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Endgame: Conditions for the success and failure of the peace process

What does the possibly-revived peace process John Kerry announced on Friday have going for it?

– “Diplomatic Tsunami” – a catch-phrase that stands for high-level global isolation of Israel as punishment for its policies is the great fear on everyone’s mind in Israel this week. Israel is smarting from a recent spate of symbolic blows highlighting international opprobrium in new and painful ways: Stephen Hawking refusing to attend the President’s conference, and the new EU guidelines are two very significant examples of very mainstream figures increasingly putting actions behind words Israel has come to ignore.

– Palestinian power play. The Palestinian situation is dire (a tired old phrase that makes it no less real). But this time, I am referring not to people, but to the political level. There are concerns of an Arab-Spring style uprising that might not be solely directed at Israel; Fatah is concerned about losing all traces of credibility; Hamas is concerned by the unraveling relationship with Iran, and the increasing detachment from Egypt. Both Fatah and Hamas desperately need to shore up support through large breakthroughs, and the talks might be an opportunity. Hamas has already dropped hints at a more pragmatic, less extreme political positioning.

– The shadow of one state: The Zionist left has tried for some time to scare Israelis into demanding peace by raising the specter of one-state and the demographic takeover by Palestinians, should Israel’s current policies continue. The argument didn’t work well, because mainstream Israelis listen mainly to the right. But now, prominent figures on the right are openly abandoning the long-established two-state paradigm and embracing various forms of annexation-or-apartheid policies, from Reuven Rivlin, to Tzipi Hotovely, to Naftali Bennet and Danny Danon. Two top-rated Friday night television news items recently have explored what one state would really mean, and that maybe Israelis will finally consider the two-state approach with some urgency.

– Truth in numbers: For those who like the numbers game, there about 6 million Jews in Israel, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. The West Bank has about 2.6 million people and Gaza roughly 1.7 million (according to July 2013 figures from the CIA World Factbook, for those who don’t trust other sources). Now add to that 1.6 million Arabs in Israel (according to the same Israeli CBS publication). That’s 5.9 million total Arabs/Palestinians. In other words, the Jewish and Palestinian populations between the river and the sea will be roughly equal in size. There can be no talk of inequality – not of rights, representation, immigration policy or resource distribution – in this context. Not that there can be such inequality no matter how small a minority is (and that’s why I personally don’t play the numbers game). It’s just that with equal-sized groups, a lack of equality risks not just apartheid but civil war.

What’s working against the success of the process?

– All sticks, no carrots: The points above are almost entirely push-factors, dire consequences if progress is not made. And maybe that’s what it takes. But the most recent breakthrough (partial, fragile and problematic) toward the resolution of an old and intractable conflict – between Serbia and Kosovo – hints at the opposite. It  was Serbia’s urgent desire to advance towards EU membership that drove the most nationalist government since the fall of Milosevic to effect a concession on Kosovo, their Jerusalem. It is troubling to consider that Israel, the stronger party, has no such carrot: it has entered all the clubs where it needs to be a member. And threats of boycott or shut-out, while grabbing Israelis’ attention, also tend to make them more resilient and defiant in their positions.

– Endgame – a mirage? Nobody in Washington wants to hear this but the truth cannot be avoided: Gaza may not have changed, but this is not the same West Bank of 1993 when Oslo was signed, it is not the same one from 2000 when the Camp David talks failed, and it is not even the same West Bank from the time of Ehud Olmert’s Annapolis offer of 2008. The sheer number of Israeli settlers has “surged” since Netanyahu’s previous term.  Israeli control over Area C has deepened and squeezed out Palestinian life there (remember, this is fully 60 percent of the West Bank). Ariel, a finger in the eye of the potential Palestinian state is increasingly permanent and institutionalized, and with its university and cultural center, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Netanyahu regularly threatens to build in E-1, which would effectively bisect the West Bank, and whenever things look tough, the government resorts to the possibility of building more settlements. I am not sure there’s a Palestinian state to be had.

– Troubled Palestinian leadership. Who is representing the people who must live with the agreement? This problem relates primarily to the Palestinians, since Israelis just keep giving Netanyahu his mandate, freely and fairly. And his rhetorical (if not de facto) support for a two-state solution means that no Israeli can accuse him of a bait-and-switch on the Israeli public. But Abbas and the Palestinian Authority have little-to-zero institutional credibility, since elections have not been held for seven years. Palestinians are commonly heard sneering that the PA is an occupation contractor for Israel, and an intolerably repressive regime. Many have little love for Hamas too. But as the second most important representative, for better or for worse, how genuine can a process be without Hamas somewhere in the picture?

In sum, I am now agnostic on the ‘best’ solution. If the leaders reach an agreement that they truly believe will be an improvement on the status quo, I would sign on the dotted line, because anything is better. And negotiated resolutions are better than unilateral. But the near-parity between facilitating factors and obstacles will make this a very tough course.

Barring a miracle, Kerry’s breakthrough is bad news

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    1. The standard reply in rightest logic, which will soon appear on this page, is that Gaza is Egyptian, the Bank remnant Jordanian. Without Palestinian nationalism, Gaza could indeed turn out that way. But such nationalism will be used within the Bank as a nulllifying card against elite agreement.

      “Palestinians are commonly heard sneering that the PA is an occupation contractor for Israel, and an intolerably repressive regime”–that is, a bantu client.

      I think Greater Israel has won. The US will probably offer to subsidize market growth via Jordan, but I cannot see Israel ever allowing the PA to be anything but a bantu client.

      Dahlia notes Bibi has just been given a new mandate. But his party actually lost seats. All mass democracies are to some extent elite games, but I think a parliamentary multi-group party structure can become quite detached from the electorate, which finds just another slightly different ruling mix after elections. A plebicite might be the only way to break the coalition game.

      Reply to Comment
      • sh

        “The standard reply in rightest logic, which will soon appear on this page,…”

        They’ve been conspicuously silent since the EU announced its intentions and published its guidelines, don’t you think? I’d hoped Mister Szyster might wish to update us in the light of his deep knowledge of Europe and claims he made not long ago concerning what really preoccupies Europe (the economy, he said) – and what he claimed absolutely doesn’t (ME peace, he said).

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    2. Greg – re; Bibi’s mandate – my point is that Israelis elected representatives, legitimately, who support a two state solution. Likud-Beitenu still won the elections 9 %-points above runner up – so his leadership is legit. Second two parties – both two-state supporters in theory. Altogether, 83 seats went to parties supporting 2states (Likud/beitenu, yesh Atid, Labor, haTnua, Meretz, Kadima, Hadash) not including Shas, which has sometimes supported policy steps in this direction. So it’s clear enough that Israelis gave their gov, led by Bibi, a mandate to do this.

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      • I guess I see “Two States” as mouthed by some these parties as variants of Greater Israel. The “mandate” at voting seems to me little more than “keep up the fight,” not a resolved intent to settle something. I recall Nusseibeh suggesting a common vote day where both sides are asked “do you want peace negotiations to begin?”. If both the Israeli and Palestinian electorates said yes, this would be not so much a mandate on the elites as forcing them to act. I see Bibi’s mandate as a resolution for group coaltion stability, not as intent to solve anything; much of the time, coaltion stability means not solving anything. But I take your meaning.

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        • I think it’s a mistake to take “Kerry’s breakthrough” at all seriously. It’s just a media stunt. Netanyahu’s motivation to pay lip service to the “two state solution” is just that of playing for time. Israel’s strategy on the international stage regarding the Palestinians has always been to play for time, while the “facts on the ground” continue to advance. That is why you have this particular balance between top leadership saying yes and lower leadership saying no. It allows the Likud-led coalition to retain the confidence of its electorate, which overwhelmingly dismisses any idea of a Palestinian state, and increasingly feels that it doesn’t matter what the rest of the world thinks, because Israel has enough power to do what it pleases. And it saves the appearances on the international level, where I feel quite certain that no one takes it seriously, not Kerry, not Bibi and not Mahmoud Abbas.

          Reply to Comment
      • BaladiAkka48

        “Althogether 83 seats went to parties supporting 2states”
        Does anyone in their right mind really believe that Likud/Beitenu actually supports a two-State solution ?
        Not to forget that Danny Danon was recently elected to the Likud Politburo Leadership just as Israel-bomb-Gaza-until-they-all-flee-to-Egypt-Katz.
        IMEU: Fact Sheets: The Israeli Government and the Two State Solution”. If people have any illusions about Likud, read the ‘In their own words’-section:

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    3. Richard Witty

      The formation of an agreement is in reality the formation of a proposal, to be ratified by legislatures and then by populace.

      In the case of Israel, there is a responsibly elected legislature. In Palestine there is none, and in order for a legislature to ratify an agreement they would first have to elect a legislature.

      While the Palestinian status can be blamed on Israel, the absence of a Palestinian legislature results in nothing happening at all, literally.

      If war or terror is the ultimate result, Palestinians will be further displaced. Armed resistance in any form will result in annexation of area C, and acceptance of that status by the EU and others.

      The only path forward is the positive path, the “resistance” path of those in Israel that organize “I love Palestinians” campaigns, and/or “I love Iranians” and their counterparts in Palestine and Iran.

      Revolutionary in breaking the cycle, destroying the dysfunctional marriage psychological complex that constructs mutual abuse.

      Revolutionary in seeing the other as human, and seeing one’s own community as human (a different “other” to a revolutionary).

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      • I think I can extrapolate from Witty’s reasoning to say that renewed suicide bombing, which strikes deep into Israel, would insure One State as outcome. This will not, however, prevent renewed civil resistence in the Bank. All paths seem to One State. Perhaps the US, if could foster a true economic zone affiliated as much with Jordan as Israel, could shift future possibility. Even in this case, though, Israel will trump on security (IDF deployments) which again primes things toward One State. I just see no way out.

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    4. Mareli

      I favor a two-state solution and I believe most Israelis and Palestinians do also. I also think both states should have secular governments because otherwise there would be religious strife would be seen as in Syria and Iraq.

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    5. Johnboy

      You appear to be suffering under the same misconception as so many others i.e. that final-status negotiations take place between the Government of Israel (GoI) and the Palestinian Authority (PA) and, therefore, the legitimacy of PA office-holders is an issue.

      Sorry, wrong.

      The PA is not going to be involved in these negotiations, nor were they involved at Annapolis nor at Camp David.

      The. PA. Does. Not. Get. An. Invite.

      It is the PLO that negotiates on final-status, precisely because it is their executive body (the PNC) that is the provisional government of the state of Palestine.

      Not the PA, which is nothing more than a local council that is allowed to operate on the continued sufferance of the IDF commander in the West Bank (and even then only in Areas A and B, but not in the 60% that is Area C).

      That’s all the PA is.
      That’s all the PA has ever been.
      That’s all the PA claims to be.

      Reply to Comment