Negotiating for peace

Page last updated 28 September 2020


Ever since the collapse of the Oslo process in 2000, attempts to restart peace talks have been spluttering and half-hearted. As Tony Karom said in 2010 about Obama’s peace effort– but it could have been about any peace effort over the period – it was “doomed because Israel loses nothing if it fails”. The Palestinian recognition of the state of Israel in 78 percent of historical Palestine in 1988 was made on the clear assumption that the remaining 22 percent would become a Palestinian state. Israel has shown no sign of being willing to honour that understanding.

Instead, Arafat was blamed for the failure of the Camp David negotiations, and since then attempts to find optimism in the Road Map and in various subsequent attempts at negotiating a peace agreement up to and including the 2014 Kerry peace talks, have been dashed. Israel has always put down red lines that it knows are unacceptable to the Palestinians as a precondition for negotiation. Settlement in the occupied territories continues apace as does the fragmentation and disruption of Palestinian society. Israel seems to have chosen constant extension of the occupation, even though this carries with it permanent conflict, over any enduring attempt to come to terms with Palestinian claims.

We link below to some attempts to understand why the peace process has been so unproductive. It is hard to believe that Israel will take the need for peace seriously until pressure is applied on it economically and diplomatically, via social movement pressure on governments in Europe and, in particular, America and by Palestinian resistance to the ever-tightening occupation.

There are also many people whose lives have been devoted to commenting on and intervening in the dynamic of Israel-Palestine peace negotiations. We link to some of their general contributions in a General commentaries section under the heading of International Politics.


1. Barak’s generous offers
Gush Shalom, nd

A contemporary flash presentation based on what was known from the Camp David talks, showing how Barak’s so-called “Generous offers” to the Palestinians were nothing but a fig-leaf.


2. The Myth of the Generous Offer: Distorting the Camp David negotiations
Seth Ackerman, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 1 Jul 2002

“Had Arafat agreed to these arrangements, the Palestinians would have permanently locked in place many of the worst aspects of the very occupation they were trying to bring to an end.”


3. Fictions About the Failure At Camp David
Robert Malley, New York Times, 8 Jul 2001

Malley was present at the talks. Close to the events, he pinpointed three “myths” that had become dominant in explaining the failure of the negotiations: “Camp David was an ideal test of Mr. Arafat’s intentions”, “Israel’s offer met most if not all of the Palestinians’ legitimate aspirations”, and “The Palestinians made no concession of their own”. And he concluded that, if peace is to be achieved, it is vital not to draw the wrong conclusions about this past failure.


4. How Not to Make Peace in the Middle East
Robert Malley and Hussein Agha, New York Reviews of Books, 15 Jan 2009

Taking stock, at the start of the Obama administration, of the failures of US policy to broker a peace between Israel and Palestine.


5. Israel Won’t Change Unless the Status Quo Has a Downside: Obama’s Peace Effort Is Doomed Because Israel Loses Nothing If It Fails
By Tony Karon, Tomdispatch, 23 Mar 2010

An analysis of a particular phase in the so-called peace discussions, but it could have been written at almost any time this century. The argument is summed up clearly in the headline itself. It follows an introduction by Tom Engelhardt headed “Tomgram: Tony Karon, Truth and Consequences in the Middle East “.


6. Timeline: Twenty years of failed US-led peace talks
Mondoweiss, 13 Sep 2013

The Institute for Middle East Understanding published this timeline to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Oslo Accords.


7. The flawed premises: two decades of failed state-making
Alastair Crooke, Foreign Policy, 28 Apr 2011

The international consensus, argues Crooke, is that Israel needs a two-state solution in its own interest in order to conserve a Jewish majority within Israel. This has given us the security-first doctrine: Meeting Israel’s self-definition of its own security needs — it is presumed — stands as the unique and sufficient principle, allowing Israel to transition with confidence to the two-state solution.

But Israel has not done this — despite many opportunities over the last 19 years — and does not seem any more disposed to “give” a Palestinian state now. So maybe the ‘logic’ is wrong.


8. Kerry’s Quest for an Israel-Palestinian Peace: What You First Need to Know
Scott McConnell, The American Conservative, 3 Jan 2014

McConnell’s essay is an attempt to make the work of Jerome Slater better known –  in particular his “What Went Wrong: The Collapse of the Israeli Palestinian Peace Process,” which appeared (behind a firewall) in Political Science Quarterly in the summer of 2001. A clear presentation of why Barak’s generous offer wasn’t  generous, probably not an offer, and quite unacceptable.


9. Time to end the ambiguity
Tony Klug openDemocracy, 6 Dec 2014

The international community needs to draw a line. Israel needs to decide, once and for all: is this an occupation or not? If it is an occupation, its—supposedly provisional—custodianship should be brought to a swift end. If it is not an occupation, there is no justification for denying equal rights to everyone who is subject to Israeli rule.

For Tony Klug’s consistent attempts to find rays of hope in otherwise bleak situations and his argument that the alternative to two states is not one state but permanent conflict, see some of his writings here.


10. If occupation benefits Israel, why change?
Mitchell Plitnick, Foundation for Midde East Peace blogpost, JfJfP 19 Jun 2015

Mitchell Plitnick argues that the effects of BDS are hyped – by its supporters, for obvious reasons, and by the Israeli government for equally obvious reasons. But if the occupation is costless, Israel won’t change. Economic pressure must be applied.


11. Tony Klug writes in Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture  21 September 2020

A Palestinian Peace Initiative is the best response to the UAE/Israel accord

There is no doubt that, on the face of it, the much trumpeted UAE/Israel accord is a diplomatic success for Netanyahu (and Trump) and a political setback for the Palestinians. Whatever one may think of it, it is a landmark development, if not in some ways a game changer, especially as it might be the precursor to similar future agreements between Israel and other Arab states, heralding significant geopolitical realignments in the volatile region.

While wholly understandable, the official Palestinian reaction — denouncing it as yet another betrayal — is not going to achieve anything of note. While it may act as a relief valve for deep and justifiable frustration, it’s hard to see in what way it will promote Palestinian interests. Rejection, however vociferously expressed, is a reflex, not a strategy. Issuing dire but empty threats is not a strategy either. A strategy would build on the reflexes by putting forward alternative proposals. To start with, the Palestinians could do an audit of their assets. One of their strongest assets is international public opinion (and still popular Arab opinion), but this asset cannot be usefully galvanized on the basis of a negative. As things stand, the Palestinian response is just letting Trump and Netanyahu do all the running.


Contents of this section


a) Negotiating for peace
b) Palestinian popular resistance
c) Boycott, divestment, sanctions

Some early history
The campaign against settlement goods and institutions
Arms boycott
Boycott of companies profiting from the occupation
Academic and cultural boycott
Sanctions: the EU and Israel-Palestine

d) Israeli social movement opposition
e) Solidarity with Palestinian and Israeli campaigns and activities
f) Hamas’s strategy
g) The call for equal rights
h) Using International Law

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