Whatever happened to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?

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Secretary of State John Kerry met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Rome last week. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

You could be forgiven for thinking everyone packed up shop a while ago and forgot to inform you. There’s been barely a peep about it since the revival of talks was greeted with great fanfare back in July.

The negotiations, which have been conducted in a fug of secrecy, flitted briefly back on to the radar last week when the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, met Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for what the media called an “unusually long”, seven-hour meeting in Rome.

Much of the conversation was held in private, with not even officials present, but, according to reports, discussions concentrated on the revived peace process. Kerry, concerned about the lack of tangible progress, is believed to have tried to pin Netanyahu down on his vision of where the nine-month negotiations should lead.

Kerry’s intervention follows weeks of mounting Palestinian frustration, culminating in rumours that the talks are on the verge of collapse. After a meeting with Kerry in Paris, an Arab League official, Nasif Hata, added to the desultory atmosphere, saying there were “no positive indications of progress”.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, on a tour of European capitals last week in search of diplomatic support, tried to scotch suggestions that the talks were at a “dead end”. They were “difficult”, he admitted, and after nearly three months of meetings the two sides were still “at the beginning of the road”.

But privately his officials have expressed exasperation at Israel’s inflexibility and the miserliness of its opening positions. Earlier this month the Al-Hayat newspaper reported that Israel had refused to discuss the key issue of borders, instead focusing exclusively on its own security concerns.

None of this is surprising. At Israel’s insistence, the talks have been entirely shielded from public view. Privacy, Israel argued, would ease the pressure on the two parties and give them greater room to be forthcoming and creative.

The reality, however, is that the lack of scrutiny has allowed Israel to drag its feet and browbeat the weaker, Palestinian side. Israel’s lead negotiator, Tzipi Livni, has already warned that the talks’ timetable is likely to overrun.

Similarly, US envoy Martin Indyk was supposed to be Kerry’s eyes and ears in the talks. Instead he spent the first two months locked out of the proceedings, apparently again at Israel’s instigation.

Secrecy, Israel hopes, will give it the cover it expects to need when – as seems certain – the talks end inconclusively, or the Palestinians storm out. Widespread ignorance about developments can be exploited to cast the Palestinians as the treacherous party, as occurred following the collapse of the Camp David talks in 2000.

But belatedly we are seeing a little of the leadership role Washington promised.

Indyk is said to be now actively involved. The rate of meetings between the negotiators has been stepped up sharply in the past fortnight. And last week’s meeting in Rome suggested that the US hopes to pressure Netanyahu either into making a big concession or into beginning the face-to-face talks with Abbas that this process is supposed eventually to lead to.

According to Hata, of the Arab League, the US has also promised that it will “take action” if there is no breakthrough by January, presenting “viable suggestions for ways to end the thaw”.

But whatever Netanyahu has told Kerry in private, few believe the Israeli prime minister is really ready to seek peace. Earlier this month he set out in public his vision for the talks, in a follow-up to his famous speech in 2009, when, faced with a newly installed US president, Barack Obama, he agreed to a two-state solution.

This time, speaking from the same podium, he sounded in no mood for conciliation. “Unless the Palestinians recognize the Jewish state and give up on the right of return there will not be peace,” he said. He denied the “occupation and settlements” were causes of the conflict, and insisted on Israel’s need for “extremely strong security arrangements”.

It is this kind of uncompromising talk that has discredited the negotiations with everyone outside the White House.

Last week Yuval Diskin, a recent head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence service, warned that there was no realistic prospect that “the Israeli public will accept a peace agreement”. Israelis’ distrust of the negotiations is fuelled by the constant opposition of government ministers.

In a further show of dissension, they have backed a bill that would require a two-thirds parliamentary majority before Israel can even broach at the talks the key issue of dividing Jerusalem. If passed, the legislation would turn the negotiations into a dead letter.

On the other side, Hamas has grown emboldened. Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister in Gaza, has called on Palestinians to renew a “popular uprising”, just as a 1.5km-long underground tunnel Hamas had built into Israel was exposed.

In the West Bank, a spate of attacks and killings of Israelis over the past few weeks – after a year without the loss of a single Israeli life from the conflict in 2012 – has provoked much speculation in Israel about whether a Palestinian uprising is imminent. A Palestinian driving a bulldozer who recently rampaged through a military base near Jerusalem only reinforced the impression.

Conveniently, Netanyahu has exploited widespread Israeli opposition to the next round of Palestinian prisoner releases this week – the carrot to keep the Palestinians at the negotiating table – to justify plans for an orgy of settlement building.

This time the government has committed to building 5,000 settler homes in return for the release of 25 prisoners jailed before the Oslo accords were signed two decades ago.

All indications are that these talks, like their predecessors, are doomed to fail. The question is whether the Palestinians have the nerve to unmask the charade. If not, Israel will use the peace process as cover while its settlements devour yet more of the Palestinian state-in-waiting.

A version of this article first appeared in The National, Abu Dhabi.

About Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is jonathan-cook.net.
Posted in Israel/Palestine | Tagged

{ 45 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Israel just agreed to talk to stop vote on Palestine this year at the UN.
    As usual Israel government lie.

  2. Sumud says:

    Can anybody name one genuine concession Israel has ever made or offered in any peace process negotiations? Not just giving up something Israel wants, but giving up something Israel is legally entitled to.

    I see Palestinians making concessions continuously, but the Israeli negotiating team(s), never. Not once.

  3. seafoid says:

    Israel has reengineered Judaism for this. It has decided that history is over and that Judaism is in the happily ever after. The finest national self deception money can buy. Afterwards Jews will ask themselves why they didn’t see the signs.

  4. HarryLaw says:

    “The question is whether the Palestinians have the nerve to unmask the charade.”
    The correct question to ask of the Palestinian leadership is what is it the Israelis need to do, to convince you that talks are futile, you say the Israeli government has just committed to building 5,000 settler homes, lets say 4 to a home, that’s 20,0000 new settlers, Kate, in her excellent column today listed 15,000 Palestinian East Jerusalemites who will lose their homes, this is ethnic cleansing on a large scale, everyone of those 5,000 settler homes is acknowledged to be a grave war crime, but still the Palestinian leadership refuse to resist in the mildest way possible i.e, by playing the UN card [applying for membership of the remaining 63 UN Agencies] and pursuing the ICC route, no liberation movement ever received justice from their oppressors simply by friendly meetings [especially when those meetings have been designed to prolong the occupation] the Israelis are simply not going to give way without significant pressure, I would go as far to say the Palestinian leadership are encouraging the settlements by protecting the settlers and liaising with the Israeli security forces to put down any Palestinian resistance, sometimes with an iron fist, the Israelis can only be encouraged by the lack of political will of Abbas and Erekat the latter has resigned more times than I care to remember, or are those resignations an essential part of the charade. Some time ago Professor Finkelstein likened the talks to that children’s song ” the wheels on the bus go round and round” so everyone climb aboard.

    • Walid says:

      ““The question is whether the Palestinians have the nerve to unmask the charade.”

      The Palestinian leaders are the charade.

      • just says:

        Sorry, Walid.

        No, nope, no way. What I do “blame” the Palestinian leaders” for is trusting us at all! I blame them for not seeking justice at the ICC, the UN and anywhere else in the universe– but, hey, how can they unless and until we stop our veto at the UNSC and stop greasing the skids for Apartheid Israel while the Zionists keep screaming for war in their hegemonic frenzy– a frenzy enabled and shared by the US, btw?

        • Walid says:

          “What I do “blame” the Palestinian leaders” for is trusting us at all!”

          You are too kind, Just, but please take that as a compliment. A brief summary from the Jazeera Papers on the previous rounds of negotiations between Israel and the team for Palestine, which is also the same one that’s currently negotiating; the Palestine Papers will give you an insight on what to expect from these negotiations:

          ” The Palestine Papers show that Palestinian Authority (PA) negotiators were prepared to make major concessions on the refugees’ right of return: on the numbers potentially allowed to return to their homes in what is now Israel; on whether refugees would be able to vote on any peace agreement; and on how many would be able to settle in a future Palestinian state.

          … The papers also reveal that then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proposed that 1,000 Palestinian refugees be allowed to return annually to Israel over a period of five years – totalling just 5,000, a tiny fraction of those displaced after Israel’s creation.

          … On January 15, 2010, Erekat told US diplomat David Hale that the Palestinians offered Israel the return of “a symbolic number” of refugees.

          According to the documents, not only did Palestinian officials offer a low figure of returnees, the chief negotiator of the PLO, Saeb Erekat, said that refugees would not have voting rights on a possible peace deal with Israel.

          … Erekat seemed to buy into this idea. In a meeting with US diplomats, including Special Envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, on October 21, 2009, Erekat said, “Palestinians will need to know that five million refugees will not go back. The number will be agreed as one of the options. Also the number returning to their own state will depend on annual absorption capacity”.

          So even a future Palestinian state could not accommodate the millions of displaced who would want to settle there.

          link to aljazeera.com

  5. amigo says:

    “Israel has reengineered Judaism for this. It has decided that history is over and that Judaism is in the happily ever after. The finest national self deception money can buy. Afterwards Jews will ask themselves why they didn’t see the signs.” seafoid

    Look on the bright side.

    When all those goys have been cleansed from TJS and the age old internal battles re emerge, “The Separation Barrier” will come in very handy to keep the protagonists apart .

    Secular Jews from the sea to the wall and religious Jews. from the wall to the river.

    What,s the problem , ?.Some population transfer here and there and Bob,s your uncle.
    You got yourself a 2 state solution.

    The Greater Israel with a border running right down the middle .

  6. Ramzi Jaber says:

    Newsflash: After 60 plus years of being malnourished, abused, beaten-up, and lied to, the “peace process” has died a terrible and dry death of neglect and disrespect. The only path forward now is no more talks or process, but results and real progress towards peace.

    Let the facts on the ground, so vehemently and obsessively forced by the zionist regime, continue to take further root. Thanks to the zionists, what they are actually making happen on the ground is 1S1P1V – one state, one person, one vote. True democracy, equality, justice, freedom and peace. 1S1P1V is the only logical, feasible, stable, lasting, solution. It’s happening right in front of our eyes.

    Thank you zionists!

    • Sibiriak says:

      Ramzi Jaber

      Thanks to the zionists, what they are actually making happen on the ground is 1S1P1V – one state, one person, one vote.

      No, what they are making happen on the ground is a Greater Israel and the warehousing of Palestinians in quasi-autonomous, truncated, non-contiguous, Israeli-supervised, enclaves. The only question is whether those enclaves will be recognized as a “state”, or not.

  7. Mike_Konrad says:

    What did you expect?

    Israel is not going to dissolve itself, not matter what pressure is applied.

    Start from that premise.

    Israel is in the Mideast to stay.

    • Walid says:

      The only hope for a Palestinian state is through Gaza and the Hamas resistance movement. Everything else has failed. Nothing is forever, Mike.

      • seafoid says:

        Israel needs simultaneous

        Jewish blindness
        Palestinian fear
        European hypocrisy
        Arab weakness
        American veto

        Hamas is just one element. 3 together changed would kill Zion ism.

      • Sibiriak says:

        Walid:

        Nothing is forever…

        With all due respect–and I mean that sincerely–that statement is basically meaningless. The U.S. will not last forever, but that’s hardly any consolation for the Native Americans whose land was taken. Nothing lasts forever–sure. But what comes after could be even worse.

        • Walid says:

          Sibiriak, I wasn’t preaching anything. Simply reacting to Mike Konrad’s appearing to be sticking his tongue out at the situation and saying in so many words “screw you, nobody can do anything about Israel”.

          Yes, America’s empire and Israel ‘s will not live for forever especially for Israel with its horrendous treatment of a weaker and dispossessed people.

        • Quite a few of these “Native Americans” in fact have but a tiny portion of “Indian” blood.

    • Trye – - unless Israel very stupidly fails to get out of the West Bank.

      • Walid says:

        “… unless Israel very stupidly fails to get out of the West Bank”

        What’s left of the West Bank to get out of? Israel has already developed a dependency on the West Bank as a source of half the water it consumes and a place to dump its garbage and chemical wastes and as a captive market for its products so how could it walk away from all that? At this point, the Palestinian resistance is the only option left to fix the problem. The formula would work; Hizbullah proved it against the Zionists in Lebanon.

        • @Walid – - The West Bank has not disappeared. And Israel needs to get out.

        • Walid says:

          More of “what’s left of the West Bank to get out of”, also from Jonathan Cook in al-Jazeera today, another reason why Israel will never leave the WB unless kicked out:

          “Israel to drill for oil in the West Bank
          A large reserve may lie under Israel and the occupied territories, but Palestinians are unlikely to reap the benefits.”
          Jonathan Cook Last Modified: 02 Nov 2013 13:47

          link to aljazeera.com

          “The company, which says it has already sold $40m worth of oil since the Meged field went operational in 2011, now believes that the well is sitting on exploitable reserves of as much as 3.53 billion barrels – about a seventh of Qatar’s proven oil reserves.

          Only one cloud looms on the horizon. It is unclear how much of this new-found oil wealth actually belongs to Israel. The well sits on the so-called Green Line, the armistice line of 1948 that formally separates Israel from the occupied Palestinian territories.”

        • Taxi says:

          Hizbulforceyouback is the only solution.

        • Sibiriak says:

          Walid:

          The formula would work; Hizbullah proved it against the Zionists in Lebanon.

          You may be right. Your comments are always incisive and informative and highly appreciated by me. However, I just don’t see it.

          If the Palestinians were ever to amount a formidable, non-crushable military resistance, Israel will simply annex territory and take a defensive stance behind the Wall etc. (with U.S. backing, of course.) Defending the homeland is a far different proposition than occupying parts of Lebanon.

        • ziusudra says:

          Greetings Walid,
          Mahaba Salem,
          Empires die according to their mentalities & customs.
          The Roman Empire took 4 hundred yrs to die.
          The great Mongol Empire died out very quickly in the
          western part of Europe, due to the death of Genghis Khan.
          The hegemonial designs of the ME of Zionism will die out
          in shorter time too. We have witnessed the Thesis & Antithesis
          since 48, but no one sees where the Synthesis will be coming from?
          Shocran, Mash’ Salam.
          ziusudra
          PS Gorbachow shrugged, East Germans in Hungary crossed over
          the Border that Hungary opened; the east German mistake of
          answering a question of when the border will open confusingly
          quipped, now! The east Germans poured out into west Berlin!
          End of banana.

    • seafoid says:

      Nokia is forever, Mike. Israel is eternal too.

  8. This is the real prize out of 911 mayhem . Back in 2002 Harretz was writing that Sharon was already doing to Plaestininas what Bush was planning to ME . Palestine is now done while the world was busy fighting teror. But the diversion is still required and that diversion is now provided not by US regime but by Israel as it focuses on Syria, and Iran. Another country might slip into that position after Iran were sized up and cut into a few pieces. US is in a funny situation. To get it act together ,it has to do more than just droning and kinetic action if it wanted a business,financial,military ,strategic future in ME ( like any other country in the world would want and get it if it played by the rules) .But to do so US has to reinvent itself.

    One hopes it does not come to this to get there -
    link to timesofisrael.com
    This article touches upon those giddy moments that lasted between Iran and Israel .

  9. seafoid says:

    The discussion “Israeli Consul General frets about ‘progressive elite’ delegitimizing the Jewish state at elite Manhattan event” below links in to this one. If they are worried about how Zionism is not selling why do they bother continuing with the insecurity schtick in the negotiations ? Can’t anyone join the dots?

  10. piotr says:

    I was puzzled by “fug of secrecy”, should it be “fog”? Thus I found two explanations:

    a warm, stuffy, or smoky atmosphere in a room: “the cozy fug of the music halls”

    the unpleasant air in a room that is very crowded, smoky, etc.

    Interestingly, for some fug is “cozy”, and some “unpleasant”.

  11. Taxi says:

    I’m so sick of this frigging ‘peace talk’ charade – it’s just not even worth commenting on – except with songs of irony:

    • Walid says:

      Taxi, OT and to distract you from the disappointment of the bogus peace talks and to bug the hasbara gang here that keep going on and on about the Jews having been kicked out of Arab countries: The tallest building currently being built and highly visible when driving into the city from the south or the north, something like 30 stories higher than the currently highest ones, you’d be happy to know that it’s being built by a Lebanese Jew, Edgar de Picciotto. Here’s a small blurb on him from Forbes:

      “Hedge Fund Pioneer Edgar De Picciotto Is A Billionaire
      Last June, at a 19th century Beirut silk factory beautifully restored into a venue for events, guests dined on meze, and were treated to a performance by Lebanese pop diva Haifa Wehbe. Their hosts: private banker Edgar de Picciotto and his wife Danièle.

      De Picciotto, 83, wasn’t there to cultivate new clients, as much as to maintain ties with his native Lebanon. He made his fortune in Geneva. De Picciotto is the founder of Union Bancaire Privée (UBP), one of the world’s biggest funds of hedge funds with $87 billion in total client assets under management, and a clientèle that stretches from the Middle East to South America. Forbes estimates his net worth at nearly $2 billion. UBP is a family affair: de Picciotto is chairman; son Guy is chief executive, while another son Daniel sits on the board, as does his daughter Anne.

      De Picciotto is not the first Lebanese banker to carve out a spot in the tight-knit world of Swiss banking families. (He’s even been described as the emblematic Swiss banker). His compatriot and one-time friend, the late Edmond Safra who was once on the Forbes billionaires list, preceded him. Like Safra, de Picciotto belongs to Lebanon’s small Jewish community whose members left the country in successive waves because of regional wars with Israel and the Lebanese civil war. De Picciotto’s family settled in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1970.”

      link to forbes.com

  12. Walid says:

    “According to Hata, of the Arab League, the US has also promised that it will “take action” if there is no breakthrough by January, presenting “viable suggestions for ways to end the thaw”.

    This sums up what to expect in January. The US will move in with what appears on the surface as an imposed solution but that in reality it will be like all other US suggestions that are really to the benefit of Israel. With the US putting its foot down hard on whatever it will come out with, everyone involved , (especially Abbas and the gang as well as the Arab League), in the talks will come out of it smelling of roses. I can already the smell the skunk. We’ve already seen how the peace talks have facilitated the announcement of 5000 new settlement homes and the impending destruction of homes of 15,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem. Phooey on such talks.

    • MHughes976 says:

      But if,big if, this should happen it will be the moment of truth for the whole 2SS drama/charade. I think that there is a possibility, of course not a certainty – the parallel effort in Cyprus went badly wrong – that if an American proposal were put to a referendum on both sides it would win massive majorities and have to be implemented in the short term. It would of course be screamingly unfair, as every known version of the 2SS has been, and if it were implemented at midnight on a Monday subversion would start from both sides by noon on the Tuesday, with neither side really believing in it. At very best time might be bought for more constructive developments later. The likes of us have to be prepared for a new situation along these lines with the whole world wildly rejoicing and Obama having something like an apotheosis. I would feel like I’d been made to bite on a goosegog.
      Mind you, I talk rather glibly of a referendum. But who would vote? Would votes in the West Bank and in Gaza be counted separately? Would non-Jewish Israeli citizens vote in the Israeli or the Palestinian constituency? Would there be a serious push for all Jewish people worldwide (how defined?) to be allowed to vote?

    • Walid says:

      Great article in al-Jazeera, Nick; it gives the full chrono on the Zionists’ systematic theft of the land, and especially about the capitulation of the strongest of the Arab states, Egypt that gave up sovereignty over the Sinai in the peace treaty.

      Hope everyone here gets to read this article.

  13. I think the Palestinians are quite right to focus on borders. They can assume Israeli troops will at some point be forced to leave the West Bank.

    • Walid says:

      “I think the Palestinians are quite right to focus on borders”

      James, the Palestinians need help or in the least backing in their negotiations and you can be sure that the Americans won’t be the ones to offer it; for the ones on the Oslo, they didn’t even have a lawyer present to help them navigate the minefields and evidently for this glaring omission, neither Bill Clinton nor Dennis Ross suggested they they should.

      • @Walid – - Of course I support the provision of best advice possible to the Palestinians. Dealing with Israel is often treacherous, as we have seen. I was suggesting that problems created by Israel in the WB can be corrected or ameliorated down the road.

  14. Kathleen says:

    Even Obama and Kerry have said to the Israeli’s this is it “last chance” door closing to a two state solution many believe all ready closed.

    Here is what Netanyahu thinks about how he can handle American officials etc

    “America is something that can be easily moved” That is exactly what BB’s face is saying in the picture with Kerry.

    • HarryLaw says:

      Yes Kathleen, the body language indicates to me the Israeli leader full of confidence and on a divine mission, Kerry with a sheepish smile, thinking he is in the presence of a great man and how he can enable a Democratic victory at the next election.

  15. doug says:

    I’m wondering if this prisoner release together with settler expansion isn’t an Israeli strategy to spur the Palestinians to another intifada. It would provide an excuse for a “solution” involving a crackdown then transfer while Israelis would say “We tried, we tried, but we have no partner for peace.” Is this an Israeli end game?

  16. Obsidian says:

    The problem with this round of peace talks is that Abbas has run up against an Israeli Prime Minister who’s ‘more Palestinian’ than he is!

    link to project-syndicate.org

    Summud can be a real bitch!