Far too many in the media get excited when yet another US official talks about restarting the “peace process”. It’s all smokes and mirrors and largely irrelevant to facts on the ground, ever-expanding Israeli occupation over Palestine.
How do we respond to Kerry? I don’t know of anyone familiar with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – across the board – who sees in the Kerry initiative anything other than an attempt to impose on the Palestinians a Pax Israeliana. In fact, neither Kerry nor his Israeli partners bother to deny it. For his part, Kerry’s main contribution to this latest incarnation of the long-moribund “peace process” is a vague $4 billion package of “incentives’ – part of what Amira Hass calls hush money – that bears a striking resemblance to the “economic peace” Netanyahu and Peres have been trying to peddle for years. Otherwise, Kerry is merely pressing the Palestinians to accept Israel’s preconditions for negotiations and its version of a two-state solution: no end to settlement construction, land expropriation, house demolitions (28,000 Palestinian homes demolished since 1967, and counting) or displacement; recognition of Israel as a “Jewish” state; the imposition of the Clinton Parameter’s on East Jerusalem (“what is Jewish is Israeli, what is Arab is Palestinian,” thus eliminating completely any kind of coherent urban entity that might serve as the Palestinians’ capital); Israel’s retention of at least six major settlement “blocs,” strategically placed to fragment the West Bank into disconnected and impoverished cantons while isolating what remains of East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank; long-term or permanent Israeli military control over the Jordan Valley and Palestine’s borders with Egypt and Jordan – well, the list goes on: Israeli control over Palestinian airspace, over their electromagnetic sphere (communications), etc. etc. etc.
Despite the fact that a majority of Israeli Jews favor a two-state solution of some sort and hold fairly negative views of the settler enterprise, no solution that even approaches the Palestinian demand for a viable, truly sovereign, territorially contiguous state with East Jerusalem as its capital has a chance of passing through the Knesset, even if it was approved by referendum. And the will on the part of United States – Congress in particular – to force Israel to accept such a solution is missing altogether, as Kerry’s lackluster diplomacy demonstrates. Why, then, engage in the exercise at all? Well, there really is no compelling reason. The US, like Israel, has always downplayed any linkage between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the dynamics of the wider Middle East; indeed, it portrays Israel as a valued ally in the War on Terrorism, which is the lens through which American administrations regard the region. It certainly wouldn’t hurt if Israel’s interminable oppression of the Palestinians ended, and to the degree that the US feels international isolation over its absolute support for Israel it might even help America’s standing; hence Kerry’s push (or, better, nudge) towards starting negotiations before the UN convenes in September and the Palestinians score some other symbolic victories. But Kerry’s willingness to walk away from the process if “the sides” do not cooperate (as if we’re speaking of two players of equal clout and responsibility) indicates that his government can live with the Occupation indefinitely.
Israel’s ambivalence, bordering on disinterest, also bespeaks any genuine sense of urgency. True, Netanyahu is concerned lest a bi-national state ultimately emerges between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, but he also believes that a combination of hush money to the Palestinian elites, continued humanitarian aid by the international community and outright pacification (including self-pacification by a Palestinian Authority) is sufficient to push the Palestinian issue off his list of priorities. Interestingly, both Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni, the minister in charge of negotiations, have conceded that the BDS movement poses a threat to Israel – and more than simply an economic threat. Calls for an economic boycott may have started with the settlements, says Livni, “but the [EU’s] problem is with Israel, which is seen as a colonialist state. It won’t stop with the settlements but will spread to the rest of the country.” But that threat, too, diminishes in light of the eagerness of EU member states to purchase Israeli arms and high-tech products. Nor do they want to tangle with the US over the Palestinian issue.
So, yeah, why not try once more to reach “peace” with the Palestinians? Especially since the American-brokered process does not fundamentally endanger Israel’s major settlement blocs, its sovereignty over East Jerusalem or, in fact, its overall control of the West Bank. The Palestinians, Netanyahu reckons, have nowhere to go. On the ground they are exhausted, politically and physically fragmented, and cannot resist to any significant degree; politically their cause is steadily losing ground as it ceases to be an international flashpoint and disappears from view – despite periodic initiatives like Kerry’s or symbolic votes in the UN. So if Kerry’s mission succeeds, Israeli leaders calculate, we can either enter into negotiations that will lead to de facto apartheid-by-consent, the preferred outcome, or drag them out interminably. It really doesn’t matter since either scenario leaves Israel in control, our major settlements intact. And if Kerry’s efforts fail, well, we can easily blame the Palestinians for that and return peacefully to the status quo ante.
All this is not merely cynical statecraft, nor is it unique to the Israeli-Palestinian case. It goes to the very heart of international politics, to a fundamental reality we who seek a genuinely better world must grasp if we are to develop effective strategies to contend with it. That reality is that governments do not resolve conflicts (certainly not on the basis of human rights, international law and concerns over justice); they merely manage them. I saw that clearly in a recent meeting with the officials of the Middle East Desk of a major European government. That government is one of the most critical of Israel in Europe, a stalwart of human rights and, in fact, a supporter of BDS, having divested all state pensions from Elbit Systems, a profitable Israeli military company. Yes, they told me, we work assiduously to end the Occupation and to reach a two-state solution, the only one acceptable to us. But what, I asked, if you yourselves became convinced that the two-state solution was gone? Would you consider another approach, a single democratic state, for example, or a bi-national one? No, never, they replied. Look, they explained to me, it’s true we are against Israel’s occupation, but Israel itself is a friendly country to us. We cooperate on NATO matters and encourage our businesspeople to trade with Israel. We would never do anything to harm it. Therefore we cannot go anywhere beyond a two-state solution. But if you were convinced that that solution is gone, I persisted, what would happen then? In that case, they answered, we would merely increase our humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. We could never accept any solution besides two-states that would jeopardize the integrity and security of Israel. In other words, this resolute defender of human rights in the international community could live very well with injustice and apartheid if no solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict was forthcoming.