By Ramzy Baroud
Crisis seemed to loom large as Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signed applications to join 15 international treaties on April 1. The decision prompted irate reactions from Israel, and sent US Secretary of State John Kerry into panic mode, unsuccessfully attempting to salvage the peace process. Yet something is strangely familiar about all of this.
The supposed crisis was the only possible outcome of the US-led peace process. Who could have even possibly imagined that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would defy the very reason that has kept him at the helm of Israeli politics all of these years, by offering real ‘concessions’ to Palestinians? His raison d’être in politics since the official signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 has been and remains the very destruction of the process, in which he is now supposedly engaged.
The Americans, however, remained relentless in their commitment to a process that is doomed to fail. The conventional explanation of the latest row concerns Israel’s deferral in releasing veteran Palestinian prisoners. The freeing of prisoners — 26 Palestinians who were the last batch of the 104 Tel Aviv had pledged to free — had been scheduled the week before Abbas’s decision to join the treaties, a necessary first step for Palestinians to escape the stifling peace process paradigm. Two days after he did, on April 3, Israel’s chief negotiator and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni informed her Palestinian counterpart that the release of prisoners would be cancelled.
The Guardian newspaper, whose coverage is looking increasingly similar to mainstream media outlets, decided to tweak the timeline of the crisis, just a bit: “Palestinian statehood bid may derail Middle East peace process,” read the headline of an article on April 1. It looks as if Palestinians are once again responsible for derailing peace.
It is Ehud Barak’s ‘generous offer’ all over again. The peace process is undergoing another crisis, and mainstream western media are actively rewriting facts and timelines to spare Israel blame.
However, the question remains: Why would Kerry set such an ambitious deadline of April 29 for a ‘framework’ agreement when neither of the parties is capable or willing to achieve the coveted peace?
On the one hand, Abbas’s PNA doesn’t represent Palestinians as the man’s mandate expired in 2010. Even his own Fatah party is splintered and riddled with growing corruption.
On the other hand, the Israeli coalition government is adamantly anti-Arab, anti-peace and anti any kind of agreement that would fall short from endorsing the Israeli apartheid-like occupation, predicated on colonial expansion, annexations of borders, land confiscation, control of holy places and much more.
Previous US administrations suffered unmitigated failures as they invested time, effort, resources and reputations, to an even greater extent than Obama, in order to broker an agreement. There are the familiar explanations of why they failed, including the objection to any US pressure on Israel by the pro-Israel Zionist lobby in Washington, which remains very strong despite setbacks.
Preparing for the foreseeable failure, Kerry remained secretive about his plans, leaving analysts in suspense over what is being discussed between Abbas’s negotiators and the Israeli government. From the very start, Kerry downgraded expectations. But the secrecy didn’t last for long. According to Palestinian sources cited by Al Quds newspaper, Abbas had pulled out of a meeting with Kerry in Paris late February because Kerry’s proposal didn’t meet the minimum of Palestinian expectations.
According to the report, it turned out that Kerry’s ambitious peace agenda was no more than a rehash of everything that Israel tried to impose by force or diplomacy, and Palestinians had consistently rejected: reducing the Palestinian aspiration of Jerusalem as their capital into a tiny East Jerusalem neighbourhood (Beit Hanina), and allowing Israel to keep 10 large colony blocks built illegally on Palestinian land, aside from a land swap meant to accommodate Israel’s security needs. Moreover, the Jordan Valley would not be part of any future Palestinian state, nor would international forces be allowed there either. It is hard to understand how Kerry’s proposal is any different from the current reality on the ground.
Most commentary dealing with the latest US push for a negotiated agreement would go as far back as Bush’s Roadmap of 2002, the Arab peace initiative earlier the same year, or even the Oslo Accords of 1993. Fair enough, but there is another important context that is missing.
The ‘peace process’ was mostly a political invention by a hardliner, US politician Henry Kissinger, who served as a national security adviser and later secretary of state in the Nixon Administration. The idea was to co-opt the Arabs following the Israeli military victory of 1967, the sudden expansion of Israel’s borders into various Arab countries, with full US support and reinforcement. It was Kissinger himself who lobbied for massive US arms to Israel that changed the course of the 1973 war, and he was the man who worked to secure Israeli gains through diplomacy.
While many are quick to conclude that the ‘peace process’ has been a historical failure, the bleak estimation discounts that the intent behind the ‘peace process’ was never to secure a lasting peace, but Israeli military gains. In that sense, it has been a splendid success. Over the years, however, the ‘peace process’ became an American investment in the Middle East, a status quo in itself, and a reason for political relevance. During the administrations of both Bushes, father and son, the ‘peace process’ went hand in hand with the Iraq war.
In the last four decades, the ‘peace process’ became an American diplomatic staple in the region. It is an investment that goes hand in hand with their support of Israel and interest in energy supplies. It is an end in itself, and is infused regularly for reasons other than sincere peace.
The Americans are keen on maintaining the peace process as a political investment, with Abbas or without him. And until the Palestinians overcome the insolvency of their own ‘authority’ – a major shareholder in the US venture – the US charade is likely to be renewed, reenergised and repackaged, time and time again. Of course, it will bring neither peace nor justice, but it will allow the US to remain relevant in the Middle East, at least for a while longer.
– Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. He is a PhD candidate at the University of Exeter, UK. His latest book is ‘My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story’ (Pluto Press, London). You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/RamzyBaroud. (This article was originally published in Gulf News on April 8, 2014)