Announced weeks ago by Secretary of State John Kerry after months of shuttle diplomacy, negotiators from Israel and the Palestinian Authority arrived in Washington DC on July 29 to begin preliminary talks to set a framework for the actual resumption of negotiations to be held later this year. Previous negotiators were said to have made “progress” in earlier rounds of talks shepherded by Kerry. The promise, as usual, was for a Palestinian state.
The key to getting talks started was Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s order to release 104 Palestinian prisoners (Israel, as occupying authority, arrests whatever Palestinians it wishes to, with no need for trials or evidence) from Israeli jails as a sign of good faith—apparently over the fierce objections of some in his cabinet. The prisoner release was based on using lists of prisoners arrested before the Oslo Agreements of 1993, to be released in gradual steps. Netanyahu would seem to retain leverage here, because if the talks do not go his way, he can use the further release of prisoners as a negotiating carrot.
London’s Daily Telegraph noted that the outlines of a “deal” from previous rounds were: a Palestinian state in most of the West Bank, Gaza, and east Jerusalem, lands captured by Israel in 1967 (though Netanyahu has definitely not agreed to this). Border “adjustments” would be part of such a deal, adjustments that would allow Israel to annex land now occupied by its nearly 600,000 settlers—a deal that would seem to permit Israel to keep the lands it has seized illegally via its settlements. Whether Mahmoud Abbas can convince Palestinians to accept such a “deal” remains to be seen.
Though Israel would no doubt deny it, the recent boycott announced by the European Union appears to have prodded Netanhyahu to agree to the talks after years of delay. The boycott, announced in mid July, is aimed at the Israeli settlements. It prohibits the EU and any EU state from awarding contracts, grants, or prizes to any Israeli institution or corporation that has any direct or indirect connection with Israeli settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, or the Golan Heights. In a recent post, Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery had this to say about the EU boycott:
The EU boycott of the settlements and their supporters will have a major economic impact. No one knows yet how much. But the moral effect is even more significant. Even if massive Israeli-American pressure thwarts or at least postpones the European action, the moral blow is already devastating. It tells us: The settlements are illegal. They are immoral. They inflict a huge injustice on the Palestinian people. They prevent peace. They endanger the very future of Israel.
Perhaps the most disappointing indication of where this new “peace process” is headed lies in the appointment of Martin Indyk, a former U.S. Ambassador to Israel, as the lead U.S. envoy to oversee negotiations. Indyk, an Australian of Jewish descent, spent time as a volunteer on a kibbutz during the 1973 war between Israel and Egypt before emigrating to the U.S. He began his American career working with AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee), the most powerful pro-Israel lobby group in the country. Besides his work in the Clinton and subsequent administrations, he has written widely on the threats to “stability” in the Middle East posed by Iraq (before the Bushes leveled it) and Iran. Given such a background, Indyk promises to continue the long tradition of American negotiators essentially serving as “Israel’s lawyers” (see below). This being the case, I thought a re-presentation of a blog I wrote earlier this year (May 13) would be useful. It summarizes Prof. Rashid Khalidi’s analysis of the so-called “peace process” in recent years. Though one can hope that this time will be different, the preliminary signs, along with the depressing history, would seem to point, rather, at yet another mask of progress towards Palestinian statehood that disguises an endless process leading nowhere.
Fake Peace, Fake Process
With the Israeli military again in the headlines, having once more attacked a country, Syria, without a shred of provocation, it is perhaps useful to go over the so-called ‘peace process’ that Israel and the United States keep bringing up to cover their crimes. We are told again and again that Israel is willing to talk peace, but “can’t find a real partner for talks”—i.e. one that will grant Israel’s “right to exist.” We are told repeatedly that the Obama administration wants to be an “honest broker for peace” between Israelis and Palestinians, but can’t find partners willing to make necessary compromises. And so, where Presidents Carter and Clinton and others were able to make apparent progress, neither Obama nor Bush nor Reagan have been able to advance the process, though all have made reassuring sounds about their intention to broker a peace that will result in a Palestinian state.
Rashid Khalidi’s latest book, Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East, puts all this in perspective. For what Khalidi—a professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia—shows us is that far from being impartial brokers working to reach a just peace, successive administrations in Washington could more accurately be described as ‘Israel’s Lawyers.’ They have been so openly partisan, so eager to please their Israeli clients, so craven in their obedience to whatever Israeli leaders have dictated to them as terms, that they have undermined rather than advanced the cause of peace. Moreover, while many Americans who have thought about the problem posit that it is the Israel lobby and groups like AIPAC that drive America’s middle East policy, Khalidi points out that American strategic interests in the middle East, particularly with respect to Arab oil-producing despotisms, are the policy drivers because the U.S. pays little or no price for its bias in favor of Israel. Though the Arab public rages about this American favoritism, the monarchies that rule places like Saudi Arabia and Jordan and Bahrain, keep their people so suppressed that Washington can safely ignore the people themselves. As we saw when Hamas won, openly and democratically, the right to represent the Palestinians, the thing Washington fears most is Arab democracy. Despots who keep their people controlled suit America just fine.
To make his point, Khalidi focuses on three “peace episodes” of recent years: the Camp David Accords of 1978 and their aftermath; the Madrid-Washington negotiations of 1991-93 leading to the Oslo Accords; and Obama’s efforts since his election. All three have, of course, failed to bring peace or result in a Palestinian state. Indeed, Khalidi points out in meticulous detail that the chief aim of Israeli leaders has always been to prevent the formation of a Palestinian state. Even acknowledging that there is a Palestinian people has been written out of agreements like those President Carter was forced to sign at Camp David. In a January 22, 1978 side letter to Menachem Begin five days after the Accords were signed, Carter agreed that,
wherever the expressions “Palestinians” or “Palestinian people” occurred in the text, they “are being and will be construed and understood by you as ‘Palestinian Arabs.’” This was a term of art among those Israelis who denied that the Palestinians were a people. (6)
Khalidi explains that this denial of Palestinians as a people goes all the way back to the Balfour Declaration of 1917 (the foundational document allowing for Jews to have a homeland in Palestine) “which never mentioned the Palestinians by name.” The same kind of linguistic sleight of hand was already incorporated into the Camp David Accords which establish a “Self Governing Authority” for the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza, giving them “full autonomy” over themselves, but not over the land. The land, that is, was to “remain under full Israeli control.” This was consistent with the Israeli, and especially the right-wing Likud Party’s concept of Eretz Israel, which said that “The right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel is eternal.”
Understanding this basic principle—at first hidden in the secret Carter letter—is crucial to understanding all the so-called peace efforts that follow. For if there is no Palestinian people (Prime Minister Golda Meir specifically stated, in 1969, that “There was no such thing as Palestinians….It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.” 9), then talk of a Palestinian state is arrant nonsense, a smokescreen. This is why the representative of the Palestinian people, the PLO, with Yasser Arafat as its leader, was completely excluded from the Camp David talks. A people that is not a people cannot even be thought of as having a government, and besides, the PLO were terrorists (until, that is, it became convenient for the U.S. and Israel to consider the Palestinian authority the sole representative of the Palestinians, instead of Hamas, which has now become the “terrorists.”) Then, to make things even clearer, Khalidi cites a 1982 CIA memo (Reagan was now president) that went as follows:
“Begin asserts that the C[amp] D[avid] A[ccords] rule out the emergence of a Palestinian state. In Begin’s view, the agreements ‘guarantee that under no condition’ can a Palestinian state be created. In practice Begin effectively rules out any exercise of Palestinian self-determination except one that continues Israel’s preeminent position in the West Bank.” (19)
Khalidi comments that this was not only the position of Prime Minister Menachem Begin, but “the enduring position of every Israeli government since.” So, while there has been an almost endless procession of American “negotiators” seeking to find a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine resulting in a secure state for each, this has all been a ruse, a way to drag out so-called peace talks endlessly, endlessly giving Palestinians and the world the illusion that a Palestinian state was right around the corner (as soon as knotty little problems like “facts on the ground” could be ironed out). In reality,
the Palestinians would be restricted to talking about and eventually living under the extremely low ceiling of Begin’s scheme for “autonomy” for the people, but not the land, all the while continuing to suffer under a regime of continued occupation. (37)
That 45-year occupation, by the way, illegal under international law, and allowing the Israelis to arrest and imprison and assassinate Palestinians with impunity, establish “facts on the ground” such as hundreds of illegal settlements that split the alleged territory of future Palestine into impossible “bantustans,” and undermine the now-acceptable PLO government by leaving no doubt who is in charge, continues, illegally, to this day.
Skipping the Oslo Accords of 1993, which, according to Khalidi, only made things worse for Palestinians, we come to Barack Obama. Initially thought to offer the Palestinians their best hope for peace and a state for themselves, Obama has instead become more and more subservient to the demands of Israeli prime ministers and their American proxies. Most importantly, he has accepted the “central element of Israeli’s self-presentation: that the state of Israel and the Israeli people, indeed the entire Jewish people, are in a state of perpetual existential danger”(74). In this regard, yet a new rhetorical term has been added to emphasize this “existential threat”: “lawfare.” The term means what it sounds like: Israel’s enemies using the law, mainly international law, to conduct war against Israel by calling attention to Israeli violations of International Law! To rabid supporters of Israel, this is an illegitimate tactic, comparable to the related tactic of “delegitimization” of Israel (which points out that the blockade of the Gaza Strip, or the use of phosphorus shells against civilians, or detention without trial, or Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, are in fact illegal according to International Law.) There are several pro-Israeli websites that monitor such “illegitimate” legal tactics against ‘existentially-threatened’ Israel. No matter. Israel has never had anything to worry about from Obama, or his emissaries like ex-senator George Mitchell (whom Israeli supporters called “biased” due to his Lebanese descent). Mitchell’s mission was quickly sabotaged by Dennis Ross, Obama’s special assistant for the Middle East. Ross undermined Mitchell at every opportunity, finally triumphing over him by offering Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu outrageous guarantees (F-35 jets, a US veto of a planned UN Security Council resolution on Palestinian statehood if it came up, and long term security guarantees in case of an overall peace settlement) in return for a 3-month settlement freeze. But even the U.S.’s added promise never to ask for such a freeze on illegal settlements again didn’t work: Netanyahu haughtily refused.
The Mitchell effort essentially ended U.S. peace attempts. All that is left is an Israel that dictates U.S. policy whenever it wishes to, and receives in return absurd validations of its every crime and violation of international law—including its recent unprovoked bombing of Syria. The response has become almost pro-forma: ‘Israel has a right to defend itself.’ Against what? Against whom? Against any perceived threat that it defines as a threat, regardless of the evidence?
As of now, in other words, there is no Palestinian peace process, just as there has never been a “Palestinian people” as far as Israel is concerned. And with the excision and destruction of the names (the 1992 proposal stated that the peace talks deal only with the people, not the territories, referring to both as “the Arab inhabitants of Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza District), comes the excision and destruction of the people themselves. That is essentially what the United States has brokered with its so-called “peace process:” the slow destruction of a people and their culture, the slow expropriation of their land and property and any hope they might ever have entertained for justice. And all of it has taken place in broad daylight, in full view of the entire international community that makes comforting noises about peace and justice and the right of self-determination.