The Middle East Channel

The Flailing “Peace Process”

A Palestinian official recently asserted that the "current Israeli negotiating position is the worst in more than 20 years." U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the failure of talks could produce a "third intifada." Still more revealing, in late October Israel announced the final approval of 1,500 settlement units in occupied East Jerusalem and an additional 2,500 units elsewhere in occupied Palestinian territory. This settlement expansion plan was followed by the Housing Ministry's announcement of a staggering 20,000 new settlement units, which could prove to be the coup de grâce for the "peace process." 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, despite pushing the Housing Ministry to "reconsider" the 20,000 new settlements, has not demonstrated a serious effort to rein in pro-settlement policies during the current peace talks. Recently and throughout his political career, Netanyahu has worked consistently and assiduously to prevent the emergence of a Palestinian state. By his own admission, Netanyahu helped subvert the Oslo process of the 1990s, and has continued to undermine a two-state solution by expanding settlements and appeasing the Israeli right-wing.

It is therefore incumbent upon the U.S. administration -- as an "honest broker" -- to state publicly that the current negotiations are at an impasse because of Israeli intransigence and ongoing settlement activity.   

More than three months into an anticipated nine months of negotiations, Israel's leaders appear determined to prevent a breakthrough. Illegal settlement activity and home demolitions have increased. Incitement from Netanyahu's coalition partners is on the rise. Living conditions in Gaza have deteriorated markedly since negotiations began in July. Moreover, in the past few weeks Israeli authorities have escalated efforts to displace Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem.

An agreed upon cone of silence has largely enveloped the talks. But instead of infusing the process with the confidence needed to take hard steps, Israel has regarded it as a means to keep Palestinian complaints to a minimum. There is now no one to blow the whistle on the languishing "peace process."  

The urgency Palestinians feel is not shared by those who already have their freedom, as many Jewish Israelis believe they can manage quite well if this process does not work out. Indeed, Israel's right-wing leadership has too frequently signaled that it prefers failure, which would mean greater settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.  

In late September, Housing Minister Uri Ariel stated, "Israel will continue to build anywhere in the state of Israel. In the Galilee, the Negev, Judea, Samaria [the occupied West Bank] and Jerusalem...We will continue and strengthen Jewish settlement. West of the Jordan there will be only one country, the state of Israel." A spokesman for the Housing Ministry voiced a similar sentiment in November when he declared that Israel would continue to build "all over the country" as though the West Bank is part of one greater Israel.

Such a policy seriously undermines negotiations and, ultimately, endangers the two-state paradigm. The failure of negotiators to broker a two-state solution in the next six months will undoubtedly propel Palestinians into a period of strategic re-appraisal. Israeli settlement expansion and the application of the type of one-state ideology espoused by MK Ariel and his supporters foreclose the possibility of a just, equitable two-state outcome.

If Palestinians in the occupied territories believe the two-state solution untenable, then they will contemplate both nonviolent and violent methods to achieve their rights and freedom. And if the current negotiations fail, the Palestinian Authority will, almost assuredly, resume its efforts to legally challenge Israeli settlement activity along with the pillage of Palestinian natural resources (from the Dead Sea, quarries, and elsewhere) and historical artifacts (such as from Silwan) through U.N. agencies and the International Criminal Court. My own constituents within Israel itself are more likely, I believe, to fight rampant Israeli discrimination via nonviolent means and through the courts, reminiscent of the campaign by African Americans to fight segregation in the southern United States.

To date, Palestinians (and Israelis) have mobilized across the country to protest against Israel's violations of human rights. Most recently, the Prawer Plan, which aims to evict as many as 70,000 Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel from their homes in favor of Jewish-only housing, has triggered demonstrations attended by thousands. These protests have persisted despite Israel's heavy-handed response. We will demonstrate this Saturday against the Prawer Plan, and we will continue to struggle in the street, the parliament, and international agencies to achieve our rights.

Given the likely failure of peace talks and paucity of strategic alternatives, popular support for a mass movement will grow as the possibility of a two-state solution recedes. An unexpected incident or symbolic act, similar to Ariel Sharon's provocative visit to the Haram al-Sharif that sparked the second intifada in September 2000, could propel tens of thousands of Palestinians onto the streets to express outrage against decades of occupation and dispossession.

As for the form of protest, Palestinians have not forgotten that President Obama seemed to point favorably to a massive Palestinian nonviolent movement for freedom when he gave his Cairo speech early in his first term. Painfully, his administration has ignored the smaller Palestinian nonviolent efforts of the last decade that have been violently suppressed by the Israeli military. A broad-based, nonviolent Palestinian response would generate tremendous enthusiasm regionally and internationally for the Palestinian cause. Pressure would mount on the Israeli government and its stalwart defenders in the United States. Israel would face increased international isolation, which would become further amplified if Palestinians could successfully coordinate a popular nonviolent resistance movement that mobilizes all segments of Palestinian society.

Israel's time of reckoning is now. Will it back a just two-state solution or continue its strategy of obfuscation and delay that could precipitate an equal rights movement and expose Israel to the delegitimizing consequences of being an apartheid state?

The Palestinian people are committed to achieving their rights and have grown embittered with a "peace process" that strengthens, rather than dismantles, the occupation. In the absence of a credible peace process that yields tangible results, the Palestinians will seek alternative strategies that confront the occupation through international bodies and popular, nonviolent mobilization.

The United States must then also assess its options. If the U.S. administration cannot place pressure on its ally or assign blame where it belongs, then it must recognize its inability to serve as an "honest broker" and step aside in favor of some other intermediary. Unlike the Bush I and Bush II administrations, which encountered (and helped suppress) years of Palestinian freedom struggle, the Obama administration has not faced a mass Palestinian mobilization. That situation may not endure. 

Ahmad Tibi, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, is deputy speaker of the Israeli Parliament.

Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

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