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The peace industry’s slippery slope

The Left is mobilizing around the process while ignoring troubling signs: the dangerous dynamic of the Oslo/Camp David period is already here.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in the Oval Office, July 30, 2013. After failing to get any concession from Netanyahu, the Administration bullied the Palestinians into the talks (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

On Wednesday night, as members of the Israeli Knesset were getting ready to vote on a package of amendments that could push the Palestinian parties out of the Israeli parliament, political activists were conducting last-ditch efforts to persuade coalition members who previously opposed the bill to actually vote against it.

Only one did, former Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin, who called the new legislation what it is: not an attempt to improve government procedures, but part of a dangerous effort to deny the multi-cultural nature of Israeli society and further alienate the Palestinian population. A couple of other coalition members abstained.

Yet former Labor leaders Amram Mitzna and Amir Peretz, both opponents of the piece of legislation, voted “yes.” So did their party’s leader, Tzipi Livni, who rushed back from Washington – where she was attending meetings with Palestinians negotiators – in order to support the coalition. In fact, it was Livni’s tiny faction, Hatnua, that provided the necessary final votes for the bill that Avigdor Lieberman and Yair Lapid promoted.

Mitzna explained his act in a Facebook status he posted later. “Our party participated in the elections on one issue – the diplomatic process – and we did it big time… I wish those laws didn’t exist, but you can only influence from within.”

Mitzna wasn’t alone.The prevailing message on Thursday among the coalition’s “doves” was, “we got the talks, so we can agree to all these hiccups.” That was also the answer to critics of the referendum bill that passed that day, determining that any decision to withdraw from Israeli territory will need to be confirmed in a national referendum. According to the logic of the Israeli Right, ending the occupation and handing civil rights to millions of people is something Israelis get to decide; Palestinians should stand aside and hope for the best.

Earlier this week, the Maariv daily paper exposed a secret deal that allowed the passage of the government’s decision to release around 100 Palestinian prisoners. Prime Minister Netanyahu promised the settlers – in writing, apparently – that he would build several thousand new housing units in the West Bank. An American source also confirmed to Maariv that Israel never said it would stop settlement construction during the negotiations. Apparently, the administration agreed.


These are but three examples of the more troubling effects of the resumption of peace talks. After several difficult months, the Israeli Right is back on track, free to pursue its colonial projects and racist policies. The pressure is off Israel’s more centrist elements, while the settlers are being compensated for staying in a coalition that has agreed to sit down with the Palestinians.

All that wouldn’t be so frustrating if it weren’t for the cheers from the entire array of peace organizations in Israel and abroad – just as things are getting worse. Every other day, another public statement or mass email congratulates Secretary of State John Kerry for his “achievement,” urging us “not to give in to cynicism” and express our support for “the process.”

What exactly did Secretary Kerry achieve? After a three-year standoff in which Prime Minister Netanyahu demanded the administration roll back its insistence on a settlement freeze, then rejected the terms of reference reached in previous rounds of negotiations – including the internationally-accepted pre-1967 borders, and finally introduced a new, bizarre demand (the recognition of Israel “as a Jewish state”) – after all that, the State Department basically agreed to everything the Israeli Right wanted and then bullied the Palestinian Authority into negotiations.

The most striking part in all the reports about peace talks is that the U.S. administration didn’t get a single concession – not one – from Netanyahu (unless there are some secret deals we know nothing about). All Israel agreed to were “good-will gestures,” which have nothing to do with the issues at the heart of negotiations.

Yet One Voice, J Street and even Americans for Peace Now – who are usually smarter about these issues – are celebrating (along with other organizations). Along with liberal analysts and journalists, they are shifting their focus from the reality on the ground to the peace process, and warning against “skeptics” and “extremists.” So are politicians in the Israeli peace camp, from Livni’s party to the rebels in Labor, who are now trying to defeat party chairwoman Yacimovich and rush to enter the government. Don’t any of them remember the lesson of Oslo? That the “price” you pay in the process – from settlement construction to dealings with corrupt leadership – is the very thing that ends up destroying any chance for peace, human rights or justice?

This is exactly why so many people on the ground feared the moment that peace talks are renewed. Michael Sfard, the leading human rights attorney in Israel, told +972 last week that “the peace process has become a major enemy of human rights.” While the idea sounds counter-intuitive, it is a view shared by many people who fight to end the occupation – from field workers in the West Bank to the younger generations in Israeli leftist parties to activists on campuses; they all know that this week was but a preview of what lies ahead. And their own leadership could now undermine their hard work because they see their own political interests in supporting “the process.”

The role of the human rights community and peace activists is not to mobilize around the diplomatic process but to oppose the occupation, along with all forms of racism and discrimination on both sides of the Green Line. These are two different things, and they can often be at odds with each other – especially when the desire presents itself to ignore troubling signs in the name of the peace process. At such moments, the choice should be clear.

This week, the calls should have been louder against settlement activity, against the attack on Arab politicians and against plans to displace thousands of Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line. The shadow they might cast on the talks should be welcomed, not ignored or downplayed, because diplomacy can’t and shouldn’t exist in a bubble.

Ultimately, this is also the only way to make sure the peace process is honest, serious – and successful.

What went wrong? Learning from the mistakes of Oslo
Knesset approves bill that could push Arab parties out
A colonial addiction: The twisted logic of the Netanyahu government

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    1. XYZ

      Noam- I note that you repeated the myth that the increase in the electoral threshold is designed to “push the Arab parties out of the Knesset”. That was clearly shown to be incorrect in the earlier thread, that the Arab parties have enough joint electoral strength to pass the threshold easily.
      You could just as easily claimed that it was designed to “push hard-line Jewish nationalist parties out of the Knesset”, a good example being Dr Eldad’s “Netz” party that didn’t even pass the lower threshold. Please be more accurate in your reporting!

      Reply to Comment
    2. I don’t think there is any way “to make sure the peace process is honest, serious and successful.” The only purpose of the “peace process” is to obscure reality. It can never articulate the real intentions of any significant party. It caters to the facile, utopian fantasies of various contingents of useful idiots, the “youth” so celebrated by politicians, some perhaps members of mirage-like “movements” designed precisely for such as they. But that’s all. No well-informed adult could take it seriously. I always wonder how to classify individuals who seem to do so (I believe Yossi Beilin falls into this category). Are they psychologically blinkered, or are they insincere?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Kolumn9

      You are being very negative Noam. Cheer up. The peace process is here. You want peace, right? Or are you an anti-peace cynical skeptical extremist?

      I think we might be very close to another temporary/permanent intermediate/final accord. The peace train is just getting going and will run over the skeptics because let’s be honest here, how many articles expressing skepticism can you really write over the course of 9 months? At some point you too will get lost in the minutiae of negotiating positions – Jerusalem, refugees, etc..

      Reply to Comment
    4. Richard

      In all too predictable a fashion, the anti-Zionist/rejectionist camp’s co-option of “human rights” has drained almost all moral authority from the phrase whenever it is referenced in the context of a discussion about politics in Palestine/Israel. Very, very few people from the “human rights community” in Palestine/Israel understand the first thing about the history of or current state of human rights law, and even many of those who do, including lawyers, misrepresent the relevant standards and precedents. When you say “human rights community”, you’re just talking to yourselves. Outside your bubble, where people study the subject seriously, the idea that “human rights” provides answers to the big questions that Israelis and Palestinians have to improve their political situation, is absurd. Those who pretend otherwise are not really interested in ending the war between Israel and Palestine. You’re betraying both peoples and you’re betraying the cause of human rights.

      Reply to Comment
    5. David T.

      Are you from the anti-Humanist/rejectionist camp, Richard?

      Please elaborate what are the “relevant standard and precedents” of human rights, how they are misrepresented and why they don’t answer the “big questions”.

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    6. Richard Witty

      :told +972 last week that “the peace process has become a major enemy of human rights.” ”

      In the piece itself, Michael Sfard, wrote of human rights efforts. That quote was an aside, secondary, not the money quote as you identified by making that the headline.

      There is a phrase “pick your fights”. This fight over this law, using to ridicule, will end up making the critics look ridiculous.

      4% is the current threshold of parliamentary participation. It is NOT a change even.

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      • The current threshold is 2 percent.

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        • Richard Witty

          Thanks for the info. I asked in the other article on the same content, and no one answered.

          Is 4% a different shade of grey to you?

          Of those that have a threshold, 4% is a norm, Turkey at 10%, Germany 5%.

          Its definitely real, and might be for the purpose of excluding specific parties, but the threshold hits all, right and left, Zionist and anti-Zionist.

          As I’ve said a dozen times here, the majority of 972 writers urged that individuals not participate in the last elections.

          THAT is disenfranchisement.

          Reply to Comment
        • Richard Witty

          The way to reduce the danger of these opportunistic slippery slopes is to expedite the peace process, rather than hesitate.

          It is time to put one’s weight into it.

          Reply to Comment
    7. What I want to know is why, on your cover page, does the accompanying photo show Livni with 3 cups at her podium and none on the Palestinian representative’s podium.

      I see these talks as little more than negotiation over a more intergrated bantu government. If settlements were frozen now, with an understanding that the vanguard settlements must go, I might be able to force myself into hope. But the back door Bibi agreement with Bennett nixes that.

      So, Noam, all there is is human rights. As Greater Israel expands.

      Let me be wrong.

      Reply to Comment
      • susu

        The only reason why the 3 glasses of water were on zipi livni’s podium is that she could serve them to the 2males. Welcome to the middle east.

        Reply to Comment
        • Good reply.

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    8. shani

      After sitting through a OneVoice presentation in Ramallah I am extremely uneasy about this Organization – especially how they seem to have a knack for recruiting vulnerable Palestinian youth. I looked at their board and funding source and they seem a far cry from the “grassroots” org. they presented. I am especially concerned when any organization promotes alienation from family and community as a positive – Quite honesty all of the young adults in OneVoice sounded a little brainwashed – I have come to the conclusion this is not an altruistic organization, that is a no brainer, but Am I the only one concerned about their tactics – seriously it was weird like lululemon weird.

      Reply to Comment