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Israel’s Likud Troika: Burying the Oslo ‘Peace Process’

12 Sep

 

 

[Prefatory Note: This is a slightly modified text of an article published in Middle East Eye on September 1, 2015, and republished on my blog with permission. http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/israel-s-likud-troika-and-end-oslo-peace-process-1425103979]

 

 

Israel’s relentless accumulation of territorial facts on the ground some years ago doomed the peace process associated with the Oslo Framework of Principles adopted in 1993. It became increasingly difficult to envisage an Israeli willingness to dismantle settlements and road network or remove the separation barrier, and without such steps there could never be achieved an independent and viable Palestinian state. It should be kept in mind, without even raising the issue of the right of return of at least five million Palestinian refugees living outside of Palestine, that the whole premise of Palestinian statehood was based on the green line ceasefire borders that emerged from the 1967 borders. Even if Israel were persuaded to withdraw from the entirety of occupied Palestine, it would amount to only 22% of historic Palestine, less than half of what the UN recommended to a much smaller population by way of partition in 1947 (GA Res. 181). Yet even in those days of illusion when Israel was purporting to be receptive to the two-state approach it insisted on carving out a permanent security zone in the agriculturally rich Jordan Valley and maintaining a significant measure of border control.

 

For years Israel has played along with the diplomatic consensus constructed on basis of a two-state solution of the conflict as the only reasonable politically compromise. Israel had lots to gain from upholding this consensus, but quite a bit to lose by actually implementing it in a reasonable manner. Maintaining the diplomatic track satisfies its own citizenry and world public opinion that it is doing everything possible to reach a peaceful end of the conflict. In the course of such events, Israel gained the time it needed to expand the settlement phenomenon until it became so extensive as to negate any reasonable prospect for substantial reversal. And yet by relying on its sophisticated control of the media it could pin most of the blame on the Palestinian Authority for one round after another of failed bilateral negotiations. This in turn made it possible to mount propaganda campaigns around even the false claim that Israel lacked a Palestinian partner for peace negotiations.

 

While this diversionary process has continued for more than two decades, Israeli consolidated its influence in the U.S. Congress, which strengthened an already unprecedented ‘special relationship’ between the two countries. These dynamics made a mockery of Washington’s claim to be a neutral intermediary. And above all, the consensus pacified the international community, which repeatedly joining the public chorus calling for resumed negotiations. This became a cynical process with diplomats whispering in the corridors of UN buildings that the diplomatic effort to end the conflict was a sham while their governments kept restating their faith in the Oslo approach.

 

As argued here, the present futility of Oslo diplomacy has been indirectly acknowledged by Israel, and should be explicitly abandoned by the world community. Whether Israel’s was ever prepared to accept a Palestinian state remains in doubt. The fact that each prime minister since Oslo, and this includes Yitzhak Rabin, endorsed settlement expansion raises suspicions about Israel’s true intentions, but there were also indications that Tel Aviv earlier had looked with favor upon the diplomatic option provided that it could, with American backroom help, persuade the Palestinians to swallow a one-sided bargain that incorporated the settlement blocs and satisfied Israel’s security goals.

 

In the last couple of years the veil has been lifted, and it is overdue to declare Oslo diplomacy a failure that has been costly for the Palestinian people and their aspirations. We can reinforce this assessment by pointing to three connected developments at the pinnacle of Israeli state power, dominated in recent years by the right wing Likud Party. The first is the election by the Knesset in 2014 of Reuven Rivlin as the tenth Israeli president.

Rivlin is a complex political figure in Likud politics, a party rival of Netanyahu, a longtime advocate of a one-state solution that calls for the annexation of the West Bank, and an opponent of international diplomacy. The complexity arises because Rivlin’s vision is one of humane, democratic participation of the Palestinian population, conferring citizenship based on fully equality, and even envisioning an ethnic confederation of the two peoples to be achieved within Israel’s expanded sovereign borders.

 

The second development was the campaign promise made by Netanyahu on the eve of the March elections that a Palestinian state would never be established so long as he was prime minister. This startling break with the American posture was also a reversion to Netanyahu’s initial opposition to the Oslo Framework, and bitter denunciations of Rabin for embracing a process expected to result in Palestinian statehood. Netanyahu’s 2015 campaign pledge seemed closer to his true position all along if judged by his behavior although contradicting what his talk at Bar Ilan University back in 2009 when he declared support for Palestinian statehood as the only way for Israel to achieve peace with security. To slightly mend relations with Washington after his recent electoral victory, Netanyahu always crafty, again modified his position, by saying that in the heat of the elections he only meant that no Palestinian state could be established so long as jihadi turmoil in the region persisted. Given the extent of Israeli territorial encroachments on occupied Palestine I would trust Netanyahu’s electoral promise much more than his later clarification, a feeble attempt to restore confidence in the special relationship with the United States.

 

The third development, which should remove the last shred of ambiguity with respect to a diplomatic approach, is the designation of Danny Danon as Israel’s next ambassador at the UN. Danon is a notorious settlement hawk, long an outspoken advocate of West Bank annexation, arrogantly disdaining the arts of diplomacy needed to deflect the hostile UN atmosphere. If Israel felt that it had anything to gain by maintaining the Oslo illusion, then certainly Danon would not have been the UN pick. There are plenty of Israel diplomats skilled in massaging world public opinion that could have been sent to New York, but this was not the path chosen.

 

How shall we best understand this Israeli turn toward forthrightness? In the first instance, it reflects the primacy of domestic politics, and a corresponding attitude by Israel’s leaders that it has little need to appease world opinion or accommodate Washington’s insistence that diplomacy, while not now working, remains the only road leading to a peaceful solution.

Furthermore, the Likud troika seems to be converging on a unilateralist approach to the conflict with the Palestinians, while doing its best to distract the international attention by exaggerating the threat posed by Iran. This unilateralist approach can move in two directions: The Netanyahu direction, which is a shade more internationalist, and involves continuing the process of de facto annexation of occupied Palestine, reinforced by an apartheid structure of control over the Palestinian people; the Rivlin/Danon direction overtly incorporating the West Bank into Israel, and then either following the democratic and human rights path of treating the two peoples equally or hardening still further the oppressive regime of discriminatory control established during over 48 years of occupation.

 

While this Israeli scenario of conflict resolution unfolds most governments, not sensing an alternative, continue to proclaim their allegiance to a two-state solution despite its manifest disappointments and poor prospects. At present, there are a series of international gestures toward lifting the peace process from its deathbed. Sisi of Egypt hosts Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority proclaiming a readiness to mediate bilateral negotiations, and even Netanyahu in the immediate aftermath of Israel’s inability to scuttle the Iran Nuclear Agreement has the temerity to indicate an interest in renewed peace talks. In effect, ‘Oslo is dead, long live Oslo.’ Put differently, the political death of Oslo is being disguised by a diplomatic afterlife. It will be shameful if the Ramallah leadership again enters this cynically set diplomatic trap. As the above analysis shows there is no evidence whatsoever that Israel is at all inclined to allow an independent sovereign Palestinian state to come into existence. Israel is even fought hard against allowing Palestine to fly national flag in front of the UN building. Of course, as in the past, Israel will for the sake of public relations, including rehabilitating its ‘special relationship’ with the United States, evidently again play this cruel game of charades. But why are the Palestinians willing to be partners to such a sham?

 

This see-no-evil posture of governments, and even the UN, ignores the emergence of two more promising alternatives: the gathering momentum of civil society activism exhibited via the BDS campaign and increasingly acknowledged by Israel as its most security threat, leading recently to the establishment of an official ‘Delegitimation Department’ assigned to do battle with the Palestinian solidarity movement.

 

And on a diplomatic level, pursued with some energy and imagination by the Palestinian Authority, is the use of international law and Palestinian statehood to engage the wider international community of states in support of its struggle. Several examples illustrate the approach: the 2012 General Assembly endorsement of Palestinian statehood; the adherence to prominent international law treaties and conventions; admission as member to UNESCO; adherence to the Rome Treaty framing the activities of the International Criminal Court; and just days ago, the GA approval of the wish of Palestine, although having the status of a non-member observer state, to fly its national flag alongside the flags of UN members at UN buildings. With the abandonment of armed struggle and the breakdown of bilateral diplomacy, Palestinian recourse to legitimacy tactics reinforces the civil society global solidarity network that has been exerting increasing pressure on Israel.

 

 

 

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The Dead End of Post-Oslo Diplomacy: What Next?

15 Dec

(Prefatory Note: A much modified version of this post was published in AlJazeera America, Dec. 13, 2014)

The Latest Diplomatic Gambit

 

There are reports that the Palestinian Authority will seek a vote in the Security Council on a resolution mandating Israel’s military withdrawal from Occupied Palestine no later than November 2016. Such a resolution has been condemned by the Israeli Prime Minister as bringing ‘terrorism’ to the outskirts of Tel Aviv, and this will never be allowed to happen. The United States is, as usual, maneuvering in such a way as to avoid seeming an outlier by vetoing such a resolution, even if it has less stringent language, and asks the PA to postpone the vote until after the Israeli elections scheduled for March 17, 2015. Supposedly, the delay is justified so that Netanyahu, seen as an obstacle by the American White House, would not be strengthened by any display of adverse pressure on Israel coming from outside, especially from the UN.

 

Embedded in this initiative are various diversionary moves to put the dying Oslo Approach (direct negotiations between Israel and the PA, with the U.S. as the intermediary). The French are promoting a resolution that includes a revival of these currently defunct negotiations, with a mandated goal of achieving a permanent peace within a period of two years based on the establishment of a Palestinian state, immediate full membership of Palestine in the UN, and language objecting to settlement activity as an obstruction to peace. Overall, European governments are exerting pressure to resume direct negotiations, exhibiting their concern about a deteriorating situation on the ground along with a growing hostility to Israeli behavior that has reached new heights since the merciless 51-day onslaught mounted by Israel against Gaza last summer. This seems to me to be ‘a politics of gesture’ as there is no indication of why resumed negotiations would enjoy any better prospect of success than the several past failed efforts, and would only give Israel additional time to move toward its increasingly obvious end game of imposed unilateralism.

 

A Post-Oslo Meditation

 

 

The horrendous events of the last several months in Jerusalem and Gaza have exhibited both the depths of enmity and tension between Jews and Palestinians and the utter irrelevance of American-led diplomacy as the path to a sustainable peace. This is not a time for people of good will, the UN, and governments to turn their backs on what seems on its surface either irreconcilable or on the verge of an Israeli victory. The challenge for all is to consider anew how these two peoples can manage to live together within the space of historic Palestine. We need fresh thinking that gets away from the sterile binary of one state/two states, and dares to ponder the future with fresh eyes that accept the guidance of a rights based approach shaped by international law. Israel will resist such an approach as long as it can, understanding that it has gained the upper hand by relying on its military prowess and realizing that if international law was allowed to play a role in demarcating the contours of a fair solution it would lose out on such crucial issues as borders, refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, and water.

 

A necessary step toward a sustainable peace is to overcome Washington’s blinkered conception of the conflict. There is no better sign that the Israel-Palestine peace process over which the United States has long presided is unraveling than the absurd brouhaha that followed the magazine article written by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic [“The Crisis in U.S.-Israel Relations is Officially Here,” Oct. 28, 2014] that referenced an unnamed senior White House official who called the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, ‘chickenshit’ because of his obstinate refusal to take risks for ‘peace.’ Supposedly, this refusal put Washington’s dogged adherence to the Oslo Approach of direct negotiations under American diplomatic supervision beneath a darkening sky, but since there is no alternative way to maintain the U.S. central role in the interaction between the governing elites of the two parties, there is an eyes closed resolve to keep the worse than futile process on ‘life support.’ It is worse than futile because Israeli land grabbing on the West Bank in relation to the settlements, the settler only roads, and the separation wall continuously deteriorate Palestinian territorial prospects.

 

The collapse of the Kerry talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in April were unquestionably a negative watershed for the Obama presidency so far as its insistence that the Oslo Approach was the only viable roadmap that could resolve the conflict. Ever since the Oslo Declaration of Principles was sanctified by the infamous Rabin-Arafat handshake on the White House lawn in 1993, the U.S. Government has contended that only this diplomatic framework can end the conflict, and to this day it objects to any moves by governments to take steps on their own. [During the presidency of George W. Bush there was an interval during which ‘the roadmap’ was adopted as an elaboration of the Oslo approach in which a commitment to the idea of an independent Palestinian state was explicitly confirmed by Bush in a speech on June 24, 2002, and then formalized in a proposal made public on April 30, 2003; in this same period ‘the quartet’ was created at a Madrid Conference in 2002 that seemed to broaden diplomatic participation by adding the Russia, the EU, and the UN to the U.S., but in fact the quartet has been completely marginalized for the past decade] The Oslo Approach consists of direct negotiations between the parties and designated the United States, despite its undisguised partisan role, as the exclusive and permanent intermediary and go between. Without the slightest deference to Palestinian sensitivities, U.S. presidents have appointed as special envoys to these negotiations only officials with AIPAC credentials such as Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk, and have proceeded as if their blatant partisanship was not a problem. Evidently Israel would have it no other way, and the Palestinian Authority has meekly gone along either out of weakness or naiveté.

 

Not only was the Oslo framework itself flawed because it leaned so far to one side, but it was an unseemly tacit assumption of the process that the Palestinians would be willing to carry on negotiations without reserving a right to complain about the relevance of ongoing Israeli violations of international law, most conspicuously the continued unlawful settlement activity. When on several occasions the Palestinians complained that this settlement activity was incompatible with good faith negotiations, they were immediately slapped down, informed that such objections interfered with the peace process, and that issues pertaining to the settlements would be deferred until the ‘final status’ stage of the negotiations. The Palestinians were assured that these issues would be addressed at the very end of the peace process after the main elements of a solution had been agreed upon. This was very detrimental to Palestine’s bargaining position as their only advantage in relation to Israel was to have international law in their favor in relation to most of the outstanding issues. Besides to allow Israel to continue with settlement expansion, rather than freezing the status quo, was obviously disadvantageous to Palestine. If legal objections were excluded it is not surprising that diplomatic bargaining would tend to reflect ‘facts on the ground,’ which were completely in Israel’s favor, and would continue to accumulate month by month. Despite this, Israel at no point seemed responsive to proposals for accommodation in accordance with the stated objective of establishing an independent sovereign Palestinian state.

 

After more than 20 years of futility Washington’s continuing public stand that only by way of the Oslo Approach will a solution be found is beginning to fall on deaf ears, and new directions of approach are beginning to be articulated. Israel itself is moving ineluctably toward a unilaterally imposed one-state solution that incorporates the West Bank in whole or in large part. It has recently seized 1000 acres of strategically placed land to facilitate the largest spatial enlargement of a settlement since the early 1990s and it has given approval for 2,600 additional housing units to be built in various West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements that already have more 650,000 settlers. In addition, the current Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, elected by the Knesset a few months ago is an avowed advocate of the maximalist version of the Zionist project involving the extension of Israel’s borders to encompass the whole of Palestine as delimited in the British mandate. Rivlin couples this rejection of any Palestinian right of self-determination with proposals for equality of treatment for both peoples within this enlarged Israel, offering the Palestinians human rights, the rule of law, and unrestricted economic and political opportunity within Israel in exchange for renouncing their political ambitions for either a state of their own or a power-sharing arrangement on the basis of equality with Israel. There is no prospect that the Palestinian people, or even their compromised leaders, would accept such a Faustian Bargain.

 

The Palestinians have their own version of a unilateral solution, although it is far more modest, and seems more fantasy than political project. It is essentially establishing a state of their own within 1967 borders, taking an ambiguous posture toward the settlement blocs and even East Jerusalem, and relying on political pressures to coerce an Israeli withdrawal. Such a state claims 22% or less of historic Palestine, and includes the somewhat confusing contention that Palestine is already a state in the eyes of the international community, having been recognized as such by 134 states and in a resolution of the General Assembly on 29 November 2012. It is currently reinforcing this position with this draft resolution that Jordan will submit on its behalf at some point to the Security Council proposing a resumed period of direct negotiations for a further nine months (accompanied by a freeze on settlement construction), followed by Israel’s mandatory withdrawal from the West Bank. On balance, this Palestinian approach seems ill-considered for a number of reasons. It appears to reduce the parameters of the conflict to the occupation of the West Bank, and leaves to one side the fate of Gaza and East Jerusalem, as well as what is to happen to the several million Palestinians living in refugee camps in neighboring countries or in exile. It also overlooks the structure of discrimination embedded in Israeli nationality laws that reduces the 20% Palestinian minority in Israel to a second class status in the self-proclaimed Jewish state.

 

Among the problems with these reactions to the breakdown of Oslo are the contradictory expectations. What the Netanyahu unilateralism is seeking is utterly inconsistent with any kind of viable Palestinian state constructed within the 1967 borders, and those opposition forces to his right are seeking an even more defiant unilateralism. Equally, what the Palestinian Authority is proposing would seem to require the elimination of most Israeli settlements, the dismantling of the security wall, and the abandonment of the Israeli-only network of roads, while ignoring those Palestinian grievances not directly associated with territorial issues. Each of these versions of a post-Oslo solution is doomed to failure as it proceeds as if the behavior of others need not be taken into account. The Israeli failure to do this is far more unacceptable as its claims are far more excessive than those of the Palestinians, which is really just a matter of wishing away the pattern of Israel’s unlawful encroachment on what is a minimalist Palestinian vision of a solution that it and the UN had long ago accepted in Security Council Resolution 242.

 

There is an evident unfortunate reluctance on the part of all sides to let go of the two-state conception of a solution. It is what Washington and even Tel Aviv and Ramallah continue to say they seek, although Netanyahu has been telling Israeli audiences that after its experience with Hamas rockets last July and August, it will never agree to allow the emergence of a neighboring Palestinian state in the West Bank that would bring Palestinian threats much closer to the Israeli heartland. Ever since the 1988 decision of the Palestinian National Council, the PLO has agreed to a solution framed in relation to a state within of its own within the 1967 borders, and even Hamas has signed on since 2006 to the extent of accepting a 50 year plan for peaceful coexistence with Israel providing it ends the occupation of Palestinian territories, and lifts the Gaza blockade. These are big concessions from the Palestinian side considering that the UN Partition Plan of 1947 awarded 45% of historic Palestine to the Palestinians and proposed the internationalization of the entire city of Jerusalem. The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative is built along the same lines as the PLO proposal, and includes a commitment to establish full diplomatic and economic relations with Israel on the part of the entire Islamic world. This proposal of the Arab League by a 56-0 vote of the Islamic Conference, with only Iran abstaining, and a year ago as a result of American pressure was modified to make it even more appealing to Israel by its acknowledgement of Israeli security concerns.

 

Most recently, a letter to Netanyahu by 106 high ranking retired Israeli military and security officials strongly urged this same two-state solution, implicitly condemning Israeli unilateralism and Zionist maximalism as leading to a future for Israel of periodic warfare of the sort that occurred this past summer in Gaza. These members of the Israeli security establishment argue that these expansionist policies are weakening security for the entire Israeli population. The letter emphasized Israel’s moral decline associated with keeping millions of Palestinians under prolonged occupation, which they argue is unnecessary from the perspective of security. Again there is a lack of clarity about whether such encouragement assumes that the settlements can be retained, the rights of Palestinian refugees can be ignored, and Jerusalem can be kept under unified Israel control. But what the initiative does express is this emergent consensus that Oslo style negotiations have consistently failed and something else must be tried. The letter appears to propose a unilateral partial withdrawal described as “an alternative option for resolving the conflict not based solely on bilateral negotiations with the Palestinians, which have failed time and again.”

 

Europe has also, at last, exhibited a limited unwillingness to accept any longer the Oslo Approach that keeps the United States alone in the driver’s seat. I interpret the recent Swedish recognition of Palestinian statehood, the House of Commons vote urging that the British government take a similar move, as well as similar moves by several other European countries as expressing both a loss of confidence in the Oslo Approach and a criticism of the manner in which Israel and the United States have dealt with the conflict. This is a desirable development in these respects, but it is coupled with some regressive features. Such initiatives are coupled with renewed faith in the two-state approach as the only solution, and call with a sense of urgency for a renewal of negotiations without giving the slightest indication as to why a further round of talks would yield any different results than past attempts. Such a prognosis seems more true at present than in the past given Israel’s moves toward a unilateral solution, which Netanyahu somewhat disguises so as not to affront the United States and Europe. It should be obvious to all who wish to look that Israel has created irreversible conditions that have all but ruled out the establishment of a viable Palestinian sovereign state.

 

The Way Forward

 

The expected controversy surrounding the PA initiative in the Security Council is a sideshow without any serious consequences however it is resolved. There needs to be a clear recognition by the PA that direct negotiations are pointless under present conditions, and a general understanding that unless Israel changes behavior and outlook there is no hope to resolve the conflict by a reliance on diplomacy. This will make recourse to nonviolent militancy via BDS, and such other tactics as blocking the unloading of Israeli cargo vessels, the best option for those seeking a just peace. [“Protesters Block Israel-Owned Ship from Unloading Cargo at Port of Oakland,” CBS St Bay Area, Aug. 18, 2014]

 

I believe the Oslo Approach is discredited, and of no present interest to the political leadership in Israel, which plays along with Washington by not openly repudiating direct negotiations. The European governments that have shown some initiative by advocating recognition of Palestine should be encouraged to take the further step of rejecting calls for resumed negotiations unless Israel demonstrates its sincerity by freezing settlement activity and affirming its readiness to withdraw to 1967 borders.

 

The best, and in my view, only realistic hope is to forget traditional interstate diplomacy for the present, and understand that the Palestinian future depends on a robust mobilization of global civil society in solidarity with the Palestinian national movement. The current BDS campaign is gaining momentum by the day, and is coupled with a sense that its political program is more in keeping with the wishes of the Palestinian people than are the proposals put forth by the formal representations of either the Palestinian Authority or Hamas. When neither governmental diplomacy nor the UN can produce a satisfactory solution to a conflict that has caused decades of suffering and dispossession, it is past time to endorse a people-oriented approach. This is the kind of populist politics that helped end apartheid in South Africa and win many anti-colonial struggles. We have reached a stage in global history in which it is people, not weapons nor international institutions, that have the resilience and patience to win the legitimacy struggle involving law and morality, and on such a basis eventually prevail in the political struggle despite being inferior militarily.

 

The challenge of living together on the basis of equality seems to be the only template that offers the parties a vision of sustainable peace. Concretely, this would seem to require Israel to all ethnocratic claims that Israel is a Jewish state as distinct from being a Jewish homeland. Israel’s leaders would also have to renounce the present unrestricted right of return for Jews throughout the world or create some equivalent right of return for the Palestinians, and possibly for the Druse minority. How such a conception of a sustainable peace is given concrete form is necessarily a subject for diplomacy by suitable representative of both sides and carried on under neutral auspices and by authentic representatives of the two peoples. We cannot foretell how much further suffering and bloodshed will occur before this kind of vision, seemingly a remote prospect at present, can be converted into a practical project, but do know that nothing that falls short of this deserves to be considered ‘a solution’ given the realities of the situation.

Oslo is dead! Long live Oslo! The UK House of Commons Supports Diplomatic Recognition of Palestine

19 Oct

(Prefatory Note: The post below is a modified version, especially the ending, of a piece published online two days ago in AlJazeera English.  While appreciating the importance of the European moves to endorse Palestinian statehood, seeks a more definitive repudiation of the Oslo Approach. It calls for an end to the U.S. role as exclusive intermediary and the presumed outcome of a peace process being two states without indicating the character of the Palestinian states. So far, the two-state mantra has been cut back to allow Israel to retain at least the unlawful settlement blocs and to insist on arrangements that uphold their security against unforeseen threats, while granting not a word of acknowledgement to Palestinian security concerns. My own strong belief is that unless the two peoples are treated with full equality in seeking a solution, the result will not be sustainable or just even in the unlikely event that some sort of agreement is reached.)

 

 

 

 

Oslo is dead! Long live Oslo! The UK House of Commons Supports Diplomatic Recognition of Palestine

 

On October 13 the House of Commons by an overwhelming vote of 274-12 urged the British government to extend diplomatic recognition to Palestine.

At first glance, it would seem a rather meaningless gesture. It is a non-binding resolution, and Prime Minister David Cameron has already declared that this expression of parliamentary opinion will have no effect whatever on existing government policy. So far Britain along with the states in Western Europe adhere to Israel’s stubborn insistence, echoed by Washington, that Palestinian statehood can only be established through a solution to the conflict negotiated by the parties.

 

Even if the British vote was binding, why should it be seen as a dramatic move in Palestine’s favor? After all, Palestine has already been accorded recognition by 134 states since Yasir Arafat declared the existence of a Palestinian state within 1967 borders back in 1988.

 

Such downgrading of the significance of what took place is also part of the Israel tactical response. Its ambassador in London now declining even to comment on the decision after earlier indicating extreme disapproval with the evident hope of discouraging affirmative votes. Before the vote Israeli leaders used their levers of strong influence to discourage the vote. Netanyahu even insisted that such a step would seriously diminish prospects for resumed negotiations and would seriously harm peace prospects. After losing out, the Israeli tone changed, now calling the vote meaningless and devoid of importance.

 

In actuality, the UK initiative is an important symbolic victory for the Palestinians. Until the recently when the elected Swedish government indicated its intention to recognize Palestine as a state at some future undesignated time, no Western European government had broken ranks on the Oslo approach as interpreted by Israel and the United States. It is this approach that has put a straightjacket on diplomacy, requiring any progress toward a solution to be exclusively through direct negotiations for a Palestinian in which the U.S. acts as the one and only intermediary.

 

At stake, then, is not only the momentum building for European countries to extend recognition to Palestine, but also a belated admission that this Oslo approach after more than 20 years of futility should no longer be respected as the consensus foundation of Israel-Palestine conflict resolution. The UK action needs to be joined with the recent diplomacy of the Palestinian Authority, first the Fatah/Hamas agreement of April to form a unity government, and even more so, the resolution to be submitted to the Security Council on behalf of the Palestinian Authority that calls for Israeli withdrawal to 1967 borders, including East Jerusalem, no later than November 2016. It is expected that the U.S. will veto this resolution if it is unable to mount enough pressure to prevent nine SC members from voting affirmatively. Such an initiative by Ramallah further signals that the PA is no longer willing to play the waiting game that has given Israel ample time for settlement expansion and ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem past points of no return.

 

In Mahmoud Abbas’ speech of September 26th to the General Assembly he clearly indicated that he was refusing to cooperate any longer with these diplomatic maneuvers facilitated by the Oslo framework. Responding to Palestinian pressures from below, Abbas left no doubt that he would not pretend that he had ‘a partner for peace,’ thereby turning the tables on Tel Aviv. He signaled this clearly when he described Israel’s 50-day military operation against Gaza this past summer as “a genocidal war.” The G-word was bound to elicit an angry Israeli response, which Netanyahu provided a few days later in the same UN venue, calling Abbas’ speech “shameless.”

 

There still remains a lingering and unfortunate ambiguity in these developments suggesting we have not yet truly arrived at a post-Oslo phase of diplomacy. The UK resolution accepted an amendment stating that its purpose was “as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution.” The former British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, elaborated on this, suggesting that was being done was to exert additional pressure on the parties to get on with negotiating a two-state outcome. This tail wagging the dog is a regression, sustaining the illusion that Israel, whatever the context, is at all willing at this stage to allow an independent sovereign Palestinian state to be established within 1967 borders, even if these are slightly modified. In effect, “Oslo is dead! Long live Oslo!”

 

Since the latest Gaza war there have been two developments of lasting significance : first, the inter-governmental diplomacy is slowly moving away from the Oslo approach, and Western Europe is beginning to fill the diplomatic vacuum created by the April collapse of the Kerry round of talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. And Secondly, civil society nonviolent militancy and political leadership is beginning to occupy center stage in Palestinian hopes and dreams, particularly taking the form of the growing BDS campaign, but also visible in the refusal of Oakland, California workers to unload an Israeli cargo ship.

 

This latter fulcrum of resistance within Palestine and without raises serious leadership and representation questions—who now speaks with authority and authenticity on behalf of the Palestinian people? how can this question be answered given the statist manner in which the world is organized? Let me put my own understanding of this issue more directly: I find that the voices of Omar Barghouti and Ali Abunimah to be more authoritative and authentic than are those of the diplomats from Ramallah who a few years ago showed themselves ready to give the store away in the Palestine Papers and on other occasions. They couldn’t manage such a transaction since Israel apparently felt it already owned the store and was not ready to show gratitude even for a political outcome heavily slanted in their favor.

Cruelties of Ceasefire Diplomacy

27 Jul

[Prefatory Note: the post below is a revised text of an article published in AlJazeera America on July 26, 2014. Devastation and violence has continued in Gaza, with Palestinians deaths now numbering over 1000 (overwhelmingly civilians) and Israeli deaths latest reported at being 43 (almost all military personnel). Such casualty figures and disparities raise questions of state terrorism in a stark manner. Also, it should be appreciated that if Israel were to do what it is required by international law to do there would be no rockets directed at its population centers–lift the blockade, negotiate peace on the basis of the 2002 Arab proposals and Security Council 242. Yet this would require Israel to give up once and for all its expansionist vision embedded in the settlement phenomenon and the version of Zionism embraced by its leaders and reigning political parties. The best that the UN has been able to do is to call for an “immediate and unconditional ceasefire” to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council; such an unseemly balancing act is not what the UN Charter had in mind by aligning the international community in opposition to states that break the peace and act aggressively in disregard of international law; a victimized people deserves protection, not some sort of display of deforming geopolitical symmetry.]

 

So far, the diplomatic effort to end the violence in Gaza has failed miserably, most recently with Israel’s cabinet rejecting a ceasefire proposal from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. This attempt by Washington is representative of the overall failure of American policy toward the Israel-Palestine conflict, only on this occasion the consequences can be measured in the growing pile of dead bodies and the widespread devastation that includes numerous homes, public buildings and even artillery damage to several United Nations schools sheltering Palestinian civilians.

 

The U.S. approach fails because it exhibits extreme partisanship in a setting where trust, credibility and reciprocity are crucial if the proclaimed aim of ending the violence is the true objective of this exhibition of statecraft. Kerry is undoubtedly dedicated to achieving a cease-fire, just as he demonstrated for most of the past year a sincerity of commitment in pushing so hard for a negotiated peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Yet throughout the failed peace process the United States exhibited all along this discrediting extreme partisanship, never more blatantly than when it designated Martin Indyk, a former staff member of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and former ambassador to Israel, to serve as the U.S. special envoy throughout the peace talks.

 

The U.S. approach up to this point to achieving a ceasefire in Gaza has been undertaken in a manner that is either woefully ignorant of the real constraints or callously cynical about their relevance. This is especially clear from the initial attempt to bring about a cease-fire by consulting only one side, Israel — the party bearing the major responsibility for causing massive casualties and damage — and leaving Hamas out in the cold. Even if this is a unavoidable consequence of Hamas being treated as “a terrorist entity,” it still makes no sense in the midst of such carnage to handle diplomacy in such a reckless manner when lives were daily at stake. When Israel itself has wanted to deal with Hamas in the past, it had no trouble doing so — for instance, when it arranged the prisoner exchange that led to the release of the single captured Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit back in 2011.

 

The basic facts seem so calculated to end in diplomatic failure that it is difficult to explain how they could have happened: The U.S. relied on Egypt as the broker of a proposal it vetted, supposedly with the approved text delivered personally by Tony Blair to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Cairo, secreted endorsed by the Netanyahu government, and then publicly announced on July 15 via the media as a ceasefire proposal accepted by Israel, without Hamas having been consulted, or even previously informed. It’s a diplomatic analogue to the theater of the absurd. Last July, then-General Sisi was the Egyptian mastermind of a coup that brutally cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood and criminalized the entire organization. The Sisi government has made no secret of its unrelenting hostility to Hamas, which it views as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood and alleged responsibility for insurgent violence in the Sinai. Egypt destroyed the extensive tunnel network connecting Gaza with the outside world created to circumvent the punitive Israeli blockade that has been maintained since 2007. Was there ever any reason for Hamas to accept such a humiliating ceasefire arrangement? As some respected Israeli commentators have suggested, most prominently Amira Hass, the “normalization” of the occupation is what the Israeli military operation Protective Edge is all about. What Hass suggests is that Israel is seeking a compliant Palestinian response to an occupation that has for all intents and purposes become permanent, and seems to believe that such periodic shows of force will finally break once and for all the will to resist, symbolized by Hamas and its rockets, and now its tunnels. In this respect, the recent move to establish a unity government reconciling the Palestinian Authority with Hamas was a setback for the normalization policy, especially suggesting that even the PA could no longer be taken for granted as an acceptably compliant ‘partner,’ not for peace, but for occupation.

 

Whatever ambiguity might surround the Kerry diplomacy, the fact that the cease-fire’s terms were communicated to Hamas via the media, made the proposal a “take it or leave it” clearly designed to show the world that Hamas would never be treated as a political actor with grievances of its own. Such a way of proceeding also ignored the reasonable conditions Hamas had posited as the basis of a cease-fire it could accept. These conditions included an unwavering insistence on ending the unlawful seven-year siege of Gaza, releasing prisoners arrested in the anti-Hamas campaign in the West Bank prior to launching the military operation on July 8, and stopping interference with the unity government that brought Hamas and the Palestinian Authority together on June 3. Kerry, by contrast, was urging both sides to restore the cease-fire text that had been accepted in November 2012 after the previous major Israeli military attack upon Gaza, but relevantly, had never been fully implemented producing continuous tensions.

 

Hamas’ chief leader, Khaled Meshaal, has been called “defiant” by Kerry because he would not go along with this tilted diplomacy. “Everyone wanted us to accept a ceasefire and then negotiate for our rights,” Meshaal said. This was tried by Hamas in 2012 and didn’t work. As soon as the violence ceased, Israel refused to follow through on the cease-fire agreement that had promised negotiations seeking an end of the blockade and an immediate expansion of Gazan fishing rights.

 

In the aftermath of Protective Edge is it not reasonable, even mandatory, for Hamas to demand a firm commitment to end the siege of Gaza, which has been flagrantly unlawful since it was first imposed in mid-2007? Israel as the occupying power has an obligation under the Geneva Conventions to protect the civilian population of an occupied people. Israel claims that its “disengagement” in 2005, involving the withdrawal of security forces and the dismantling of settlements, ended such obligations. Such a position is legally (and morally) unacceptable, a view almost universally shared in the international community, since the persistence of effective Israeli control of entry and exit, as well as air and sea, and violent incursions amounts to a shift in the form of occupation — not its end. Israel is certainly justified in complaining about the rockets, but the maintenance of an oppressive regime of collective punishment on the civilians of Gaza is an ongoing crime. And it should be appreciated that more often than not, Israel provokes the rockets by recourse to aggressive policies of one sort or another or that most primitive rockets are fired by breakaway militia groups that Hamas struggles to control. A full and unbiased account of the interaction of violence across the Gaza border would not find that Israel was innocent and only Hamas was at fault. The story is far more complicated, and not an occasion for judging which side is entitled to be seen as acting in self-defense.

 

In “Turkey Can Teach Israel How to End Terror,” an insightful July 23 article in The New York Times, the influential Turkish journalist Mustafa Akyol drew from the experience of his country in ending decades of violent struggle between the insurgent Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish state. Akyol “congratulated” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (while taking critical note of his “growing authoritarianism”) for ending the violence in Turkey two years ago by agreeing with the imprisoned PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, to initiate conflict-resolving negotiations in good faith and abandon the “terrorist” label. Some years ago I heard former British Prime Minister John Major say that he made progress toward peace in Northern Ireland only when he stopped treating the Irish Republican Army as a terrorist organization and began dealing with it as a political actor with genuine grievances. If a secure peace were ever to become Israel’s true objective, this is a lesson to be learned and imitated.

 

Just as with the peace process itself, the time has surely come for a credible ceasefire to take account of the views and interests of both sides, and bring this sustained surge of barbaric violence to an end. International law and balanced diplomacy are available to do this if the political will were to emerge on the Israeli side, which seems all but impossible without the combination of continuing Palestinian resistance and mounting pressure from outside by way of the BDS campaign and the tactics of a militant, nonviolent global solidarity movement.