Secretary of State John Kerry made headlines this week when he told the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee that Israel is partially responsible for derailing the “peace process” – clearly, a controversial position for an impartial broker.
Last week, Israel reneged on its promise to release 26 Palestinian political prisoners as part of the nine-month negotiations scheduled to end on April 29. Apparently in response, the PA leadership headed by Mahmoud Abbas submitted applications to join 15 United Nations bodies. This gesture towards full statehood, while perhaps entirely symbolic, was nonetheless criticized by the Obama and Netanyahu administrations for circumventing the framework of direct talks: As Obama’s UN Ambassador Samantha Power testified before a House panel, “deter Palestinian action…is what we do all the time, and that is what we will continue to do.”
While Kerry, too, referred to the PA’s UN gesture as “not helpful,” the straw that broke the camel’s back was, he said, Israel’s announcement of yet more Jewish-only settlement units in annexed East Jerusalem:
Unfortunately, prisoners were not released on the Saturday they were supposed to be released. And so day [one] went by, day two went by, day three went by. And then in the afternoon, when they were about to maybe get there, 700 settlement units were announced in East Jerusalem and, poof, that was sort of the moment. We find ourselves where we are.
The first thing to note is that, as far as “blaming Israel” goes, this is pretty weak sauce. The second is that Kerry, in his noble quest for Peace in the Middle East, doesn’t seem to really understand what the talks mean for Israel. The so-called peace process is, in fact, a charade that serves as cover for Israel’s policy of ramping up settlement construction in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights.
The current framework for negotiations has as its goal the creation of a Palestinian state next to Israel along what are known as the pre-1967 borders, with land swaps. This last part is key: Under this plan, Israel’s borders would revert back to the partition agreed to in the 1949 Armistice Agreements between Israel and its neighbors, except for “mutually agreed” exchanges of land that a) allow large populations of Jewish settlers to be part of Israel, and b) shunt large populations of Palestinians off to the newly formed state of Palestine.
The longer negotiations drag on, the more time Israel has to demolish Palestinian homes and build settlements on the most valuable land, including the most arable land (like the West Bank’s Jordan Valley) and the land with the most natural resources. The more Israel accelerates its settlement policy in anticipation of a final deal, the more PA negotiators will call off this or that round of talks in protest, further prolonging negotiations.
Kerry’s interest in a “two-state solution” appears to me to be genuine, which is why I question whether he truly understands what’s going on or what Israel’s endgame is. I don’t know for sure, but I think Max Blumenthal is right when he pointed out, in an interview with The Real News Network last fall, that the US has the talks set up “to blame the Palestinians again [for the talks’ failure], as it did after Camp David, which…will give Israel the justification to annex Area C.”
Area C is roughly 60% of the West Bank; it contains the Jordan Valley and most of the settlements. Unlike Areas A and B, the Israeli military (IDF) exercises full control over Area C. It is the only one of the three West Bank cantons created in the 1993 Oslo Accords where Palestinian Authority police are not allowed. Netanyahu’s current Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, of the far-right Habayit Hayahudi or Jewish Home party, campaigned last year on annexing Area C. The plan resonated with Israel’s increasingly reactionary youth population, helping Jewish Home win 12 seats in the Knesset (second only to Netanyahu’s conservative Likud).
Bennett’s plan would leave Palestinians with a non-contiguous “state”, but under no plan supported by the US during these negotiations would Palestine have the sovereignty, infrastructure, or natural resources it would need to be economically viable (and thus meaningfully independent of Israel).
That’s what the Israeli government appears to want: a Palestinian Bantustan (in just 10-15% of Israel-Palestine) that can’t raise an army and doesn’t control its own borders, airspace, or water. Why does Israel need a Palestinian state at all? Because annexing all of the Occupied Territories, or even just the West Bank, would jeopardize the “Jewish and democratic” state’s Jewish voting majority. Israel would be forced to either deny voting rights to Palestinians, or else face the terrifying demographic threat of Palestinian babies.
While Israel’s Palestinian citizens can vote, they enjoy second-class citizenship across the board. The politics of Zionism are the politics of Jewish supremacy: They demand a regime of discrimination and segregation that includes over 60 discriminatory laws privileging Jews in every imaginable policy area. Israel’s apologists crow about The Middle East’s Only Democracy™, but the fact is that Israel isn’t a democracy – it’s an ethnocracy, government for and by Jews.
What’s at stake for Israel is nothing less than the preservation of Jewish supremacy between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. And Israelis know it: A 2012 survey found one-third of Israelis support revoking the voting rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel, and in the event that Israel annexes the West Bank, 69% oppose voting rights for its roughly 2.7 million Palestinian residents.
The Israeli government sees direct talks as a way to buy time for its project of expansion and ethnic cleansing, while the presence of both the US and PA negotiators lends the talks legitimacy and shields Israel from international accountability. That’s what the “peace process” has always been about.
But don’t take my word for it – just ask Yitzhak Shamir, Prime Minister of Israel from 1986 to ’92, who admitted shortly after leaving office that, “I would have conducted negotiations on autonomy for 10 years and in the meantime we would have reached half a million people [in the West Bank]”. The most recent figures from Israel’s Interior Ministry put the current settler population of the West Bank and East Jerusalem at around 575,000.
The Netanyahu administration knows time is running out: Settlement construction saw a 123.7% increase in 2013. And contrary to this week’s hand-wringing over the supposed death of the “peace process”, the PA has indicated it intends to dutifully resume talks for an additional two months, as well as refrain from signing any further UN conventions. This is important because Abbas’s puppet government was careful, in choosing which agencies to join, not to apply to either the International Criminal Court or the International Court of Justice, which would have allowed the PA to take Israel to court for war crimes and other human rights abuses.
Malcolm X once said of the civil rights leaders who collaborated with the white liberal establishment to tame the black freedom movement, “These ‘leaders’ sell out our people for just a few crumbs of token recognition and token gains. These ‘leaders’ are satisfied with token victories and token progress because they themselves are nothing but token leaders.” Palestinian civil society, whose call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel has been attacked dutifully by Abbas, see their so-called leaders for what they are – charlatans – and they see the “peace process” for what it is – a sham.
At a recent security conference in Germany, Kerry warned that “for Israel there’s an increasing delegitimization campaign that has been building up. People are very sensitive to it. there is talk of boycotts and other kinds of things.” Kerry was referring to the growing BDS movement, echoing Israeli politicians and businesspeople who have begun pointing to the campaign (which has, as its goal, the ethical decolonization of Israel-Palestine) as a threat of what will happen should the talks fail.
Of course, seen through the prism of Israel’s plan to preserve itself as a haven of ethnic privilege, the negotiations are already a smashing success – only, it won’t be enough. Israel still has the full support of what Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has called the most pro-Israel administration in US history, but even in the belly of the beast, the tide of public opinion has already begun to turn.
Unwavering support for Israel among Americans is decreasing, including among Jewish Americans. At the same time as endless peace talks provide cover for ethnic cleansing, their seeming futility has helped BDS emerge (in the span of a few short months) as a mainstream political issue in the US. In spite of the millions the Israeli government pours into propaganda on university campuses, it’s becoming clear that, slowly but surely, Palestine solidarity activists are winning the “war on campus”.
Netanyahu and Kerry warn of efforts on the part of activists to “delegitimize” Israel, but in truth, nothing could possibly rob Israel of its legitimacy more than its own archaic policies. The full weight of US power is still on Israel’s side; time and history are not.