The Israeli decision to construct 800 and to market additional 1200 new housing units in key areas of Occupied Palestine highlights, once again, Israel’s cynicism about and lack of commitment to the peace process. Virtually forced to restart the peace talks by the United States, the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu is aggressively undermining whatever illusions optimists still harboured for the new round of negotiations slated to begin on Wednesday, August 14.
Even assuming that the Israeli side displayed its good will, ceasing and desisting from its ongoing settlement activity in the Palestinian territories, a comprehensive peace agreement would remain unlikely. Not because the issues on the table - the Palestinian refugees’ right of return, the status of Jerusalem, permanent borders, the fate of already existing settlements - are too complex, but, rather, because the conception of peace as something reachable at the end of a process has outlived its usefulness. What is needed is not a novel set of parameters for negotiations, a “road map,” or a framework agreement. At present, nothing will work, short of a complete overhaul in the strategy for reaching peace through a series of business-like transactions between two breathtakingly asymmetrical parties.
The possibility of a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will appear in all its bizarreness if it is contextualised within the history of twentieth-century colonialism and anti-colonial struggle. Where else has peace (and, along with it, political statehood) been achieved through direct negotiations between the colonising and the colonised parties, while acts of colonisation proceeded apace? What is the logic of discussing the borders of two independent states, when one of these has not yet been acknowledged as such and the other is busily altering conditions on the ground in what amounts to a barefaced land grab?
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More gravely still, the formulaic expression “peace process,” repeated without a minimum of reflection by politicians and journalists alike, is today a coy mechanism for prolonging and maintaining an otherwise untenable status quo. The supposition is that the incremental nature of the process, reliant on gestures of good will and measures to build trust among the parties, is going to lead to peace as its cumulative effect. Twenty years after the signing of the first Oslo Accords in 1993, when the quasi-messianic sense of an eminent end to the conflict was still palpable, the notion of the peace process carries a different set of connotations.
Today, peace as a process - tied to election cycles, including those in the United States - is meant to ensure that peaceful conflict resolution is not reached, at least not in the foreseeable future. At the same time when it is discussed as the only alternative, a two-state solution becomes less and less likely due to the Israeli settlement activity that denies the Palestinian state its viability. From an effect of pragmatic considerations, gradualism has turned into a mechanism for indefinitely deferring the “final status” agreements that are more elusive than ever. In other words, there is a massive contradiction between the actual peace process and the peaceful outcome it is supposed to yield. Until this conceptual impasse is overcome, peace talks will continue to resemble a fly’s desperate attempts to break through a closed window.
All this is not to say that direct negotiations, especially those conducted in good faith, are to be rejected. But any such negotiations must unfold within an agenda where the peace process is held together, in a productive tension, with the demand for Peace Now (which is incidentally the name of a marginal left-wing movement in Israel). It is this demand that can finally put in perspective those pragmatic considerations and calculations that, under the banner of realism, hinder the process, which seems to be reduced to them. It is this demand that can resuscitate the purely political dimension of the talks, otherwise modeled on economic transactions. And it is this demand that - rupturing the illusions of continuity, gradualism, and incrementalism - remedies the deficit of sovereignty, especially in the case of the Palestinian people.
At a time when, before it has had a chance to recommence, the peace process is sabotaged by settlement activity, the call for Peace Now should come to the fore. This call is not a delusion; it is a performative statement that has the potential to create its own conditions of possibilities for peace. Moreover, the outlines of peace will become visible, provided that we pay attention to this “now,” to the so-called situation on the ground, in the here-and-now of existence, which is not coloured by ideological constructs on either side.
The “now” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a disavowed but unavoidable co-existence - and no fences or separation lines will do away with it. Perhaps unwittingly, continuing settlement activity ties the knot of two national existences tighter yet. Although they make a two-state solution less plausible, the decisions to construct more Jewish housing on Palestinian lands bring a one-state solution closer to reality. Indeed, if we hear it well, the demand for Peace Now convokes a bi- or multi-national state spanning the areas of Israel and Palestine.
Already now such a state corresponds most accurately to the map of Israel-Palestine, and, chances are, the evolving map will display a better fit to the one-state solution in the time to come. Outside the hopeless confines of a peace process, peace would then mean the acceptance of this vision of co-existence, which is already in effect now, unobstructed by any separation fences or Apartheid walls.
Michael Marder is Ikerbasque Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of the Basque Country, Vitoria-Gasteiz. He is the author of The Event of the Thing: Derrida's Post-Deconstructive Realism (2009),Groundless Existence: The Political Ontology of Carl Schmitt (2010) and numerous articles in phenomenology, political philosophy, and environmental thought. His website is www.michaelmarder.org.
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