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Empire: The Peace Process

Transcript: The Peace Process

Read the full transcript of this episode marking the 20th anniversary of the Oslo Accords.

Last Modified: 26 Aug 2013 15:41
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Part One

Marwan Bishara: Twenty years and seven agreements later, peace remains a distant promise, a roadmap to nowhere. As the Obama administration tries to revive the peace process--

Kerry: Our objective is to achieve a final status agreement over the course of the next nine months.

Marwan Bishara: we ask if a fair resolution is even possible, considering its special relationship with Israel.

Martin Indyk: The Israelis love to be loved.

Marwan: Is American the honest broker it claims? Have successive U.S. administrations colluded to deny the establishment of a Palestinian state, and will Washington recognize its failure and give it up?

Edward Djerejian: I don't think Washington will ever say that.

Marwan: We ask what drives America's diplomacy, so long on process, so short on peace. And what needs to change to achieve a comprehensive peace?

I am Marwan Bishara, and this is Empire.

Package

Marwan: In secret, in a faraway place.

46 years of War, dispossession and occupation. One side claimed the other had no right to be there. Or have right to a state…The other said they were neither a nation nor a people, they were nothing. You can't make a deal with someone who's not there. Why bother to make a deal with someone who must leave? They were neither a nation nor a people, They were nothing. 
You can't make a deal with someone who's not there. Why bother to make a deal with someone who must leave.

Then, there was Oslo! Secret talks had been put together in OSLO.

Terje Rød-Larsen: I talked to both Israeli negotiators and Palestinian negotiators and eventually I came to the understanding that the way it was organized in Washington couldn't possibly succeeded.

Marwan: The PLO was not allowed to participate, the Israelis wouldn't talk to them directly, and the Americans were forbidden by one of their own peculiar laws from ever talking to one of the two most important parties to the disputes.

George H.W. Bush: We seek peace, real peace.

Terje Rød-Larsen: We in a way decided to do exactly the opposite of what they did in Washington….One of the first things I discovered when I spoke in in Gaza and Jerusalem and Tel Aviv with the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators was that – they were telling me things that were exactly the opposite to what they were saying on television.

Marwan: In OSLO, the PLO and the Israelis came up with a Declaration of Principles.

Yossi Beilin: The big revolution was the mutual recognition between the national movement of Palestine and Israel.

Marwan: The PLO recognized Israel--the state--as sovereign and independent, and as ruling over 78 percent of historic Palestine…While Israel recognized a political organization--the PLO--as representative of the Palestinian people… and they agreed to the establishment of self-rule in the occupied territories.

There were only two things left to do, inform the Americans, and hold a photo op! The world would react as if a transcendent diplomatic miracle had occurred.

But then it began to fall apart.

Oslo wasn't really a peace deal.  It was the framework agreement in which peace was supposed to be negotiated between a bankrupt Palestinian leadership and confident Israel.

But there was a solution--Oslo two!

Yossi Beilin: I think that it was mainly the Hamas and the extreme organizations on the Palestinian side, and the rightist organizations on the Israeli side, which actually thwarted this effort. The main point if you ask me was the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

Marwan: OSLO II turned out to be even less a solution than OSLO. Instead of liberating and uniting the newly autonomous territories, the new agreement divided the areas and subjugated them to new layers of control…

But there was a solution--resume the peace process! With handshakes and photo ops. An a Camp David Summit, where everything could be agreed a one stop shop.

Except, it wasn't.

This time, instead of an agreement that failed, there was a failure to agree.

In 2002, a new peace initiative came from a surprising direction. At least surprising to the West. The Arab League proposed a simple, but sweeping deal: Land for Peace, return to the 1967 borders, in return for peace with all the Arab nations and a guarantee of security.

Israel rejected it. George W. Bush marginalized it.

George W. Bush: I'm just following your example.

Shimon Peres: Be careful.

Marwan: After 2001, the world wide War on Terror was launched. It seemed a good time to re-start the Peace Process.

Enter The Quartet: The UN, the US, Russia, and the E.U. all got together to produce the Road Map to Peace.

After 2001, the world wide War on Terror was launched. It seemed a good time to re-start the Peace Process.

Rashid Khalidi: The last 20 years have seen the Israeli settler population go from 200,000 to 600,000.

Marwan: Yes, it's time to bring back the peace process. Obama met with Abbas, he met with Netanyahu. He ordered Netanyahu to stop building settlements in the West Bank.

Obama: America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.

Yes, it's time to bring back the peace process.

Kerry: The parties should be focused on making progress toward the direct negotiations.

Rashid Khalidi: These negotiations are like the walking dead, they are a zombie.

Marwan: Is it a Process? Yes. Does it bring peace? Absolutely not. What shall we call it? The Occupation Process, the Distraction Process, the Flim-Flam, the Long Con, the Hustle, the Sting, the Swindle...? Why don't we just call it The Process.

To help us unpack the process, I'll will speak to three of the diplomats who were actually part of the process. Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Alvaro de Soto, a former UN diplomat. Later I'll have a discussion with Noura Erakat, Peter Beinart, and Nathan Thrall.

But first I dropped by the James A. Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, Texas, to speak to its director Ed Djerjeian, former ambassador to Israel, and the author of “Danger and Opportunity: An American Ambassador's Journey Through the Middle East”.

I began by asking for his assessment of America's role in 'The Process' over the past 20 years.

Edward Peter Djerejian: Well America's role has been both as a catalyst and then as a party that has stood by over the last 20 years.

But we have missed too many opportunities and I believe the US has not been actively engaged in the process in a meaningful way at various points over the 20 years to make a real difference.

But to come to a final agreement, the issues are so profound that, and the difference between the parties still so wide that without a strong American hand, I do not see the parties coming together to do this. So that's why I think the criticality of the President, the President of the US, because without the President of the US fully committed to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations no matter his secretary of state is, it's not going to happen.

Marwan: It's been 20 years. So the record shows that with or without the president, the situation has only gotten worse for the Palestinians. And the Israelis have only settled more and more of the land hence, we can speak of failure?

Edward Peter Djerejian: We can certainly speak of failure to come to a final settlement, there's no question about it.

Marwan: Don't you think that there was this original sin whereby the dissymmetry in recognition was that the Palestinian people would recognize Israel as a state, but Israel would only recognize the organization called the PLO?

Edward Peter Djerejian: Yes, there's always been. It's an asymmetrical relationship between Israel and Palestinians, even today.

Marwan: But shouldn't have that been the role of the United States to ensure that there's a certain symmetry between the Palestinians and the Israelis?

Edward Peter Djerejian: Yes and we tried, we tried hard for that. We got a great deal of resistance in Israel not to accept the Palestinians on that equal footing.

Marwan: But in this relationship, in this triangle relationship, the close relationship, the special of the special relationships is that between the US and Israel.

Edward Peter Djerejian: Yes, it's a very close relationship. As you know, a very strong relationship. But I think that because of the special relationship between the United States and Israel, and because the US still remains a preeminent power in the world, that without a strong American hand, there will not be an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

Marwan: But the problem with that, according to many is that, and here present company (included) maybe or I'm not sure, that within Washington's clique or group of influentials on Middle East policy--it's mostly friends of Israel.

Edward Peter Djerejian: Well I think you have people who get hooked on to this Middle East process. I hate the word peace process. To me it's like a food processing machine, you know, process for the sake of process. We have to move from conflict management to conflict resolution. From talking about peace to actually engaging in peace negotiations. That is a trick. And the Washington syndrome if you will, has been to get so imbued with process that the big picture is lost. 

It's by design by those who advocate process for the sake of process to really not get anything done and to have the shadow of peace talks but not the reality.

Marwan: And that's what we have now. Lot's of process and no peace.

Edward Peter Djerejian: Exactly.

Marwan: If there's ever this will on the part of the American administration, will it be able to 'coerce' or convince Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and East Jerusalem?

Edward Peter Djerejian: Let me put it this way. We just have to make a proposition to Israel they cannot refuse.

Marwan: Which means?

Edward Peter Djerejian: Which means, the President of the United States, President Obama invites Netanyahu and Abu Mazen to Washington. Says: Gentlemen, it is one of the most important issues in national security interests of the United States that you make peace.

Here is my frame of reference. Here is an American terms of reference endorsed by the President of the United States on the key issues: territory, Jerusalem, refugees.

Given what you have described as a very special relationship between Israel and the United States, it's very hard for any Israeli Prime Minister to say no to an American President.

But if we continue with a process and not negotiations and basically a stalemate and the settlers continue, then a two-state solution will truly be elusive.

The Israelis are primarily responsible for the settlements, not the United States.

Marwan: But shouldn't the United States come out and say something about it?

Edward Peter Djerejian: Well we have. We have in the past, and we do in the current situation.

What we need is leadership. The terms of reference are there. History is defined by leaders. You know what we need in the Middle East? A man who is now in declining health. We need a Nelson Mandela.

Marwan: You don't think that happened in 1993 then. Back to our --

Edward Peter Djerejian: It was the beginning yes. It was the beginning. Yes!

Marwan: It looked like it was going to be De Klerk. It looked like Arafat was going to be Mandela.

Edward Peter Djerejian: That's right.

Marwan: And 20 years later?

Edward Peter Djerejian: Rabin was assassinated. That was a terrific blow for peace and then the political leadership has been lacking on all sides.

Marwan: And on the American side.

Edward Peter Djerejian: On all sides.

Marwan: When will the United States say we failed, that's it. Hands off.

Edward Peter Djerejian: I don't think that Washington will ever say that.

Marwan: Twenty years since Oslo and still no peace, and no admission that the process has failed. So, what about a third party mediator?

This is a question I put to Alvaro De Soto, the former United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle-East peace process and Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel from 2001-2005, Professor of Middle East Policy Studies at Princeton University, and the author and editor of several books, his most recent being 'Pathways to Peace.'

Kurtzer: It's not up to the United States to allow another mediator to step in. It is up to the parties...to make a decision whom they will trust with that role. The Israelis, for a variety of reasons, don't trust anybody else. They barely trust the United States in this role.

Marwan: And it's the occupying power. And hence it is up to the Israelis…

Kurtzer: In a sense, they exercise a veto with respect to anyone else trying to play that role unilaterally.... but I don't see anybody supplanting the United States' role, given Israel's adamant stance on this.

Marwan: Especially with the Palestinians agreeing, and the Arabs, to the US role?

Kurtzer: So far that's the case, yeah.

De Soto: It's ultimately the parties to a conflict who choose, or at least have the final say, on who is going to be the mediator or the broker. And I am sure the Palestinians have no illusions about the closeness of Israel and the US.

Marwan: But do they have a choice in the matter?

De Soto: Well, I think think they, they do in a sense. And I think the reason why the PLO wants the US, is that they believe that only the US if anyone, can deliver Israel.

De Soto: The only framework in which I could imagine a change of a mediator, or at least, the question being posed, is if there were, as there should be, a Palestinian reunification. I mean as between Fatah and Hamas. Because this attitude of wanting the US to be in the forefront, because only they can deliver Israel, it might not be shared by Hamas.

Marwan: Why was the UN kept on the sidelines? Why were UN resolutions kept as a framework or as footnotes in the various agreements?

De Soto: Well, the UN as a (repeat as a) player, as a peacemaker as a as a broker had been largely out of the game in the Middle East for many years for a variety of reasons. I get the sense that the, on the Israeli side, there was an effort to use Oslo as an opportunity to walk away from the basic foundations of Resolution 242 and the land for peace formula.

Marwan: But the PLO and the Palestinians did go to the UN for several decades, and clearly the US blocked their effort there.

De Soto: But not as a mediator, not as a mediator…They were very clear with me…Palestinian, senior Palestinian officials to the effect that…they were even a little bit exasperated. What is the UN doing in the Quartet, they said. The UN should be the UN--a mediator, we have a mediator. And the one that we want is the one that we have.

Marwan: So why don't you tell us, why does the UN accept to be a junior partner to the US in any configuration?

De Soto: In my own view, the United Nations, because of the unique characteristics in the international system of the UN Secretary General, I don't believe that he should be part of any negotiating or mediating group of which he is not the leader.

Marwan: It seems to me that once the UN, as so-called international community is sidelined, you remain with the US, the main sponsor of Israel. Israel is the bully around the block as far as the Palestinians are concerned. To seek help from Israel's wrath, they go to the United States. That sounds like the Godfather to me.

Kurtzer: Well, if the Godfather produces, then one can make the argument that sometimes you deal with the devil. In this case though, it is curious that both the Palestinians and the Arab states keep coming back to the same formula--a third-party mediation, that has not yet succeeded.

Marwan: Because this is the only way you can avoid the wrath of Israel? It is to go to its sponsor.

Kurtzer: Well, the Palestinians I think until now, have not wanted to face Israel alone at the negotiating table, and bringing any other third party to the table is only going to further distance them from Israel.

The key to understanding the US role is not to try the US to be more balanced  between Israel and an Arab state, but it is to figure out how do you endear yourself to an American potential partner, and use that leverage, or that inroad in order to make progress in the peace process.

Marwan: Isn't that exactly the definition of the Godfather system?

Kurtzer: I don't want to call it 'Godfather' or not. It's a practical realpolitik of the way this peace process has worked.

De Soto: But the Godfather analogy implies at some point, the Godfather has got to make, whoever is causing difficulties, an offer that he can't refuse. And you get more durable solutions if the parties to a conflict can actually come to the conviction, that they need to do this for reasons of their own. 

Marwan: The only way that secretary Kerry was able to relaunch the negotiations is by getting a concession out of the Arabs to give up the 1967 borders as the basic line of peace negotiations. The Palestinians also conceded on the question of freezing the settlements. That's how you, you know, relaunch diplomatic process. The Palestinians and the Arabs concede, and Israel gives up a few prisoners.

Kurtzer: Frankly, I don't think that he wrested that concession out of Palestinians. I think in practical terms, these negotiations are going to take place on the basis of the 1967 lines with an understanding that there will be swaps of equal quality and equal quantity.

Marwan: So what then is secretary state bringing new to the table?

Kurtzer: There are some new elements, or at least different elements in Kerry's diplomacy which are supported by President Obama that at least should give us some pause. Kerry has not simply asked Israelis and Palestinians to get to negotiations. He's focused on security for both sides with the appointment of General John Allen. He has looked at Palestinian economic and institutional building through the World Economic Forum and the private sector initiative. He has brought the Arab League back into the game through the Arab peace initiative.

Marwan: Do you think anything can be done without shifting the paradigm, in terms of the US for a change perhaps, put some serious pressure, regardless of the local, domestic calculations.

Kurtzer: Well look, I have made the argument publically that the United States should now lay out very strong parameters that define quite narrowly the issues still to be negotiated...And then expect the parties not taking no for an answer. Expect the parties to negotiate within those parameters. And then give it a shot.

Marwan: On what basis should the US define those parameters, being Israel's closest ally? Does it have the moral standing?

Kurtzer: No, we have our own interests and we would define those parameters on the basis of American national interest and an assessment of what might actually produce progress.

Marwan: Would you say that the US considers the peace process itself, regardless of whether it works or does not work, as an indispensable national security interest in the region, that it has a peace platform negotiation going on under its auspices?

Kurtzer: The Obama administration has certainly defined it that way, but I think you saw in the previous administration, the presidency of George Bush, I am not sure you could have come up with that same definition of national interest. Presidents define our interests in different terms. One of the both frustrations but great hopes for this administration is that they have defined the peace process as a national interest of the United States and therefore, there is a hope and expectation that they will do something about it.

Marwan On that note, thank you gentlemen.

And we'll come back after a short newsbreak, after which we'll discuss how the US-Israel special relationship affects the peace process.

Rashid Khalidi: Realistically, the United States is the 900 pound gorilla on the block; you cannot keep them away from the negotiating table.

Aaron David Miller: We the United States may not be an honest broker, but we can be an effective broker.

Part Two

Daniel Kurtzer: Both the Palestinians and the Arab states keep coming back to the same formula - a third-party mediation.

Marwan Bishara (voice-over): Is it up to America to bring peace to the Middle East?

Hanan Ashrawi: I do not see this as a US monopoly even though the US and many of its allies see it as a monopoly.

Daniel Kurtzer: There is really no one else that can play that role…

Rashid Khalidi: Realistically, the United States is the 900 pound gorilla on the block. You cannot keep them away from the negotiating table.

Aaron David Miller: We the United States, may not be an honest broker, but we can be an effective broker.

Obama: “I have Israel's back.”

Rashid Khalidi: The United States is the worst possible mediator because it is bound, literally hand and foot, by this 1975 commitment, not to go one iota beyond the Israeli position.

Daniel Kurtzer: I had a conversation with some very senior Egyptian policy makers and they were quite critical of the American role in the peace process, and I said, you know it may that a time will come when the United State will simply have to throw up its hands and say, We failed and hand this over to somebody else. And the panic in the eyes of these policymakers was manifest.

Marwan Bishara: Can the United States ever break with Israel and will the United States actually push the Israelis.

Rashid Khalidi: The United States when its national interest has dictated this has again and again laid down a lot to Israel. when American national interest dictated that the United States impose something on Israel, it did.

Daniel Kurtzer: In 1974-75 with Kissinger, at Camp David number one with Carter, and then Bush and Baker at Madrid. The US has in fact used its special relationship with Israel to induce Israel to take some risks that it would not ordinarily make.

Marwan Bishara: Why hasn't that happened with Palestine?

Rashid Khalidi: The United States does not have a real dog in the fight whereas the Israelis really care about this. 

Marwan Bishara: The conventional wisdom is that it is very much in America's interest to have the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolved. 

So why doesn't the United States put pressure on Israel?

Is American diplomacy hand-cuffed by domestic politics? Is there a division of power. America calls the shots in the wider region.

Hanan Ashrawi: The so-called peace process, was used as an instrument of power by Israel to pursue its policies of annexation and settlements to act with impunity, which is what the US wanted.

Marwan Bishara: Or is there a more imperial reason, never to be spoken aloud. Is Israel the testing grounds for America's strategy? Back in the Cold War, it was Israel that went up against Soviet built armor and Russian MIGs. After Arab states joined the United States to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait America had a vision of a Pax Americana in the Middle East, a place of free trade and free markets and in the Middle East Israel would be at the center of it. 

Then America switched to the War on Terror, along with generals, intelligence officers, and police forces from all over the world - they looked to Israel.

It was the Israelis who had the know-how in running an occupation, with enhanced interrogations, mass incarcerations, targeted assassinations, surveillance, with drones, urban warfare, homeland security, and combined police-military operations. Which of these scenarios is it? What's really going on here?

We will be talking about that, and more, with our guests:

Peter Beinart, author of Crisis of Zionism , Professor of Journalism and Political Science at City University of New York and senior political writer at The Daily Beast.

Nathan Thrall, senior Analyst with the Middle East & North Africa Program at the International Crisis Group, contributing editor at Tablet Magazine and a former member of the editorial staff of The New York Review of Books.

And last but not least, Noura Erakat, a human rights attorney, co-editor of Jadaliyya who teaches international human rights law in the Middle East at Georgetown University.

Discussion:

Marwan Bishara: Well gentlemen, Noura. Welcome to Empire.

Let's take an overall look at the last 20 years. Peter, would you say the American role has been a burden or an asset for the peace process?

Peter Beinart: Well, the peace process has not succeeded. So, clearly it's not been a success. Of course, the counter-factual is hard to answer. What would have taken America's place had the United States, let's say, followed Ron Paul's foreign policy and said, "We are not interested here." Would regional powers have emerged that would have played a more constructive role? I think America has made a lot of very serious mistakes. I am also dubious that any other power or constellation of powers would have been more successful because you do need to have the trust of Israel in order to broker a deal between the two sides.

Marwan Bishara: How does it look from Jerusalem? Is there a lockdown on American decision process when it comes to the Middle East?

Nathan Thrall: I think the view from Jerusalem is that the role of the Americans can be, and is often, greatly overstated. In the past in Arab-Israeli peacemaking, you know that parties have come together without the Americans. The Americans have come later and I think that it is a mistaken idea that the Americans are necessary to the process. They are necessary to get the two parties together today because the two parties aren't interested in negotiating, and that makes the outcome of this round of talks all the more unlikely to succeed.

Marwan Bishara: You don't think between an occupied and an occupier, a weaker and a stronger party, there is a need for a third party to come in and balance?

Nathan Thrall: Absolutely. That is of course in the Palestinian interest, but is it in the Palestinian interest for that third party to be Israel's closest ally?

Marwan Bishara: Is it?

Peter Beinart: No, it is probably not in the Palestinian interest, except that another power, let's say, the EU or some regional forces that would be more sympathetic to the Palestinian position, would probably not have the leverage over Israel. I think what you saw with the US in Europe was a somewhat effective playing of good cop and bad cop. You probably need to US plus in order to have the best chance of success.

Nathan Thrall: But don't you think that this example that you just cited is evidence that other parties such as the EU do indeed have leverage over Israel?

Peter Beinart: They have leverage over Israel but not in, not without the United States. I think the nationalist reaction in Israel, to the EU alone, without America being there as the country that Israelis feel like has a genuine commitment to Israeli security. Given the way many Israeli Jews see the historical relationship with Europe, rightly or wrongly, I think creates a political dynamic in Israel that can actually be exploited by the right.

Noura Erakat: I actually think that America is fundamentally part of the problem. Even though it can exert leverage over Israel, it has failed to do so consistently, it can for example condition…

The US can condition its funding to Israel, which is now a hundred and three billion since 1948, and hasn't done so in order to stop settlement expansion and yet, doesn't exist any meaning, doesn't exert any meaningful pressure, and beyond that, and I think you are right, Nathan, that we are over, we're over-exaggerating US power. When the Palestinians wanted to go to the UN for a General Assembly decision on statehood, it was able to do so in defiance of US opposition.

Peter Beinart: I agree, but it's also very important to understand I think especially for people outside the United States, who have a tendency to imagine the pro-Israel lobby in Washington as a kind of conspiracy lurking in the corners (Noura: not at all), that this is an expression significantly, especially in the Republican Party, where American Jews don't wield a lot of influence, of a very deep-seated strain in American Christianity, that leads to a strong affinity with the idea of Jews being in the land of Israel, not to say the organization of American Jews is also very important, it's especially important because Arab Americans and Palestinian Americans and Muslim Americans are not well-organized. So they do not represent a significant counter-balance yet. They may well in the future generations.

Noura Erakat: The US, if it wanted, can fundamentally change the balance of power on the ground and yet, does not wield any of those tools in a constructive fashion. It's blocked Israel from scrutiny 32 times in the UN Security Council using its veto power. It's its primary financier, it provides unfettered military support, in contravention of US law. It doesn't even apply the foreign assistance act or the arms export control act, which is US law vis-a-vis its gun, its weapons shipments. And so if the US wanted to, it could, and yet it doesn't want to, and it's unable to when it does.

Marwan Bishara: Would you say that America has been largely silent about the illegal expansion of settlements?

Nathan Thrall: Of course, I mean, it's US policy to condemn the settlements with regularity, but not to do much more than that, and so in terms of literal silence, it hasn't literally been silent, it regularly condemns.

Marwan Bishara: Largely silent.

Nathan Thrall: But when there was an announcement in terms of actions, the US has been silent in its actions for the most part.

Peter Beinart: Yes. Washington turns, Nathan's right, although they make rhetorical statements America does not apply pressure to Israel to stop the subsidizing of settlements which I think is bad for America, and actually, bad for the Palestinians, and actually also bad for Israel.

Noura Erakat: Had the US exerted some sort of accountability, we would not be in a position today where Israel has the most right-wing government that we have ever seen and it' s precisely because of our failure to exert that accountability that the Israeli leadership has become more emboldened, more brazen, more racist than it' s ever been before and I think it' s false hope to continue putting all our eggs in the American basket.

Peter Beinart: We have also had this entire conversation as if it' s only Israel that has to move in order to make a solution possible.

Marwan Bishara: It' s not?

Peter Beinart: No, I don' t think that' s the case. It depends, of course, on what you believe that solution would be. But if you believe, if you take as your parameter that it will look something like the Clinton parameters of December 2000, then in fact, that requires very significant concessions from the Palestinians probably on questions like refugees perhaps, on the question about, on questions of international troops in the Jordan Valley and other things.

Marwan Bishara: But let me ask you.

Peter Beinart: So I agree. That Israel has a long way to go, more further than it did, and that that will require serious pressure, but that' s not the whole story.

Marwan Bishara: You just said that America is very close to Israel. There is no denying that. And then we talk about the Clinton parameters as if they are an objective reality. They are not.

Peter Beinart: They are not. No, I didn't say they are an objective reality.

Marwan Bishara: So why would the Palestinians make concessions to a friend of Israel?

Peter Beinart: The question in politics, the question is not really what the objective reality is. It is what the greatest degree of justice that is politically possible to have is. Right, and I think there is probably somewhere between the Clinton parameters and the Arab peace initiative. Right, and there are important ambiguities between the two but they have certain common things in common. The idea of the '67 lines maybe with small swaps, the idea of a divided Jerusalem. I think that is the fundamental basis upon on which we have the best likelihood of peace.

Noura Erakat: Peter, I am really really glad you brought up politics and power, because I think what's missing from the discussion of peace talks is ironically, they can be very apolitical. We begin to have, we draw on liberal ideals of conflict resolution.

Marwan Bishara: You mean it' s all rhetorical?

Noura Erakat: Two sides just negotiate, and we forget that Israel is a nuclear power. The strongest military power in the Middle East with unequivocal US financial, military and political support, against a Palestinian population which is also under American tutelage. The Palestinian nation, so to speak, the bantustans, cannot exist without American aid, and cannot exist without.

Marwan Bishara: You mean the Palestinian leadership.

Noura Erakat: Palestinian leadership. Today, the Palestinian economy is a charity economy and so we have this discussion, in a vacuum of making concessions in negotiations, when there is one side that's able to completely alter the reality that exists, and change what's politically possible and the other side doesn't have that same leverage.

Nathan Thrall: There is a fundamental question that we are not asking here, which is, do the Clinton parameters or the Arab peace initiative, do they reflect a realistic resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Marwan Bishara: And your answer.

Nathan Thrall: I am not sure that they are.

Marwan Bishara: Why?

Nathan Thrall: I think that they both tend to focus on issues, on problems derived from Israel's 1967 conquest of the West Bank and Gaza and treating the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis as though it were created in June 1967, and that's clearly not the case.

Marwan Bishara: You mean it is also about dismissing the right of return for Palestinian refugees as anything realistic

Nathan: That's exactly right. And both the Arab Peace Initiative and the Clinton parameters and the entire Oslo framework are premised on this notion almost that no one would acknowledge that this is what it is, but more or less, that we are going to trade a solution of '67 in order to close the door on '48.

Marwan Bishara: It seems to me when you look at the last twenty years, at least, that America has a veto over whatever Israel must do in the Middle East. But Israel has a veto on whatever America wants in Palestine. That no matter what happens, it will be Netanyahu, not Obama, it will be Barak, not Clinton, it will be Sharon, not Bush, that have the last word over what's going to happen in the Occupied Territories. Hence, the American role is really limited.

Peter Beinart : Remember the Labor Party, even till the late '90s was not even in favor of the Palestinian state at all. The movement that happened, in Israeli politics, between, over the course of the late 1990s to the 2000s, was very substantial and is what created the basis for Ehud Olmert going even further and that was significantly part of American pressure whether you think it's good enough or not.

Noura Erakat: I think that you bringing up the US, the US' s inability to do something is not only reflective of the strength of the Israel Lobby which is not a conspiracy like the NRA and other lobbies; it' s just talented. It does what it does and knows how to leverage power and benefits from fortune of convergence with some US interests. 

Marwan Bishara: But is there an American interest in a powerful, expanded, expansive, confident Israel.

Noura Erakat: Absolutely not. The US stands more to gain if it were to actually create a Palestinian state whether or not that actually serves Palestinian interests and actually meets their full spectrum of rights is another question. But the US stands more to gain by creating a Palestinian state
Because it mitigates, it neutralizes the criticism of the US in the Middle East as a hypocrite and that it doesn't really believe in human rights anywhere.

Marwan Bishara: Peter help us out here with the question of Kerry. Many people in Israel and Palestine are surprised. They don't understand what excites Kerry all of a sudden. Certainly there's nothing on the Israeli side that shows the way forward towards peaceful coexistence between two states. What is motivating him? Does he think he's going to be able to bring Palestinian concession or concessions out of the Palestinians?

Peter Beinart: Well I think that for one thing, this has always been an area where you try to prove American leadership and I think Kerry thinks probably rightly that the era in which America is going to have any chance to exercise leadership towards a two-state solution, is coming to an end. So he may be the last American diplomat who can really make this effort. The effort is very important to America's prestige in the region and around the world and I think Kerry believes and I have to agree with him, that if it fails, the consequences could be much worse.

Nathan Thrall: I believe that Kerry has received some kind of private assurances that Netanyahu is willing to go further than the Americans had initially expected and I think to the degree there is some optimism around Kerry and his staff.

Marwan Bishara: Further, meaning?

Nathan Thrall: Meaning they had assumed that Netanyahu is fundamentally opposed to Palestinian statehood and through talking to him they I believe have come to the conclusion that he is genuinely interested in a Palestinian state and is willing to make larger territorial concessions than they had thought that he would be willing to do, maybe territorial concessions approaching those that Olmert had put forward in 2008.

Marwan Bishara: That sounds like deja vu all over again, no?

Noura Erakat: It's a bit strange and I know you don't believe this but it's a bit ironic to say that they're expecting greater territorial concessions simultaneously as announcing 1200 new settlement units and so I think that so long as we continue this process based on the terms of Oslo, then it's bound to fail because Oslo if we remember its record has facilitated the entrenchment of Israeli settlement expansion, it's been process over substance so that we are applauding ourselves over the continuation of process absence substance and it has done nothing to alter the balance of power.

Marwan Bishara: Let's go back to our focal point. Let's call a spade a spade then. American leverage is not on Israel, it's on the Palestinian and the Arab side.

Peter Beinart: America has exercised more leverage on the Palestinians cause the Palestinians are weaker, there's no question about it.

Marwan Bishara: And hence that is the engine of the process is that every time you come back and bring concessions out of the Palestinians and the Arabs.

Peter Beinart: But the Palestinians also have leverage of their own. The leverage they have is --
Marwan Bishara: -- victimhood?

Peter Beinart: No the leverage they have is to say bye-bye to the United States, internationalize the conflict. When Abbas goes or when the Palestinian Authority goes, I think it's that that creates a new reality.

Nathan Thrall: I disagree wholeheartedly. I think that is the precise moment at which Palestinians have a shot at actually exerting some leverage. There is an entity that exists. It's not called the PA it's called the PLO, the Palestinian Liberation Organization. And that entity will exist after the PA is gone and after Abbas is gone. Inshallah. And that entity is capable of negotiating in a much more powerful way if the PA did not exist. The leverage is not over the PA, not over the PLO.

Marwan Bishara: Why does America insist on the peace process. It's 20 years now.

Peter Beinart: It's become a kind of touchstone for American leadership. I also think that there are many Americans who genuinely care a lot about what happens in that part of the world because of religious reasons, but I also think one shouldn't exaggerate it. I mean, you ask most Americans, what things they want their government to do, you could reach 100 things before they would get to this so in many ways it's an elite-driven thing and you saw the George W. Bush administration, for most of his presidency he wasn't really interested so I don't think that it is inevitable that an American administration will decide this is a priority.

Nathan Thrall: I think that there's another element here, which is that there are many American officials who believe that the conflict is intractable and they look at the situation on the ground, they see a situation that's deteriorating, they see more protests, they see that Abbas may take actions that will result in Israeli counter-actions and for them it's very simple. They enter this process and it puts those things on ice for a little bit. And so the process is better than no process. It's as simple as that.

Noura Erakat: And the purpose of the process. I mean let's not delude ourselves. The purpose of the process is not to resolve the conflict, it's to contain it. And you're absolutely right, if we could put ice on this process and just keep everything under control so that there is no eruption of actually military violence, then it's fine because it gives the allure that nothing's happening, and yet we can't forget that the structural violence of occupation and apartheid continues against the Palestinians even in the absence of that military confrontation.

Peter Beinart: I disagree. I think American leaders would like to solve the conflict.

Noura Erakat: And that's why they contain it. And that's why they contain it. No they haven't done anything to solve it.

Peter Beinart: They want to solve it according to the kind of parameters that Bill Clinton laid out. There may be people who disagree with that but I also agree that their second best alternative is to contain it because they're afraid of what happens if there's no process at all.

Marwan Bishara: Has it become a de facto regional forum led by America. An American-led regional order where everyone in the Middle East is judged according to the process. You're a good guy. You're for the process. If you're not for the process, you're the bad guy. Are you eye to eye with America you're probably with the process, if you're not, you're not with the process. The process has become the regional order, the compass. It's that foothold for America in the region.

Noura Erakat: I think that the US has a lot of footholds and this is not the sole compass, it's one of many, and yes you're right that it's become a litmus, and it defines the US's relationship vis-a-vis most of the Middle Eastern countries, but the US can absolutely change this balance of power.

Marwan Bishara: But look at it, I mean they are, now they are basically absent from Iraq, although there have been meetings, absent from Iran and its nuclear project, absent from Syria, absent from Egypt, absent from Libya, the only place that remains is the Middle East peace process.

Nathan Thrall: The US looks at a region in which they are losing influence and they see that this is one place where they can actually exercise some influence and perhaps they're not going to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict but they're at least, as I mentioned a second ago, they're at least going to prevent it from going into a downward spiral.

Marwan Bishara: Peace process as a strategic American national interest. The peace process is not necessarily peace.

Noura Erakat: The investment in peace but the US just because it does, I think the US is exerting influence on a daily basis, just that who it decides to support, which countries it decides to fund, the military funding to Egypt, to Saudi Arabia, to Jordan, I think that the US is quite influential in the Middle East and continues to be so and there is no resistance against that, so yes, the peace process might be a fixture within that, but all it is, is a balance of power and maintaining the status quo --

Marwan Bishara: -- or imbalance of power.

Noura Erakat: Or the imbalance of power that is very short-sighted in its prospects.

Marwan Bishara: Well short-sighted. Maybe, maybe not. Gentlemen, Noura, thank you.

And I'll be back with a final note.

Postscript:

Marwan Bishara: When it comes to the peace process, history repeats itself first as a tragedy, then a farce and back again. So if the appointment of Israel's darling, Dennis Ross as peace envoy was tragic, the appointment of Martin Indyk twenty years is certainly a farce.

It's comical that President Obama asks Israelis and Palestinians to show courage, leadership and originality, then appoints another Israel darling to head his peace efforts.

Indyk heads the Saban center, the Middle East wing of the Brookings Institution, the same Haim Saban who told the Israeli paper Haaretz that he' s an admirer of Ariel Sharon and dreams of being Israel's information minister.

Alas, Indyk has already gotten his dream job after serving at AIPAC, the Israel Lobby, and heading its think-tank, the Washington Institute.

And once again, hypocrisy has a face to go along. That's the way it goes.

Empire can be seen from the last Sunday of every month at 2000GMT, and is re-aired during the following week at these times GMT: Monday: 1200GMT; Tuesday: 0100GMT; Wednesday: 0600GMT.


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