Israel foils America’s bribe
I am the least surprised at the American withdrawal of their set of incentives to encourage Israel to postpone for three months further settlement expansion in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Here in Ramallah, the commercial capital of the Palestinian Authority, the word “occupation” does not mean a job or a vocation. It means total control by all means possible over 3 million armless Palestinians. Here the word ‘settlement” does not imply an equitable resolution to a matter of dispute.
A settlement here means a land grab, a real theft of a nation, its land, its groves, its water, and its sovereignty.
As I tour the West Bank engaging people from all backgrounds, seeking out their hopes and political horizons, I have come to almost agree that the peace process has reached a dead-end.
Future historians may not agree over the exact moment when the Arab-Israeli peace process perished when the last glimmer of hope for a two-state solution was irrevocably extinguished.
Increasingly and incessantly, there are growing indicators, however, that the realization is beginning to dawn in Ramallah, Tel Aviv and, most strikingly, Washington. This fatalism gloomingly proclaims that the peace process, as currently constructed, may finally be dead.
We should begin in Washington, DC, in the aftermath of a lengthy meeting between Secretary Hillary Clinton, and Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, in November. To contextually view the apparent results of that meeting, one would have to recount the gargantuan structure of American military, intelligence, economic and diplomatic support to Israel, painstakingly constructed over many decades, and so seemingly viscerally embedded into the perceived common objectives of the countries.
The US Congressional Research Service recently attempted to capture it, but was probably only partly successful, having no access, for example, to classified US assistance. The annual value of all this is literally incalculable, and well in excess of the $3bn per year usually cited, to say nothing of critical US diplomatic support in the UN and elsewhere.
Given all this, confronted with Israel’s refusal to extend its partial moratorium on new settlement construction in the Occupied Territories, and with anything more than a verbal pressure on Israel literally unthinkable, the US was hard-pressed to come up with additional inducements which might extend the peace process even a little further.
The now defunct list, we are told, included a US commitment to block any Palestinian-led effort to win unilateral UN recognition of a Palestinian state; US obstruction of efforts either to revive the Goldstone Report at the UN, or to seek formal UN condemnation of Israel for the deadly Mavi Marmara incident; an ongoing US commitment to defeat any UN resolutions aimed at raising Israel’s unacknowledged nuclear weapons program before the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); vigorous US diplomatic efforts to counter all attempts to “delegitimize” Israel in various world forums; and, most importantly, increasing efforts to further ratchet international sanctions on both Iran and Syria concerning their respective nuclear and proliferation efforts.
The icing on the cake included a US commitment to supply Israel with some 20 ultra-modern F-35 aircraft worth $3bn – so new they have not yet entered the US inventory – as well as a mysterious “comprehensive security agreement,” whose details have not been revealed, but which may include unilateral US endorsement of Israeli troop deployments in the Jordan Valley, in the event of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
And what was Israel asked in return for what many call the bribe o 21st century? Consider this carefully: in return for the above written guarantees, Israel was to consider agreement to a brief, one-time-only 90-day extension of the partial settlement moratorium, which excludes not only East Jerusalem, but also the cordon of settlements which Israel has carefully constructed to ring the city and deny Palestinian access to it, after which the US agrees, in writing, never again to request an Israeli settlement moratorium.
This development, however, is breathtaking. In effect, along with a whole string of additional commitments, including some potentially far-reaching security guarantees which it is apparently afraid to reveal publicly, the Obama administration is willing to permanently cast aside a policy of some 40 years’ duration, under which the US has at least nominally labeled Israeli settlements on occupied territory as “obstacles to peace,”. All this in return for a highly conditional settlement pause which will permit Netanyahu to pocket what the US has given him, simply wait three months without making any good-faith effort at compromise, and know in the end that Israel will never again have to suffer the US’ annoying complaints about illegal settlements.
Considering that the Israeli government was not expected to accept the agreement – which seems even more striking until one stops to consider that virtually everything the Americans have offered the Israelis they could easily obtain in due course without the moratorium. No, what is telling here is that the American attempt to win this agreement, lopsided as it was, must be seen as an act of sheer desperation.
What gives rise to the desperation, whether it is fear of political embarrassment at a high-profile diplomatic failure or genuine concern for US security interests in the region, I cannot say. It seems crystal clear, however, that the administration viewed the next three months as the last chance. Their stated hope was to get the parties to the table for that brief additional period, during which they were to focus solely on reaching agreement on borders. Consequently, success in this endeavor was expected to obviate concerns about settlements and give both sides sufficient stake in an outcome that they will not abandon the effort.
Admittedly, no one familiar with the substance of the process believed agreement on borders could have been reached in 90 days on the merits; consider additionally that negotiators were attempting to reach such a pact without reference to Jerusalem, and seeking compromise on territory without recourse to off-setting concessions on other issues.
The Obama administration, deservedly, has been facing heavy criticism for having no plan which extended beyond the 90 days, if they can get them. There was no plan for a 91st day because there is unlikely to be one. The Obama policy, absurd as it seems, is to somehow extend the peace process marginally, and hope for a miracle. The demise of that hope carries with it the clear and present danger that residual aspirations for a two-state solution will shortly be extinguished with it.
Meanwhile, in Israel, we are seeing something akin to buyer’s remorse. On the cusp of finally achieving the goal for which Likud has aimed since its founding in 1973 – that is, an end to the threat of territorial compromise which would truncate the Zionist project in Palestine – the Israeli military and intelligence communities, which will have to deal with the consequences of a permanently failed peace process and the dissolution of responsible Palestinian governance in the West Bank which could well follow, are actively voicing their concerns.
Quoted in Haaretz, even as ardent a Likudnik as Dan Meridor has “reached the painful conclusion that keeping all the territory means a binational state that will endanger the Zionist enterprise. If we have to give up the Jewish and democratic character (of the state) – I prefer to give up some of the territory.” It is useless to entertain such second thoughts. Having succeeded in creating irrevocable facts on the ground, settlements which no Israeli government could remove even if it wanted to, the territory which the likes of Meridor would conceivably give up now will not be sufficient to avoid the fate which they dread in future: the eventual de-legitimization of the current state, and its eventual replacement with a binational state.
The terminal gloom among the tired leadership of the Palestinian Authority (PA) is understandable. They are keen to not to be seen as openly complicit in a negotiated capitulation to Israel. And yet they cannot bring themselves to irrevocably abandon the process either. There is a hopeless resignation that the time for peaceful resolution has either not arrived or it passed unnoticed. Threats of dissolving the Palestinian Authority are being uttered by The PA’s president Abbas. And some argue that should the PA dissolve its token powers, Israel and the US may awaken to the realities of the occupation and the urgency to contain the potential implications.
Normally, of course, the US would just use its measurable influence to force the Palestinians to accept American terms. But the Palestinian Authority is down to its last remaining thong of dignity and even this is ready to snap. People I spoke to tell me the PA cannot participate in a peace process that is so openly idiotic.
Politically, and despite the partial economic benefits that appointed Prime Minister Fayyad has brought to a narrow sector of Palestinian society in the West Bank, the PA is on the brink of implosion. Looking too much like a stringed puppet dancing in an empty diplomatic theatre, “negotiating” for a territory vanishing day by day, Mr. Abbas confronts a level of shame that even hard-core PA cronies have to consider soberly.
For years, he has cultivated the image of a much-abused Palestinian patriot on the brink of resignation, enduring endless insults from Israel and the US only to do his best by the Palestinian people. But that always dubious story is crumbling to reveal a sordid truth: the PA is effectively a gang of native clients sucking up funds and patronage from enemy masters who are eager to pay a self-serving indigenous elite to pacify the Palestinian masses.
But why does the US care about sustaining this farce? First, we have to recognize the whole Middle East “peace process” as a survival pact. The US needs the PA to help keep alive the whole mirage story about the PA – Oslo’s “Palestinian Interim Self-Government Authority”, supposedly “interim” to full Palestinian independence but actually “interim” to Israel’s final victory – to achieve what it needs to do in Afghanistan.
Israel still needs the PA, too, because otherwise Israel will be identified for what it is: an Apartheid state. The Ramallah-PA elite relies on the colonizer’s needs — an indirect rule of the natives – for its very existence. So everyone needs the game a little longer and, if all goes right, it will work out for all of them.
The US and Israel assume that when Israel’s eastern border (marked by the Wall plus the Jordan Valley) is finally consolidated, the PA will serve as the “self-government authority” – language straight out of the South African Bantustans, not incidentally – that will keep the natives quiet in assigned “reserves” which may or may not be called a state.
The Ramallah PA hopes to land on its feet: a native elite that can enrich itself on sweetheart deals with Israel that it will cultivate by ensuring “security”. Counting on this pact, Israel need contemplate no true change to settlement policy because, token protests aside, the PA will take whatever it can get.
Very few in the US government really cares where Israel decides to put its borders, so the US government will not insist on any change either. The only concern is keeping up appearances. The short-sightedness of this plan is obvious and sad: it cannot but culminate in Palestinian revolt, Israeli violence, and security dilemmas throughout the region and periodic regional upheavals.
Israeli stubbornness in the face of American bribery is indicative of its perceived ability to get a lot more from Washington because of its political influence over American policymakers. As more Americans detest this ingratitude, they may begin on a new path that tells Israel that peace is in its best interest and secondly that the largeness of American aid must be conditioned on also serving American interests in the region.
If Israel truly desires peace, its “painful sacrifices” for that end must not be a burden on the American taxpayer. Israel must choose between land and peace; it can never have both.