Today, September 21st, is International Day of Peace. A United Nations Resolution instituted the commemoration in 1981 and the UN proclaimed theme for 2016 is “The Sustainable Developmental Goals: Building Blocks for Peace.” It is easy enough to agree with this statement, but how easy is it to act upon?
Earlier this year, French President François Hollande attempted to initiate peace talks between Palestinian and Israeli parties, hoping to revive the spirit of the Camp David talks of the 1990s. Facilitated by President Clinton, the Camp David talks brought Yasser Arafat, President of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and Ehud Barak, Prime Minister of Israel, together for talks on settling the ‘Palestinian-Israeli conflict’. The talks deteriorated with no tangible outcomes, each side blaming the other, and foreshadowed a legacy of perpetual peace talks continuing to the present. While the actual timeline of the Hollande-sponsored talks indicates they are scheduled at the end of 2016, a year when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has advocated to deport the families of Palestinian attackers from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip, expectations for these high-level negotiations are understandably low.
It is the idea of the table, a supposedly equal playing field, that is the problem, and not that ‘there is no partner for peace’. Israel maintains a highly developed economy, military and infrastructure and uses this American-subsidized position as a form of control over Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In this context, the idea that the Palestine Liberation Organization or any organization of Palestinians could meet Israel as an equal partner to discuss possible negotiations lies outside of reality. In a catch-22 the Palestinians are expected to act as a State in order to negotiate the possibility of a Palestinian State, which they are denied at every turn. The narrative of a ‘negotiation to end the conflict’ is a fiction we tell ourselves in America, the number one financial supporter of Israel, to help us sleep well at night. Last week, the Obama administration approved a 10-year deal with Israel that will increase its military aid to $38 billion.
Through this lens of peace talks, regardless of whom they are initiated by, be it Secretary of State John Kerry and Mahmoud Abbas in 2014 or Hollande and Abbas in 2016, we Americans can feel good knowing we always held the intention for peace. As the tried and tested narrative proceeds, it is the Palestinians who have refused to negotiate, characterized by their refusal to accept a “generous offer,” an offer that consisted of semi-control over 16% of historic Palestine. Our intentions are not good enough. This time around we cannot point fingers at the Palestinians. It is Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, who refused Hollande’s call to negotiate on account that direct negotiations should take place between Israel and the Palestinians. A farce if there ever was one, for how can you expect to negotiate equally with your captor? Additionally, Netanyahu has stated that Israel will never accept a peace proposal that includes the pre-1967 War borders, the borders that today constitute the international consensus for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In a world of conflict, we have quarantined its solution to a single day, a day of peace. It is a day where we Americans can reflect on the progress we have made and how much further there is to go. We assign it to a single day so that we don’t have to think about it during the rest of the year. We can go on with our lives, vaguely aware that the livelihoods of entire societies are at stake. As Americans, peace is something we volunteer to achieve in our spare time, but for a Palestinian, peace is the only hope of a future life.