This was a brilliant idea by Israeli politicians. It provided the fig leaf to allow Israel to gradually worm its way onto the world stage as a “reasonable” western-style power so they could establish the military and economic ties necessary to build the wealth of the privileged class in Israel. Now Netanyahu has a dilemma. Even Abbas has been forced to take a position on no negotiations without a real settlement freeze. So we are going to agree to another plan to do indirect negotiations to keep the never-ending, going nowhere, “peace process” going to protect Israel. I am afraid that the solution will only come after the stanch of the apartheid nature of Israel becomes so overwhelming to everyone that the international community is finally forced to invoke economic sanctions, as they did to South Africa, and a one state solution emerges. Economic sanctions and boycott are the only things that the the Israeli elite really fear and will respond to, just as South Africa did.

    Comment by Jack — January 8, 2010 @ 11:39 am | Reply

  3. If a one-state solution emerges, I and other Israelis like me, who have always lived with Palestinians in the fringes of the still very mixed cities of Jaffa and Jerusalem, are going to have to join forces against radical Islamism. As long as the IDF is extant, it will NOT allow a situation like 1936 to prevail, which is the last time a single-state with an active Islamist insurgency existed in Eretz Israel. It may very well resemble 1936-39, with some Palestinians and some Jews fighting against other coalitions of Palestinians and Jews. I know you fantasize about a pied-noir end to the State of Israel, but I doubt that “the world” could enforce that. An annexation of the Territories that outlawed explicitly discriminatory parties equally (Kach, Hamas/Jihad, National Union) would give cause for hope, but more likely is a de-facto repartition, even if it leads to simmering continual war of the Gaza/Lebanon type.

    Comment by Eurosabra — January 8, 2010 @ 6:52 pm | Reply


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