With a noisy sucking of bubbles, the last dregs of the Israeli-Palestinian peace ‘process’ have disappeared down the plughole. The ostensible reason for the collapse was the announcement of a forthcoming national unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas, which caused Netanyahu to suspend talks. But it is difficult to imagine that anyone involved is surprised by this outcome, because this latest nine-month-old, US-brokered effort has been one of the most singularly fruitless and redundant phases in the history of the Oslo Process.
On one level it represents a total and ignominious failure of American diplomacy, and for the hapless John Kerry in particular. Throughout the process, Kerry has been unable or unwilling to put any serious pressure on Israel to make meaningful concessions regarding key Palestinian demands, while the onus has remained as always on the Palestinians to ‘recognize’ an Israeli occupation that has continued to expand its settlement program even when talks were going on.
Since the talks began Israel has expanded its settlements in the West Bank by 14,000 units, bringing the Jewish presence in the Occupied Territories to 636,000. This is not an accidental outcome. In general the overall emphasis of the peace process has always been on the process rather than the peace – a process that has been overwhelmingly tilted in Israel’s favour. It allowed Israel to continue and in fact to accelerate its settlement of the West Bank and its encirclement of Jerusalem, while paying lip service to a two-state solution with a subordinate Palestinian entity that often acted as a secondary instrument for imposing the Israeli occupation.
The ‘international community’ – and the United States in particular – mostly went along with this situation, and has always seen peace as dependent on Palestinian subjugation/acquiescence. In 2006 the Russia/US/EU/UN ‘Quartet’ refused to accept a Hamas electoral victory because Hamas ‘refused to recognize Israel’s existence.’ In fact Hamas has dropped more than enough hints of a willingness to negotiate a ‘truce’ over the issue of recognition, which could have been explored had Israel any desire to do so.
Instead the Quartet first told the Palestinians to participate in democratic elections and then effectively told them to choose another government because it didn’t like the one they elected. Then it colluded in the Israeli blockade of Gaza after the failed Fatah coup in 2007 – a blockade that has effectively bottled up nearly one million Palestinians in the largest open prison in the world.
For the last seven years the ‘international community’ put its fingers in its ears and sang ‘la la la la la’ as living standards in the Gaza Strip plummeted, in the hope that the Gazans would fold and reject Hamas, and ummed and aahed when Israel blitzed Gaza in 2009 and 2012.
Oddly, ‘peace’ didn’t happen as a result, and nor was it intended to. For Israel, Hamas has always provided a useful pretext for not negotiating. Its insistence on recognition is equivalent to a man standing with his boot pressing down on someone’s neck and demanding that his victim ‘recognize’ his right to be holding him down. A people subject to military occupation, colonization and the forced dispossession of the territory they inhabit is not obliged to ‘recognize’ the existence of their occupiers.
Those who make such demands are intent on domination and submission rather than ‘peace’, except in the narrowest technical sense of the term. Israel knows this, the corrupt Palestinian Authority knows it, and so does the ‘international community’ and the United States, but all of them have gone along with it.
The latest journey through the arid terrain of the ‘road map’ is no exception. Netanyahu continued to expand settlements, while demanding that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a ‘Jewish state.’ Abbas refused, and Israel began stalling on its promises to release prisoners. Unable to produce a single tangible outcome to present to his people, even the pliant stooge Abbas quietly untied his puppet strings – at least for now – and acted like an autonomous agent by seeking international recognition for a Palestinian state in the United Nations.
And now he has agreed on a national unity government with Hamas – something that Israel and the ‘international community’ regard as anathema. None of this was inevitable. The United States had, and still has, enormous power that it could have used to make Israel pursue a real peace rather than a process, but it didn’t use it, and Netanyahu knew that it wouldn’t. And now, hardly have the talks collapsed, than Kerry has apologized for having suggested that Israel risked becoming an ‘apartheid state’ if it did not accept a two-state solution. How pathetic is that? Very.
Today, nearly thirty percent of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails are Palestinians arrested inside Israel who were looking for work. To all intents and purposes, Israel already is an ‘apartheid state’ and has been for some time. But the ‘A word’ is still outside the boundaries of respectable mainstream discourse about Israel in the US and so Kerry got his hand slapped and had to say sorry.
And now the ‘honest broker’ is threatening to freeze its annual aid/subsidy to the Palestinian Authority if Hamas ‘terrorists’ join a national consensus government. You don’t need a degree in political science to work out that these efforts are intended to keep the Palestinians divided – the better to make them accept a ‘peace’ devoid of any semblance of justice.