Just what is keeping the Peace Process alive? And what will it take to bury it?
You’d think that the Peace Process was over. You’d think that Oslo would be dead. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the Two State Solution had been cremated, its ashes buried under a building site on heat, mixed in concrete and made in an 8-metre high security wall or scattered at sea around the Mavi Marmara.
Focus on September
Jpost observes that since the period highlighted by the Palestine Papers “Today Israel would offer less, and the Palestinians would demand more.” Yet a new round of “talks” is to start in September, the month the PA has said it will declare a Palestine state “within the 1967 borders”. But even the South American states that helped to launch this show mostly didn’t mention the 1967 borders, which is case the only thing worth having in these recognitions. So the shadow-boxing goes on.
To get one-up on this, Netanyahu will play the “new peace initiative” manoeuvre. The plan (which has already flopped at previous showings) is for an “interim” (i.e. minimum) Palestinian state, which after more decades of further negotiations and subject to good behaviour — as defined by Israel — and the vagaries of Israeli coalition politics, might (or won’t) attain permanence, sovereignty etc.
Meanwhile, an atrocious killing of a settler family near Nablus is being exploited to harden positions: “Above the freshly dug graves the speakers competed among themselves as to who could be more extreme.” (Ha’aretz). And Israel continues to bomb Gaza at will: no UNSC no-fly zone there!
The settlers themselves, fully armed and doubled in number to half a million during the Process and with a complete supporting infrastructure, are easy to blame for the state’s own conscious and deliberate expansion project which was set in motion within hours of the conquests of 1967. As early as the night of 11 June ‘67, houses in East Jerusalem were demolished, shortly followed by the demolition of five villages around Latrun. The 1970 Allon Plan map (left) showing what they intended for the West Bank is just a tidier version of today’s maps that show an archipelago of islands of Palestinian semi-control.
Settlers rightly complain they are a scapegoat — the animal that carried the sins of the world. They have their own interests, sometimes clash with governments and the “pioneer” ideological settlements boast extreme and repugnant politics and theology. But they are creatures of the State of Israel, encouraged, subsidised and nurtured by every single government since 1967. Two-state advocate Yuri Avneri says that “without settlements, there would have been peace decades ago”. What nonsense: the settlements were created by Israel — supposedly one of the parties to the Process — precisely so as NOT TO have peace.
Pacification, not Peace
The Peace Process was not about peace, but pacification. Oslo was used to pacify the first Intifada; Sharon provoked the second Intifada, and used it to destroy the West Bank’s civil infrastructure, well before the first suicide bomb. These bombs helped Israel to consolidate its control, subjugation, dispossession and fragmentation of Palestine in the name of security, and strengthened the right wing, making “security” the single uniting obsession of Israeli politics and giving the army overwhelming influence and power.
Is Netanyahu intent on provoking a third Intifada? He may not be. If or when it develops, this could now be on the Egyptian and Bil’in models, something far more unpredictable and threatening to people who only understand physical force. He was quick to discourage any settler-driven pogroms following the Itamar murders: this aggressive demagogue simply promised to expand housing in the “blocs” of settlements that Israel declares to be legal and non-negotiable.
The Bantustan Model, but where is the ANC?
The Peace Process was purely intended to manage (and stage manage) defeat of Palestinian rights. Far from being a phased creation of an independent country the Process has destroyed the Palestinian economy and civil life, warped its infrastructure and pillaged its resources. The Peace Process talked endlessly about borders but never even stopped Israel’s erection of the wall as a unilateral new boundary to shrink the 1967 ‘Green Line’.
Supported by the international consensus for two states, Israel always planned to use the peace process to solve the “demographic problem” by creating Palestinian bantustans on the South African apartheid model, where “self-governing” enclaves were touted as independent homelands: white South Africa, writes Jeff Halper, “did not have to deny its black citizens the vote, it simply shifted their citizenship to bantustan ’states’ of their own where, it was claimed, they had all the rights of self-determination”. The whites-only Parliament would not then have to accommodate these people politically.
South Africa’s trick was never accepted internationally, largely thanks to the ANC’s clear vision of one inclusive democracy, which it retained against the opposition of some of the bantustan puppets, such as Chief Buthelezi who had been set up to rule Kwazulu Natal. So far, Israel has had the services of Buthelezi’s Palestinian equivalents, Fatah and Hamas in their respective fiefdoms of the West bank and Gaza, and has had no ANC to contend with.
The Peace Process’s Seven life-support mechanisms
1. The “peace process” is delay-proof. It invites procrastination, zoning, the outsourcing of minor functions, and the interim solutions that Sharon, Olmert and now Netanyahu have used to play the Americans along. It can live or half-live indefinitely with no result.
2. The “Peace Process” has been faithful to none of its programme. There was little new revealed in the Palestine Papers, but it was still a shock to be a fly on the wall and watch how things got further from peace, not closer. Israel’s Tsipi Livni could indeed afford to play the Ice Queen, as since June ‘04 the USA’s pro-Israel policy was set for future presidents by a near-unanimous resolution of both parties in both Houses of Congress. This did away with any requirement for a negotiated (rather than imposed) settlement and made no mention of the “viable, contiguous, sovereign and independent Palestinian state” as specified by the Road Map. Already, George W Bush had put it in writing that withdrawal to pre-1967 borders was “unrealistic”. As more and more things become “unrealistic” or unacceptable to Israel, the “Process” simply accommodates.
3. It can incorporate and be a platform for various packages thought up by Sharon and Olmert, which can be used in various combinations, a sort of “Peace Process Lego”. This is the game Netanyahu is now playing with, and it’s also the basis for planning, land-use decrees, infrastructure, roads, industrial estates etc, and all the administrative and bureaucratic measures of ethnic control and cleansing. These are some of the Lego building blocks for a “peace policy”:
♦ Unilateralism: action imposed without negotiation.
♦ Tactical disengagement from outlying settlements and reduction of IDF numbers, and ‘convergence’ of the these settlers into the big blocs that Israel intends to keep, if and when it is ever politically feasible.
♦ Provisional (i.e. moveable) borders so that the myriad bantustan areas may or may not one day hope to be linked up, in a configuration yet to be decided.
♦ Transitional status: leaving return of refugees to the bantustans, and important sovereignty issues, to be resolved, maybe.
♦ In even the most ‘generous’ carve-up Israel will insist on keeping an eastern border along the Jordan valley so as to enclose the West Bank completely: a wall is now planned to delineate that border.
4. As Jeff Halper writes, “If Israel can finesse a ‘transitional’ Palestinian state while keeping its settlement blocs, Greater Jerusalem, control of borders [and] Palestinian movement, air space, the electromagnetic sphere, water and the economy, plus maintaining complete military control, it has won. The Occupation, it can proclaim, is over. The two-state solution has been obtained (with a few details to work out…). The conflict is settled.” This is what keeps Israel in the “peace” game. If they were really clever they could even take the PA’s diplomatic recognition campaign and co-opt or counter it to recognise a unilaterally imposed bantustan.
5. The Peace Process also receives much of its life-support from the liberal Jewish and Israeli left’s wishful thinking that if only the obstacle of the outlying, fanatical settlers could be shifted, then a two-state solution would be possible, generally referred to as “two states for two peoples, living peacefully side by side”. And no doubt happily ever after, as in all good fairy tales. And these people are the ones most easily impressed by “small land swaps” whose figures in square mileage conceal the extent of the robbery that’s taken place and the extent of the continuing control that will stretch indefinitely into the future.
6. The essential oxygen that keeps the Peace Process alive is the failure of the Arab camp to recognise the mistake of agreeing to a state in 22% of Palestine (the “1967 borders”), an area which was never even a distinct region. Even given good will and the best conditions, a “return” to the 1967 borders, which already held a mass of displaced refugees from 1948, was not viable.
7. For the mass of Palestinians, their continued toleration of the Peace Process comes from a passionate desire to end the daily grind of living under a hands-on military dictatorship, to gain the dignity of life by law and international recognition and the modest normality of running their own affairs. This is the most powerful scaffolding that holds the Palestine Authority in place. All the inexplicable and arbitrary actions of the Occupation, the senseless prohibitions and humiliations, are designed to wear down the Palestinians. But their courage and steadfastness has prevented a sell-out from taking place. For all Israel’s powers the Palestinians still have to agree. Unless Israel can get away with an imposed solution, the Process will be kept in suspended animation.
Making the aims more clear
But there is a big leap to be made to cross from tolerating the Process critically while working to get a better deal out of it, and ditching the whole trajectory and fighting for something completely different.
The Palestinian grassroots struggle and its solidarity movement would have to make a massive shift to bury the separate-state ideal. The strong emphasis on rights, including right of return, should indicate a departure from a territory-based goal which is incapable of providing these rights. But there are still many constraints holding back from making the switch to a political goal that does match up to these rights. Many activists adopt a neutral stance, saying that any arrangement that accords with human rights is acceptable, but still do not reject the separate state that cannot deliver on human rights. This neutrality would be fine if the Two States process was not the default position, the only solution on the agenda.
Some key demands and ideas can conveniently be read either way, meaning different things to different people.
So “End the Occupation” could mean
♦ an end to discriminatory, apartheid practices in every part of original pre-1948 Palestine — which would be fought by demands for civil rights;
♦ or it can mean an end to occupation by a foreign country of the 22% of original Palestine that may become a future state of Palestine — so Israel, its settlers and army should go).
And “Self determination” could mean a separate state, or it could mean an empowered Palestinian community able to decide its own future by democratic means.
In order to shift from a two-state or neutral/open position to a single-state goal, these words would have to be more explicit and defined.
From the River to the Sea
The biggest and hardest shift, amounting to an apparent U-turn, would be to demand the vote and civil rights in Israel’s national political arena: effectively, to ask for annexation into the existing state of Israel. For those in East Jerusalem, it would mean ending the boycott of municipal elections, a longstanding expression of refusal to be annexed. This would overturn every one of Israel’s maps and plans, and is the only thing the Zionist establishment truly fears: yet from a Palestinian standpoint it could look like a retreat. At the recent “ongoing Nakba” conference in London there was fervent applause for Ghada Karmi’s call for a single state, but a horrified gasp when another platform speaker said the demand for the right to vote “would mean to demand annexation”.
Can the slogan “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” encompass a route that goes through the heartland of Israel to liberate Palestine — that agrees with the physical geography of a “Greater Israel” and a “unified Jerusalem” but will fight for the political geography that reflects a different moral, political and legal reality?
History will remove the scaffolding
So the gory old Peace Process still drags its undead dead-weight through the international arena, offering no immediate respite and no realistic way forward in the longer term. This isn’t a cheap drama, so it won’t take one climactic stake through the heart to kill the monster.
But though the undead creature is held up on stage with crutches and trusses, seemingly immune to death and decay, history is waiting in the wings. All around the region and the globe, massive political tectonic plates are on the move and when they sweep away the scaffolding, the lifeless dummy will fall.
Interviewed in the last month by Frank Barat, the historian Ilan Pappe outlined the processes at work*
How long can the PA continue as collaborator? Several things have to happen for a transformation: the process happening in the Arab world has to continue; secondly, the spread of the campaign against Israel into the political elites, and thirdly there has to be a solution to the question of Palestinian representation.
It’s clear that the PA is not the PLO, but it’s not so clear just who is the PLO. Only the Palestinians, in an almost impossibly fragmented reality, have to re-awaken the process of representation. If you have this representation, and you have a changing Arab world, and you have a political elite in the west that is willing to do what its public wants it to do, then I think the PA will disappear and this will be a first step to fundamental transformation.
The Palestinians remaining in Palestine are incredibly strong, and will not crack. A completion of the ethnic cleansing is not an option for Israel. Public opinion is on the turn. The Palestinian leadership needs to get representative. The solidarity movement cannot do this, but should concentrate on taking Israel into pariah status.
We have to change the dictionary. We should stop talking about peace process, give up the idea of two state solution, we should talk about colonialism and anti-colonialism, change of regime, ethnic cleansing, reparation. The change to non-violent strategy is good, because a new reality that’s born out of a non-violent struggle would create a much better relationshhip at the time of reconciliation.
*This is a rough paraphrase: see the interview here.
Jeff Halper’s Book An Israeli in Palestine is published by Pluto Press
« Young Mizrahi Israelis welcome Arab Spring
The Pink Slip: Notice to Quit »