Like many of his predecessors, Secretary of State John Kerry is currently working tirelessly in an effort to restart a peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. In recent weeks and months, he has traveled frequently to the region, meeting regularly with leaders. However, also like his predecessors, he too will fail to achieve anything without drastically breaking with the failed approaches of the past.
To have any chance at success, Washington must end its pro-Israel favoritism in return for an evenhanded approach. A succinct and profound example of Washington’s extreme bias is its hypocritical policy toward negotiations. For years, the United States has opposed allowing the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) to engage in negotiations before it adheres to three principles outlined by the “Quartet”.
The Quartet Principles, as they have become known, are: recognition of the state of Israel; adherence to previous agreements; and renunciation of violence as a means of achieving goals.
Never, however, has Washington demanded that Israel adhere to these very same principles. First, and perhaps most obviously, Israel does not recognize the state of Palestine, even though much of the world does. So why should Palestinians have to recognize Israel? Some might argue that Israel cannot recognize Palestine before an agreement on a boundary but yet Israel demands recognition from Palestinians without a border agreement.
Second, Israel refuses to adhere to previous agreements. Israel persistently violates elements of the Oslo Accords with impunity. For example, in the Accords, Israel agreed that Palestinian fisherman could fish in territorial waters off of Gaza to the 20 nautical mile mark. In practice, this hasn’t been the case and in recent years it’s been limited to six or three nautical miles and many fishermen have been routinely shot or even killed by the Israeli navy while merely trying to make a living.
In the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, Israel agreed to facilitate exports from Gaza to permit the growth and functioning of the decimated Palestinian economy in the isolated strip. However, despite committing to permitting 400 export trucks per day by 2006, in practice, Israel practically sealed all export doors from Gaza, allowing only 736 exports trucks from 2008 to 2012, a mere 0.4 trucks per day or 1000 times less than what they agreed to.
In the 2003 Road Map Agreement, which was supposed to yield a Palestinian state by the end of three phases in 2005, Israel’s first phase obligation was a settlement freeze. Of course, that obligation (also an obligation under international law) was never fulfilled. Today, Israel’s continued failure to freeze settlements is the main impediment to restarting negotiations.
Most importantly, Israel constantly relies on the use of violence. Violence is the glue that holds together the military occupation of Palestinian territory, where an unequal system of laws governs Israeli settlers and Palestinian non-citizens and is enforced by the Israeli gun. Checkpoints, soldiers, raids, settler attacks, detentions, arrests and shootings are violent challenges which millions of Palestinians civilians confront every day of their lives.
That Israel fails to meet the Quartet Principles is an indictment of Israel and its government but the fact that it carries on this way with consistent support from Washington while Washington simultaneously pays lip service to a negotiated peace is an indictment of the United States.
This week two news items underscored the duplicitousness of the Israeli government. Several Israeli lawmakers signed a letter to Kerry supporting his efforts. At the same time, however, Israel’s deputy defense minister gave an honest interview to the Times of Israel stating that the Israeli government will never agree to a two-state deal with the Palestinians. Israel is happy to support negotiations so long as it knows it never has to end its occupation.
It’s beyond time for Washington to be honest with itself. If it can’t hold Israel to account, and clearly it has not, then it has no business attempting to “mediate” peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Mediating in this biased way is in fact only facilitating the continued occupation and colonization of Palestine.
Secretary Kerry has invested a great deal of time in this effort since taking the helm of the State department earlier this year. It would behoove him to take a moment when he has the time, perhaps during one of his many flights to the region, to reflect on the failed and hypocritical approaches he and his predecessors have adopted and how destructive they have been.
It is Israel that is occupying and colonizing Palestine, not the other way around. Yet, Washington always fails to demand from Israel even a fraction of what it demands from Palestinians.
Is it then really any then wonder why peace has been so elusive?