The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil,
but because of the people who don't do anything about it
Occupation magazine - Commentary
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Middle East peace process: Dead but not buried
The US has given up trying to persuade Netanyahu to stop building on occupied land as a prerequisite to talks
The Middle East peace process died a quiet, undramatic death with the statement last week that the US had given up trying to persuade Binyamin Netanyahu to stop building on occupied land as a prerequisite to direct talks with the Palestinians. Few, however, are interested in burying the corpse.
The rightwing coalition under Mr Netanyahu is relaxed about the failure to restart the talks, because half the cabinet do not accept that they are occupying any land other than their own. And anyway, every day without a final status agreement is another day when the cement mixers can whirl and the cranes swivel. Palestinian leaders who recognise Israel are also reluctant to make good their pledges to resign, because they, too, would lose position, power and political meaning. Fatah has still legitimacy, but where would the Palestinian Authority be in Palestinian eyes other than as a surrogate for Israeli soldiers?
The US is unwilling to set a date for the funeral, because to recognise that a death had taken place would entail an inquest and an examination of 18 fruitless years of failed attempts. And that is the last thing a US president fighting re-election will do. The radical part of Barack Obama`s Middle East strategy has already been and gone. He has spent his political capital and needs to conserve the dimes in his pocket. All of these are compelling short-term reasons for doing nothing, for saying, as if this has not been said often enough in the past, that the time is not ripe, the leaders are too weak, the sides are not ready. But they are dreadful long-term ones. Israel will continue to impose its own one-state solution, with separate roads, and separate governance for Jew and Arab. The Palestinian leadership will continue weak and divided. The argument that Hamas and other militant groups use, that Israel makes territorial concessions only when it is forced to, will grow in resonance. And, inch by inch, the next conflict – be it in the form of a strike on Iran, or a third Palestinian uprising – will come closer. Doing nothing is not just the counsel of despair. In the asymmetry of relations between the growing state of Israel and the shrinking non-state of Palestine, doing nothing is a deeply partisan act.
There are political moves that could release the log jam. Israel`s Labour party could pull out of the coalition, making good on frequent threats to do so. If its leader, Ehud Barak, was right when he said that there is a contradiction between the structure of the government and the chance of promoting negotiations, and he is, then Labour should pull out. President Mahmoud Abbas should also consider steps that would end the current sham. If, in his words, he is presiding over an authority without any authority, and if he is right when he says that the PA`s very existence has made Israel`s occupation the cheapest ever, it is time to end this state of affairs. What exactly is there to lose? Disbanding the PA would mean a return to direct occupation, and seeking UN recognition of a Palestinian state, or handing over responsibility for the Palestinian territories to the UN, would attract a US veto. But if this US president or any future US president were pushed to the point at which the US could abstain in such a vote, all bets would be off.
The contradiction at the heart of US policy is that its support for Israel is unconditional. Even the offer of billions of dollars of aid did not turn Mr Netanyahu`s head, because he knew, if he refused, the flow of US money and weaponry would continue unabated. Any future US president, not just the current one, must calibrate the relationship with Israel as the US does with any other ally. The cost of each new housing unit built in occupied territory should be deducted off US aid. The realities that make such a measure inconceivable today do not lessen the case for such moves tomorrow. They make them compelling.
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