What we’re doing in the Middle East isn’t working. In fact, it’s making things worse.
That’s the upshot of a letter from a group of 19 prominent Europeans to the E.U.’s top foreign policy official, Lady Catherine Ashton. The former officials, drawing on their time as top policy-makers in European governments, urged Ashton to break with past policies and make bold changes in the way the E.U. classifies various facets of the concept. The signers—organized by the European Eminent Persons Group on the Middle East Peace Process—implied that while the E.U. has a record of solid statements on the conflict, these statements just aren’t enough.
The “peace process” has a long history. Depending on whom you ask, it will be described as the last best chance for the “just and lasting” Israeli/Palestinian peace hoped for in UNSC 242 (1967)—or it will be described as a sham devised by Israeli politicians and acquiesced in by the USA—and also by the EU in the view of the 19, the European Eminent Persons Group on the Middle East Peace Process. It is seen by many people as a sham, namely, as a way, continuously over many years, for Israel to appear to be negotiating toward peace whilst actually grabbing Palestinian private and public territory and dispossessing the Palestinians of the occupied territories much as Israel earlier dispossessed the Palestinian remnant, the 15%, who remained inside Israel after the war of 1948.
It appears that the 19, the European Eminent Persons Group on the Middle East Peace Process, have come to the conclusion that the second is the correct view and that the “peace process” should be scrapped. Politicians do not come to the announcement of such a view overnight. Presumably the desire to look like loyal members of the government kept these 19 quiet for the years of their service, and presumably even more years went by before—as a group—they formulated their position and took the plunge on publicly “pulling aside the curtain” and revealing Israel (much as the Great Oz was revealed in the movie “The Wizard of Oz”) as the wolf (never mind any little fox analogies) guarding the chicken coop.
I am in agreement with the 19 as to the inutility—as to peacemaking, that is—of “The Peace Process”.
If not useful for peace-making, however, the “peace process” was obviously quite useful for other things. It prevented peace, for one thing. It provided entire well-paid diplomatic careers for the peace process-iteers over many years. It allowed the Israeli settlement project to run rough-shod over the occupied territories. It gave American politicians a way to look moral and ethical (by busying themselves with peace processing) while, in fact, they licked the boots of AIPAC and watched Israel usurp most of the occupied territories (the occupied Palestinian territories being, themselves, before usurpation, only 22%, including Gaza, of the Palestine of 1947). And finally, a matter to which I shall return, the “peace process” allowed Israel and the USA either to destroy the international law of belligerent (military) occupation, or to place it on life support.
So, yes, I agree with the 19. The “peace process” was a sham and worse.
But even as I agree with “the 19”, I also criticize them.
What is the use, I wonder, of daring to speak out about the transparent nonsense of the emperor’s not-so-new-anymore clothes, if you then so temper your speaking out as to miss the most important thing to be said?
What needs to be said is that Israel’s settlement project, the thing that was happening while peace was not being achieved over more than 40 years, has simultaneously been an attack on the human rights of the Palestinian people living under occupation and, also, a violation of international law. Indeed, Israel’s settlement project has been known to be a violation of international law by all international lawyers, and has been said to be such except by the pro-settlement camp in Israel and the USA. Indeed, Israel’s occupation has been so blatant a violation of international law for such a long time (nearly 45 years) that the failure by the international community to act to enforce the law has amounted almost to “repeal by neglect” of that law.
In that sense, the combined Israeli/USA violation of international law and prevention (by USA’s veto) of UNSC action to enforce the law has for practical purposes trashed the law.
The UNSC demanded that Israel remove all settlers and dismantle all settlements in UNSC 465 (1980). The International Court of Justice mentioned that the settlements were illegal in its advisory opinion of July 9, 2004, which declared that Israel’s separation wall (“apartheid wall”) was illegal and was required by international law to be dismantled. See What UNSC-465 and ICJ 7-2004 actually say, by Peter Belmont. But neither UNSC 465 nor ICJ-2004 had enforcement provisions. Neither had “teeth”. They were thus examples of what, above, I called “mere words”.
It is apparent to me that, by the words of the UNSC and by analogy with the holding of the ICJ (2004), the settlements are illegal, the settlers should be removed from the occupied territories, the settlement buildings should be razed or dismantled, and the separation (“apartheid”) wall should be dismantled.
It is also apparent to me that demanding that Israel do these things, and backing the demands up with punitive sanctions for non-compliance (UNSC 465 had no sanctions and Israel ignored it), would vastly improve the human rights situation for the Palestinians who live under occupation and, perhaps, might motivate Israel to do something they appear never to have considered doing in the 45 years since 1967—negotiate a just and lasting peace with the Palestinians. For, if the Israelis were facing or actually experiencing punitive sanctions, they would at least seriously consider negotiating in good faith—in the hope to retain some of the settlements).
What do the 19 say about the settlements?
A realistic but active policy, set in the context of current regional events, needs to be composed of the following elements:
* an insistence that Israeli settlements beyond the 1967 lines are illegal, must cease being expanded and will not be recognised as one of the starting points in any new negotiations;
* a clear and concerted effort to counter the erasing of the 1967 lines as the basis for a two-state outline. This should include a clear distinction in EU dealings with Israel between what is legitimate – within the 1967 lines – and what violates international law in the Occupied Territories.
The 19 said a bit more, though not about settlements:
For all the good sense of EU statements on this issue over the years, the EU’s inactivity in the face of an increasingly dangerous stagnation is both unprincipled and unwise. European leaders cannot wait for ever for action from the United States when the evidence accumulates of American failure to recognise and promote the equal status of Israelis and Palestinians in the search for a settlement, as accepted in United Nations resolutions.
So, in a nut-shell, the 19 do not make even a flutter of a case for international action aimed at requiring Israel to remove the existing settlers, settlements, and wall.
The 19, having bravely decided at long last to “speak truth to power” temporized and decided that a little truth is enough. They said, in effect, the settlements are illegal, but Israel may keep them providing it does not expand them. And Israel may not make the existing (or dreamed-of) settlements a basis for negotiation. But, otherwise, to the victor remain the spoils—let international law be damned.
Indeed, when one considers the realities of committee-work and of politics, and especially of international politics, one must recognize—with thanks—the efforts, doubtless against great odds, that “the 19” made to come to the agreement that they did, and to speak such truth to power as they managed—corporately—to speak. They must have considered calling for the dismantlement of the settlements and failed to do so only due to internal disagreements. When I criticize “the 19”, I am criticizing their result, not the good intentions and clear thinking of many of their number.
So, the 19 have made a good start, and I am glad they did, and I wish them good luck with it. But it is pretty thin gruel. It does not present a plan for EU diplomacy which—if adopted by the EU—would have any chance of changing Israel’s behavior.
It is, in short, “mere words”, just like so many UNSC resolutions, and just like the ICJ’s 2004 advisory opinion, which Israel (and the EU and all other nations) have so far ignored and show every sign of ignoring until the end of time.
Peter Belmont is a writer living in Brooklyn. He can be reached through his website.
 Some of them seem to have hopes of keeping those careers going. See Why Europe Can’t Bring Peace To The Middle East, by Elliott Abrams.
 ”We have watched with increasing disappointment over the past five years the failure of the parties to start any kind of productive discussion, and of the international community under American and/or European leadership to promote such discussion. We have also noted with frustration and deep concern the deteriorating standards of humanitarian and human rights care of the population in the Occupied Territories. * * * Yet the present political stalemate, while the situation deteriorates on the ground, is unsustainable, given the disturbed politics of the region and the bitterness generated by the harsh conditions of life under the Occupation. * * * The steady increase in the extent and population of Israeli settlements, including in East Jerusalem, and the entrenchment of Israeli control over the OT in defiance of international law, indicate a permanent trend towards a complete dislocation of Palestinian territorial rights.” (the 19)