As the US-imposed April 29 deadline for a “framework” agreement between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority looms, time is also running out for the American administration on the issue. The Barack Obama administration needs to conjure up an escape route to avoid embarrassment if the talks are to fail.
The Americans were likely aware when this latest process launched that peace under the current circumstances is unattainable. Israel’s ruling coalition is adamantly anti-Arab, anti-peace and against any kind of agreement that falls short of endorsing the Israel’s apartheid-like occupation of Palestine.
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies on the right, including the far-right and ultra-nationalists, would like to see Palestinians crammed in disjointed communities, separated from each other by walls, settlements, Jewish-only bypass roads and a military presence including permanent Israeli control of the Jordan Valley. Politicians tirelessly speak of peace, but Israelis have had only one vision in mind since the 1967 war that signaled a final conquest of all of historic Palestine.
This vision is based on Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s 1923 concept of an “Iron Wall” separating Jews from native Palestinians.
“Zionist colonization must either stop, or else proceed regardless of the native population. Which means that it can proceed and develop only under the protection of a power that is independent of the native population – behind an iron wall, which the native population cannot breach, ” wrote Jabotinsky.
This concept was coupled with the Allon plan, named after Yigal Allon. He was a former general and minister in the Israeli government who took on the task of drawing an Israeli design for the newly conquered Palestinian territories in 1967.
It makes no sense for a leader like Netanyahu – backed by one of the most right-wing governments in Israeli history – to bargain with Palestinians on what he considers to be Eretz Yisrael – the Whole Land of Israel. He has shown no desire to reach an agreement that would provide Palestinians with any of their demands, never mind true sovereignty.
It is implausible that the Americans would be unaware of Israel’s lack of interest in the new peace talks. For one, Israeli extremists like Naftali Bennett – Israel’s minister of economy and the head of the right-wing political party the Jewish Home – were constantly reminding the US through unconstrained insults that Israel is simply not interested. The Americans persist, however, for reasons that are hardly related to peace or justice.
Previous administrations suffered unmitigated failures in the past as they invested time, effort, resources, and their reputation – to a greater extent than Obama’s – on a Middle East peace agreement. There are the familiar explanations of why they failed, including the objection to any US pressure on Israel by the “pro-Israel lobby” in Washington, which remains very strong despite setbacks. The lobby maintains a stronghold on the US Congress in all matters related to Israel and Israeli interests.
Preparing for the foreseeable failure, US Secretary of State John Kerry has remained secretive about his plans, leaving analysts in suspense over what is being discussed between Mahmoud Abbas’s negotiators and the Israeli government.
From the very start, Kerry has downgraded expectations. But the secrecy didn’t last for long. According to Palestinian sources cited in al-Quds newspaper, the most widely read Palestinian daily, Palestinian Authority President Abbas pulled out of a meeting with Kerry in Paris in late February because Kerry’s proposal didn’t meet the minimum of Palestinian expectations.
According to the report, it turned out that Kerry’s ambitious peace agenda was no more than a rehash of everything which Israel had previously tried to impose by force or diplomacy, and which Palestinians had consistently rejected. These include reducing the Palestinian aspiration of a Jerusalem capital into a tiny East Jerusalem neighborhood (Beit Hanina), and allowing Israel to keep 10 large settlement blocks built illegally on Palestinian land, aside from a land swap meant to accommodate Israel’s security needs.
Moreover, the Jordan Valley would not be part of any future Palestinian state, nor would international forces be allowed there. In other words, Israel would maintain the occupation under any other name, except that the PA would be allowed a level of autonomy over Palestinian population centers. It is hard to understand how Kerry’s proposal is any different from the current reality on the ground.
Most commentary dealing with the latest US push for a negotiated agreement goes as far back as George W Bush’s roadmap of 2002, the Arab peace initiative earlier the same year, or even the Oslo accords of 1993. What is often ignored is the fact that the “peace process” was a political invention by US hardliner Henry Kissinger, who served as a national security advisor and later secretary of state in the Nixon administration.
The idea was to co-opt the Arabs following the Israeli military victory of 1967, and allow the sudden expansion of Israel’s borders into various Arab borders with full US support and reinforcement. It was Kissinger himself who lobbied for the massive US military aid to Israel that changed the course of the 1973 war, and he was the man who worked to secure Israeli gains through diplomacy.
While many are quick to conclude that the “peace process” has been a historical failure, the bleak estimate ignores that whole point of the “peace process” was never to secure a lasting peace, but rather to forward Israeli military gains. In that sense, it has been a great success.
Over the years, however, the “peace process” became an American investment in the Middle East, a status quo in itself, and a reason for political relevance. During the administration of both Bushes, father and son, the “peace process” went hand in hand with plans for an Iraq invasion.
George W Bush’s roadmap, which was drafted with the help of pro-Israel neoconservative elements in his administration was this “war” president’s “peace” overture. Naturally, the roadmap failed, but it helped maintain the peace process charade for a few more years. At least until Bill Clinton arrived on the scene to kick-start the process once more.
In the last four decades, the “peace process” became an American diplomatic staple in the region. It is an investment that goes hand in hand with their support of Israel and interest in energy supplies. It is an end in itself, and is infused regularly for reasons other than genuine peace.
Now that Kerry’s deadline of a “framework agreement” is quickly approaching, all parties must be preparing for all possibilities. Ultimately, the Americans are keen on maintaining the peace process charade; the Palestinian Authority is desperate to survive; and Israel needs to expand settlements unhindered by a Palestinian uprising or unnecessary international attention. But will they succeed?
Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. He is a PhD candidate at the University of Exeter, UK. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London)