Most observers agree that if the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” is still alive it is on life support with the plug half hanging out of the socket. Last year’s vote at the United Nations, when most of the world opposed the United States’ position and voted for Palestinian statehood, was an international referendum on U.S. mediation. It is undeniable, more than two decades after the Oslo accords, that new thinking is urgently needed.
So what new thinking does John Kerry, the newly appointed U.S. Secretary of State, come up with in an effort to break through the stalemate? He’s decided to dig up the now 11-year-old Arab Peace Initiative and modify some of its language to—of all things—appease the Israelis.
The Arab Peace Initiative was never, despite some recent reporting, “revolutionary”. In fact, the Arab Peace Initiative merely recalled well established international law and resolutions as a basis for a peace agreement. Having always rejected international law as terms for peace, Israel too rejected the Arab Peace Initiative.Most absurd, however, is the renewed effort to change language in the Arab Peace Initiative to accommodate Israeli colonial behavior. Kerry sought and received statements from Arab foreign ministers regarding “land swaps” as part of a territorial agreement. After this, Kerry hailed the statement he’d been working to secure as a “very big step forward.”If this is a step in any direction it is indeed a step backwards. PLO negotiators, the same party recognized by the Arab League, have long embraced the notion of land swaps. In fact, as leaked documents in the Palestine Papers archive show, land swaps were thoroughly discussed in negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis then led by Ehud Olmert. The problem was that when Palestinian negotiators objected to the extent of additional Palestinian land the Israelis wanted to keep, the U.S. representatives acted as an enforcer for the Israeli position. Then Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice responded to Ahmed Qurei’s objection to Israel keeping Ma’ale Addumim, a massive colony deep inside the West Bank, by saying “Then you won’t have a state!”
The message from the U.S. was simple: If the Israelis don’t get to keep what they want, even if they took it illegally, then you, the Palestinians, will live under perpetual occupation.
This is not the first time U.S. mediators try to manufacture progress out of a step backwards. Take for example the Obama Administration initiative in the beginning of the first term when they sought an Israeli settlement freeze. The initiative recalled a first phase Israeli obligation from President Bush’s “Road Map” in 2003 which the United States failed to enforce for years.
The consistent failure of the United States to enforce Israeli obligations while blindly supporting illegal Israeli actions are the primary reasons why the world, not just Palestinians, lost faith in the credibility of U.S. mediation.
Real progress today involves changing that widely and rightly held belief. Photo ops and the rehashing of decade old initiatives that rehashed decades older resolutions is not going to do it.
Most importantly, the U.S. is up against a self-declared clock. Kerry himself recently identified an expiration date for the two-state solution within “a year to year-and-a-half to two years.” What changes then? In a word: politics. As Obama enters his lame duck years regional players will look to his successor, a first term President beholden to the pro-Israel domestic constraints that make genuine engagement on this issue folly for new occupants of the White House. That means several more years of unrestrained Israeli colonization in the West Bank as Israel’s electorate continues to shift right.
The 7th of June will mark 46 years to the day that Arab East Jerusalem and much of the West Bank was occupied by Israeli military forces. It also happens to be a Friday and protests after prayers will certainly focus on the anniversary, the unending occupation and Washington’s failure to change course. This date serves as but another benchmark of failure.
The current Israeli government today is even more pro-settlement than the Olmert government Condoleezza Rice wouldn't stand up to and Washington today is even less willing to pressure Israel than it was then.
At this moment in time we are watching as the two-state solution is formally buried, but a commitment to peace and justice between Israelis and Palestinians must not be buried alongside it. We must acknowledge the passing of the former while clinging ever tighter to the latter.
Washington, largely responsible for the two-state solution’s demise, must be prepared to reform its efforts and work for genuine peace in an alternative framework of equality for all people between the river and the sea.
Perhaps when Kerry's deadline inevitably passes, it will be impossible to deny the Apartheid system they've supported wholeheartedly for decades on end, a system Palestinians don't have the luxury of ignoring.