By Ramzy Baroud
It seems that the Palestinian-Israeli peace process is in serious jeopardy. This is the immediate impression one gleans from media reports from Israel. Unlike Israel’s Kadima and Labour party "moderates" prime minister-designate Benyamin Netanyahu is widely seen as an obstacle to negotiations aimed at facilitating a two-state solution. The media stories, however, are riddled with misconceptions and dotted with false assumptions.
While Netanyahu is indeed a right-wing ideologue his position on issues pertinent to the peace process — if, indeed, it is possible to speak of such a thing, which I doubt — hardly differs from his predecessors. Israel continues with its military onslaughts and illegal settlement expansion while the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas continues with isolating Hamas in Gaza and maintaining its own rule in the West Bank.
So what is the peace process to which the media refers? What are the prospects for a viable two-state solution that are being so passionately discussed?
Equally confusing is the fact that some Western leaders and diplomats maintain a wait-and-see position, hoping that Netanyahu will respect and maintain this non-existent peace process.
In comments made to The National Tony Blair, now the envoy of the UN Quartet, said that Netanyahu had indicated his support "in principle" to the two-state solution. "When asked whether Netanyahu was supportive of a Palestinian state," the newspaper reported, "Blair said: ‘He has always made that clear to me.’"
Such rhetoric appears to pave the way for the kind of political ruse indulged in by Netanyahu during his few years as Israel’s prime minister starting in May 1996.
Then the newly elected Likud leader narrowly defeated Shimon Peres, having positioned himself as the Israeli leader who would end the "concessions" made by his rivals in the Labour Party. At the same time he sought to project an image to the West as a peacemaker.
It has to be said that the average Palestinian is hard pressed to spot the difference between a right-wing Likud government, a left-wing Labour government, or the centre-right Kadima. What Palestinians continue to see are soldiers and tanks, checkpoints, bulldozers, barbed wire and land confiscation orders. The symbols of occupation and domination don’t change according to the ideological background or political leanings of whoever rules Israel.
Shortly after his inauguration Netanyahu came under American pressure to implement the long-delayed Oslo deadlines, presenting the then inexperienced leader with a major predicament. On one hand, he wanted to avoid the ire of the US, which had invested a great deal of time and resources in Oslo. On the other he wanted to impede any possibility of a revival of the accords. He did what most Israeli leaders would do when faced with such a problem. He provoked violence.
In September 1996, Netanyahu ordered the opening of a tunnel that ran underneath one of Islam’s holiest shrines, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, threatening the foundations of the sacred place. His act achieved its aims. It ignited fury among Palestinians in the occupied territories. Several days of clashes resulted in the death and wounding of many, mostly Palestinians. The Israeli government used the incident to underscore Oslo’s failure to meet Israel’s security needs.
While Arafat’s security forces launched arrest campaigns in the West Bank and Gaza — in an attempt to satisfy Netanyahu’s demands — the Israeli leader continued settlement expansion and confiscation of Palestinian land. On 28 October he approved the construction of thousands of new units in existing settlements and, later, the fortification of 33 settlements and construction of 13 new Jewish- only bypass roads.
Netanyahu, despite all his moves, failed to satisfy his domestic constituency. On 17 May, 1999 he was replaced by the leader of the Labour Party, Ehud Barak. Subsequently, Netanyahu resigned the Likud leadership.
Note that Barak’s election was accompanied by renewed rhetoric about peace though the new "dove" gave little indication of any willingness to meet the "painful concessions" required in the final status talks.
As US president Bill Clinton was propping up Barak as the Israeli leader most likely to deliver peace ordinary Palestinians had few expectations. They were too aware of Barak’s own bloody history. In his victory speech, Barak delineated his vision of what peace should be before cheering supporters: "I tell you that the time for peace has come — not peace through weakness, but peace through might and a sense of security; not peace at the expense of security but peace that will bring security. We will move quickly towards separation from the Palestinians within four security red lines: a united Jerusalem under our sovereignty as the capital of Israel for eternity, period; under no conditions will we return to the 1967 borders; no foreign army west of the Jordan River; and most of the settlers in Judaea and Samaria will be in settlement blocs under our sovereignty."
The leaders of Israel’s major parties are almost interchangeable: even their language is the same, archaic and confrontational. Why then the panic over the future of the peace process. As far as Gaza is concerned, it matters little whether the over 1,400 people killed in 22 days were blown up by a Likud revisionist, a Labour dove or a Kadima peacemaker. This, though, is something an envoy like Blair doesn’t seem to understand.
– Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers, journals and anthologies around the world. His latest book is, "The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle" (Pluto Press, London), and his forthcoming book is, “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza The Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London)