As the US-imposed April 29 deadline for a “framework” agreement between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority looms, time is also running out for the American administration itself. The Obama administration must now conjure up an escape route to avoid a political crisis if the talks are to fail, as they surely will.
Chances are the Americans knew well that peace under the current circumstances is simply not attainable. The Israeli government’s coalition is so adamantly anti-Arab, anti-peace and anti any kind of agreement that would fall short from endorsing the Israeli apartheid-like occupation, predicated on colonial expansion, annexations of borders, land confiscation, control of holy places and much more. Ideally for Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies in the right, far-right and ultranationalists, Palestinians would need to be crammed in disjointed communities, separated from each other by walls, Jewish settlements, Jewish-only bypass roads, checkpoints, security fences, and a large concentration of Israeli military presence including permanent Israeli control of the Jordan Valley. In fact, while politicians tirelessly speak of peace, the above is the exact ‘vision’ that the Israelis had in mind almost immediately following the 1967 war – the final conquest of all of historic Palestine and occupation of Arab lands.
Palestinians are currently paying the price of earlier Israeli visions, where Vladimir Jabotinsky’s ‘Iron Wall’ of 1923 was coupled with the Allon plan, named after Yigal Allon, a former general and minister in the Israeli government, who took on the task of drawing an Israeli design for the newly conquered Palestinian territories in ‘67. Not only would it not make any sense for a Zionist leader like Netanyahu – backed by one of the most right wing governments in Israeli history – to bargain with Palestinians on what he considers to be Eretz Yisrael – the Whole Land of Israel -he has shown no desire, not even the most miniscule, to reach an agreement that would provide Palestinians with any of their rightful demands, true sovereignty notwithstanding.
It is implausible that the Americans were unaware of Israel’s lack of interest in the whole undertaking. For one, Israeli extremists like Naftali Bennett – Israel’s minister of economy and the head of the right wing political party the Jewish Home – are constantly reminding the US through unconstrained insults that Israel is simply not interested in peacemaking efforts. The Americans persist, however, for reasons that are hardly related to peace or justice.
Previous administrations suffered unmitigated failures in the past as they invested time, effort, resources, and reputation, even to a greater extent than to Obama’s, in order to broker an agreement. There are the familiar explanations of why they failed, including the objection to any US pressure on Israel by the pro-Israel Zionist lobby in Washington, which remains very strong despite setbacks. The lobby maintains a stronghold on the US Congress in all matters related to Israel and Israeli interests anywhere.
Preparing for the foreseeable failure, US Secretary of State John Kerry remained secretive about his plans, leaving analysts in suspense over what is being discussed between Mahmoud Abbas’s negotiators and the Israeli government. From the very start, Kerry downgraded expectations. But the secrecy didn’t last for long. According to Palestinian sources cited in al-Quds newspaper, the most widely read Palestinian daily, PA president Abbas had pulled out of a meeting with Kerry in Paris late February because Kerry’s proposal didn’t meet the minimum of Palestinian expectations.
According to the report, it turned out that Kerry’s ambitious peace agenda was no more than a rehash of everything that Israel tried to impose by force or diplomacy, and Palestinians had consistently rejected: reducing the Palestinian aspiration of a Jerusalem capital into a tiny East Jerusalem neighborhood (Beit Hanina), and allowing Israel to keep 10 large settlement blocks built illegally on Palestinian land, aside from a land swap meant to accommodate Israel’s security needs. Moreover, the Jordan Valley would not be part of any future Palestinian state, nor would international forces be allowed there either. In other words, Israel would maintain the occupation under any other name, except that the PA would be allowed a level of autonomy over Palestinian population centers. It is hard to understand how Kerry’s proposal is any different from the current reality on the ground.
Most commentary dealing with the latest US push for a negotiated agreement would go as far back as Bush’s Roadmap of 2002, the Arab peace initiative earlier the same year, or even the Oslo accords of 1993. What is often ignored is the fact that the ‘peace process’ is a political invention by a hardliner, US politician Henry Kissinger, who served as a National Security Advisor and later Secretary of State in the Nixon Administration. The idea was to co-opt the Arabs following the Israeli military victory of 1967, the sudden expansion of Israel’s borders into various Arab borders, with full US support and reinforcement. It was Kissinger himself who lobbied for massive US arms to Israel that changed the course of the 1973 war, and he was the man who worked to secure Israeli gains through diplomacy.
While many are quick to conclude that the ‘peace process’ has been a historical failure, the bleak estimation discounts that the intent behind the ‘peace process’ was never to secure a lasting peace, but Israeli military gains. In that sense, it has been a splendid success. Over the years, however, the ‘peace process’ became an American investment in the Middle East, a status quo in itself, and a reason for political relevance. During the administration of both Bushes, father and son, the ‘peace process’ went hand in hand with the Iraq war. The Madrid Peace Talks in 1991 were initiated following the US-led war in Kuwait and Iraq, and was meant to balance out the extreme militancy that had gripped and destabilized the region. George W. Bush’s Roadmap fell between the war on Afghanistan and months before the war on Iraq. Bush was heavily criticized for being a ‘war president’ and for having no peace vision. The Roadmap, which was drafted with the help of pro-Israel neoconservative elements in his administration, in consultation with the lobby and heavy amendments by the Israeli government, was W Bush’s ‘peace’ overture. Naturally, the Roadmap failed, but until this day, Bush’s insincere drive for peace had helped maintain the peace process charade for a few more years, until Bill Clinton arrived to the scene, and kick started the make-believe process once more.
In the last four decades, the ‘peace process’ became an American diplomatic staple in the region. It is an investment that goes hand in hand with their support of Israel and interest in energy supplies. It is an end in itself, and is infused regularly for reasons other than genuine peace.
Now that Kerry’s deadline of a ‘framework agreement’ is quickly approaching, all parties must be preparing for all possibilities. Ultimately, the Americans are keen on maintaining the peace process charade; the Palestinian Authority is desperate to survive; and Israel needs to expand settlements unhindered by a Palestinian uprising or unnecessary international attention. But will they succeed?