Why Peace Talks Keep Failing

Why do U.S. ex-officials keep peddling their same failures?

by Rami G. Khouri

BEIRUT — We’ve just passed through quite an extraordinary period of international activity on how to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict. The UN Security Council resolution declaring Israeli settlements as illegal under international law was followed by the United States forcefully speaking out against Israeli settlements that block the path to a permanent peace agreement. Then the French convened an international gathering of 70 states that reaffirmed the need for a two-state solution. The Vatican chipped in by recognizing a Palestine embassy at the Vatican.

This is fascinating for several reasons. It reflects an almost total international consensus on a two-state solution as the best outcome to aim for, which also assumes that Israeli settlement-colonies are illegal and need to be dismantled or swapped for land given to the Palestinians in exchange. It shows that the world is deeply preoccupied with the conflict and finding ways to resolve it, which totally rebuffs the common Israeli official view that our region has other priorities than Palestine. The forceful U.S. position expressed in its statements lacks any hint of other actions to try to force a change in Israeli settlements policy.

In this context, an opinion piece in the Washington Post last week by Dennis Ross and Stuart Eizenstat clarifies much about the broad attitudes of the U.S. government to this conflict, and in particular it helps us understand why the U.S. has been unable to achieve any significant progress in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations it has mediated for almost 25 years now. The Jan. 12 op-ed entitled “Here’s what Plan B in the Middle East should look like,” is a shocking reminder of how structurally biased and dishonest American official attitudes to Palestinians continue to shape the stalemate we all suffer, in which the continued colonization of Palestinian lands by Israelis is a central dynamic.

The op-ed by two American ex-officials who had been deeply involved in the failed negotiations for many years seeks to perpetuate the core failures of past mediation in several dimensions. First is the illusion that the past quarter century has shattered many times, that step-by-step confidence-building measures can move both sides towards renewed trust that would help drive successful agreements for a permanent peace accord. This has been tried many times and has always failed.

Second, the proposal by Ross and Eizenstat explicitly allows the continued building of new settlements in areas near the border that they presume will become part of Israel under any peace agreement; they also accept the completion of the Israeli “security fence”, which much of the world knows as the Apartheid Wall. The idea that Israelis will relax if they can continue doing these things and move towards a full negotiated peace has been proven by modern history to be a fantasy — but the sort of fantasy that pro-Likud zealots in the United States and Israel have peddled for decades.

Third, and one reason why the United States has been a serial failure in mediating peace, is that the Ross-Eizenstat text subtly reinforces the long-standing American perception that Israel must have security before it can offer any “concessions,” while the Palestinians are viewed almost exclusively through the lens of extremists whose violence threatens the lives of Israelis. Nowhere in American eyes do the Israelis and Palestinian enjoy perfectly equal and simultaneous rights to statehood, security, and prosperity.

So the core elements of the Ross-Eizenstat plan calls for restoring trust and protecting Israel’s security, while “creating a more prosperous and less resentful and violence-prone Palestinian population.” References to the Palestinians center around improving their development prospects, reducing incentives for violence, improving access to jobs in Israel or basic services in Palestinian lands controlled by Israel’s occupation, and preserving effective counter-terrorism cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces.

Here in a nutshell is a concise picture of why American mediation has failed for so long — because it has repeated the Israeli view that Palestinian violence is the core problem, while ignoring the fact that Israeli colonization and military force are the bigger and core cause of the violence that consumes both sides and has resulted in five times as many Palestinians as Israelis being killed in the past year or so.

Continuing Zionist colonization while perpetuating the colonized status of Palestinians who can be appeased with some day jobs in Israel and a few more water wells or power plants is not how a genuine, serious, and impartial mediator operates. It is rather the manner of the colonial accomplice.

No wonder there has been no breakthrough for peace, and an exasperated world, including the American president, now opts for forceful symbolic actions through the UN Security Council. What is a wonder is why in the world anyone could possibly take seriously the advice of ex-officials like Ross, Eizenstat, and others who step forward now to suggest how to resolve the dilemma they helped deepen and perpetuate.


Rami G. Khouri is a senior fellow at the American University of Beirut and the Harvard Kennedy School, and can be followed on Twitter @ramikhouri

Copyright ©2017 Rami G. Khouri — distributed by Agence Global

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