The aftermath of the peace talks
The Peace process that never was is now officially over as we reported in And now the end is here – we face the final curtain.
Yesterday we carried Frank Barat’s interview with Josh Ruebner’s National Advocacy Officer of the US Campaign to End the Occupation, Taking stock – after the breakdown of the “peace” talks.
Here are some further pieces: PLO Executive Committee Member Dr. Saeb Erekat’s statement on the end of the nine months negotiations period; Faysal Mikdadi’s moving reflections Betrayal Tinged with Greed and Stupidity; a Ha’aretz piece Kerry: Israel risks turning into an ‘apartheid state’; and Richard Silverstein’s Kerry Says the “A-word” and Abbas says the “H-Word”
Exactly nine months ago, the Palestine Liberation Organization, in light of the extraordinary efforts deployed by US Secretary of State John Kerry, decided to enter nine months of negotiations with the Israeli government, in order to reach a final status agreement. According to US assurances, negotiations were to be based on the 1967 border and tackle all final status issues including Jerusalem, borders and refugees, among others.
It was also nine months ago when, following an extraordinarily difficult decision, President Mahmoud Abbas announced the postponement of our accession to international conventions and UN organizations in exchange for the release of 104 pre-Oslo prisoners, including Palestinian citizens of Israel. The last group of 20 prisoners are still in Israeli prisons.
Unfortunately, Israel never gave the negotiations a chance to succeed. Everything Israel did during the past nine months aimed at sabotaging Palestinian and international efforts to achieve the two-state solution. To build settlements in occupied land, kill Palestinians and demolish hundreds of Palestinian homes is certainly not the behavior of a government that wants to end occupation but of a government that wants to turn occupation into annexation. Rather than using nine months to achieve a two-state solution, the government of PM Netanyahu has used every possible tool in order to consolidate its Apartheid regime. There is no other word to define this system of segregation and discrimination that has been imposed on our occupied country by the State of Israel.
We remained fully committed to this 9 month process, despite an escalation of oppressive Israeli policies. Israel should once and for all understand that negotiations are a peaceful tool towards achieving peace rather than a smoke screen behind which it can continue its violations of human rights, further its settlement enterprise and make the two-state solution increasingly impossible.
Last week, using our national reconciliation as yet another pretext, PM Netanyahu decided to end the negotiations process. If this Israeli government were sincerely interested in peace, it would have taken Palestinian national reconciliation as an opportunity for peace rather than an opportunity for a new blame game.
The Central Council of the PLO met last weekend and decided that resumption of negotiations is possible upon Israel’s respect of its commitments and obligations, including the implementation of signed agreements and an unequivocal compliance with the pre-1967 borders and UN resolutions. The Central council dismissed Israeli threats and the aggressive campaign against the national reconciliation process. It reaffirmed the sovereign right of Palestine to pursue its independence through diplomatic and non-violent means, including popular resistance and international instruments gained as a result of Palestine’s enhancement of status to Observer State at the UNGA in November 2012. After 47 years of belligerent occupation and 66 years of exile, we owe it to our people to fulfill their rights through every legitimate mean possible.
The Government of Israel, a ruling coalition representing the most extremist sectors of Israeli society, including the settler movement, never prioritized peace as a strateg
ic objective. We believe that the international community must now do what is needed, in order to make clear to Israel that choosing settlements and Apartheid over peace has a political, legal and economic cost.
Faysal Mikdadi, 27 April 2014
When, last July, an Israeli friend sent me a message about the news of John Kerry’s declaration of the resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, both she and I were not particularly hopeful. We were excited – but characteristically reserved.
We have spent sixty six years – indeed, almost one hundred years since Britain ‘liberated’ us Muslim, Jewish and Christian Palestinians from Ottoman despotism only to give us exile – I say, we have spent decades experiencing one disappointment after another that we became supreme cynics.
So, why am I so desperately disappointed by the collapse of the peace talks?
I do not know the answer to this question. Perhaps it is because, yet again, as a Palestinian I feel betrayed by so many around me. Indeed, perhaps it is not disappointment that I feel. Perhaps it is despair.
I found myself crying when the news of the breakup of the peace talks arrived. I had cried before over Palestine. We Palestinians are given to crying a great deal – partly because we are so depressed that tears come easily to us and partly because, deep down, we know that our injustice will continue to grow like a cancer that will eat up our very national existence, crush our soul and render us a passing anecdote in history.
But these latest tears were different. They were tired. They were oppressed. They were without sunshine. They were without hope.
I found myself wishing, for the first time in my life, that I were not born a Palestinian. Just for one day. Just for one hour. If I could be of any nation on earth. Walking home where I have always lived. Sleeping under the same stars that saw my birth. Eating the same food my grandparents ate. Occupying myself with the trivia of a new song, a new dance, a new friendship, a new love. Seeing the same horizon. Breathing the same air. Reading the same mendacious papers as everyone else does around the world. Feeling proud of my tiny village with all its imperfections which I cannot see, and, if I see, I ignore because I love my home so much. Not even one day. Not even for one hour. Just for a few minutes: to live without that crushing injustice. To live without the endless discussions of what we should do next to make peace. Not to have to read news of imprisonment, death and daily humiliations – sanctioned by an indifferent world. Just to live for a minuscule moment in time as a free Palestinian on my land, breathing my air and feeling the very soul of my people’s freedom.
My previous article ‘Twelve Years a Slave, Sixty Six Years a Living Dead’ (LPJ, Sunday 13 April 2014) provoked a huge positive response from kind readers – both Palestinian and Israeli. Perhaps three responses stand out. Let me share them as flickers of hope in a hopeless world before the tears return.
From an Israeli: ” I felt for you and for your pain when I read your piece. I am so sorry and I apologise to you from the bottom of my heart for the part I played in the creation of the state of Israel and the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. There is no excuse and no way that I can undo my birth and collusion while it lasted.”
I am waiting for a brief note from Obama who is magical with words. Meaningless words. But then… What’s new?Maybe, amidst my tired and ageing tears, with people like those who have written to me over the past week, there will always be a glimmer of hope. We must keep the fire of hope burning although, in the last week, I fear that I have drenched it with my salted tears. There are times when, helplessness produces nothing else but bitter tears – the bitter harvest of cruelty much undeserved.
Kerry considering unveiling his own peace proposal, telling sides to either ‘take it or leave it.’
Barak Ravid, 28 April 2014
If a two-state solution isn’t agreed upon soon, Israel will risk becoming “an apartheid state,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday while speaking before a closed forum.
Kerry used the term while speaking at the Trilateral Commission before senior officials from the United States, Europe, Russia and Japan, The Daily Beast reported.
It is the first time a U.S. official of Kerry’s importance has used the contentious term “apartheid” in the context of Israel, even if only as a warning for the future.
“A two-state solution,” Kerry said, “will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative. Because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second class citizens—or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state.
“Once you put that frame in your mind, that reality, which is the bottom line, you understand how imperative it is to get to the two-state solution, which both leaders, even yesterday, said they remain deeply committed to.”
Kerry also warned that a freeze in the peace talks could bring about a violent conflagration in the West Bank. “People grow so frustrated with their lot in life that they begin to take other choices and go to dark places they’ve been before, which forces confrontation,” he said.
During his talk, a recording of which was procured by The Daily Beast, Kerry also suggested that a change in the leadership of either Israel or the Palestinians could make a breakthrough more feasable. He also reiterated his conviction that both sides share the blame for the negotiations’ dead end.
Kerry harshly criticized Israel for plans to build 14 thousand new housing units in the settlements advanced during the past nine months of negotiations.
Kerry also said that at some point he might unveil his own peace proposal, and tell both sides to either “take it or leave it.”
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in response to the tape that Kerry was simply expressing his position, which is shared by many others, and that the two-state solution is the only way Israel could remain a Jewish state that lives in peace with the Palestinians. She added that similar positions have been expressed by Israeli leaders such as Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni.
by Richard Silverstein on April 28, 2014
In the past 24 hours, John Kerry and Mahmoud Abbas made two extraordinary sets of remarks about Israel and the Holocaust. Yesterday, the PA press agency, Wafa released this statement that Abbas had conveyed to U.S. Orthodox Rabbi Marc Schneier a week ago. It was released to mark Yom HaShoah:
…What happened to the Jews in the Holocaust is the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era. He expressed his sympathy with the families of the victims and many other innocent people who were killed by the Nazis.
President Abbas stressed that the Holocaust is a reflection of the concept of ethnic discrimination and racism which the Palestinians strongly reject and act against.
‘The world must do its utmost to fight racism and injustice in order to bring justice and equality to oppressed people wherever they are.
Understandably, given the hostility raging between Israel and the Arab world, many, including the Palestinians have been loathe to express great sympathy for Jewish suffering in the Holocaust. In fact, a 2009 poll by University of Haifa sociologist Sammy Smooha finds that 40% of Israeli Palestinians express some form of Holocaust denial. It should be noted that any poll of Palestinian opinion in 2009 would be heavily influenced by Arab rage at the devastation Israel perpetrated in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead (2009). Further, the Smooha poll does not track opinion of Palestinians in the Territories. In years prior to 2009, the numbers were substantially lower. I’ve searched in vain for any polling numbers since 2009 and found none.
Lebanese scholar George Achcar has written the definitive book on the role of the Holocaust in the Israel-Arab conflict. He wrote in the Guardian:
There is no dispute that Holocaust denial has been on the rise in Arab countries during the last two decades…
Yet western-style Holocaust denial – that is, the endeavour to produce pseudo-scientific proofs that the Jewish genocide did not happen at all or was only a massacre of far lesser scope than that commonly acknowledged – is actually very marginal in the Arab world. Rather, manifestations of Holocaust denial among Arabs fall for the most part under two categories.
On one hand, there are Arabs who are shocked by the pro-Israel double standard that is displayed in western attitudes towards the Middle East. Knowing that the Holocaust is the source of strong inhibition of western critiques of Israel, many Arabs tend to believe that its reality was amplified by Zionism for this very purpose. On the other hand, there are Arabs who express Holocaust-denying views out of exasperation with the increasing cruelty of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Unable to retaliate in kind, they believe that they can harm Israel symbolically in this way.
In both cases, Holocaust denial is not primarily an expression of antisemitism, as western Holocaust denial certainly is, but an expression of what I call the “anti-Zionism of fools“. Yet it remains a minority phenomenon in the Arab world, fought by enlightened intellectuals and politically educated activists who explain that such attitudes are not only based on ignorance but do a disservice to the Palestinian cause. They point to the way any utterances of Holocaust denial are relayed by pro-Israeli websites, which use them in their propaganda.
That’s why Abbas’ unprecedented acknowledgement of the trauma of the Holocaust for the Jewish people has been received with disdain among the Israeli ultra-nationalist political world. Bibi Netanyahu viewed Abbas’ statement as little more than a PR ploy. Even a supposedly purely academic-research body like Yad Vashem weighed in with an Arabophobic statement. as conveyed by Jodi Rudoren:
Yad Vashem…said…that Mr. Abbas’s statement “might signal a change” from a situation in which “Holocaust denial and revisionism are sadly prevalent in the Arab world, including among Palestinians.” The email said “we expect” the new approach to “be reflected” in Palestinian websites, school curriculums “and discourse…”
In this statement there’s nothing of the nuance of Achcar’s understanding of the political background to this issue. And this from individuals who claim to be scholars but show themselves to be ideologues of the same stripe as Netanyahu. Further, the claim of “prevalent” Holocaust denial among Palestinians rests, as I wrote, on a single poll taken in 2009.
Even Rudoren gets into the act by inadvertently channeling the skepticism of those like Netanyahu:
Why “terrible?” Because Abbas made his declaration during the same week in which he announced a reconcilation with Hamas. Why the two should have anything to do with each other is a mystery to anyone but Rudoren and the Likudniks. But she allows Bibi to explain it here by quoting him:
“Hamas denies the Holocaust even as it attempts to create an additional Holocaust by destroying the State of Israel.”
Hamas’ 30-year old charter may deny the Holocaust, but you won’t hear any such statements by Khaled Meshal or his senior leadership. In the struggle to parse the views of Hamas, Meshal, the chief political leader of the movement trumps a dusty document no one reads of consults (except pro-Israel propagandists). As for creating a new Holocaust, that charge doesn’t even pass the smell test.
Not to mention that despite their putative reconciliation, Abbas doesn’t run Hamas. He speaks for the PA and Fatah. The attempt to demean the Palestinian leader’s significant gesture by smearing him with lies and distortions about Hamas is disturbing.
Instead of acknowledging with the smallest measure of grace Abbas’ statement, the Israeli leadership has spat on it. It’s a shameful performance. Not worthy of anyone who genuinely cares about the Holocaust and wants it to be given its due throughout the world, including in Palestine.
Furthermore, such churlishness also diminishes important efforts by Palestinian educators and activists to bring the Holocaust into Palestinian consciousness. A Palestinian teacher recently brought a delegation to Auschwitz and another Palestinian created a Holocaust museum in Gaza. Though these stories were covered in Haaretz, you won’t hear a whisper about them from the likes of Netanyahu, because they disturb his own perverted narrative, no doubt inherited from his father, which suggests Arabs are anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers to the core.
John Kerry is the other man of the hour. In remarks he made to the Trilaterial Commission (yes, it still exists), Kerry warned Israel that it faced a fate of becoming an apartheid state if it continued to refuse any compromise with the Palestinians:
“A two-state solution will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative. Because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second class citizens—or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state,” Kerry told the group of senior officials and experts from the U.S., Western Europe, Russia, and Japan. “Once you put that frame in your mind, that reality, which is the bottom line, you understand how imperative it is to get to the two state solution, which both leaders, even yesterday, said they remain deeply committed to.”
This statement is riddled with questionable assumptions, but the main point is Kerry’s recognition that an Israel that continues down the road of rejectionism is an apartheid state. This, of course, is close to the message of the BDS movement, which makes the Israel Lobby apoplectic. It’s well-paid leaders were suitably outraged by Kerry’s use of the A-word. No doubt, by tomorrow morning the Jerusalem Post will feature a column by Alan Dershowitz accusing Kerry of perpetrating a “blood libel” against the Jews.
But the truth is that use of this term is not unusual in Israeli discourse. Israeli political leaders, newspaper columnists and analysts use it routinely. It is only in the U.S. where the Lobby attempts to enforce a speech code that prohibits use of such terms.
The main difference between my perspective and Kerry’s is that he’s about six months to a year behind the times. In about that amount of time, it will become even clearer than it is now (and it’s pretty clear now) that there is no feasible path to a two-state solution. There is no Israel partner, no Israeli political party, no ruling coalition with any interest in getting to “yes” on this issue. There’s no prospect at this time of any other Israeli party that could take power and advance such a goal.
That leaves no alternative except massive levels of pressure exerted by the international community in the form of BDS and recognition of Palestinian national rights by organizations like the UN. Israel has really left the world with no other choice and has only itself to blame for the outcome.
The irony is that if there had been an Israeli political party or leader who “did a DeGaulle” and led Israel to make the painful choices necessary to achieve a two-state solution, then even the Palestinians and skeptics like me would’ve gone along. It was within Israel’s grasp. But for whatever reason, Israel’s leaders took the easy way out. They refused to confront any painful choices and decided that the status quo was its preferred mode of existence.
The coming year or two will prove the folly of this strategy as BDS gains momentum and strength; as the UN acts on applications for Palestine to join 15 international bodies; as the EU grows increasingly more vocal in its demands of Israel regarding the Occupation.
Foreign Policy in Focus published my piece on the failure of the Kerry peace talks and what comes next