The Peace Process Is Frozen, But Israel Is Winning

Nothing has changed, except that America has moved closer to the Israeli position.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected sometime in the coming weeks to weigh in decisively on the Israeli-Palestinian talks he’s been shepherding, and the reports, statements and signs are that he will come down on Israel’s side like no American mediator ever has. Indications are he will present the outline of a deal that’s less forthcoming to the Palestinians than the offers presented them by Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert in 2008 and premier Ehud Barak in 2001. In other words, the emerging American “framework agreement” appears to ask the Palestinians to accept peace terms that are worse than the Israeli ones they already rejected.

This doesn’t mean anything for the chances of a peace agreement, though, because no such chance has ever been sighted, not six months ago when the talks, scheduled for nine months, began and certainly not now, when the bad blood between the Israeli and Palestinian sides has only increased. But seeing as how the talks were hopeless, the goal of each side has been to make sure that the other side ends up with the blame for their inevitable failure. If Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comes out looking like the rejectionist, it would accelerate the growing boycott, sanctions and divestment (BDS) movement against Israel, especially in Europe, and put the wind at Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ back in his diplomatic campaign in the United Nations, which envisages bringing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to The Hague. But if, on the other hand, Abbas gets blamed, then the Palestinians would be thrown on the defensive and Israel would be able to breathe much easier.

The import, then, of a heavily “pro-Israel” U.S. proposal is that it would all but compel the Palestinians to reject it, putting the blame – at least in American eyes – on them. The recent momentum of the anti-occupation movement would likely be blunted. Thus, the effect of Kerry’s incredibly dogged efforts and evident good intentions would be to strengthen the status quo – Israel’s 46-year military rule over the Palestinians – weaken the opposition to it and even further darken the dimming prospect of a Palestinian state arising alongside the State of Israel.

This is the opposite of what Kerry had in mind when he set out on his mission. But it’s exactly what Netanyahu has been playing for. And it appears the earnest, optimistic American has been played.

According to Thomas Friedman’s New York Times column last week, which basically confirmed earlier reports in the Israeli and Palestinian media, Kerry’s proposal – a kind of memorandum of understanding from which Israelis and Palestinians would negotiate toward a final agreement – includes “unprecedented” security arrangements for Israel along the Jordan Valley, which runs inside the eastern border of the envisioned Palestinian state. This signals that Israeli soldiers would be stationed on the territory of a Palestinian state for many years, something Olmert never asked for and which the Palestinians have rejected out of hand as a continuation of Israeli military control over their land.

Furthermore, the U.S. offer reportedly does not call for any Palestinian refugees from the seminal 1948 war to be able to return to Israel proper (the land where the refugees had previously lived). Olmert had offered to allow at least 5,000 refugees to come back, and Barak’s team was negotiating the matter with the Palestinians, for whom this is a cardinal issue of national dignity, and for whom an American offer of no returnees at all would likely not be taken well.

In addition, Kerry has allegedly gone along with Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians not only recognize the State of Israel, which they did in 1988, but that they also recognize it as “the nation-state of the Jewish people,” which is a relatively new Israeli demand. The Palestinians reject it as prejudicial to the rights of the 20% of Israel’s citizens who are Arabs, and as a demand that they abandon their “narrative” of the century-old struggle between the two nations in favor of the Israeli narrative. And indeed, that is how Netanyahu framed the issue in a speech in Tel Aviv last week: “The conflict is not over these territories; it is not about settlements; and it is not about a Palestinian state either. … [T]his conflict has gone on because of one reason: the stubborn opposition to recognize the Jewish state, the nation-state of the Jewish people.”