RAMALLAH – The United States should stop pushing for the resumption of the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Doing so might be the best way to achieve peace – a paradox that reflects the huge gap between a peace process and achieving genuine peace.
Make no mistake: this is not a call to arms or an appeal for a violent uprising. Peace between the conflicting parties east of the Mediterranean and west of the Jordan river can and must be achieved through negotiations. But if one party is more interested in a process than in the need for peace, something must be wrong.
For Israel, an occupying power whose people enjoy democratic civilian authority and a GDP tens times that of the people it is denying basic rights of freedom and independence, photo opportunities provided by meeting and greeting Palestinian leaders has replaced achieving peace.
A serious look back at the 17 years since Yassir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin shook hands on the White House lawn is revealing. The number of illegal Jewish settlements and settlers has more than doubled in the areas Israel occupied in 1967. Negotiators have parsed every possible solution to the permanent-status issues of Jerusalem, borders, settlements, refugees, and economic relations. Leaders of the world’s superpowers, United Nations officials, the Elders, and tens of people of goodwill have offered their goodwill offices and their services to bring about peace. All to no avail.
The US efforts, led by Special Envoy George Mitchell, have shown clearly that the current ruling coalition in Israel is incapable of doing the minimum required for peace. The Obama administration staked its reputation on getting Israelis and Palestinians to agree at least on security and borders. The results are mixed, at best.
Palestinians complied with all Israeli and international requirements for security, while Binyamin Netanyahu’s Israeli government, which gives lip-service to the two-state solution, has yet to elucidate where Israel’s borders will be. Meanwhile, the Israeli government wants to continue building settlements in occupied areas, in total violation of international law and the minimum requirements for peace detailed in the “roadmap” sponsored by the Quartet (the US, UN, European Union, and Russia).
The US tried to bribe the Israelis – with $3 billion in fighter jets and political support at the UN – into suspending settlement activities for three months. Instead, Netanyahu stuck his fingers in America’s eyes, counting on the Republicans’ mid-term election victory to help him afterwards. Not only did Israel’s leaders reject the world community’s requests, but they had the chutzpah to claim that they had convinced the US to drop this requirement for the resumption of talks.
Withdrawal by the US from the current push to restart negotiations would send a clear message that bad behavior will not be tolerated, and would encourage Israelis, who overwhelmingly want peace, to force a change in their own government’s position. Israel’s Labor Party has consistently said that it would bolt from the current coalition if peace talks were halted. This would force at least a change in the coalition’s makeup (possibly the replacement of the right-wing Yisrael Beitenu, headed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, with the more moderate Kadima, headed by Tzipi Livni, Lieberman’s predecessor as foreign minister).
Public-opinion polls have consistently shown that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians want peace (not a peace process) based on a two-state solution. Almost every learned pundit, expert, or politician in the Middle East and around the world knows pretty much what a solution to the conflict would look like – a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with slight land swaps and an equitable negotiated solution of the Palestinian refugee issue.
One group of respected Israelis and Palestinians, the Geneva Group, even drew up a peace plan that tackles every possible negotiating point honestly and fairly. So what is needed is not negotiations, but political will.
The Palestinians, for their part, have the necessary will. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s latest chapter in his two-year plan – the “home stretch to freedom” – will be complete in August 2011. In Fayyad’s vision, Palestinians, who bear the brunt of the occupation and are in a greater hurry than the Israelis are to be free of it, are to accept a peace strategy that aims at realizing statehood.
Once the institutions of the Palestinian state are in place, the will of the people, coupled with world support, will nonviolently overcome all efforts at denying Palestinians their right to self-determination. In the meantime, there is no need for a process that has no chance of accomplishing peace.