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Henry Siegman on the Peace Process Scam--London Review of Books 8/16/07

The Great Middle East Peace Process Scam


   Henry Siegman

When Ehud Olmert and George W. Bush met at the White House in June, they
concluded that Hamas's violent ousting of Fatah from Gaza – which
brought down the Palestinian national unity government brokered by the
Saudis in Mecca in March – had presented the world with a new 'window of
opportunity'. [*]
<http://www.lrb.co.uk/v29/n16/print/sieg01_.html#footnotes> (Never has a
failed peace process enjoyed so many windows of opportunity.) Hamas's
isolation in Gaza, Olmert and Bush agreed, would allow them to grant
generous concessions to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, giving
him the credibility he needed with the Palestinian people in order to
prevail over Hamas.

Both Bush and Olmert have spoken endlessly of their commitment to a
two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, but it is their
determination to bring down Hamas rather than to build up a Palestinian
state that animates their new-found enthusiasm for making Abbas look
good. That is why their expectation that Hamas will be defeated is
illusory. Palestinian moderates will never prevail over those considered
extremists, since what defines moderation for Olmert is Palestinian
acquiescence in Israel's dismemberment of Palestinian territory. In the
end, what Olmert and his government are prepared to offer Palestinians
will be rejected by Abbas no less than by Hamas, and will only confirm
to Palestinians the futility of Abbas's moderation and justify its
rejection by Hamas. Equally illusory are Bush's expectations of what
will be achieved by the conference he recently announced would be held
in the autumn (it has now been downgraded to a 'meeting'). In his view,
all previous peace initiatives have failed largely, if not exclusively,
because Palestinians were not ready for a state of their own. The
meeting will therefore focus narrowly on Palestinian
institution-building and reform, under the tutelage of Tony Blair, the
Quartet's newly appointed envoy.

In fact, all previous peace initiatives have got nowhere for a reason
that neither Bush nor the EU has had the political courage to
acknowledge. That reason is the consensus reached long ago by Israel's
decision-making elites that Israel will never allow the emergence of a
Palestinian state which denies it effective military and economic
control of the West Bank. To be sure, Israel would allow – indeed, it
would insist on – the creation of a number of isolated enclaves that
Palestinians could call a state, but only in order to prevent the
creation of a binational state in which Palestinians would be the majority.

The Middle East peace process may well be the most spectacular deception
in modern diplomatic history. Since the failed Camp David summit of
2000, and actually well before it, Israel's interest in a peace process
– other than for the purpose of obtaining Palestinian and international
acceptance of the status quo – has been a fiction that has served
primarily to provide cover for its systematic confiscation of
Palestinian land and an occupation whose goal, according to the former
IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon, is 'to sear deep into the
consciousness of Palestinians that they are a defeated people'. In his
reluctant embrace of the Oslo Accords, and his distaste for the
settlers, Yitzhak Rabin may have been the exception to this, but even he
did not entertain a return of Palestinian territory beyond the so-called
Allon Plan, which allowed Israel to retain the Jordan Valley and other
parts of the West Bank.

Anyone familiar with Israel's relentless confiscations of Palestinian
territory – based on a plan devised, overseen and implemented by Ariel
Sharon – knows that the objective of its settlement enterprise in the
West Bank has been largely achieved. Gaza, the evacuation of whose
settlements was so naively hailed by the international community as the
heroic achievement of a man newly committed to an honourable peace with
the Palestinians, was intended to serve as the first in a series of
Palestinian bantustans. Gaza's situation shows us what these bantustans
will look like if their residents do not behave as Israel wants.

Israel's disingenuous commitment to a peace process and a two-state
solution is precisely what has made possible its open-ended occupation
and dismemberment of Palestinian territory. And the Quartet – with the
EU, the UN secretary general and Russia obediently following
Washington's lead – has collaborated with and provided cover for this
deception by accepting Israel's claim that it has been unable to find a
deserving Palestinian peace partner.

Just one year after the 1967 war, Moshe Dayan, a former IDF chief of
staff who at the time was minister of defence, described his plan for
the future as 'the current reality in the territories'. 'The plan,' he
said, 'is being implemented in actual fact. What exists today must
remain as a permanent arrangement in the West Bank.' Ten years later, at
a conference in Tel Aviv, Dayan said: 'The question is not "What is the
solution?" but "How do we live without a solution?"' Geoffrey Aronson,
who has monitored the settlement enterprise from its beginnings,
summarises the situation as follows:

   Living without a solution, then as now, was understood by Israel as
   the key to maximising the benefits of conquest while minimising the
   burdens and dangers of retreat or formal annexation. This commitment
   to the status quo, however, disguised a programme of expansion that
   generations of Israeli leaders supported as enabling, through
   Israeli settlement, the dynamic transformation of the territories
   and the expansion of effective Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan River.

In an interview in /Ha'aretz/ in 2004, Dov Weissglas, chef de cabinet to
the then prime minister, Ariel Sharon, described the strategic goal of
Sharon's diplomacy as being to secure the support of the White House and
Congress for Israeli measures that would place the peace process and
Palestinian statehood in 'formaldehyde'. It is a fiendishly appropriate
metaphor: formaldehyde uniquely prevents the deterioration of dead
bodies, and sometimes creates the illusion that they are still alive.
Weissglas explains that the purpose of Sharon's unilateral withdrawal
from Gaza, and the dismantling of several isolated settlements in the
West Bank, was to gain US acceptance of Israel's unilateralism, not to
set a precedent for an eventual withdrawal from the West Bank. The
limited withdrawals were intended to provide Israel with the political
room to deepen and widen its presence in the West Bank, and that is what
they achieved. In a letter to Sharon, Bush wrote: 'In light of new
realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli
population centres, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of
final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the
armistice lines of 1949.'

In a recent interview in /Ha'aretz/, James Wolfensohn, who was the
Quartet's representative at the time of the Gaza disengagement, said
that Israel and the US had systematically undermined the agreement he
helped forge in 2005 between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and
had instead turned Gaza into a vast prison. The official behind this, he
told /Ha'aretz/, was Elliott Abrams, the deputy national security
adviser. 'Every aspect' of the agreement Wolfensohn had brokered 'was
abrogated'.

Another recent interview in /Ha'aretz/, with Haggai Alon, who was a
senior adviser to Amir Peretz at the Ministry of Defence, is even more
revealing. Alon accuses the IDF (whose most senior officers increasingly
are themselves settlers) of working clandestinely to further the
settlers' interests. The IDF, Alon says, ignores the Supreme Court's
instructions about the path the so-called security fence should follow,
instead 'setting a route that will not enable the establishment of a
Palestinian state'. Alon told /Ha'aretz/ that when in 2005 politicians
signed an agreement with the Palestinians to ease restrictions on
Palestinians travelling in the territories (part of the deal that
Wolfensohn had worked on), the IDF eased them for settlers instead. For
Palestinians, the number of checkpoints doubled. According to Alon, the
IDF is 'carrying out an apartheid policy' that is emptying Hebron of
Arabs and Judaising (his term) the Jordan Valley, while it co-operates
openly with the settlers in an attempt to make a two-state solution
impossible.

A new UN map of the West Bank, produced by the Office for the
Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, gives a comprehensive picture of
the situation. Israeli civilian and military infrastructure has rendered
40 per cent of the territory off limits to Palestinians. The rest of the
territory, including major population centres such as Nablus and
Jericho, is split into enclaves; movement between them is restricted by
450 roadblocks and 70 manned checkpoints. The UN found that what remains
is an area very similar to that set aside for the Palestinian population
in Israeli security proposals in the aftermath of the 1967 war. It also
found that changes now underway to the infrastructure of the territories
– including a network of highways that bypass and isolate Palestinian
towns – would serve to formalise the de facto cantonisation of the West
Bank.

These are the realities on the ground that the uninformed and/or cynical
blather in Jerusalem, Washington and Brussels – about waiting for
Palestinians to reform their institutions, democratise their culture,
dismantle the 'infrastructures of terror' and halt all violence and
incitement before peace negotiations can begin – seeks to drown out.
Given the vast power imbalance between Israel and the Palestinians – not
to mention the vast preponderance of diplomatic support enjoyed by
Israel from precisely those countries that one would have expected to
compensate diplomatically for the military imbalance – nothing will
change for the better without the US, the EU and other international
actors finally facing up to what have long been the fundamental
impediments to peace.

These impediments include the assumption, implicit in Israel's
occupation policy, that if no peace agreement is reached, the 'default
setting' of UN Security Council Resolution 242 is the indefinite
continuation of Israel's occupation. If this reading were true, the
resolution would actually be inviting an occupying power that wishes to
retain its adversary's territory to do so simply by means of avoiding
peace talks – which is exactly what Israel has been doing. In fact, the
introductory statement to Resolution 242 declares that territory cannot
be acquired by war, implying that if the parties cannot reach agreement,
the occupier must withdraw to the status quo ante: that, logically, is
242's default setting. Had there been a sincere intention on Israel's
part to withdraw from the territories, surely forty years should have
been more than enough time in which to reach an agreement.

Israel's contention has long been that since no Palestinian state
existed before the 1967 war, there is no recognised border to which
Israel can withdraw, because the pre-1967 border was merely an armistice
line. Moreover, since Resolution 242 calls for a 'just and lasting
peace' that will allow 'every state in the area [to] live in security',
Israel holds that it must be allowed to change the armistice line,
either bilaterally or unilaterally, to make it secure before it ends the
occupation. This is a specious argument for many reasons, but
principally because UN General Assembly Partition Resolution 181 of
1947, which established the Jewish state's international legitimacy,
also recognised the remaining Palestinian territory outside the new
state's borders as the equally legitimate patrimony of Palestine's Arab
population on which they were entitled to establish their own state, and
it mapped the borders of that territory with great precision. Resolution
181's affirmation of the right of Palestine's Arab population to
national self-determination was based on normative law and the
democratic principles that grant statehood to the majority population.
(At the time, Arabs constituted two-thirds of the population in
Palestine.) This right does not evaporate because of delays in its
implementation.

In the course of a war launched by Arab countries that sought to prevent
the implementation of the UN partition resolution, Israel enlarged its
territory by 50 per cent. If it is illegal to acquire territory as a
result of war, then the question now cannot conceivably be how much
additional Palestinian territory Israel may confiscate, but rather how
much of the territory it acquired in the course of the war of 1948 it is
allowed to retain. At the very least, if 'adjustments' are to be made to
the 1949 armistice line, these should be made on Israel's side of that
line, not the Palestinians'.

Clearly, the obstacle to resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict has not
been a dearth of peace initiatives or peace envoys. Nor has it been the
violence to which Palestinians have resorted in their struggle to rid
themselves of Israel's occupation, even when that violence has
despicably targeted Israel's civilian population. It is not to sanction
the murder of civilians to observe that such violence occurs, sooner or
later, in most situations in which a people's drive for national
self-determination is frustrated by an occupying power. Indeed, Israel's
own struggle for national independence was no exception. According to
the historian Benny Morris, in this conflict it was the Irgun that first
targeted civilians. In /Righteous Victims/, Morris writes that the
upsurge of Arab terrorism in 1937 'triggered a wave of Irgun bombings
against Arab crowds and buses, introducing a new dimension to the
conflict.' While in the past Arabs had 'sniped at cars and pedestrians
and occasionally lobbed a grenade, often killing or injuring a few
bystanders or passengers', now 'for the first time, massive bombs were
placed in crowded Arab centres, and dozens of people were
indiscriminately murdered and maimed.' Morris notes that 'this
"innovation" soon found Arab imitators.'

Underlying Israel's efforts to retain the occupied territories is the
fact that it has never really considered the West Bank as occupied
territory, despite its pro forma acceptance of that designation.
Israelis see the Palestinian areas as 'contested' territory to which
they have claims no less compelling than the Palestinians, international
law and UN resolutions notwithstanding. This is a view that was made
explicit for the first time by Sharon in an op-ed essay published on the
front page of the /New York Times/ on 9 June 2002. The use of the
biblical designations of Judea and Samaria to describe the territories,
terms which were formerly employed only by the Likud but are now de
rigueur for Labour Party stalwarts as well, is a reflection of a common
Israeli view. That the former prime minister Ehud Barak (now Olmert's
defence minister) endlessly describes the territorial proposals he made
at the Camp David summit as expressions of Israel's 'generosity', and
never as an acknowledgment of Palestinian rights, is another example of
this mindset. Indeed, the term 'Palestinian rights' seems not to exist
in Israel's lexicon.

The problem is not, as Israelis often claim, that Palestinians do not
know how to compromise. (Another former prime minister, Benjamin
Netanyahu, famously complained that 'Palestinians take and take while
Israel gives and gives.') That is an indecent charge, since the
Palestinians made much the most far-reaching compromise of all when the
PLO formally accepted the legitimacy of Israel within the 1949 armistice
border. With that concession, Palestinians ceded their claim to more
than half the territory that the UN's partition resolution had assigned
to its Arab inhabitants. They have never received any credit for this
wrenching concession, made years before Israel agreed that Palestinians
had a right to statehood in any part of Palestine. The notion that
further border adjustments should be made at the expense of the 22 per
cent of the territory that remains to the Palestinians is deeply
offensive to them, and understandably so.

Nonetheless, the Palestinians agreed at the Camp David summit to
adjustments to the pre-1967 border that would allow large numbers of
West Bank settlers – about 70 per cent – to remain within the Jewish
state, provided they received comparable territory on Israel's side of
the border. Barak rejected this. To be sure, in the past the Palestinian
demand of a right of return was a serious obstacle to a peace agreement.
But the Arab League's peace initiative of 2002 leaves no doubt that Arab
countries will accept a nominal and symbolic return of refugees into
Israel in numbers approved by Israel, with the overwhelming majority
repatriated in the new Palestinian state, their countries of residence,
or in other countries prepared to receive them.

It is the failure of the international community to reject (other than
in empty rhetoric) Israel's notion that the occupation and the creation
of 'facts on the ground' can go on indefinitely, so long as there is no
agreement that is acceptable to Israel, that has defeated all previous
peace initiatives and the efforts of all peace envoys. Future efforts
will meet the same fate if this fundamental issue is not addressed.

What is required for a breakthrough is the adoption by the Security
Council of a resolution affirming the following: 1. Changes to the
pre-1967 situation can be made only by agreement between the parties.
Unilateral measures will not receive international recognition. 2. The
default setting of Resolution 242, reiterated by Resolution 338, the
1973 ceasefire resolution, is a return by Israel's occupying forces to
the pre-1967 border. 3. If the parties do not reach agreement within 12
months (the implementation of agreements will obviously take longer),
the default setting will be invoked by the Security Council. The
Security Council will then adopt its own terms for an end to the
conflict, and will arrange for an international force to enter the
occupied territories to help establish the rule of law, assist
Palestinians in building their institutions, assure Israel's security by
preventing cross-border violence, and monitor and oversee the
implementation of terms for an end to the conflict.

If the US and its allies were to take a stand forceful enough to
persuade Israel that it will not be allowed to make changes to the
pre-1967 situation except by agreement with the Palestinians in
permanent status negotiations, there would be no need for complicated
peace formulas or celebrity mediators to get a peace process underway.
The only thing that an envoy such as Blair can do to put the peace
process back on track is to speak the truth about the real impediment to
peace. This would also be a historic contribution to the Jewish state,
since Israel's only hope of real long-term security is to have a
successful Palestinian state as its neighbour.

*Footnotes*

* Rashid Khalidi writes about Hamas and Fatah on p. 31.

*Henry Siegman* <http://www.lrb.co.uk/contribhome.php?get=sieg01>, the
director of the US/ Middle East Project, served as a senior fellow at
the Council on Foreign Relations from 1994 to 2006, and was head of the
American Jewish Congress from 1978 to 1994.
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