After two days of intercourse in Washington between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, US Secretary of State John Kerry emerged like a benevolent matchmaker satisfied that his efforts at brokering a marriage of sorts had at last borne fruit.
Kerry announced that the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams had agreed to begin (once again) earnest talks to deliver on a final peace settlement that would deal with all outstanding “final status issues”. Kerry said the next round of negotiations is scheduled to finish after a period of nine months.
The gestation period of nine months is no doubt a random number. But it does invite comparison to an expectant birth. Unfortunately, we can say with near certainty that the end result will be stillborn. History tells us so.
Every White House administration from President Jimmy Carter in the 1970s through to the present has stepped forward periodically to herald an imminent “just peace” between Palestinians and Israelis; and every time, cruelly, this promise comes to nothing. Well, actually, it does come to something: the territories and rights of the Palestinians are continually ravaged and diminished as the violations of the Israeli state inexorably expand…
One of modern history’s longest conflicts has festered and metastasized for decades because of this fundamental problem: the United States is not an honest broker in the quest for a just peace. Washington is part of the problem. John Kerry, like so many of his predecessors, may pose as an even-handed matchmaker between two quarrelling sides. But the simple fact is that the US is not a neutral arbiter. It is the patron, sponsor, architect, advocate and accomplice of one side – Israel.
In coaxing the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, Secretary Kerry reportedly dangled the lure of $4 billion in private investments to the Palestinian Authority headed by President Mahmoud Abbas. But we have to put that incentive in perspective. This is the amount of financial and military aid that Washington has been plying Israel with every year for decades.
At the opening of the “talks about talks” earlier this week, Kerry exhorted: “If the leaders on both sides continue to show strong leadership and a willingness to make those tough choices and a willingness to reasonably compromise, then peace is possible”.
The cynicism in these words is astounding. Willingness to reasonably compromise? The only side that is ever compelled to make compromises, and unreasonable compromises, too, is the Palestinian side.
For a start, the Palestinian Authority does not have a mandate from the Palestinian people to represent them on vital national issues. The PA cabal rules over the West Bank territory without elections. It has negligible support among Palestinians in the second biggest occupied territory of Gaza along the Mediterranean coast. The elected Hamas administration in Gaza is opposed to the current peace negotiations and has been ostracized by the Israeli regime for the past six years owing to its more militant political stance.
The PA of Mahmoud Abbas is seen as a more pliable participant in talks with the Israelis and therefore is lionized by Washington as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian cause – even though it very arguably is not. The military coup in Egypt that ousted Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi on 3 July has been a political blow to its ally Hamas. This may have given Washington a window of opportunity to cajole the rival PA into the latest phase of the putative peace process.
So the first instance of compromise by the Palestinians is that they are not even permitted to have a strong, legitimate negotiating party to robustly represent their outstanding historical interests.
Subsequent compromises flow from this first one. Formerly, the Palestinian position going into talks insisted on explicit recognition of substantive issues. These issues include: a commitment by Israel to return to borders that existed before the 1967 Six Day War. This reasonable demand is supported by United Nations Security Council Resolutions, as well as by international laws and treaties, such as the Fourth Geneva Convention and UN Charter.
Other substantive Palestinian preconditions are: the right of East Jerusalem (Al Quds) to be the capital of any eventual Palestinian state; the cessation of Israeli settlement construction in occupied territories; the right of return for up to four million Palestinians evicted from their homelands going back to the violent inception of Israel in 1948; and the release of up to 5,000 Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli jails, as was stipulated under the Oslo Peace Accords signed 20 years ago in 1993. (There are no Israeli prisoners held by Palestinians.)
During US President Barack Obama’s first administration, Washington ostensibly urged recognition of the 1967 borders and the freezing of Israeli settlements.
However, the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu haughtily snubbed Washington and the Palestinians on all counts. The unchecked Israeli building of new settler units on occupied Palestinian land, including provocatively in East Jerusalem, was the major reason why previous negotiations floundered and have not resumed for the past three years. There are now some 500,000 Israelis living in more than 120 illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territories.
The Obama administration has quietly backed down on its earlier position. The Palestinian and Israeli sides have now come back to the negotiating table without any commitment from Israel to deal with any of the above substantive concerns. Indeed, while talks about talks were taking place in Washington this week, it emerged that Netanyahu has given the go-ahead to the building of thousands of more settler units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The truly pathetic thing is that the Palestinians have been so relentlessly browbeaten and violated by the Israeli state and so relentlessly betrayed by Washington that their negotiators have also given up on the basic, reasonable demands upon which a peace settlement might be premised.
Through brute force and intransigence, the Israeli state has made a mockery of international law and negotiations. This is not negotiation – it is a smash-and-grab colonisation of Arab land without any limit. Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders have said so on and off the record. For them, the “peace process” is a just a cover to buy time so that they can establish more “facts on the ground”, that is, the theft of more and more Palestinian territory.
In this contest between unequals Washington has done its utmost to redouble the inequality. Far from overseeing a level playing field, the presumed arbiter has tilted the field to an impossible gradient against the Palestinians while also moving the political goalposts to an unreachable distance.
An indicator of the partisan position of the US is the appointment of Martin Indyk as Washington’s interlocutor in the upcoming negotiations. Indyk is former US ambassador to Israel under Presidents Clinton and Bush Junior. He is also closely aligned with the powerful Israeli lobby in Washington. Kerry said of Indyk this week: “He brings a deep appreciation for the art of US diplomacy in the Middle East.”
The art of US diplomacy in the Middle East is evidently to give Israel a carte blanche to do whatever it likes with regard to trampling on Palestinian rights and lives. Israel rains down missiles and bombs on civilians in Gaza, as it did in early 2009 and at the end of 2012, killing hundreds of women and children, and all Washington does is reiterate its support for Israel’s “right to defend itself”. This is not the function of an honest broker; it is the collusion of an accomplice in state terrorism.
This policy of the US towards Israel is not out of mere weakness in the face of the Israeli lobby, as some analysts contend. Rather it based on the essential role that the Israeli state performs in the projection of US imperialist interests across the strategically important Middle East. A just settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is antithetical to US imperialist hegemony in the region. This is because US power is predicated on an expansionist militarist Israel that serves as a garrison state to thwart genuine Palestinian and Arab democratic development.
US diplomacy is therefore not a catalytic ingredient for finding a peaceful solution. US imperialism is the overarching, impeding problem. But the trite rhetoric from Washington on the “tough challenges to find peace” is taken at face value by a vapid Western mainstream media and given credibility.
The premise of a proper peace process between Israelis and Palestinians being furnished in Washington is fundamentally misplaced. For it is a hollow illusory foundation that in reality and despite the rhetoric is never meant to serve as a cornerstone for any sustainable settlement. It is a charade to give the US and Israeli parties a semblance of earnest, behind which they can continue their pernicious imperialist policies and projections.
The correct place and premise for a genuine peace process is the International Court of Justice, where the past and ongoing egregious crimes and violations committed by Israel and its patron in Washington can be prosecuted and perhaps resolved. For decades Washington has postured as a matchmaker between estranged parties. In reality, it has and continues to facilitate a rapist state to violate a victim, over and over again.