Mainstream news coverage of the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian talks is highly skeptical that the talks will achieve anything. The news stories characterize the talks as a stop-gap measure, intended to forestall European sanctions against the occupation and keep the Palestinians from going to international bodies to seek action against the occupation.
Even the New York Times is raining on the parade, though of course its chief informants are members of the Israel lobby, liberal Zionist and neoconservative. And the Washington Post boldly calls out Israel’s Southern California-style settlements as the problem– and points out that John Kerry’s special envoy Martin Indyk 4 years ago insisted on a settlement freeze before talks could begin, a condition he has now dropped.
First, here’s Ben Lynfield at the Christian Science Monitor writing that the negotiations are a way for the U.S. to attempt to claim to be doing something. And that the Israelis and Palestinians are going along with the talks so as to escape the charge that they are rejectionist.
By saying yes to the American invitation to negotiate, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are avoiding the possibility of being cast as rejectionists by Secretary of State John Kerry, who made six visits to the region in his effort to bring the two sides to an agreement to talk. It is possible that this same desire not to be blamed will keep the two sides engaged for the near future…
Lynfield quotes two Arabs and one Israeli, all skeptical. Here are two of those views:
“They have zero chances of reaching an end of conflict, end of claims agreement,” says Yossi Alpher, a leading Israeli analyst who is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies. ”The positions are too far apart on narrative issues like the future of holy places and the right of return” of Palestinians who fled or were expelled at Israel’s establishment in 1948…
Ghassan Khatib, a former minister in the Palestinian Authority, says that the negotiations will in practice continue for some time, albeit without a peace deal.
“Endless negotiation is good for the Americans. They can point to success in bringing the sides to the table and keeping them there. Netanyahu can avoid US pressure and shows he’s engaged in the peace process. Abbas can continue to be fed with money, prisoner releases and other things and maintain the survival of the PA.”
And Lynfield addresses the key issue, American pressure:
But Mr. Khatib does not believe the US will put enough pressure on Israel to force the substantial concessions necessary to enable the emergence of a viable Palestinian state.
That angle, American pressure, is of course completely missing in the story at the Times, by Michael Gordon and Isabel Kershner. Titled, “Talks Begin on Mideast, to Doubts on All Sides,” the article is blunt about the lack of promise in the talks, and about the American interest in trying to do something to stop the Palestinians from gaining traction in the court of world opinion:
The prevailing narrative among the pundits, including more than a few experienced Middle East hands, is that while the Israelis and Palestinians may have sent their negotiators to Washington to placate Mr. Kerry, neither side appears remotely prepared to make the hard calls needed to cement a lasting peace…
With the Palestinians poised to take their claim for statehood to the International Criminal Court and United Nations bodies, American officials say the two sides were facing a downward spiral in which the Israelis would respond by cutting off financing to the Palestinian territories and European nations might curtail their investment in Israel, further isolating the Israelis.
How important is it to head off the Palestinians and the Europeans? The Times’s first expert is… Elliott Abrams, who calls for the Palestinians to take two aspirin and go back to bed in the occupation:
“The existence of talks can have a calming effect while they continue, and if they continue for several months can get us through the U.N. General Assembly without bitter Israeli-Palestinian confrontations,” said Elliott Abrams…
All told, the Times quotes three members of the Israel lobby– Abrams, liberal Zionist Yossi Alpher, and Michael Herzog a retired Israeli general now working at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The Times’s most hopeful informant is the one Arab the reporters got on the phone, Hussein Agha, who states (dubiously) that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is “the last Palestinian national leader who will be able to weave together the totality of the Palestinian people.”
Surprisingly, the Washington Post covers the talks from Jerusalem, and suggests that the Israeli colonization of the West Bank has gone too far for anything to be achieved in talks:
But the growth of the settlements presents a particularly thorny challenge. About 340,000 to 360,000 people live in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, according to Israeli government data. An additional 300,000 Jews live in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as their future capital.
Although there are still rugged encampments of tents and trailers on isolated hilltops, manned by youths with extreme views, many of the settlements in the West Bank have taken on the air of middle-class permanence: comfortable villas of white stone and red-tile roofs, landscaped with olive trees and date palms. They are the kind of gated communities that look more Southern California than Holy Land.
The Post specifically calls out Martin Indyk– who it notes is closer to Israelis than Palestinians– for contradicting himself on the settlement freeze issue:
Indeed, unlike the last time that the Obama administration launched Middle East peace talks — a short-lived effort in 2010 — there is no settlement freeze this time around.
….Indyk, who will take a leave from the Brookings Institution, maintains deep contacts in the region, particularly among Israeli officials.
In his 2009 memoir of the Clinton-era efforts to win a peace deal, “Innocent Abroad,” Indyk wrote that “future presidents need to insist that during final status negotiations all settlement activity be frozen, including in the settlement blocs, unless it is done in agreement with the Palestinians.”
At +972, the Israeli human rights attorney Michael Sfard says the peace process is legitimizing continuing colonization and human rights abuses.
The peace process, he says, has historically had negative consequences on human rights in the occupied territories.
“While talks are happening Israel gets away with anything. Land grabs, the expansion of settlements, even [Operation] Cast Lead was waged while there were peace talks.”
When the world focuses its attention on the peace process, he explains, it is much less attentive to Palestinian victims and the cries of human rights organizations and civil society.
In the past decade or two, “the peace process has become one of the major enemies of human rights,” Sfard continues, and “no peace process will be fruitful if people are suffering on the ground.”
Now a couple more hopeful voices. Roger Cohen calls Netanyahu a peacemaker, and quotes Jimmy Carter to support that view:
The notion that Netanyahu the Likudnik — fierce opponent of the late Yitzhak Rabin’s peace push, reluctant latecomer to the notion of two states, longtime ideologue of the Jewish right to all the Biblical land of Israel — might reinvent himself as peacemaker is not new. I have heard it from several people who have spent long hours with Netanyahu, including former Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain.
Skepticism is de rigueur, but it would be wrong to dismiss the idea. Never give an inch was Begin’s fierce creed forged in European persecution — and yet. The controversial release of 104 Palestinians is not the action of an Israeli prime minister unserious about final-status negotiations. Carter said, “I think this concept that John Kerry has pursued now secretly, very secretly for five months, I think it has much more chance of success than I had believed before we met with him.”..
Carter, speaking at Chatham House in England, comes out for land swaps in Cohen’s piece and sells out the Palestinian right of return:
Carter said a resolution should be based on the 1967 borders, “with one exception — that is that there can be land swaps very near Jerusalem for the major Israeli settlements, and acre by acre or hectare by hectare the land that’s given by the Palestinians to Israel for these major settlements will be repaid to the Palestinians on an equal basis.”
He said Palestinian return would have to be to the West Bank or Gaza — “unless it’s a few dozen or something like that” to Israel. He said, “I have met many, many hours with Hamas leaders, and they have assured me for a long time that they will accept any negotiation that is successful between the P.L.O. and Israel if it is put to the Palestinian people in a referendum.”
Finally, here’s Chris Matthews celebrating the talks and then asking what risks he would be willing to take as an Israeli to gain acceptance from his neighbors. Not what risks he would take as a Palestinian to gain freedom from occupation. The lecture is entirely from an Israeli point of view, including the incantation of the words, Jewish state, and the credit to Abbas for curtailing his demands to meet Israeli needs:
It’s the beginning of real negotiations over the future of the Middle East…negotiations aimed at the creation of an Arab state alongside the Jewish state. These are not talks about talks, but the real thing astounding as that sounds. I give credit to the Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu for taking the step needed to make this happen and Mahmoud Abbas for limiting his demands to what the Israeli government was willing to accept…
I often ask myself what I would support if I were a typical Israeli. Would I risk a deal on land to get a peace deal… do if I wa Would I make concessions if it meant formal recognition of my country by the many Arab countries in the region….
Will they get as far as they did when Yasir Arafat pulled the plug in the last days of the Clinton administration?
Note that Matthews calls Netanyahu “Bibi Netanyahu” and blames Yasir Arafat for the breakdown of the Camp David talks in 2000. No wonder you don’t want to be called a rejectionist!