Jan 10th 2011

Kill the "Peace Game"

by Sharmine Narwani

Sharmine Narwani is a commentary writer and political analyst covering the Middle East, and a Senior Associate at St. Antony's College, Oxford University. She has a Master of International Affairs degree from Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs in both journalism and Mideast studies.

The Palestine-Israel conflict is no pesky regional skirmish. This century-long battle over territory threatens to draw the entire global community into its bowels if it is not dealt with soon, and the only way out of the current paralysis is to kill the "peace process" once and for all.

There is no other way to end our dependence on what is probably the least successful attempt at conflict resolution in modern history -- like wasted addicts, hoping that another tweak here or there might be the one to produce a breakthrough. No it won't, and we need to destroy this addiction in order to get onto the path of recovery.

Some realities to consider:

Nineteen years of a drawn out "peace process" has seen the establishment and institutionalization of a "peace industry" so gargantuan and far-reaching that it makes the United Nations look like a nimble start-up operation.

From Madrid to Oslo to Annapolis to the Quartet, we are hampered by agreements, roadmaps and conditions that create a thicket of red tape and limit our maneuverability. Layer upon layer of superficial "process" obscures the path forward. Which is why we are standing quite still.

Even the participants are fake. The Palestinian "Authority" -- well -- has none. We squeezed out the elected body and inserted our own players. When we throw eve-of-peace-talks ceremonies at the White House, we invite Egypt and Jordan, who have absolutely nothing of substance to contribute. And we studiously ignore all the parties that count - Hamas and Syria are fundamentally unavoidable in any settlement.

Welcome to the Middle East Peace Game -- in which we get to choose the players, make up the rules and set the time table.

Excluded from the game is anything remotely resembling an actual solution, or any meaningful negotiation around the contentious core issues. We don't want this game to end. Like NATO and the other Cold War games we set up -- we are not sure exactly how to dismantle them and have long since forgotten the end goal. The goal, it seems, is to simply stay in "play."

So here we are at the start of 2011, entering the 20th year of the "Peace Process." The reality of establishing two states died years before the idea did -- just around the time we realized that Israel had used the peace process to sneak in half a million Jewish settlers into the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, thereby ending the land-for-peace basis of any lasting agreement.

Peace Game Was a Long-Term "Jobs Program"
Established by the Oslo Agreement to allow Palestinians to begin a process of self-governance, the Palestinian Authority (PA) instead turned out to be a nifty way to remove Israeli troops from the daily grind of confrontation, whilst quite brilliantly allowing Palestinians to administer their own occupation.

And we threw money at our handpicked Palestinian leadership -- creating graft, corruption and a sense of entitlement the likes of which has not been seen since the CEO of Halliburton became vice president of the United States. In the process, we cordoned off the "opposition" into a hellhole called Gaza, and sought to destroy them by punishing an entire civilian population.

So focused were we on establishing players and rules, not for one honest second did we drill down on the core issues required to resolve this most divisive conflict: 1) final borders; 2) status of Jerusalem 3) the right of return for Palestinian refugees; 4) sovereignty issues, including water and air space rights; security, etc

The Peace Process Industry instead created a thousand other issues to be addressed first: who is in charge of guarding the grove of olive trees below that hill, around the corner from Abul Abed's house? Who is going to ride in the second car when the PA president visits a town in Sector C? Who is going to collect taxes from the Palestinian worker building a gazebo for a Jewish settler family on illegally confiscated land? And other such numbing minutae.

If Rot Persists, Do a Demolition
Quite understandably then, nothing has moved forward in twenty years. Yet today, the same set of leaders in Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Jordan, the US Congress, State Department, Arab League and European Union are still trying to resuscitate these dead talks by suggesting itty-bitty, incremental steps that they hope will breathe some life into this cadaver.

There is only one way out of this. Kill the Peace Game. No Oslo Agreement. No Palestinian Authority. No Quartet. Kill the Game now and start a new chapter premised fully on achieving a solution-at-any-costand soliciting the participation of any party, action or initiative that can deliver results within a ridiculously short time frame. Trust me, all the parties know their bottom line after twenty years of thinking about it -- it should take about a week to figure out where they converge.

Now, I have been recently wondering why the idea of "changing course" creates such paralyzing fear amongst the group of nations/actors listed above. Honestly, I promise to not offer up even a single original idea: the script has practically been writing itself this past year -- except the main "players" have either not been watching, or are refusing to accept a new narrative that challenges their playbook.

Clearly, to end their addiction to this game, an intervention is required. Here's an example of how to do this decisively: Acting PA President Mahmoud Abbas can, in one fell swoop 1) Quit; 2) Declare that Palestinians will no longer welcome a US role in peace brokering; 3) Dissolve the Palestinian Authority and fold themselves back into the PLO or a similar umbrella liberation movement; 4) Demand that the UN Security Council enforce all resolutions on the Palestine-Israel conflict within a set timetable --or the following will take place:

  • Palestinian leaders representing all factions will form an interim governing body and declare a Palestinian state on all territories occupied by Israel in 1967.
  • The Palestinian security forces will be mobilized to protect the independent Palestinian state and its borders.
  • Palestinians will stop subsidizing their own occupation by refusing to pay taxes to any non-Palestinian institution, and will immediately halt all work in Jewish settlements.
  • Palestinians will demand that the Arab League restore the Middle East-wide boycott on companies doing business with Israel until all IDF troops and Jewish settlers have been removed from territories occupied in 1967. The 118-nation Non-Aligned Movement and various western groups/unions already participating in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) of Israel will be invited to join.

Peace Process "Frankensteins" Are Failing Anyway
Now here's the rub. One can be fairly certain that Abbas and his PA cronies will do nothing of the sort. But in short shrift, that may not matter any longer.

The pro-US, Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority has virtually no credibility left among its own populations -- Israeli politicians are all over the WikiLeaks cables brandishing this fact. Without reconciliation with the main Palestinian resistance group, Hamas, the PA will fall. And since the US, Israel and Egypt have done everything in their power to prevent this reconciliation, they are the architects of the PA's demise.

As highly-militarized states do, Israel will reflexively rush to prop up its occupation, inserting IDF troops back into the West Bank to underline its authority. But now they will be facing the US-trained Palestinian security forces who will, if provoked, turn their newfound skills and weapons onto Israeli occupation targets. At that point the IDF could be facing down Hamas soldiers defending Palestinian borders and towns as well.

Either way, once the IDF is back on the scene you can expect every Who Down in Whoville to go back into resistance. Ding dong, third intifada.

Turmoil Will Finally Light a Fire Under the International Community
Twenty years of "process with no peace" has lost Washington any remaining credibility as a peace broker, and few countries will feel under obligation to pay even lip service to further US promises or plans. Attempts to veto resolutions on Israel's illegal settlements will only gain the derision of the international community at this point, and the Obama administration's recent efforts to prevent a Palestinian unilateral declaration of statehood is likely only to undermine its Palestinian partners back home.

Because whether Abbas declares an independent Palestinian state tomorrow or not, the concept is well and truly out of the box and making the rounds. Seven nations have now - quite organically, it seems -- recognized a Palestinian state in the last month: Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay and Chile have all either recognized the state on 1967 borders or will do so imminently. And according to news outlets, Mexico, Peru and Nicaragua are also reported to be considering recognition.

It would be political suicide for the pro-US regimes of Muslim-majority states like Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia -- and Abbas' PA -- to not publicly declare their recognition of an independent Palestinian state when half of Christian Latin America has already done so.

The United Kingdom, a relatively staunch supporter of Israel, has followed this news by confirming that it is considering moves to upgrade the Palestinian delegation in London to the status of a full diplomatic mission shortly. Britain is not alone -- it joins France, Spain and Portugal in doing so.

A few weeks ago, more than two dozen former EU leaders issued a letter calling for boycotts and sanctions against Israel for rejecting a settlement freeze in the occupied territories in defiance of international law.

The 26-member Who's Who from the European Union "called for the EU to prohibit import of products made in settlements, and demanded that Israel fund the bulk of aid to Palestinians. The letter also urged the EU to make an upgrade of relations with Israel contingent on the cessation of settlement construction."

The PA warned last week that it will take the issue of Israel's illegal settlement activity to the UN Security Council, where surely a half dozen or so dusty resolutions on the subject already exist, awaiting a time when the Security Council puts its full weight behind the enforcement of these rulings. Having already used its authority to justify a war in Iraq, authorize four rounds of sanctions against Iran and fund an ill-conceived investigation into the death of a former Lebanese PM, the Security Council will be hard pressed to ignore its own resolutions on the illegal Jewish settlements.

The fact is, the time is right. Never before has Israel bent this far to the right. A series of statements and developments in the Jewish state suggest a thriving racism that fits snugly into the narrative of an "Apartheid" Israel that was bound to emerge if the two-state solution was lost -- words to that effect from no less authoritative figures than US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert.

Two Breakout Scenarios for the Bold:
Settlements first. If the UNSC can do its magic without the interference of a US veto, "de-settling" the West Bank may be the first step toward a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders. Boycott, sanctions, divestment or NATO forces -- whatever it takes to get those settlers out and recognize an independent Palestinian state. This is a scenario where Israel will be required to act according to international law or suffer the consequences. The way we did it in Iraq. But legitimately, this time.

The second option: Israel militarily re-occupies the West Bank to prevent a unilateral Palestinian takeover, and we are back to square one, as though this pointless peace process had never occurred.

But this is a different world, and this would be a "back to the future" occupation. An apartheid-style state occupying Palestine cannot survive in 21st century global politics where the only thing we know what to do with Apatheid is.. .dismantle it. And so the second solution -- again, one that has developed quite organically - presents itself. A single state where Jews, Christians and Muslims live as equals under the law.

Now this is just pure poison for hard-core Zionists and right-wing Israelis. Many have warned Tel Aviv that the lack of progress toward establishing a Palestinian state and resolving outstanding conflict issues will result in the unraveling of the "Jewish" identity of the state -- and staunch supporters from Jeffrey Goldberg to Thomas Friedman are finally questioning the Israel "they thought they knew," a sure sign that this extremist government has broken with the international community in its thinking.

Israel has one of two choices to make right now: remove all Jewish settlements from occupied territories and withdraw behind 1967 lines, or prepare for co-existence in One State, where all residents are equal under the law. These choices will remain the same regardless of which Israeli government coalition leads the country -- neither the Israeli left or right has stopped the flow of settlers into occupied territories or forged a peace deal. So dreaming of a Netanyahu-Livni coalition will not change anything except the rhetoric.

The Palestinian leadership has one of two choices to make too: break with the peace process trajectory in order to build the foundations for a future, or go under. There is nothing of this peace process that has served Palestinian national interests, so the PA will eventually be forced to take action of some sort. The concern is not that it will not renounce the process; the danger is that it will only do it in increments -- or half-heartedly -- providing Washington and Tel Aviv an opportunity to prod vulnerabilities or exploit divisions.

Enough with the repeated threats/promises of Mahmoud Abbas and Saeb Erekat to quit, declare a state, dissolve the PA or go to the UNSC. Just do it -- and do it all at once. Kill this Peace Game and create in its place a defined, time-lined, multi-pronged strategy that utilizes the new influencers on the global stagelike Russia, China, India, -- strategic Israeli trading partners -- to force a resolution based on the core issues and the removal of settlements from all occupied territories... or multilaterally declare One State for all.

Only then can we expect a breakthrough.

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