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After the “Peace Process”

1 May 2012

After the “Peace Process”

By Gwynne Dyer

The Oslo Accords, signed in 1993, were supposed to lead, through a “peace process”, to the final solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: two sovereign states living side by side in peace. It would have been a sulky, grumpy peace, and the Palestinians would only have got a tiny, overcrowded, impoverished and completely demilitarised country, but at least they would have had a state at last.

The “peace process”, alas, actually died some time ago. It has been almost a decade since insiders really believed that it was going to end up in the “two-state solution” that was envisaged at Oslo. Now that the corpse has finally stopped twitching, it’s time to consider what other roads to a permanent peace settlement remain open. If any.

Yossi Beilin, then Israel’s deputy foreign minister, initiated the secret negotiations that led to the Oslo Accords 20 years ago, but now he has lost almost all hope. Last month he wrote an open letter to Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, the interim body that was supposed to morph into the government of the Palestinian state once all the details had been settled. He urged Abbas to dissolve the PA.

“No one thought the PA would be there for 20 years,” he wrote. “It should have ended. So I find myself in the bizarre situation in which I am actually asking to put an end to it. But the bottom line is that, paradoxically, all those who cursed Oslo are now cherishing it.”

What Beilin means is that the Oslo agreement, which was originally “a tremendous victory for the peace camps on both sides,” has actually become a means by which those who oppose the creation of a Palestinian state can spin out the negotiations endlessly. It is now only “a device that has allowed the parties to block a two-state solution.” And who is the main culprit on the Israeli side, in his view? Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Yuval Diskin, the recently retired head of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, is even blunter in condemning Netanyahu. “Forget all the stories they’re selling you in the media about how we want to talk but (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) doesn’t. We’re not talking with the Palestinians because this government has no interest in talking to the Palestinians.”

The reason, Diskin says, is because Netanyahu fears that “even the smallest step forward on this issue (of a Palestinian state)” would cause the coalition he leads to collapse. Removing at least most of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank is a precondition for a Palestinian state, but several of the parties in Netanyahu’s coalition would immediately pull out if he agreed to do that.

“Yuval Diskin is a thug,” wrote columnist Nahum Barnea in Yedioth Ahronoth. “Only one thing can be said to his credit: he is telling the truth.” Moreover, it is a truth that extends beyond Netanyahu’s current government. It is almost impossible to construct a coalition in Israel that does not include some of those pro-settler parties, so not even a leader who actually favoured a Palestinian state could do what is necessary to achieve one.

That is the main reason why the two-state solution envisaged in the Oslo Accords is dead. Unfortunately, there aren’t any good alternatives.

Ahmed Qurei, who led the Palestinian delegation that negotiated the Oslo Accords, recently wrote: “We must seriously think about closing the book on the two-state solution and turning over a new leaf.” But the only alternative is the one-state solution, and that poses equally big problems for both sides.

The single state would contain all the Jews and Palestinians who now live in the lands between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea. All this land has been under Israeli control since the 1967 war, when Israel conquered the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, but almost half of the residents are Palestinians – and they have a higher birth rate than Israeli Jews.

So a single state for Israelis and Palestinians would involve either permanent Israeli military rule over a large and rapidly growing Palestinian minority, or a binational state where everybody, Jewish or Palestinian, has equal rights, including the vote. But since there are going to be more Palestinians than Jews on this land within ten years, the single state with universal suffrage would no longer be a Jewish state.

A one-state solution that does not give Palestinians equal rights, said Beilin, “means a Jewish minority dominating a Palestinian majority in a few years from now, and that is something that neither Israelis nor the world would accept.” But he adds: “Is it possible to have one state in which a Palestinian will be the prime minister or president? No, Israelis will not accept that.”

There are only three options: the two-state solution, permanent Israeli military rule over a Palestinian majority, or a single state that, although democratic, is no longer exclusively Jewish in character. Of the three, the least objectionable to all the people involved would be the two-state solution. Which is already dead in terms of Israeli domestic politics.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 8 and 13. (“Yuval..one”; and “A one-state…that”)

No Peace, Just Prizes

10 October 2009

 No Peace, Just Prizes

By Gwynne Dyer

“Anyone who says that within the next few years an agreement can be reached ending the conflict (between Israel and the Palestinians) simply doesn’t understand the situation and spreads delusions,” said Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman last week. But Barack Obama does say that. In fact, they gave him the Nobel Prize for saying it, didn’t they?

Speaking in a radio interview, Lieberman added: “There are conflicts that have not been completely solved and people have learned to live with it, like Cyprus….We have to be realistic. We will not be able to reach agreement on core and emotional subjects like Jerusalem and the right of return of Palestinian refugees.” And he said all this just as Obama’s point man for what we used to call the “peace process”, George Mitchell, arrived in Israel.

Undaunted by Lieberman’s comments, Mitchell gabbled the usual nonsense about how “we’re going to continue our efforts to achieve an early relaunch of negotiations…because we believe that is an essential step toward achieving a comprehensive peace.” Doesn’t he understand that the “peace process” has been dead for years? It is no more. It has expired. It is an ex-peace process.

Yes, of course he knows, but it was Lieberman who went off-script, not Mitchell. Every Israeli government since 2000 has believed what Lieberman said and acted accordingly, but has colluded with the United States and various well-meaning Europeans in pretending otherwise.

The Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas also pretends that the peace process is still alive. Indeed, it did so even in the last years of Yasser Arafat’s life. It has to go on pretending, because if the PA admits that the peace process is dead, then it becomes no more than an Israeli instrument for indirect control of the Palestinians. As it often is, in practice.

We had a vivid demonstration of this recently, when Judge Richard Goldstone submitted his report on last winter’s three-week war in the Gaza Strip to the United Nations Human Rights Council. The 575-page document reported that both Israeli forces and Palestinian militants had committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, and a resolution was put before the Council that could ultimately have led to prosecutions at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Israel launched a propaganda blitz to discredit Goldstone’s report, and together with the United States it mounted a diplomatic campaign to postpone any formal consideration of the report until next March. By then, it would be old news. Standard tactics, but here’s the bizarre bit: the Palestinian Authority also supported delaying the vote by six months.

What possible reason could the PA have for doing such a thing? Well over a thousand Palestinians had been killed in the conflict, and only 13 Israelis. The only Palestinians accused of war crimes were the militants of Hamas, who rule the Gaza Strip, and they are the sworn enemies of Abbas, his Fatah movement, and the Palestinian Authority. It was a no-brainer, and yet the PA went along with the Americans and the Israelis.

Unsurprisingly, this public evidence of the PA’s subjugation to American and Israeli policy caused a great outcry among Palestinians e ven in the West Bank, and Mahmoud Abbas ordered a “probe” into who had made such a wicked decision. (Hint: his initials are MA.) The truth is that the Palestinian Authority is just as complicit in the charade of a continuing peace process as the Israeli or American governments, and cannot afford to abandon it.

Only the radical Islamists of Hamas, from their besieged enclave in the Gaza Strip, openly acknowledge the same reality that Avigdor Lieberman describes (although from a very different perspective). There is no peace process, and the “two-state solution” on which it was built is all but dead. So what they offer Israel, at best, is a long-term truce – but only if the Palestinians get their pre-1967 borders back now.

A long-term truce (“like Cyprus”) is all that Lieberman is offering, either – and even that is not going to happen because he has no intention of returning to Israel’s pre-1967 borders. Neither does his boss, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, although he wraps his refusal in more diplomatic language.

All of President Obama’s pleas have failed to extract from Netanyahu even a promise to freeze the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, let alone to negotiate a withdrawal from them. He has not moved from pleas to actual pressure because the Israelis effectively control the US Congress on this issue, and he will not risk alienating Congress over Israel while he is trying to get legislation through on health care, climate change, and other urgent issues.

He cannot even order the Israelis not to attack Iran. They will do it if they want to, even if the bulk of the Iranian retaliation would fall on American bases and forces in the Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Still, there is no doubt that Obama’s intentions are good. So are mine. Where’s my prize?

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4 and 8. (“Yes…otherwise”; and “What…Israelis”)