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Opinion

A radical rethinking of the peace process

Peace talks will continue to work in Israel's favour if the US keeps silent about daily violations against Palestinians.

Last Modified: 08 Aug 2013 12:04
Nada Tarbush

Nada Tarbush is a recent graduate of Sciences Po Paris and Columbia University, where she specialized in economic and political development, international security, and history / politics of the Middle East. She holds a BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford.
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Secretary of State John Kerry met with Israel's chief negotiator Tzipi Livni and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat after the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in Washington, July 30 [AP]

Geneva   - Once again, the United States has demonstrated its potency by managing to get the Israelis and Palestinians back to peace talks. It has managed to do so despite a backdrop of growing skepticism as the number of people who still believe in the "peace process" has shrunk dramatically.

As the saying goes, a wise man believes what he sees, not what he hears, and the sight of spreading settlements and armed Israeli settlers roaming Palestinian land were anything but tangible signs of peace.  With decades of negotiations having brought them little else than continuous loss of land and freedom, it is not surprising that, for Palestinians at least, talk of the process now rings hollow in the ears. 

Israel has been using the peace process to buy itself the time needed to continue its colonisation of Palestinian land and thereby render any future Palestinian state dependent and unviable. Peace, for Israel, has been at best a short-term tactic, never a long-term strategy.

The situation on the ground would not have deteriorated to that dismal level had successive US administrations not been so submissive to Israel's egocentrism. The US has demonstrated consistent unwillingness to apply any meaningful pressure on Israel to cease its violations of, and fully respect, UN resolutions and international law. Its recent appointment of Martin Indyk with his publicly known   pro-Israel sympathies and close links to AIPAC , as US mediator for the talks, shows that the US administration has not deviated from that long-held tradition and confirms that it makes no qualms about which side it supports in the so-called peace process.

Over the years, Israel has benefited from a US-led framework of bilateral negotiations highly skewed in its favour that pushes aside the central role of international law, rendering rights negotiable, and gives the impression that the two parties stand on an equal footing with an equal duty to 'compromise'.

Without universally accepted terms of reference to peace talks, Israeli negotiators will once again have a heyday squeezing concessions out of the Palestinians and the United States will have an open field imposing its own will, which so far has been lopsided and more mindful of domestic considerations rather than international public opinion and legality.

Tzipi Livni's remarks at the inaugural meeting of the Washington talks last week set the tone of how the Israeli government intends to perpetuate the same sterile framework of the last twenty years of failed negotiations.

She was there not to discuss the past, but plan the future, she said.

Coming from an official of a state that built its present on claims its representatives say go back thousands of years, shredding in the process the very fabric of Palestinian society, it is facile to now say let's forget the past of Palestinian dispossession and only discuss the future.

More critically, the skewed framework has allowed Israel to not only ignore past injustices it has committed against the Palestinians, but to carry on committing them. Israel has been using the peace process to buy itself the time needed to continue its colonisation of Palestinian land and thereby render any future Palestinian state dependent and unviable. Peace, for Israel, has been at best a short-term tactic, never a long-term strategy.

As Rashid Khalidi extensively documents in Brokers of Deceit: How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East, successive US administrations were not oblivious to this reality. The US can't even bring itself to pronounce a mumbling word about Palestinian self-determination and continues to cajole Israel with enormous military aid and Security Council vetoes, helping settlements mushroom and the prospects of a peace settlement rot. 

Of course, there is an obvious way out of this logjam. 

Imagine if one day the United States government ceases to be Israel's unconditional ally. After all, supporting Israel has already cost the US billions of dollars in American taxpayers' money, diplomatic and political isolation, and growing unpopularity almost worldwide, and has dealt a blow to "American values". With Israel's illegal and discriminatory policies only worsening, the administration could soon run out of arguments as to why it continues to politically, financially and militarily support a state that uses American weaponry to bomb, intimidate and dispossess people on the basis of race and religion.

Sooner or later, US administrations will also have to reckon with a better-informed public opinion and growing international solidarity movements in support of the Palestinians. Even with its European allies, how much longer can US diplomacy defend its "dual discourse" expressing support for people's fundamental human rights while keeping a deadly silence on the daily violations committed against the Palestinians?

Would it be outrageous for the US president to one day stand up and boldly tell the world some simple truths about the Palestinian people: how , under all kinds of pretexts, from divine scriptures to the horrendous crimes European powers committed against the Jewish people, Palestinians were dispossessed, exiled or rendered strangers in their own homeland?

Such plain and honest discourse would be a game changer. It could set in motion a radical rethinking of the peace process and a recognition that so long as it is based on power politics, not international law, that process could never lead to a just peace. Grounding peace talks in international law would put an end to the cynical manipulation of the peace process as a bait-and-switch strategy and alleviate the colossal disparity in power between Palestinians and Israelis. 

Failing that, peace will remain a chimera and American soft power will continue to erode as world public opinion will grow more skeptical of the US commitment to much flaunted but often flouted American values.

Nada Tarbush is a recent graduate of Sciences Po Paris and Columbia University, where she specialised in economic and political development, international security, and history / politics of the Middle East. Some of her writings have appeared in The Hill and the Journal of International Affairs. 

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The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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