Proximity Talks?

We are told that President Obama has taken a leap of political faith in trying to bridge a final peace settlement between Palestinians and Israelis.  The United States’ new weapon is “proximity talks”: if either side fails to meet American expectations, the US will squarely and publicly lay blame.  If this was a sitcom it would be the opportune time to crack up laughing; regretfully this is not the case.  Real people – whole generations – of Palestinians are on the verge of being locked into another decade of protracted and violent military occupation.  Many Israelis’ lives and hopes are at stake as well.

It has been reported in Ha’aretz that President Obama submitted a letter of commitment to the Palestinian side to get these indirect “proximity talks” off the ground.  The letter notes, “Our core remains a viable, independent and sovereign Palestinian State with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967.”  This is not the first time a US administration has used its creativity in creating new terminology to deal with the conflict instead of relying on the time-tested body of international law that provides the keys to real progress. In the past, in place of “independent state” the US has attached such adjectives to the word “state” as “contiguous,” “viable,” “economically viable,” “territorial continuity,” and the like.  In his use of words, President Obama has just picked up where the failures of past administrations left off.

International law clearly defines what an independent state is and any attempt to redefine it is an act of bad faith.

Israeli failed state

The timing of the US move toward new talks is rather conspicuous as well.  Israel is proving itself to be a ‘failed state’; a ‘rogue state’ which has become a liability to its allies. How are its leaders greeting this latest move?

None other than Israeli Ministry of Defense, Major General Ehud Barak, who was behind the failed Camp David peace talks back in 2000 and the 2008/2009 onslaught in Gaza, recently made a bold statement while addressing a policy conference in Israel.  He said, “If, and as long as between the Jordan and the sea, there is only one political entity, named Israel, it will end up being either non-Jewish or non-democratic … If the Palestinians vote in elections, it is a binational state, and if they don’t, it is an apartheid state.” (Herzliya Conference 2/2/2010)
Yes, even Israel’s currently serving top brass is using the “A” word.  Only a short few years ago, any Israeli politician would shiver at someone making the comparison between Israeli actions against Palestinians and South African Apartheid.

Another round of US diplomatic acrobatics is just what is needed to introduce a new red herring.

Palestinian leadership

The Palestinian leadership has historically failed to understand that the US’ “special relationship” with Israel will require countering through much more serious mobilization, organizing, and activism to complement their diplomatic efforts.  After the utter failure of the US-sponsored (and micro-managed) Oslo peace process, anyone treating the US as a neutral mediator must be suffering from some form of delirium, all the more so if they are Palestinians.

The US has armed Israel to the teeth, including allowing it to develop a deadly arsenal of nuclear and chemical weapons, not to mention their turning a blind eye on Israel’s outright refusal to sign the non-nuclear proliferation treaty.

The US funds Israel to the tune of $7 million a day, every day!

The US has used its UN Security Council veto power in the service of covering up for Israeli war crimes spanning from Beirut to Gaza.

The US congress regularly passes non-binding resolutions that incite and provoke more violence against Palestinians.  The most recent of these embarrassing resolutions was one that dismissed out-of-hand the findings of the UN’s fact-finding mission led by world renowned Jewish and Zionist Judge Richard Goldstone.

The US took sides in this conflict long ago and any backroom negotiations are bound to produce the same results as previous attempts – a reflection of the might is right equation on the ground today in the Holy Land.  If anyone should know better, it should be the Palestinian leadership.

A Way Out

Negotiations do not always need to be doomed to failure.  There is a way the US could play a positive role if they could free themselves from the bear hug the Israeli lobby has on the US political system.

The internationally recognized reference point of international law is the only guiding light that can produce an equitable (not necessarily just) resolution to the conflict.  The occupation started in 1967 is merely one part of the problem.  The refugees created when Israel was established in 1948 are another, as is the institutional discrimination against non-Jews in Israel.  International law addresses all these problems.

For starters, before trying to find the button to solve all issues in one push (a strategy that has failed multiple times) the US could demand that those items that are absolutely clear in international law be acted upon.

All elements (and there are plenty) of the 1967 Israeli occupation that can be ended should be immediately ended.  The siege on Gaza, Jewish-only settlements, the separation barrier built on Palestinians lands, draconian restrictions on Palestinian movement and access, etc., should be removed or ended immediately, so that genuine peace talks can begin in earnest to resolve this historic catastrophe once and for all.

Allowing Israel to hold every piece of the conflict hostage until some yet-to-be found final status resolution is reached is a recipe for more of the same death and destruction.

President Obama has taken the leap; let’s hope he finds some remaining Palestinian ground to land on. Given his new commitment, if he fails, I wonder if he is willing to lay blame where it duly resides for Israel’s continued rogue action—in Washington D.C.

SAM BAHOUR is a Palestinian-American businessman from Youngstown, Ohio who lives in the  occupied West Bank and is co-editor of “Homeland: Oral History of Palestine and  Palestinians.” He may be reached at




Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business consultant and frequent independent political commentator from Ramallah/Al-Bireh in Occupied Palestine. He blogs at @SamBahour