Friday, December 03, 2010

The "peace process"

PIAG's dispatch for December reports on the status of the Israeli Palestinian peace process, and comments on some suggested solutions to the current impasse.

A bit of background: The Obama administration has been trying all year to bring both sides to the negotiating table, but Palestinians have refused to talk as long as Israel allows the construction of illegal, "Jewish-only" settlements to continue unabated. To understand why the settlement issue is so critical to Palestinians, see PIAG's map cards which detail the loss of Palestinian lands to Israel since 1948.

To encourage Israel to agree to at least a three-month settlement freeze, the Obama administration recently came up with a bright idea: the US would sell Israel $3 billion worth of fighter jets and veto any anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations.

PIAG wonders why the Obama administration believes that weapons of war will promote the atmosphere of trust that is so necessary for peace talks to succeed. Is this a blatant "bribe," as some columnists claim? Or does the US really think that a conflict of this magnitude and depth can be solved by threat and intimidation?

Neve Gordon, professor of political science at Israel’s Ben Gurion University bluntly comments on Obama's offer: "Imagine a sheriff offering the head of a criminal gang the following deal: ‘If you agree to stop stealing from your neighbours for three months, I’ll give you cutting edge weaponry and block any efforts by other law enforcement authorities to restrain your criminal activities.’

If this is the best that the U.S. can come up with, we might think what’s needed are some new ideas. But so many good ones have already have been proposed. The Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA) has published a collection of a dozen proposed solutions by Palestinian and Israeli authors: The U.S.-based J Street has come up with a “borders and security first” approach: And Yuval Rabin, son of assassinated Israeli prime minister Itzak Rabin, crafted a peace plan that he believes will "minimize the impact of the spoilers."

But Jeff Halper, who has studied the conflict for decades, says it is relatively easy to come up with proposals that incorporate all seven elements that are critical for a just and lasting peace: the terms must be inclusive of both peoples, allow each their national expression, provide economic viability to all parties, be based on human rights, international law and UN declarations, squarely address the right of return, be regional in scope (rather than limited to Palestine and Israel), and address the security concerns of both sides. Any number of solutions that include these elements would be viable. The problem, Halper says, is that Israel will never agree to end its Occupation: “There will be no negotiated settlement, period.” While PIAG is not quite that pessimistic, we note that signs do point in that direction.

So how will the conflict be resolved? The Palestinians, fragmented and suffering from weak leadership, are unlikely to organize strong, non-violent tactics that could break the deadlock. Nor can the international community force Israel’s right wing government to bargain in good faith, given the unshakable, "pro-Israel" position of the U.S. Congress. Yet Halper believes that as early as next year, something will happen to break the impasse, creating a context in which a just peace is possible.

This "game-changing break" could come in the form of a unilateral declaration of independence by the Palestinian Authority along the 1949 armistice lines – unlikely, Halper thinks, because of the leadership vacuum. The other possibility Halper sees is the resignation or complete collapse of the Palestinian Authority. If that happens, Israel, not wanting Hamas to gain control over the West Bank, would use its military might to re-take all of the Territories, and then be obliged under international law “to economically support four million impoverished Palestinians with no economic infrastructure whatsoever,” an impossible burden. Strangely enough, this nightmare scenario would put Palestinians and their supporters into the driver's seat, especially if the international community intentionally refrains from providing humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, who would inevitably suffer in the violence and chaos of the re-Occupation.

As Quakers, we view this scenario with alarm. While a game-changer is surely necessary to break the stalemate, urging an even greater disaster onto the Palestinian people is neither moral nor pragmatic. Even if Israel were forced to negotiate on Palestinian terms to avoid its own economic collapse, we do not see how the resulting "peace agreement" would promote justice, security, or economic cooperation, not to mention reconciliation.

PIAG urges you to speak out before the situation degenerates further. Visiting members of Congress, appealing to FCNL to lobby on Capitol Hill, writing letters to the editor, joining the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, vigiling, educating, all are principled ways to insist that peace is possible.