Observing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry`s efforts to restart negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis one can`t help but be struck by a sense of d×™j× vu. Kerry, who visits Israel and the Palestinian territories this week, has launched an initiative to improve the economic conditions of Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. This proposal might be considered innovative if a plan to `improve the Palestinian quality of life` — which in practice means improving the conditions of Israel`s Palestinian subjects while ignoring their subjugation — had not been mooted in 1983 by Secretary of State George Shultz. In the intervening decades, Palestinian `quality of life` has worsened considerably.
Similarly, there are reports of Kerry touting an Arab peace plan that would reaffirm the 1967 boundaries as the basis for a settlement. The same plan was originally put forward by Saudi Arabia`s then-Crown Prince Abdullah at the 2002 Arab summit meeting and reiterated in 2007, both times to general Israeli and U.S. indifference. The core principles in the original initiative were far from novel: they simply recapitulated the terms of U.N. Security Council resolution 242 of 1967. Like its nearly-identical predecessors, the plan was ignored by the Israeli government, even though it includes explicit reference to the possibility of territorial `swaps` Israel has long insisted on.
Finally, there are again rumblings of a new U.S. initiative to re-start bilateral negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis. After over two decades of failed U.S.-brokered talks on the basis of the Madrid-Oslo model, this proposal too is far from novel.
Why should the reiteration of these failed approaches reverse the steady entrenchment of Israel`s settlement project and its 46-year old occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, when they failed to do so in the past? Indeed, I have argued in my book Brokers of Deceit that this outcome has been largely the result of these U.S. approaches: via unstinting support for Israel, the United States has done much to reinforce Israel`s occupation, its settlement project, and its continued denial of Palestinian rights. This willful blindness to the lessons of the past can be partially explained by U.S. policy-makers` dread of straying from a narrow range of tepid bromides guaranteed not to arouse the ire of the Israeli government and its vocal supporters in the United States.
If the aim is to change the status quo, rather than consecrate it, a radically different approach by the United States and others will be necessary.
Firstly, there has to be a U.S. willingness to consider the views of other consequential actors where the Palestine issue is concerned, from Europe and Russia to China, India and Turkey, and including countries farther afield like Brazil and South Africa. After three and a half decades of failed efforts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, going back to the 1978 Camp David Accords, the United States is no position to insist on monopolizing peacemaking, or to claim that it is the only party qualified to offer constructive proposals. Indeed, the enforced closeness between the U.S. and Israeli positions on all substantive issues where Palestine is concerned (originating in a confidential 1975 pledge from President Gerald Ford to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhadk Rabin) makes the United States unfit to serve as an intermediary on this issue.
Secondly, all concerned, including the United States, must insist that a solution be grounded in first principles like international law, the Geneva conventions, and U.N. resolutions, and in basic notions of equity and comparable human, national and political rights for all. This is necessary whether or not this pleases Israel and its claque in congress and the media. A just and lasting settlement cannot result from inherently skewed frameworks concocted mainly to meet Israeli desiderata like the Madrid and Oslo formulas, and all of their deformed offspring. Indeed, these very formulae have produced the abysmal situation that worsens daily in Palestine. This is precisely what schemes like Oslo, based on `autonomy for people not land,` and on an `interim period` that has gone on for over a decade and a half, were meant to do by Menachem Begin and others who inspired them. They can produce nothing else. After two decades, it is irrational to assume that the Oslo process can lead to anything but further dispossession of the Palestinians by their Israeli overlords.
Thirdly, whatever the supposed aspirations of U.S. leaders, where Palestine is concerned the U.S. political system has demonstrated sclerotic immobility. This is true in spite of stirrings of change at the grassroots, among young people, on many campuses and in numerous churches, and even in some quarters of the mainstream media. Until these stirrings translate into concrete political outcomes that politicians and the media are obliged to take notice of, however, it is essentially up to others to make the first moves if things are going to change. These others include the international community, the Arab states, and the Palestinians themselves.