FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Flawed Logic of the Peace Talks

by JONATHAN COOK

Nazareth.

It may not have reached the level of fevered expectation unleashed by that famous handshake between Israeli and Palestinian leaders on the White House lawn in 1993, but the sense of hope inspired by the long-awaited revival of peace talks is both tangible and deeply misplaced.

The talks, which it was agreed this week will begin in earnest in the region in mid-August, are taking place not because either Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, or the Palestnian president, Mahmoud Abbas, believe a deal is in reach. The two sides are talking each to avoid being blamed for embarrassing John Kerry, the US secretary of state.

The mistaken mood of “change is in the air” was illustrated last week by a much-touted poll showing that 55 per cent of Israelis would vote for an agreement if presented with it, with 25 per cent opposed. Overlooked was the fact that many more Israelis – 70 per cent – believe an agreement cannot be reached, while 60 per cent say the reason is that Netanyahu will never partition the land.

Palestinians are no more sanguine. A recent poll revealed a measly 8 per cent had any degree of trust in the US as mediator.

But if ordinary Israelis and Palestinians are either despondent or uninterested, their leaders and many observers are talking up the chances of a breakthrough.

In part, this optimism is underpinned by the European Union’s unexpected and largely symbolic decision recently to penalise the settlements. From next year, the EU is supposed to deny funding to Israeli institutions in the occupied territories.

This is a bitter pill for Israel to swallow, and it is already seeking to punish Europe. Last weekend it emerged that the Israeli military was denying EU staff access to Gaza, and blocking European projects in Area C, the nearly two-thirds of the West Bank exclusively controlled by Israel.

But while Europe’s move has infuriated Israel, it looks suspiciously like it paved Netanyahu’s way to the negotiating table.

Israel and its supporters have long cultivated the idea that strong-arm tactics, such as boycotts and sanctions, only serve to push the Israeli public and politicians further to the right. This has been the US and Europe’s rationale for treating Israel with kid gloves since the Oslo process began two decades ago.

And yet the EU’s anti-settlement initiative suggests the opposite to be true. Both Netanyahu and Abbas hurried into the talks in the wake of the EU announcement – and for much the same reason.

For Netanyahu, Europe’s move was a stick he wielded to frighten into compliance those to his right in the government. He could argue persuasively that continuing Israeli intransigence on talks would only intensify the country’s isolation – the substance of his opaque references to “Israel’s strategic interests”.

Israel has much more to fear from the Palestinians outside the confines of a bogus peace process. There is the threat of the Palestinians building the momentum for further sanctions from bodies like the EU, or of their again taking their case for statehood to the United Nations, or of their referral of Israel to the International Criminal Court at the Hague for war crimes.

For Abbas, the same EU decision was a carrot used to disarm critics who have been warning that the revival of futile negotiations will damage the Palestinian national cause. Claiming the Europeans had forced Israel on to the backfoot, Abbas could argue that the moment had finally arrived to negotiate.

Uncharacteristically, the US has not appeared overly troubled by Israel’s patent displeasure at the sudden stiffening of EU resolve. Or as a senior US official told the Israeli media: “The Europeans are giving us the time and allowing us to try and get the talks going.”

But while the US, Europe, Netanyahu and even Abbas will gain some breathing space from months of empty talk about peace, there is no sign that the pressure bringing Israel to the table will continue once it is seated.

The most worrying indication that the US is heading down the same failed path is the announcement of Martin Indyk’s return as mediator. Indyk, a long-time Israel lobbyist, has been intimately tied to previous diplomatic failures.

In addition, the negotiators themselves are the same compromised figures who have been down this route before. The Palestine Papers, leaked by Al-Jazeera in 2011, revealed that in earlier talks Palestinian negotiatior Saeb Erekat had dared to give away far more than observers had ever imagined possible, while even these generous concessions had failed to satisfy Israel’s Tzipi Livni.

There is also something puzzling about a peace process driven by a nine-month timetable rather than the logic of the negotiations. A possible motivation for the White House’s desire to drag out the talks was suggested by an official on Wednesday: the US desperately wants to avoid the “train wreck” of the Palestinians returning to the UN.

Another barometer for judging the chances of a breakthrough are the relaxed smiles of Netanyahu’s far-right ministers, who are clearly undisturbed by thoughts that the settlements are in imminent jeopardy.

In fact, quite the reverse. Israel has announced it will build 1,000 settler homes over the coming months, in addition to continuing private construction. A train line linking the settlements to Israeli towns, making them even more accessible and attractive, has also been unveiled.

Regarding the peace process, Kerry has previously warned that there is “a year, a year-and-a-half, or two years and it’s over”. But what would “over” actually entail?

For one thing, someone will have to be blamed and all past evidence suggests that the someone in question will be the Palestinians. For another, Netanyahu will be able to argue that, just as Kerry feared, the peace process is dead. No Palestinian leadership, he will claim, will ever be capable of making peace.

That may prove a tempting moment for Israel to carry out the much-longed-for annexation of Area C, the bulk of the West Bank and the site of the settlements. With as few as 100,000 Palestinians left in Area C after decades of ethnic cleansing, Israel can offer them citizenship without threatening the state’s hallowed Jewishness.

Not only would such a move satisfy Netanyahu’s hunger for more Palestinian land, but it would solve another problem, this time for Europe and the US. They would no longer have to fret about boycotting the settlements; annexation would mean there were no more settlements to oppose.

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books).  His new website is www.jonathan-cook.net.

A version of this article first appeared in The National, Abu Dhabi.

 

 

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 28, 2017
Behrooz Ghamari Tabrizi
A Paradigm Shift in the Middle East: Iran as the Solution, Not the Problem
Paul Street
Big Brother Capitalism Strikes Back
Stephen Cooper
Trump’s Pusillanimous Immigration Policy Imperils the Public and the Police
Vincent Emanuele
The Madness of U.S. Empire
Michael Sainato and Chelsea Skojec
We Need the Endangered Species Act Now More Than Ever
David Underhill
Oops, They Did It Again: Crowd Bowls Over Rep in Beery Alley
John Eskow
Jimmy Kimmel is a Total Dick and Other Reflections on the Oscars
Steve Horn
Trump’s Top Energy Aide, Mike Catanzaro Peddled Climate Change Denial
Jack Random
The Trump Diaries: Week Five
Robert Fisk
The Education of Marine Le Pen
Pauline Murphy
Felicia Browne’s Fight Against Fascism
Mary Lynn Cramer
Fearing the Trump Impeachment
Mel Gurtov
While Our Attention is Elsewhere, Climate Change Worsens
Dan Bacher
Extinction 2017: California Edition
Abel Cohen
The Trojan President: America Never Saw It Coming
February 27, 2017
Anthony DiMaggio
Media Ban! Making Sense of the War Between Trump and the Press
Dave Lindorff
Resume Inflation at the NSC: Lt. General McMaster’s Silver Star Was Essentially Earned for Target Practice
Conn Hallinan
Is Trump Moderating US Foreign Policy? Hardly
Norman Pollack
Political Castration of State: Militarization of Government
Kenneth Surin
Inside Dharavi, a Mumbai Slum
Lawrence Davidson
Truth vs. Trump
Binoy Kampmark
The Extradition Saga of Kim Dotcom
Robert Fisk
Why a Victory Over ISIS in Mosul Might Spell Defeat in Deir Ezzor
David Swanson
Open Guantanamo!
Ted Rall
The Republicans May Impeach Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Why Should Trump―or Anyone―Be Able to Launch a Nuclear War?
Andrew Stewart
Down with Obamacare, Up with Single Payer!
Colin Todhunter
Message to John Beddington and the Oxford Martin Commission
David Macaray
UFOs: The Myth That Won’t Die?
Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail