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Fake peace talks are far worse than no peace talks

With Tzipi Livni joining Netanyahu’s government and President Obama heading to the region, we might be in for another round of a pseudo-’peace process,’ which has become a code name for an attempt to impose ‘a deal’ on a Palestinian pseudo-leadership.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas, meeting in Washington in 2010. A process for the sake of a process could end in nothing, but could also lead to a violent escelation (photo: State Department photo/ Public Domain)

Hatnuah – Tzipi Livni’s new party that won six seats in the last Israeli elections – was the first Knesset party to sign a coalition agreement with Binyamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu needs another 24 Knesset members to have the minimum majority for a ruling coalition. It is very unlikely that he will fail to get them.

Livni was appointed as justice minister, a member of the security-diplomatic inner cabinet, and as the head of the negotiating team with the Palestinians. It is a deal that made both sides happy: Netanyahu won’t be blamed by the Right for offering “concessions” to the Palestinians (I put the word “concessions” in quotation marks because only in the distorted vocabulary of the peace process is giving the Palestinians their most basic human rights regarded as a favor), while Livni can claim to have a significant enough role to justify her position in a right-wing government, especially after leading an anti-Bibi campaign.

From Netanyahu’s point of view, Livni’s support outweighs her relatively small party. In the last elections, the prime minister lost both Ehud Barak (retired from politics) and Dan Meridor (demoted in the Likud primaries), leaving him without an acceptable liaison to the international community, most notably, the United States. Livni is popular enough with the U.S. administration, not to mention other dovish institutions – she was one of the stars of the Saban forum – so she will perfectly fit the position of unofficial foreign minister.

Interestingly enough, while at the Saban forum Livni privately warned Americans she met against the so-called centrists who would rush to serve as Natanyahu’s fig leaf after the elections; but politics, like pornography, is a question of geography, and things you understand as the leader of a 28-seat opposition party appear different when you have only five Knesset members behind you.

The good news is that with Livni at the Justice Ministry, the Right will find it much harder to push some of the radical legislation attempts it pushed in the last Knesset – the most well known being the infamous Boycott and Nakba bills – but one should also remember that much of the anti-democratic legislation came from Livni’s own party, like the national biometric database, which was initiated by Meir Shitrit, now an MK for Hatnuah.

The bigger problem, however, is that we might be in for another round of pseudo-peace process, which has become a code name for an attempt to impose “a deal” on a Palestinian pseudo-leadership.

There is a whole industry of organizations and diplomats who would like to make this happen – many of them already congratulated Netanyahu and Livni on their new alliance, despite the fact that the coalition agreement didn’t even include a general framework for talks on the Israeli side, just vague obligations to resume negotiations. It is worth pointing out the fact that even the settlers don’t oppose peace talks, as Naftali Bennet has publicly stated, since they assume they will result in nothing.

Peace, in the sense of an end to the occupation and a historic compromise, will require a lot of preparation, especially of the Israeli public. The Rabin government made many mistakes, but one couldn’t question the attempt to push the national consensus, first by lifting the ban on negotiations with the PLO and later by constantly communicating a message of peace and partnership to the public. Netanyahu is doing the exact opposite: He promotes a confrontational attitude, reminds the public that the Palestinians shouldn’t be trusted, and he is scaling back previous offers made by Israeli prime ministers.

While Netanyahu might agree again to a partial freeze of settlement constructions east of the security barrier (there are some indications that he is considering this, and anyway most of the projects that chip away land in the West Bank take place around the so-called settlements blocs), he hasn’t come an inch closer to what the international community and the less-ambitious Palestinians see as the minimal threshold for a solution. The Israeli prime minister is rejecting the ’67 borders as the starting point for negotiations, and he is against territorial compromise in Jerusalem. Netanyahu, Livni and Lapid reject even the symbolic offers made by Olmert on the refugee issue in Annapolis, claiming the former prime minister “went too far.” They are not preparing the public for a deal, they are making an argument for the inevitable failure of the process.

I don’t see the world – especially not the United States – investing the necessary political capital in making something meaningful out of the diplomatic process. It is way more likely that the world will turn to the easier, cheaper solution – putting pressure on the Palestinians and then blaming “Arab rejectionism” for the failure of the process. Another interesting option, a regional solution in the spirit of the Arab League proposal, is not on anybody’s agenda.

Forcing the Palestinians to agree to something that doesn’t serve their interests and doesn’t solve any of the core issues is probably the worst outcome of a fake process. This is what happened in the Oslo 2 accord and the Paris protocols, which created the current Israeli system of control in the occupied territories (including the infamous division into Areas A, B and C).

At best a failed process will be meaningless, like the Annapolis summit. At worst, it can lead to a disaster like the second Intifada.

I am not against talks – quite the opposite. But talks should begin with an Israeli recognition of the urgent need to end the occupation and find a just and adequate solution for the refugee problem. The main thing that should be discussed is the way to achieve those goals. As long as most Israeli leaders – not to mention many in the international community – think that ending the military regime that has governed Palestinian lives for half a century is “a concession” that should be negotiated, nothing good will come out of the process.

Related:
With Livni as his fig leaf, Bibi can now form an extremist government
One or two states? The status quo is Israel’s rational choice
‘No solution,’ says the oppressor to the oppressed

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Kolumn9

      Yes, heavens forbid the Palestinians achieve a smaller state where they would conduct their own affairs while Israel achieves secure borders. That would be such a disaster.

      Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        What about Palestine’s secure borders?

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Palestine’s borders will be secure because Israel will be guarding them. If they want a state that should be enough. If they expect to prepare for the next round of war with Israel then there is no particular reason for Israel to help them in that regard.

          Reply to Comment
      • The Israeli demand for negotiations mean only one thing, Israel refuses to adhere to the law and wants to keep what it has thus far illegally acquired.

        The Palestinians on the other hand, have no legal obligation to forgo any of their rights or territory in negotiations.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Danny

      If Obama was serious about restarting the peace process, the first thing he should probably do is push for a unification of the PA with Hamas (kind of like a Likud-Beitenu) that would unify all Palestinians on a common political platform. It would create a political entity that would represent for all Palestinians – something Israel should have a clear interest in. Of course, Israel would never willingly agree to such a unification (mainly because the current divide-and-conquer system is so amenable to its occupation policies); Obama would have to PUSH it through – something that is highly unlikely.

      Livni’s new title of chief negotiator is a red herring, designed to distract Obama from the facts on the ground (i.e. apartheid). Whether Obama will bite at this cheap bait remains to be seen. While I’m deeply disappointed with his performance so far regarding Israel and Palestine, there is a ray of hope – Chuck Hagel. With Hagel at his side, Obama is sure to get a much more balanced and even-handed account of the goings on in our region.

      Let’s hope he enters his office at the Pentagon soon.

      Reply to Comment
      • Y-Man

        I wouldn’t get too excited about Hagel’s influence on Obama, Danny. Obama is completely spineless on this issue and is only interested in pandering to the hugely influential Jewish Democratic establishment, and Hagel is not going to change that fact.

        Reply to Comment
    3. aristeides

      The Palestine Papers made it clear what kind of a “peace” negotiator Livni is.

      Reply to Comment
    4. A Two State “solution” seems at best a federated State with Israel (and possibly, more palatably, also Jordan)controlling borders. External refugees cannot be admitted without a growing population, and that means removal of Israeli movement controls. A federated State would be a movement away from bantuization towards independence, but it is not clear to me that such an approach seems at all plausible within Israel now. And Gaza is ever on the outside.

      Perhaps Livi will use her post to advance equal protection of the law within Israel. I have long thought such is needed within Israel before a greater “solution” can be found.

      Reply to Comment
      • Richard Witty

        “Perhaps Livni will use her post to advance equal protection of the law within Israel. ”

        A good outcome if it occurs.

        Her in justice is a big deal, not incidental, as much as Netanyahu thinks of it as secondary.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Status quo is best for the Israels government, and for its outsourced occupation administrator that calls itself PA. Any negotiation in that setting will be a fig leaf. Even if you had the great personalities among PA government that really cared about the Palestinian cause more than their stakes and privileges, there would be no chance to reach anything on a negotiating table skewed like here.

      Negotiation could work in a setting where the Palestinian population feels represented by its negotiator, and in a situation where the negotiating table is more balanced, i.e. if both parties bindingly decide to submit their territorial dispute to international arbitration.

      Reply to Comment
      • XYZ

        The Palestinians will never accept binding arbitration if it means they have to give up their core demands, including unrestricted right of return of the refugees. At the heart of all the suggestions here I see from the well-meaning “progressives” is the rock-bottom assumption that “I am a reasonable person…a ‘progressive’ and it just has to be that the Arabs are the same as me and ultimately want what I want, so therefore I know what it is they will eventually agree to”. WRONG. They have their own world view, their own values and they are NOT those of western “progressives”.

        Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            No refugee group in the world in entitled to an obligatory return, and Palestinians are no exception.

            Reply to Comment
        • XYZ, don’t mix up the right of return with an actual return. Even Hamas’ officials are talking about more of a symbolic right of return, like 10.000 people or so. So this one can easily be chipped in on the negotiating table, if international arbitration of the territorial dispute was agreed upon.

          The problem is more like, Israel would never submit to international arbitration, because it would most likely end up with less territory than today, where it holds 60% of West Bank and all of East Jerusalem. Israel has managed to almost completely ethnically cleanse the C-Areas in the West Bank, and is happily and illegally profiting from its natural resources, like land for real estate and agriculture, 80% of West Bank water, stone and marble mining, dead sea tourism and minerals, and 96% of the commercial mobile telecommunications spectrum. So why on earth would Israel would want to give away all this, unless continuing its apartheid-style occupation was to become economically unattractive, e.g. by sanctions and boycotts.

          Reply to Comment
    6. XYZ

      Unfortunately, this piece, although making some good points, repeats the same old tired canards the “progressives” cling to regarding the ‘peace process’. First of all, it is said that it is the Israeli public that needs “preparation” for a true peace deal. In fact, it is the Palestinian leadership that REFUESES to tell its people that there is going to be no real “right of return” of the Palestinian refugees and that the Jews are going to have a Jewish state here. The Palestinians are never told this. Obama spend many hours on the phone in his first term begging Abbas to make some minor gesture indicating that he is willing to make these vital compromises in the shopping list of Palestinian grievances and demands. He refused and this is why Obama has become much cooler about the whole thing.

      Secondly, Noam once again mentions that need to find a “fair” solution to the refugee problem. The ONLY fair solution the Palestinians will agree to is COMPLETE, UNRESTRICTED right of return, which means Israel accepting (non-existent) guilt for what happened in 1948 and the end of Israel. Noam assumes the Palestinians will end up being “reasonable” AS HE SEES IT, but in reality, they can not give up this existential demand.

      Reply to Comment
    7. George Abu Eid

      “The only negotiations worth anything now must be about the terms of an Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied in 1967. Anything else is a waste of our time as a people”
      - D.Edward Said May 3,2001

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        Territories that Israel occupied in 1967 were under Jordanian, Egyptian, Syrian and Lebanon jurisdictions.

        What people exactly are you talking about?

        Reply to Comment
        • aristeides

          And how many of its own nationals did Jordan and Egypt move into these lands when they were under their jurisdiction?

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Good question. Well, Jordan annexed the West Bank and then people moved in and out of the West Bank at will and no one counted them. It doesn’t seem like anyone has much of a problem with Arabs moving into the area. It is only Jews that when they move into the area are called settlers.

            Reply to Comment
          • XYZ

            Nasser shipped a lot of Muslim Brotherhood people, whom he had a problem with after they tried to assassinate him in the 1950′s, into the Gaza Strip, which is one explanation for the popularity there of HAMAS, which is affiliated with them.

            Reply to Comment
    8. The Trespasser

      Jordanian passports were handled to all non-Jewish residents of the WB so which means that ENTIRE WB population has became Jordanian nationals.

      Unless of course you’ll try to prove that Arabs either side of the Jordan river comprise distinct ethnicities.

      Reply to Comment
      • andrew r

        West Bank residents who were granted citizenship by Jordan had that citizenship revoked on Aug. 1 1988 because King Hussein renounced Jordan’s claim to the West Bank. East Jerusalem Palestinians are still citizens of Jordan. I have the sneaking suspicion you are making this ill-informed argument to legitimize the forced displacement of the Palestinians into Jordan.


        “AK: When the disengagement was declared, the color of the cards (yellow and green), that had been used as a statistical device, became the criteria for determining the citizenship status of a citizen. The government issued instructions to the effect that those who habitually lived in the West Bank, that is green card holders, on 31 July 1988 were “Palestinian citizens,” while those who were living in Jordan or abroad were Jordanian. Put another way, over one-and-a-half million Palestinians went to bed on 31 July 1988 as Jordanian citizens, and woke up on 1 August 1988 as stateless persons.”

        http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/9827/palestinian-refugees-in-jordan-and-the-revocation-

        Reply to Comment
    9. carl

      “It is only Jews that when they move into the area are called settlers”: perhaps because the ethnic cleansing of palestine was not accomplished by the Arab Legion.
      -
      The Jordanian occupation of the West Bank was opposed by the local Pal population of the time, most of all by Fatah militants, to the point that King Hussein felt obliged to impose martial law.

      Reply to Comment
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