By S.R.H. Hashmi
In his article ‘The Magnificent Kerry‘ published in the Tripoli Post on February 6, while giving credit to US Secretary of State John Kerry for averting military action against Iran and Syria, Gwynne Dyer likened his Palestine-Israeli peace mission to the charge of the British Light Brigade in the Crimean War in 1854, and quoted French General Pierre Bosquet commenting on the suicidal attack “It is magnificent, but it is not war. It’s madness” and taking the same line, Gwynne declares Kerry’s mission not to be diplomacy but hubris.
I would consider the comparison of Palestinian-Israeli peace process with charge of the Light Brigade as rather inappropriate simply because in the former case, the outcome is dependent not just on the will and capability of the two opposing sides but also on those of the international community – mainly the United States and the European Union – which, by applying required level of pressure, can force the sides to come to an agreement which reasonably looked after the interest of the two sides.
And then the writer says ” Kerry has no leverage: he has to rely on the desire of the two leaders to make the “peace process” work, and it just isn’t there; not, at least, on any terms that both would find acceptable.” It is strange he should say that about the Secretary of State of a country which devastated Iraq on the fabricated charges of possessing weapons of mass destruction and, which can assemble at short notice its powerful European and other allies and get them all to take punitive action against any country whose conduct it disapproves of, and together with its allies, is the power behind creating, nurturing and nourishing Israel, making it the monster that it has become now. Even now the US gives Israel the largest military and economic aid apart from unqualified support at all forums, even when Israel is in the wrong. Israel is not oblivious to the world opinion, especially that of its sponsors and benefactors and even a slight stiffening of their attitude can make it behave, forcing it to agree to a settlement that reasonably meets its requirements.
And as for his statement that the two leaders do not have the will to make the peace process work, I would say that it is definitely true for Israeli leaders who would not be interested in a peace deal as it would force them to give back, at least in part, the illegally occupied territory, which did not belong to them anyway, and who think they are better off without the deal because this situation enables them to expand their illegal settlements at will. Also, they believe that being strong enough, they can handle any eventuality, and see a peace settlement as a hindrance to their greater Israel dream. However, it is absurd to claim that Palestinian leaders would not be seriously interested in a settlement which would give them full control over their territory, enabling them to manage their affairs in their best interests. Of course they would not be interested in just any settlement, especially one that is likely to make their situation worse than before.
Israel’s demand on Palestinians to recognize it as a Jewish state has been described by the writer as being an unreasonable one and he admits this to having been invented in the last couple of years. Gwynne claims it would amount to giving a blessing to the ethnic and religious character of Israel but conveniently ignores the more sinister consequences of depriving an estimated 1,658,000 Palestinians, representing 20.7% of the country’s population, of their Israeli citizenship, and pushing them out of Israel to keep it exclusively Jewish, as also precluding Palestinians refugees right of return, even in theory. In fact, sometime back, there were suggestions by Israeli leaders that even the Palestinians holding Israeli citizenship should be chucked out of Israel.
While admitting that the Palestinian refugees and their descendants need to be given compensation, Gwynne claims that granting them all a general right of return would mean the end of Jewish state, and laments the inability of Palestinian leaders to say so out loud. I think all reasonable people would accept that in order to secure a settlement, some compromise would have to be made on this issue but that could come only as a part of the deal that gives Palestinian state enough land to accommodate returning Palestinian refugees, not many of whom may actually want to return because of having settled elsewhere in the decades that have gone by. Gwynne should not expect Palestinians to go out, loud-hailers in hand, announcing all compromises that they would be prepared to make for the simple reason that in case of their doing so, Israelis would take that as a starting point and demand much more.
The writer says that that the peace process, by which I assume he means two-state solution, has been dead for at least a dozen years, meaning that even in his opinion, it was alive before then. The greatest harm to the process was done during the presidency of George W. Bush’s, who organized some peace negotiations merely as a smoke-screen behind which Israel could expand its illegal settlements at a tremendous pace. During his first term, on President Barack Obama’s insistence, the Israeli leaders agreed to a temporary freeze on settlement as a pre-condition of peace talks but refused to renew the freeze as a result of which, the talks broke down. If Obama put adequate pressure on Israel, I am sure they would have agreed to renew it but with his eyes set on the next term, Obama backed down and revised his strong statement “freeze means freeze’ to “a demand for freeze is not a suitable premise to build peace process on.” However, in his second and last term Obama can afford to take a strong stand and make Israeli leaders see sense.
Of the recent crop of American presidents, Obama seems to be about the best one who is trying to close down the war theatres instead of opening fresh ones. He did not give in to the pressure from Israeli, American and other hawks to bombard Iran and Syria and on protests from Pakistani leaders and public, has promised to reduce drone strikes to the minimum. So, President Obama has shown that he can resist pressure and can take independent, firm decisions. All that is needed now is for him to demonstrate these qualities again and also persuade his European and other partners to jointly put a bit of pressure on Israel, in order to make it behave and accept a peace settlement on reasonable terms.
Gwynne seems to think that even King Solomon and Avicenna together could not broker a peace accord on the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. He has forgotten that when international community showed a will, and coupled it with strong action, it did manage to save Muslims of Bosnia. Perhaps they have to mount a joint operation again, not by bombarding Israel but by telling Israeli leaders in no uncertain terms that there will be serious consequences for Israel for trying to frustrate efforts to solve the Palestinian-Israeli problem. Israeli leaders defy US and other leaders only because they think they can get away with it but if told off firmly, they will behave, like they did many times in the past when they were sure others meant business.
– S.R.H. Hashmi contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.