Political Art at its Worst

By Sam Bahour

For anyone closely following the Palestinian-Israeli issue, nothing is more insulting than the world’s political players peddling another peace initiative, crusaded as the ultimate formula to extract the conflict from its current abyss.

The most recent episode of such political peddling happened in rapid fire from mid-May to early June 2011, when U.S. President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu engaged in a ping-pong-like game of four days of policy speeches. The political fallout of these speeches was rather predictable. The media hailed Obama’s words as historic and started to view his approach as a new set of parameters (which are actually a step back from past U.S. parameters) that could serve to bring the parties back to the negotiations table and on a path to resolving the conflict.

Those immersed in this conflict knew better. They saw Obama’s words for what they really were: a total buckling of U.S. policy to an arrogant and intransigent Israeli prime minister who wields tremendous domestic leverage on U.S. politics by way of the pro-Israeli lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). For Obama, who already has his eye on the prize of a second term, the pressure was too much to bear.

A few days later, yet another “peace initiative” was announced, this time from France. In reply to the French announcement, the June 6th Haaretz editorial title was loud and clear: “Netanyahu must accept French peace initiative”. The editorial explained why:

“France has placed an offer on the desk of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: Begin direct negotiations with the Palestinians in September, on the basis of the Obama plan. The proposal does not define Israel’s borders, draw a map of Jerusalem or determine which settlements Israel must remove. It even helps the Israeli position in that it speaks of "two states for two peoples," in other words it acknowledges that Israel is a Jewish state. It opposes unilateral steps by either side – that is, both the expansion of Israeli settlements and the Palestinians’ intention of seeking UN recognition for their state.”

Anyone who knows anything about this conflict can tell you that this so-called “initiative” has as much chance to serve its proclaimed purpose as Hosni Mubarak does to be re-elected as President of Egypt.

The collective global memory seems to be in deep amnesia. We have been here before—at a point where half-baked initiatives and resolutions, non-compliant with international law and absent of any sense of historical justice, were touted as “the right formula.”

Palestinians don’t forget so easily, especially since their deep wounds due to dispossession since 1948, military occupation since 1967 and non-stop institutional discrimination against Palestinians inside Israel have never been given a chance to heal.

To name just a few of the past infamous peace initiatives, whose number is mind-boggling: UN General Assembly Resolution 181 (II) Future Government of Palestine (November 29, 1947), Count Folke Bernadotte proposals (1947-1948), UN Security Council Resolution 242 (November 22, 1967), Jarring Mission (1967-1971), Allon Plan 26 July 1967, Rogers Plan (1969), UN Security Council Resolution 338 (October 22, 1973), Reagan Plan (Sept. 1, 1982), Oslo Accords (1993), Wye River Memorandum (October 23, 1998), Camp David 2000 Summit (2000), The Clinton Parameters (December 23, 2000), Taba summit (January, 2001), The Tenet Plan (June 13, 2001), Elon Peace Plan (2002), Nusseibeh-Ayalon Agreement (2002), Arab Peace Initiative (March 28, 2002), The People’s Voice (July 27, 2002), Road Map for Peace (April 30, 2003), Geneva Accord (October 20, 2003), Sharm el-Sheikh Summit of 2005 (February 8, 2005), 2006 Franco-Italian-Spanish Middle East Peace Plan and, sadly, the list goes on and on.

For those still believing a two-state solution paradigm is possible, one past initiative is worthy to reflect upon: that of Count Folke Bernadotte. On May 20, 1948, Count Bernadotte was a Swedish diplomat and nobleman who was unanimously appointed as the United Nations mediator in Palestine, the first official mediator in UN history. He was assassinated in Jerusalem in 1948 by the militant Zionist group Lehi while pursuing his official duties. Lehi was led at the time by Yitzhak Shamir, who later became Prime Minister of Israel.

After unsuccessfully trying to promote the idea of a Union between Palestine and Transjordan, he proposed two independent states. This proposal was completed on September 16, 1948, and its seven "basic premises" were:

1. Peace must return to Palestine and every feasible measure should be taken to ensure that hostilities will not be resumed and that harmonious relations between Arab and Jew will ultimately be restored.
2. A Jewish State called Israel exists in Palestine and there are no sound reasons for assuming that it will not continue to do so.
3. The boundaries of this new State must finally be fixed either by formal agreement between the parties concerned or failing that, by the United Nations.
4. Adherence to the principle of geographical homogeneity and integration, which should be the major objective of the boundary arrangements, should apply equally to Arab and Jewish territories, whose frontiers should not therefore, be rigidly controlled by the territorial arrangements envisaged in the resolution of 29 November [emphasis added].
5. The right of innocent people, uprooted from their homes by the present terror and ravages of war, to return to their homes, should be affirmed and made effective, with assurance of adequate compensation for the property of those who may choose not to return.
6. The City of Jerusalem, because of its religious and international significance and the complexity of interests involved, should be accorded special and separate treatment.
7. International responsibility should be expressed where desirable and necessary in the form of international guarantees, as a means of allaying existing fears, and particularly with regard to boundaries and human rights.

(Source: Bernadotte, Folke. To Jerusalem, pp. 238-239)

Although this two-state approach is more honest in its larger context (as it relates to the flawed notion of “Jewish state” and right of return of Palestinian refugees), it can be seen by the bold text in premise four above that Count Bernadotte, sixty-four years earlier, stated the same principle that President Obama and the most recent French “initiative” promote: setting borders not compliant with the reference at the time, which was UN Resolution 181, the Partition Plan.

Sixty-four years has only changed the reference point of borders to the disadvantage of Palestinians, and today, the forces-that-be are proposing that the 1949 Armistice line (1967 green line) not be respected. Palestinians can only expect that remaining on the same path will result in Israel gobbling up more land while the international community continues to grasp for a workable initiative. In the meantime, the entire two-state paradigm is collapsing.

I’ll never understand why they call this field Political Science, for it is Political Art at its worst.

– Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business development consultant from Youngstown, Ohio living in the Palestinian City of Al-Bireh in the West Bank. He is co-author of HOMELAND: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians (1994). He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: sbahour@palnet.com. (This article was originally published in bitterlemons.org.)

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