Restarting the peace process?
Restarting the peace process?
- Why is there skepticism about the “peace process”?
- Should Hamas be excluded from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?
- How does the power imbalance between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators impact the peace process?
- What is the role of the U.S. team facilitating the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians?
- How might Israel’s long-term security be affected by a genuine peace accord?
We are committed to a diplomatic solution that will result in a just and lasting peace for Israelis and Palestinians. Because it is the result that is important, rather than the process, we need to be clear-eyed about the current negotiations. And we have to understand how a 10-year, unconditional commitment to U.S. military aid to Israel, undermines the negotiations from the beginning.
Numerous analysts have identified defects in the current process even as it begins. Former ambassador Charles Freeman outlines the causes of past failures and urges a fundamental change in the U.S. approach:
“[T]he United States has been obsessed with process rather than substance. It has failed to involve parties who are essential to peace. It has acted on Israel’s behalf to preempt rather than enlist international and regional support for peace. It has defined the issues in ways that preclude rather than promote progress. Its concept of a “peace process” has therefore become the handmaiden of Israeli expansionism rather than a driver for peace…
For more than four decades, Israel has been able to rely on aid from the United States to dominate its region militarily and to sustain its economic prosperity. It has counted on its leverage in American politics to block the application of international law and to protect itself from the political repercussions of its policies and actions. Unquestioning American support has enabled Israel to put the seizure of ever more land ahead of the achievement of a modus vivendi with the Palestinians or other Arabs. Neither violent resistance from the dispossessed nor objections from abroad have brought successive Israeli governments to question, let alone alter the priority they assign to land over peace.”
In a New York Times op-ed, analyst and author Ali Abunimah points out the hypocrisy of the U.S. decision to exclude the Palestinian party Hamas from a seat at the negotiating table. Hamas, Abunimah writes, is a democratically-installed government which, he notes, “decisively won elections in the West Bank and Gaza in 2006.” [By contrast, it should be noted that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was elected to a term that expired in January, 2010, but has been “indefinitely extended” by parliamentary fiat.] Abunimah challenges the double-standard underlying U.S.’s rejection of Hamas as a party to the negotiations:
“The United States insists that Hamas meet strict preconditions before it can take part in negotiations: recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by agreements previously signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, of which Hamas is not a member. These demands are unworkable. Why should Hamas or any Palestinian accept Israel’s political demands, like recognition, when Israel refuses to recognize basic Palestinian demands like the right of return for refugees?”
Henry Siegman identified the necessity of including Hamas in the negotiations long before Obama’s recent initiative. In a 2008 interview  with the Council on Foreign Relations, Siegman, an expert on Middle East negotiations and former national director of the American Jewish Congress, states explicitly that peace is not possible between Israel and Palestinians unless Hamas is brought into the process. “The notion that the Israeli government leaders and our own government have that it is possible to exclude Hamas from peace talks and have a successful result from those talks is a fantasy,” Siegman observes.
Veteran analysts Hussein Agha and Robert Malley have observed and participated in Israeli-Palestinian affairs and diplomacy for decades. Agha and Malley warn in a Washington Post op-ed that the profound power imbalance between the negotiating parties dooms the process to failure, and that its inevitable failure affects the parties in profoundly disproportionate ways. “Netanyahu can start,” Agha and Malley write, “with maximalist positions and then climb down, exuding flexibility next to what inevitably will be couched as Palestinian obstinacy.”
Political analyst and author Ali Abunimah makes a similar point in a New York Times op-ed. Abunimah observes that “[t]he resumption of peace talks without any Israeli commitment to freeze settlements is another significant victory for the Israel lobby and the Israeli government. It allows Israel to pose as a willing peacemaker while carrying on with business as usual.”
Agha and Malley explain the contrast between the Israeli and Palestinian positions:
“Neither Israel’s mounting isolation nor its considerable reliance on U.S. assistance has jeopardized its ability to make autonomous choices, whereas the Palestinian leadership’s decision-making capacity has shriveled. Most recent Palestinian decisions have been made in conformity with international demands, against the leadership’s instinctive desires and in clear opposition to popular aspirations. Despite such deference, Palestinian leaders cannot count on international support. They feel betrayed by Arab allies and let down by Washington. In contrast, Israel has defied the Obama administration without endangering close ties to Washington.”
Israeli historian Avi Shlaim, too, observes that the power imbalance between the parties poses a formidable obstacle to the resuscitated peace process. In an essay in the Guardian (U.K.), Shlaim explains:
“The prospects for reaching a permanent status agreement are poor because the Israelis are too strong, the Palestinians are too weak, and the Americans mediators are utterly ineffectual. The sheer asymmetry of power between the two parties militates against a voluntary agreement. To get Israelis and Palestinians round a conference table and to tell them to hammer out an agreement is like putting a lion and a lamb in a cage and asking them to sort out their own differences…Third party intervention is clearly indispensable. To put it more simply, there can be no settlement unless America pushes Israel into a settlement. Playing the honest broker will not do the trick. In the first place, most Arabs regard the United States as a dishonest broker on account of its palpable partisanship on behalf of Israel. Moreover, honest brokerage is not enough. In order to bridge the huge gap separating the two sides, America must first redress the balance of power by putting most of its weight on the side of the weaker party.”
While observers such as Avi Shlaim point to the necessity of American pressure to mitigate the power imbalance between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, other analysts note that past U.S. teams have, in fact, worked to advance Israeli interests while posturing as neutral. Robert Grenier watched Clinton-era peace negotiations from his position as CIA station chief in Islamabad, Pakistan. Writing recently in Al Jazeera , Grenier describes those failed negotiations as “diplomacy designed to keep pressure off the Israelis while they do whatever they please.” Martin Indyk, a member of the current U.S. team and one-time U.S. ambassador to Israel, went from being, in Grenier’s words, “a lobbyist on behalf of Israel to a foreign-policy apparatchik in the Clinton administration.” Grenier laments, “For those of us who watched the process from close range in those years, it was obvious that [Dennis] Ross, [Martin] Indyk and the others saw their jobs as consisting of a two-part process: Find out what the Israelis want, and then help them get it.” Aaron David Miller, another of the state department peace-process team members, gets a nod from Grenier for having the “good grace since his retirement to admit that he and the others saw their role as acting as ‘Israel’s lawyers’.”
“I’m not a lawyer by training, but I know one when I see one. For far too long, many American officials involved in Arab-Israeli peacemaking, myself included, have acted as Israel’s attorney, catering and coordinating with the Israelis at the expense of successful peace negotiations. If the United States wants to be an honest and effective broker on the Arab-Israeli issue, than surely it can have only one client: the pursuit of a solution that meets the needs and requirements of both sides.”
Henry Siegman’s 2007 article The Great Middle East Peace Process Scam explains in simple terms what it would take to move beyond the impasse of posturing and failure. “If the US and its allies were to take a stand forceful enough to persuade Israel that it will not be allowed to make changes to the pre-1967 situation except by agreement with the Palestinians in permanent status negotiations, there would be no need for complicated peace formulas or celebrity mediators to get a peace process underway.” To put the peace process back on track, Siegman explains, it is necessary to “speak the truth about the real impediment to peace.” To do so, he urges, “would be a historic contribution to the Jewish state, since Israel’s only hope of real long-term security is to have a successful Palestinian state as its neighbour.
George Bisharat, a professor at University of California Hastings College of Law, sees Israel’s integration into the Middle East as essential to its normalization and long-term well-being. Bisharat imagines a future in which “Israelis would enjoy the international acceptance that has long eluded them and the associated benefits of friendship, commerce and travel in the Arab world.” The means to that end, Bisharat writes, is a “one-state option.” Although this option is “sometimes dismissed as utopian,” Bisharat reasons, “it overcomes major obstacles bedeviling the two-state solution. Borders need not be drawn, Jerusalem would remain undivided and Jewish settlers could stay in the West Bank. Moreover, a single state could better accommodate the return of Palestinian refugees. A state based on principles of equality and inclusion would be more morally compelling than two states based on narrow ethnic nationalism. Furthermore, it would be more consistent with antidiscrimination provisions of international law.”
 Freeman, Charles. America’s Faltering Search for Peace in the Middle East: Openings for Others? (Remarks to staff of the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and members of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. Oslo, Norway, September 2010. Accessed on September 19, 2010 at http://justworldnews.org/archives/Freeman-Norway-Sept-1-2010-b.htm
Abunimah, Ali. “Hamas, the I.R.A. and Us.” New York Times Op Ed, August 28, 2010. Accessed on September 19, 2010 at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/29/opinion/29abunimah.html?_r=2
 Council on Foreign Relations. Siegman: No Peace Possible Between Israel and Palestinians without Hamas. Interview with Henry Siegman. Accessed on September 19, 2010 at http://www.cfr.org/publication/15683/siegman.html
Agha, Hussein and Malley, Robert. At Mideast Peace Talk, A Lopsided Table. Washington Post Opinions, Thursday, September 2, 2010. Accessed on September 19, 2010 at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/01/AR2010090105656.html
Abunimah, Ali. Hamas, the I.R.A. and Us. New York Times Op Ed, August 28, 2010. Accessed on September 19, 2010 at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/29/opinion/29abunimah.html?_r=2
 Shlaim, Avi. This Time in Washington, Honest Brokerage is Not Going to be Enough. The Guardian. September 7, 2010. Accessed on September 19, 2010 at http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/sep/07/peace-talks-washington-israel-palestinians
 Grenier, Robert. Who Does He Think He is Fooling? Al Jazeera, September 5, 2010. Accessed on September 19, 2010 at http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2010/09/201094155358615769.html
 Miller, Aaron David. Israel’s Lawyer. Washington Post, May 23, 2005. Accessed on September 19, 2010 at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/05/22/AR2005052200883.html
 Siegman, Henry. The Great Middle East Peace Process Scam. London Review of Books, Volume 29, No. 16, August 16 2007. Accessed on September 19, 2010 at http://www.lrb.co.uk/v29/n16/henry-siegman/the-great-middle-east-peace-process-scam
 Bisharat, George. Israel and Palestine: A True One State Solution. Washington Post, September 3. 2010. Accessed on September 19, 2010 at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/02/AR2010090204665.html