If he succeeds with his current “peace” initiative, John Kerry would have killed three birds, not two, with one stone. With the stroke of a pen his “proposed framework” will not only dissolve the Palestinian refugee issue but also deactivate Israel’s so-called demographic bomb. And for good measure, Israel would be allowed to annex the settlements of the West Bank. That would give them a semblance of the legitimacy they lack.
The Palestine Liberation Organisation and Palestinian Authority position is ambivalent. Not for the first time, they appear to be sleep-walking into a diplomatic trap; an Oslo-type transitional agreement with no identifiable end. While the Kerry framework may seem marginally better than what Ehud Barak proposed to Yasser Arafat in 2000, in reality it is worse.
At Camp David, former Israeli Prime Minister Barak proposed that Israel should annex 9 per cent of the West Bank. That included the four main settlement blocs of Gush Etzion with Efrata; Maale Adummim; Givat Zeev; and Ariel, as well as sovereignty over part of the Jordan Valley for twelve years. The Palestinian team at Camp David rejected the “offer”. Shlomo Ben Ami, a senior Israeli negotiator at the US discussions remarked later, “If I were a Palestinian I would have rejected Camp David as well.”
Today, Israel is proposing through the Americans to annex 6.8 per cent of the West Bank, with a military presence in all of Jordan Valley and the rest of the currently occupied territory. Days before Kerry’s arrival, Israeli media had revealed the content of his package. Though presented as American ideas, they are by their very nature patently Israeli in origin. After all, there is a long established tradition in the relationship between the US and Israel that no American president should undertake major policy shifts without first consulting Tel Aviv.
Consisting of nine points, Kerry’s “framework” is not even an interim agreement. Instead, it is, according to State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, simply intended to serve as “a guideline for addressing all core issues”. Two points, on territory and refugees, are inflammatory. They are seen widely as an attempt to solve Israel’s so-called demographic problem and forestall the Palestinian refugees’ legal right of return.
The details of Kerry’s framework as made public in the Israeli media includes the suggestion that 300,000 Palestinians are “transferred” from Israel to the State of Palestine; the ethnic cleansing of historic Palestine is to continue. That being the case, there is deep suspicion, and fear, about the PLO/PA and their ability to preserve Palestinian national rights, of which the refugees’ right of the return is paramount.
Although Palestinian negotiators had previously denounced the idea of a population transfer as a “racist” demand by their Israeli counterparts, in private they have failed to oppose the idea. In a meeting on 13 November, 2007, Dr Saeb Erekat told Tzipi Livni, the then Israeli foreign minister, “If you want to call your state the Jewish state of Israel you can call it what you want.” He compared it to Iran and Saudi Arabia’s definition of themselves as Islamic or Arab.
By “transferring” hundreds of thousands of Israeli Arabs to the State of Palestine, Israel would be taking a giant step toward its dream of becoming an exclusively Jewish state. Indeed, the calls for recognition as a state for the “Jewish people” and the threats to ethnically cleanse its Arab population will certainly continue to become louder and more menacing as the prospects of creating a Palestinian state dwindle. Mr Kerry is hastening this outcome, perhaps unwittingly, since his framework would leave the Palestinians in four disconnected Bantustans: Jenin, Nablus and Ramallah in the north; Bethlehem and Hebron in the south; Jericho in the east; and Qalqilya in the west. Altogether they constitute no more than 40 per cent of the West Bank.
By supporting Israel’s maximalist demand for 60 per cent of the occupied West Bank, the US is creating the very thing it wants to avoid; a perverse state in all of historic Palestine where a shrinking population of Jews dominate a growing number of Palestinians.
America’s dilemma stems from the fact that it wants to be all things to all men and this is impossible. The US can’t be the chief advocate of Israeli supremacist policies and at the same time be an honest broker for a just resolution of the conflict. In any case, Israel will not relinquish its territorial and imperialist ambitions; and nor will the Palestinian people surrender their right to return, in spite of Mahmoud Abbas and his negotiating team.
If there is anything to be learnt since the Oslo Declaration of Principles 20 years ago it is the extent to which America is prepared to bend the rules of international law to fulfil Israel’s security demands. Since these are insatiable, it is clear that another secretary of state will come back to the region 20 years from now to propose yet another interim framework of the same failed ideas. Watch this space for the next chapter of this increasingly sordid tale. Like lambs to the slaughter, the Palestinians are sleep-walking to disaster, again.