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The irrelevance of peace talks

The world may continue to circle its favorite conflict with hypotheticals and speculation, but to Palestinians the objective remains the same: to continue to build pressure against the occupation. 

By Talal Alyan

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on April 9, 2013. (photo: State Department photo/ Public Domain)

It’s hard to determine what is less interesting: headlines about the potential resumption of peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis or the ensuing debates about what a solution should look like.

The cynicism on both sides goes without saying. But it doesn’t seem to inhibit the eruption of discourse on the subject. The whole spectacle is tiresome for a number of reasons, the most salient being that the conversation about what a solution will look like, what will be compromised and what will be granted, is entirely premature.

Moving beyond the traditional skepticism about even getting the two parties together, Israel is not in a position where it is compelled to surrender anything. In the absence of any real pressure, it continues to be unlikely that Israel, by its own volition, will address Palestinian demands with any seriousness. It is not simply a commentary on Israeli politics to point out this glaring fact; very few nations forfeit anything without at least some dimension of compulsion.

And for whom exactly does Mahmoud Abbas speak? A return to negotiations has already been rejected by significant segments of Palestinians, who continue to regard the U.S. as anything but an honest broker. The Palestinian Left has been clear on its position, with Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine member Jamil Mizher commenting, “twenty years of absurd negotiations achieved a big zero, and only helped the occupation to execute its plans of expansion.” Islamists share the sentiment. Hamas and the Islamic Jihad both remark that negotiations will be detrimental to Palestinian objectives, their purpose being to help Israel save face. Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas’s party, even issued a statement demanding that negotiations be based on the ‘67 Green Line.

The point is not to dwell on the pessimism that already surrounds every aspect of the conflict. There is no Palestinian consensus that rejects peace talks or even a two-state settlement. Instead, it is to point out what many Palestinians already know: Palestinians are not in a position to be able to negotiate and Abbas is not in a position to determine what solution can be deemed acceptable. The simple fact that Abbas was not able to secure even a settlement freeze proves what a charade the whole thing is. The negotiations will bear no fruit. They are, to be clear, irrelevant.

Likewise, the question of what a solution should look like is not unimportant. It is simply too early and too costly to spent so much time debating final objectives. The arguments prove harmful for two reasons: they distract from the more pressing work of challenging the status quo and serve to divide Palestinian solidarity movements, pitting would-be political allies against each other. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement wisely averts the question, ensuring that varied ideological factions can join together in engineering a context that will empower Palestinians, an imperative step that must precede conceiving resolutions. The movement does not endorse any one solution but instead emphasizes basic Palestinian demands including the right of return, the end of occupation and equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel. BDS has proved itself to be a much more effective tool for Palestinians than any diplomacy Abbas has engaged in, something that many Palestinians have taken notice of. They have also noted the achievements brought on by non-violent resistance; continued disillusionment with violence and diplomacy will only expand these movements.

Still, there is a fixation with hypotheticals, all the while disregarding that they cannot be realized without the continuation of the very real struggle that is happening today. It is argued that Palestinians need to be clear and vocal in their support for a two-state solution, that they need to stand behind Abbas in his relentless pursuit of diplomacy and that anything less can be equated with rejectionism. (It should be noted that this is an argument propagated by some Palestinians as well.) The logic holds some water until one conceives what would be gained, or rather lost, from going down such a road. Even if a settlement is reached, the result will almost certainly be a quasi-state that bears little similarity to the aspirations of most Palestinians. It isn’t about rejectionism. It’s about overcoming the delusion that Abbas would ever be able to secure a deal that the majority of Palestinians would approve of, a prerequisite that is oddly marginalized by so many Palestinian politicians.

The countless hours spent discussing peace negotiations, or what a final outcome should look like, may have some appeal to those who want to approach the conflict abstractly. But Palestinians understand that these questions are secondary at the moment. They distract from the important work being done to, at the very least, position Palestinians so that when they make unambitious demands like settlement freezes, that they are taken seriously. The world may continue to circle their favorite conflict with hypotheticals and speculation, but to Palestinians the objective remains the same: to continue to build pressure against the occupation. Afterward there can be talks.

Talal Alyan is a Palestinian freelance writer currently living in Syracuse, New York. 

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Amos Picker

      Interesting how this article starts with the statement: “In the absence of any real pressure, it continues to be unlikely that Israel, by its own volition, will address Palestinian demands with any seriousness”. Interesting that no where was a comment for addressing Israel’s demand for basic recognition of its right to exists was even mentioned. This is how biased reporting set the political tone, and how distorted media effect policies.

      Reply to Comment
      • rose

        Hamas is kept out of the peace process, because, contrary to the PNA, practically opposes the idea to recognize Israel. Netanyahu’s positions and actions are very close to the ones of Hamas (of course in regard of Palestine e and the Palestinian people).

        Reply to Comment
        • Vadim

          “Hamas is kept out of the peace process”.

          Yes, they try so hard to start negotiations with Israel, but are forcefully kept out.

          Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        Why should the Palestinians, from whom all national rights have been stolen, give a damn about Israel’s “rights”?

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          “Palestinians” have no “national rights” because there is no “Palestinians” which are existing in the real world.

          You see, diverse Palestinian Arab tribes and clans is not quite the same as, at least partially homogeneous, “Palestinian People”

          Reply to Comment
          • shmuel

            Trespasser you are simply ignorant. Pity for you.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Mwahaha.

            I’m still waiting for proof of existence of these mythological people.

            A book in “Palestinian” language would do nicely. Or a “Palestinian” dress. Or dish. Or some historic person. Scientist? Music? Something? Anything?

            Reply to Comment
          • shmuel

            Trespasser you can start with Haim Gerber, Remembering and imagining Palestine: identity and nationalism from the Crusades to the present.

            You don’t have any clue about the issue. Be aware of it.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Whatever that Gerber guy had imagened about Palestine is of no interest whatsoever. What matters is not modern historic books but real life facts, such as:

            A) None of Palestinian Arab congresses had ever tried to proclaim an independent “Palestinian” state”
            B) When annexed by Jordan, Palestinians were more than happy to recieve Jordanian passports.
            C) No real nation requires constant reminders and reassesments.
            and of course D) Why should we rely on a book written by a Jew? Is there no (Palestinian) Arab authors?

            I’m perfectly aware that I can’t be fed leftist bullshit.

            Reply to Comment
          • shmuel

            You don’t even know who Haim Gerber is and you pretend to know what are you talking about. He is probably the most important Israeli author focused on this issue. Either you are a teenager, or you simply are ignorant. First study, than write.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Kolumn9

      “The movement does not endorse any one solution but instead emphasizes basic Palestinian demands including the right of return, the end of occupation and equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel.”

      That is right. The movement emphasizes the basic Palestinian demand to eliminate Israel after flooding it with millions of hostile Arabs. This is precisely the reason why the negotiations with Abbas will go nowhere – because the majority of the Palestinian people are simply unwilling to accept a two state solution and demand nothing less than the destruction of Israel.

      At least the author is being honest. He doesn’t want negotiations. He is not interested in a two state solution that leaves Israel alive. He is interested in putting pressure on Israel until it is destroyed. That’s fine. It is good to have an honest conversation for once. So, let’s be honest. The Palestinians are not unique in being able to put pressure on the other side. Israel is fully capable of undermining the ability of the Palestinians to operate against Israel. Despite grandiose pretenses to the contrary the vast majority of Palestinian PR and organizing potential lives in organizations in one way or another connected with the PLO/PA or operating in the PA areas on European money. This is the various Palestinian consulates around the world that are kept afloat by American and European funds. This is also the various NGOs based in Ramallah that operate against Israel internationally and the think tanks and research institutes that exist only because they are supplied with European money. Then of course there are the pro-Palestinian operations operating within Israel itself on European money. All that can be blocked and disbanded. If the Palestinians are not interested in an actual two state solution then there is no particular reason to treat their organizations as peace partners and all the reasons to treat their operations internationally against Israel as the actions of a hostile party that should be fought on all levels. Be careful what you wish for.

      Reply to Comment
      • sh

        “This is the various Palestinian consulates around the world…”

        Palestinian Embassies. Here’s a list:
        http://www.araboo.com/dir/palestinian-embassies-consulates

        Things might not have changed much here, but how often we forget that we should keep a weather eye on what’s going on in the rest of the world.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Exactly. There are hundreds of Palestinian consulates and embassies around the world. Where do you think the money comes from to keep them open and sponsoring various pro-Palestinian (aka anti-Israeli) events?

          Reply to Comment
          • sh

            Pot calls kettle black. You think our impressive assortment of posh embassies, consulates and overseas institutions are run entirely on contributions from the Israeli taxpayer? Cute.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Yes. They are. Cute that you think otherwise.

            Reply to Comment
      • tod

        The “hostile Arabs” that you mentioned are the previous indigenous inhabitants for which you should have at least a bit of respect: without their sacrifice you would probably still living in another part of this world.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          I’ll respect them when they stop supporting en masse the murder of the civilians of my country while striving as a ‘basic demand’ to destroy my country. Until then I couldn’t give a damn about their suffering or sacrifice.

          Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          >The “hostile Arabs” that you mentioned are the previous indigenous inhabitants…

          Rubbish.

          Arabs are indigenous inhabitants only to Arabia, everywhere else they are unwelcome invaders. The only true indegineous inhabitants of this land are Samaritans.

          >for which you should have at least a bit of respect… without their sacrifice you would probably still living in another part of this world.

          More leftist rubbish.

          1 – People who would rather kill their daughter than let her mate with stranger deserve no respect.

          2 – Their “sacrifice” was not needed – all Jews ever asked for was equal rights and peaceful coexistance. The problem is that these primitive tribes are not quite capable of either.

          Reply to Comment
          • rose

            Trespasser you should stay in a prison (or back in a school) and not freely speaking on this blog. Do you realize how basic your comments are?

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Typically leftist approach.

            Whoever is saying anything which would contradict the party line, should be imprisoned or, at the very least, reeducated.

            The lack of viable counterarguments, by the way, is the perfect proof of your moral bankruptcy.

            Reply to Comment
          • rose

            When you write that “Arabs are indigenous inhabitants only to Arabia” you simply shows that you are an idiot, hope you are aware of it. Read some books, backward man.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Yet again, a cheap ad hominem attack by a narrow-minded, semi-literate leftist.

            P.S. I had read more books than you and your entire family can hope to in your lifetimes.

            P.P.S But of course, Arabs become indegenious wherever they go, Spain for instance.

            Reply to Comment
      • The right of return for the descendants of those disposessed through the expansion of Israel is the mirror image of the settler national-religious warrant for possession of the Bank. The former appeals to a state of affairs of less than 100 years ago; the latter to one several thousand years ago. Under the logic of the latter, the descendants of Aztecs should be able to retake Mexico City; indeed, more so, having lost such not even 600 years ago.

        One absurdity helps fuel another. But only one of these absurdities is gaining traction on the ground. I think you should fear what will happen to the right of return upon a One State outcome. But go ahead–scream “right of return” in fear; sort of like “law of return,” or “recovery of Torah.” Build the social economy of the Bank now (which will include settler exposure to a common civil law), for the distant alternatives are worse.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          I don’t scream ‘right of return’ in fear since I find it to be insanely unrealistic, but bring it as proof that people like the author are absolutely uninterested in accepting an outcome that let’s Israel continue to exist.

          Nor do I fear your repeated nonsensical prophecies of something called a ‘one state outcome’ because the idea that Palestinians will march in the streets waving Israeli flags with a demand to be Israeli citizens is laughable. Every other demand for political representation on the part of the Palestinians will have to be based on a vision that is likely to be entirely unacceptable to the vast majority of Israeli Jews making it irrelevant given the power disparity. If the demand is non-violent it will be ignored or negotiated with on the basis of a two state solution. If it is violent the Palestinians will be boxed into enclaves and packaged for exclusion from Israel – either formally as a state or informally like Gaza. These processes are basically irreversible and it doesn’t matter whether the Palestinian Authority continues to exist or not. So, these are the options faced by the Palestinian leadership. This whole idea of a long-term struggle for representation in Israel and a gradual destruction of Israel from the inside is a messianic myth sold by those that have nothing else to hold on to.

          Reply to Comment
          • Why would they be waving Israeli flags? It will begin with demands for enforcing a common civil law, coupled with local municipal elections recognized by the State. Incrementally, you will be forced to live under a single law–the one thing you revel in having NOT to do at the moment. As I have noted earlier, a One State outcome begins with three tiers of inhabitants: Jewish Israeli citizens, Arab Israeli citizens, non-citizen prior residents. You will shift the latter into representation in PA bantu administration as long as you can, but economic ties will force a growing common civil law. A kind of federation will exist transitionally, but intervention over contested election rules/results and applied law will force further legal intergration. Your best bet to retard this is violence–on all sides. Advocate this to your enemies!

            Let me close using the words “laughable,” “nonsensical,” as thus does all superior understanding proceed.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Only we don’t need to ‘shift’ the representation to the PA. We just have to exclude them as we have done in Gaza. Nor do we need the PA in Gaza to do so. Nor do we need economic integration with the Palestinians. They have nothing to offer. Even their labor isn’t particularly cheap. We have no mines to mine for gold nor do we rely on Palestinian labor for industry or agriculture. Nor is violence likely to be far around the corner in the Middle East. Look around. No are there are internal forces on either side to force us into your arrangement and there are no external forces to force us into your arrangement. Nor do we need to create any additional legal fiction or constructs to avoid your scenario. Nor is our legal system interested in undermining the existing legal constructs. But, please do carry on with your thought experiment. It is wonderfully entertaining. Preach on brother. Preach on. Hallelujah. Amen.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Laurent Szyster

      “Palestinians are not in a position to be able to negotiate and Abbas is not in a position to determine what solution can be deemed acceptable.”

      What are those positions Abbas and Palestinian should be in to determine an acceptable solution ?

      Since there is no alternative reality I assume that the positions you are talking of are the ones Palestinians and their leaders did not stand in all the last sixty five years.

      What’s going to change ?

      Arafat lost Jerusalem once when he was in the best position he ever was supposed to be.

      Abbas could have gained some of it back, but he was not in the position I guess.

      In truth only Fayyad managed to grab some land for Palestinians, to effectively play the game of facts on the ground.

      Yet the people who truly appreciate the position of their people and can set themselves in a position to negotiate a resolution without compromising their people’s future any further, those people are scorned as traitors and house niggers.

      Yeah, let’s “continue to apply pressure against the occupation”, stand fast and get more of the same as previously.

      It worked so well or did it not ?

      Reply to Comment
    4. carl

      “continue to apply pressure against the occupation”: it did not work simply because there was no pressure, or very low. things are changing.
      btw, “Arafat lost Jerusalem once when he was in the best position he ever was supposed to be”: fairy tales.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Richard Witty

      How many times will we hear this repetition?

      The purpose of the peace talks is NOT to mandate a conclusion, but to articulate a proposal to legislatures and populaces.

      Give them the support to do so.

      Rather than the static that will “succeed” in making nothing happen.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Aaron Gross

      It is argued that Palestinians need to be clear and vocal in their support for a two-state solution….

      Yeah, I argue that. Your objection is valid: it’s quite plausible that the signed agreement will define “a quasi-state that bears little similarity to the aspirations of most Palestinians.” But the state of Palestine could become a real state by gradually violating the restrictions in the agreement – as any other quasi-state would do. This post-agreement process of strengthening the Palestinian quasi-state into a truly sovereign state, by both legal and illegal means, would have the support of the entire world, except for the US and of course Israel.

      I think that, paradoxically, the Palestinians could achieve more by demanding less. Politics isn’t the shuk, where you demand an exorbitant price and then bargain down to what you’re really willing to accept. The only reason Palestinians don’t already have a state (or quasi-state, if you prefer) is that Israelis don’t believe that they would accept it as a permanent solution to the conflict. You’re right that committing to a two-state solution won’t give you exactly the state you’re demanding, but no other approach will give you anything at all, at least in the foreseeable future.

      Reply to Comment
      • sh

        “Politics isn’t the shuk, where you demand an exorbitant price and then bargain down to what you’re really willing to accept.”

        Actually it is. Among many other things that’s exactly how we form our coalitions. Political haggling they call it.

        Our starting position is “not ’67 borders, no settlement freeze and acknowledgement that Israel is a Jewish state”, theirs is “’67 borders and right of return”.

        Reply to Comment
        • Aaron Gross

          Coalition politics resembles the shuk, but international politics does not. The only reason Israel hasn’t withdrawn from most of the territories is that (some) Palestinians are demanding too much: all of Palestine. Israelis are quite willing to have a Palestinian state, but only if they make it clear that they will not try to get all of Palestine.

          This is supported by survey data of Israelis and Palestinians. Demand less, get more.

          Reply to Comment
          • I think Greater Israel rather much more likely than Total Palestine, but I think you are right. Since security will remain under Israeli control, sort of for the fear you note, common economic rules in what will remain essentially occupied areas is a viable focus. Call that the negotiated Palestinian State (in the Bank). Less can later become more.

            Reply to Comment
    7. Engelbert Luitsz

      Uri Avnery wrote:

      “The first question is: who will be the third person? It has been leaked that the leading candidate for this delicate task is Martin Indyk, a veteran former State Department officer.
      This is a problematic choice. Indyk is Jewish and very much involved in Jewish and Zionist activity. ”

      And:

      “Palestinians may well ask whether among the 300 million US citizens there is not a single non-Jew who can manage this job.”

      Indyk will surely remember what happened to Goldstone.

      Reply to Comment
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