When Israeli Prime Minster Netanyahu stated during his election campaign that there would be no two-state solution during his tenure, the US administration and world leaders were infuriated. The reason for the outrage is that Netanyahu finally exposed the Peace Process for what it is – a cover used by world statesmen to allow Israel to maintain its occupation of Palestine.
Everyone has been acting over the last twenty years as though there is a genuine peace process between the Palestinians and Israelis. Successive Israeli governments and the Palestinian Authority (PA) held myriad rounds of talks. Media outlets used to trumpet to each round of negotiations. Scores of meetings between civil society organizations, on of both sides of the 1949 armistice line, were held under the umbrella of this process. Innumerable organizations and projects were established and funded to enhance relations between the two communities as they moved towards peace. All and sundry pretended that peace was on its way.
The PA President and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat from 1991 to 2004, followed by Mahmoud Abbas, the PA president since 2004, have both behaved as though there has been a peace process. For them, and for their circle of patronage, without the PA and all its different bodies there would be no international aid to sustain the pretence and no high sounding titles for those involved. The PA, which is a self-administration, has been a fundamental element in providing the facade that is the ‘peace process’. PA and its patronages made the preservation of the crystallized peace process the raison d’être of its continuality.
Even Ariel Sharon, Prime Minister of Israel (2001–2006), pretended that he was for the process. He accepted the Road Map for Peace plan although only after making scores of changes. The plan was proposed by the Quartet on the Middle East – the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.
Tony Blair, the Quartet’s Special Envoy, went along with all this and behaved as though the process was somehow real. But throughout the period of his ‘peacemaker’ role he has been able to carry on his own business as usual – adding to his considerable fortune.
Successive US administrations have brokered, mediated and funded projects to nurture an environment in which the so-called peace process could prosper. The Clinton Administration in 1999 for example requested $1.2 billion in additional U.S. aid to fund the deployment of Israel forces out of areas of the West Bank according the Wye River memorandum. This took place despite the fact that the Wye memorandum’s was not enforced at all.
Furthermore, in the midst of the Second Palestinian Intifada when Israel deployed its forces to Palestinian cities in 2002, George Tenet, the head of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the U.S. Department of State feigned that the peace process was still alive by continuing the PA-Israel security coordination and drafting the Road Map.
Even when Netanyahu assumed premier office, everybody acted like there was a peace process. Though Netanyahu accelerated the settlement projects, and returned the negotiation process to its first square. Ironically, in 2012 after a long hiatus in negotiation, Netanyahu sent his representative, Yitzhak Molcho, to negotiate with Palestinian champion negotiator, Saeb Erekat, a framework for a peace process. As the peace process did not establish a negotiation framework 18 years ago! Same talks took place in late July 2015 in Amman Jordan between the Israeli Interior Minister, Silvan Shalom, and Palestinian senior negotiator, Erekat, to no avail.
When Hamas won the PA Legislative Council election in 2006 the international community led by U.S. and EU did not accept the election results. Endangering the peace process was cited as the reason for boycotting and any more of Hamas ruled territory.
In a 101-negotiation course, students learn that a negotiation should have a clear and defined framework. It should have a timetable marked with milestones. Its advancement is measured against clear previously-agreed parameters. And it goes almost without saying that the mediator should have leverage on both sides to induce them into making progress. The Middle East peace process did not fully meet these basic points so in reality there has been no process at all.
Paradoxically, after each round of talks, Israel furthered its interests by continuing to expand its colonial settlements and to deepen its security ties with PA security apparatuses to meet its own security needs. Meanwhile for ordinary Palestinians the quality of life deteriorates, their security worsens and land is rolled from beneath their feet. Moreover, the US which played a key role in brokering the process was clearly tilting toward Israel, and deceiving the Palestinians.
The last forward step of the interim agreement was in 1998 through the implementation of the Hebron Protocol with the partial redeployment of Israeli forces in the city. This agreement really ended in 2000 with the inception of the Palestinian Second Intifada when many of its clauses which had been implemented were rolled back. It had in effect become a permanent framework for maintaining Israel’s occupation
The interim peace agreement was a partial transfer of civil administration duties to PA. Partial because for example; PA cannot issue a driving license without coordinating it with Israel Civil Administration (ICA) which is a branch of the Israeli army. Even the president of PA and senior officials need a travel permit from ICA. Israel uses the permit system as a tool to reward/ discipline those officials when they use high rhetoric against Israeli policies. Many times a PA premier convoy was stopped by the Israeli forces in areas consider by international law occupied territories, though the convoy usually coordinates its movement with Shabak, the Israel Security Agency.
All of them pretended that the Palestinian Authority rules the Palestinians when it is in actuality not very different from Vichy France. Meanwhile as Israel carried out scores of military operations in the West Bank and Gaza thousands of Palestinians were killed, the peace process continued.
The only people who do not pretend are ordinary people from both communities, Palestinians and Israelis. Israelis who enjoy the fruits of the occupation tend not care about the existence or otherwise of the peace process. Over the last 20 years those living in Tel Aviv have been more interested in improving their living conditions. Israeli settlers in the West Bank are interested in ensuring greater government subsidies so they can live as though in Tel Aviv itself. Ordinary Palestinians who live in refugee camps, cities, towns and villages did not pretend, as for them the peace process has meant further entrenchment of the occupation. They did not pretend because pretense means that some of their numbers are killed in silence and those who stay alive must adapt to a life in limbo under occupation.
It is now time to declare the two-state solution well and truly dead.
I believe in a joint struggle led by the progressive Palestinian national forces, and other progressives in the world that will lead to dismantling the Israeli settler political polity over British Mandate Palestine in order to establish one democratic state for all of its citizens that integrates itself in the Arab region. This means for Palestinians a long-term struggle inside Palestine coupled with international support using BDS as the main instrument. In this process the Palestinian struggle is anchored to social and national justice and not only to international human rights standards.