The Misnomer of the Peace Talks
I don’t know how anyone given the task could draw a map of Israel: it is likely the only country in the world with no defined borders, and it actually has worked very hard over many decades to achieve this peculiar state.
It once had borders, but the 1967 war took care of those. It has no intention of ever returning to them because it could have done so at any time in the last forty-three years (an act which would have been the clearest possible declaration of a desire for genuine peace with justice and which would have saved the immense human misery of occupation), but doing so would negate the entire costly effort of the Six Day War whose true purpose was to achieve what we see now in the Palestinian territories.
As far as peace, in the limited sense of the absence of war, Israel already has achieved a kind of rough, de facto peace without any help from the Palestinians. The Palestinians have nothing to offer in the matter of peace if you judge peace by the standards Israel apparently does.
Israel has the peace that comes of infinitely greater power, systematic and ruthless use of that power, the reduction of the people it regards as opponents to squatters on their own land, and a world too intimidated to take any effective action for justice or fairness.
Genuine peace anywhere, as Canadian physicist and Holocaust survivor Ursula Franklin has observed, is best defined by justice prevailing. But you can have many other circumstances inaccurately called peace; for example, the internal peace of a police state or of a brutally-operated colony.
Israel appears to have no interest or need for the kind of peace that the Palestinians can offer. What then can the Palestinians give Israel in any negotiation?
There are many “technical” issues to be settled between the Israelis and Palestinians, such as the right of return, compensation for property taken, the continued unwarranted expulsions from East Jerusalem, the Wall and its location largely on Palestinian land, but in a profound sense these are all grounded in the larger concept of genuine peace as Ursula Franklin defined it, something we have no basis for believing Israel is, or ever has been, interested in.
Israel wants recognition, not just as a country like any other, but as “the Jewish state,” whatever that ambiguous term may mean, given the facts both of Israel’s rubbery borders and the definition of Jewish, something which Israelis themselves constantly fight over – reformed, orthodox, ultra-orthodox, Ashkenazi, Sephardic, North African, observant, non-observant, and still other factions and divisions in what is quite a small population.
I very much think that the reasons Israel wants that particular form of recognition are not benevolent: it is the kind of term once put into a contract which opens the future interpretation of the contract to pretty much anything. After all, recognition of Israel as a state is something Arab states have long offered Israel in return for a just settlement, but Israel has never shown the slightest interest.
If recognition of Israel as “the Jewish state” were granted, what would be the status of any non-Jewish person in Israel? I think we can guess, given the awful words of Israel’s foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, or the even more terrible words of Ovadia Yosef, founder of the Shas Party, a Netanyahu ally, and Israel’s former Chief Rabbi.
After all, about nineteen percent of Israeli citizens are non-Jews, mainly the descendants of Palestinians who refused to run from the terrors of the Irgun and Stern gangs in1948. They carry Israeli passports, but are not regarded as citizens in the same sense as Jewish citizens, and there are even laws and restrictions in place creating the kind of deadly distinction George Orwell wrote of in Animal Farm, “Some animals are more equal than others.”
The new talks do not include even the most basic requirement of a legitimate voice to represent the Palestinians, a desirable situation perhaps from Israel’s point of view, one Israel’s secret services have long worked towards with dark ops and assassinations. How do you negotiate with opponents you allow no voice?
Mahmoud Abbas, an almost pitifully shuffling character who is the man supposedly representing Palestinian interests, is now approaching two years of playing president without an election: he has zero legitimacy with the Palestinians and the outside world. Even at that, his assumed authority extends only to parts of the West Bank of the territories.
Hamas, despite the shortcomings found in any leadership of a heavily oppressed population is nevertheless the elected government of Gaza territory, but Israel has pressured the United States – and through it, effectively the world – to regard Hamas as a coven of witches, ready to unleash dark powers if only once Israel relaxes its stranglehold.
It would be far more accurate to talk of a settlement or an accommodation with the Palestinians than peace, but any reasonable agreement requires intense pressure on Israel, which holds all the cards, pressure which can only come from Washington. Accommodation involves all the difficult “technical” issues Israel has no interest in negotiating – right of return, compensation, the Wall, and East Jerusalem. Israel’s position on all of them is simply “no.”
But we know that Washington is contemptibly weak when it comes to Israel. The Israel Lobby is expert at working the phones and the opinion columns and the campaign donations. It even gets Washington to fight wars for it, as it did in Iraq, and as it now is attempting to do in Iran – surely, the acid test of inordinate influence on policy.
Most American Congressmen live in the same kind of quiet fear of the Israel Lobby as they once did of J.Edgar Hoover’s special files of political and personal secrets. Hoover never even had to openly threaten a Congressman or Cabinet Secretary who was “out of line.” He merely had a brief chat, dropping some ambiguous reference to let the politician know the danger he faced. It was enough to keep Hoover’s influence going for decades.
You never heard a thing in the press about the quiet power Hoover exercised in the 1940s and 1950s and 1960s, but it was there. Just so, the Israel Lobby today.
So where does the impetus for a fair accommodation come from?
Nowhere. Israel goes right on with its calculatedly-unfair laws taking the homes and farms of others, slowly but surely pushing out the people with whom it does not want to share space.
Anywhere else, this process would be called ethnic-cleansing, but not here, not unless you want to be called a bigot or an anti-Semite.
One says this about the impossibility of a settlement with a reservation. It is possible that the weak Abbas, locked in a room in Washington, could well be browbeaten and bribed into signing some kind of bastard agreement, giving Israel every concession it wants in return for a nominal rump Palestinian state composed of parcels Israel doesn’t want or hasn’t yet absorbed. It wouldn’t be worth the paper it was written on, but Israel would then undoubtedly assume its perpetual validity and in future interpret it as it wished.
After all, the history of modern Israel involves agreements divvying up the land of others without their consent, but even those historical divisions – look at the maps attending the Peel Commission (1937) or the UN decision on partition (1947), and you see roughly equally divided territory – today are ignored by Israel or given some very tortured interpretation. So what will have changed?
There simply can be no genuine peace with justice where there is no will for it.
- John Chuckman lives in Canada and is former chief economist for a large Canadian oil company.