The moment Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to send emissaries to Washington to discuss the resumption of 20-year-old peace talks, the objective of the talks was achieved. To anyone not in a coma, it is clear that these talks will not lead to peace, and in fact might not even lead to peace talks, merely to talks about resuming talks.
What, then, is the objective of the talks?
Of course, both parties have particular motives for participating, which have been discussed at length by many pundits on the subject. In the case of John Kerry and the Obama administration, it is to do the impossible – to bring the parties together to the table. It is a sign of the bankruptcy of the effort that after twenty years this is considered a major achievement.
For Mahmoud Abbas, it is the chance to appear to be at once Salaheddine, the defender of Jerusalem for Palestinians and the Arab world, and the “good” and “reasonable” Palestinian to the West. He recognizes the skepticism of both of his audiences, but what choice does he have? His other choice is to be sidelined and irrelevant and to potentially lose his most positive role as distributor of largesse from the U.S. and Europe if his funds are cut off as a result of his failure to follow the US order to participate in the talks.
For Netanyahu, the talks are an opportunity to appear less intransigent while remaining just as intransigent as ever. This means making some potential gains in public opinion in the West and at home just by showing up, while not losing his hardcore constituency at home. In fact, he can show the most skeptical fascists in his administration that he already wiped away all the (admittedly few) agreements concluded by previous Israeli administrations in the last twenty years, thereby returning the talks to square one. This was achieved by Kerry agreeing that “everything is on the table” while promising Abbas that the talks would begin where they last left off, the equivalent of putting a square peg in a round hole when both are made of porcelain.
However, the real purpose of the talks is inherent in their hopelessness: to once again stage the ritual passion play, with Abbas representing Palestinians in the role of Satan, and to make sure he knows his lines. The U.S. receives praise for offering the play; Israel gets praised as the hero; and the audience unites around their contempt for the Palestinian villains. This is what is known as the peace process, and it must be repeated periodically in order to assure the tradition.
None of this is new. It has been part of Middle East history since long before the 1993 start of the “peace process”. In fact, the U.S. can draw on its history of broken treaties with Indian nations in North America, all of whom were blamed for their own demise. Abbas is the equivalent of Indian trustees selected by U.S. authorities to distribute beans and rotten meat on which the remainder of the tribe survived. Don’t blame him; he doesn’t want to deprive them of their only sustenance.
Therein lies the dilemma for Palestinians: to rid themselves of the Palestinian Authority (if they can) or to accept their gradual ethnic cleansing as inevitable and to make the best of it in the meantime.
Will the world come to their rescue? International solidarity is growing, but it does not appear to have significantly slowed the Palestinian demise, and most governments in the world, including Arab governments, are worst than useless, not to say collaborationist or driving the process.
The talks have therefore already achieved their objective: to assure that Palestinians will once again be blamed for their failure and that they will be responsible for the next horror that Israel visits upon them. The rest is opera.
Paul Larudee is a writer and human rights advocate, and one of the co-founders of the movement to break the siege of Gaza by sea.