As yet another boat—a Jewish one this time—is forcefully boarded by the Israeli navy while attempting to run the blockade of Gaza, a natural question for many Americans is: Why are boats still trying to run the blockade when Abbas and Netanyahu are in the middle of a peace process?
Let’s leave aside for the moment that the blockade, which imprisons 1.5 million people, destroys their economy, and denies them desperately-needed medical and educational resources, is an illegal form of collective punishment.
Let’s talk instead about the peace process. It’s fore-ordained to fail by virtually all knowledgeable experts. Why?
To begin with, Israel’s insistence on continuing to expand illegal settlements on Palestinian land while talks are ongoing is a stunning display of bad faith. It’s akin to saying, “Let’s negotiate for this pizza. Meanwhile, I’ll be eating it.” The ten-month ‘moratorium’ on settlement construction was a loophole-filled farce, and now even that has ended.
A similar show of bad faith helped torpedo the Oslo "peace process years" of the 1990s, during which the settler population doubled to 400,000. Reza Aslan and others have noted that “the peace process, far from being the proper venue to deal with the settlements issue, has provided cover for Israel’s continuing settlement expansion.” Fury at this constant encroachment of their land, as well as the settlers’ unchecked violence, boiled over into the first suicide bombing in 1994 and the Second Intifada in 2000.
Second, the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza are not represented in these talks because their government (which came to majority power through democratic elections, then total power through a violent response to an attempted coup sponsored by the US government) is not recognized and their people are kept in a state of siege. Thus Abbas has no clear mandate to speak on behalf of the Palestinian people.
Even if these issues could be resolved, the fact remains that the US is not an honest broker. It bases its red lines on what the US Congress and the governing coalition of Israel can handle politically, not on what is fair or legal according to international law.
When the Israeli army was accused of executing an American citizen at point blank range and willfully killing unarmed Turkish activists, the US government said nothing. If they can’t stand up against Israel for American and Turkish rights, how can we expect them to stand up for Palestinian rights?
But all of this masks a more important point. In a process where one side displays flagrant bad faith, the "mediator" favors that side, and the other side isn’t fully represented—what will happen if these talks actually “succeed”?
If past and current trends are any indication, the most likely scenario is “a grand ceremony where Palestinian leaders will sign away the right of return and other Palestinian rights in an agreement that would change little on the ground.” Afterwards, “the Obama administration has already indicated that the accord would still have to be fleshed out and then implemented over the course of several years—which virtually ensures that it will be delayed if not derailed as happened to past peace accords.”
This would all take place under the guise of a “peace” that doesn’t exist while the world focuses elsewhere and leaves the Palestinians at Israel’s mercy. One can only imagine the level of expansion and abuse that will be inflicted on the Palestinians once the world is fooled into thinking the conflict is over.
Opposition to the current “peace process” is widespread among Palestinians, not because they oppose peace but because most of them, from the secular left to the religious right, understand these dynamics. But any protests are brutally suppressed by Palestinian Authority (PA) police, which are equipped and trained by Lt. General Keith Dayton in a program sponsored by the US government.
The Dheisheh Refugee Camp near Bethlehem was recently subjected to a raid by PA forces who came into the camp shooting, trying to intimidate the residents into silence. People started throwing stones at them, thinking they were Israeli soldiers.
“One of the most important things in the negotiations themselves,” said a Dheisheh resident named Shihab, “is to destroy the unity of the general population—the PA and Israel can’t have a united opposition. So if you destroy the unity within the refugee camps—when they are divided—the people will accept these agreements. That’s what they are trying to do now.”
Shihab went on, “This is the state of internal Palestinian politics today. They are the politics under Dayton. Dayton came and drew up the new strategies for the PA. The American and European interests have supported what’s happening in the PA. The situation before Dayton was completely different, and now there’s a climate of fear and intimidation. People are afraid to speak out against the actions of the PA… Everyone in our community understands that their version of security is the security of the occupation, not the security of the Palestinians.”
Corruption in the PA remains astronomical, and many of the PA’s acts of arrest and torture have been aimed at political rivals. Since Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who supports Dayton’s mission, took office, “West Bank residents have consistently reported feeling less safe than Gazans, whose lives under Hamas rule are in many respects worse. The Ministry of Religious Affairs has dictated Friday sermons to be read by imams. Palestinian journalists, according to Amnesty International, were detained and threatened during the Gaza war for reporting on government suppression.”
Whatever Dayton’s forces are working toward, it’s not Palestinian rights, security, or freedom.
Because Israel and America have all the power in the world to gang up against the Palestinians—even to turn their own security services against them. And the Palestinians have virtually no one—except people of conscience all over the world—to speak for them.
Pamela Olson was a journalist and blogger based in Ramallah for two and a half years and a Defense analyst in Washington, DC in 2006-7. She is now writing a book about her experiences called Fast Times in Palestine.