Although the start date for direct peace negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders is still a few days away, the prognosis is already bad. Since talks were announced last month Israel has passed new subsidies for settlements, settler leaders have been to Washington DC to lobby Congress, and two Palestinian political parties have maneuvered against the negotiations.
Ramallah rejects negotiations
Last week, factions opposing the direct-talks protested and clashed with security forces in Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank. It would have been called a brawl had the police not worn uniforms and the protesters not carried placards. But as it were, this march was the only substantial outpouring from the occupied Palestinian territories over John Kerry’s resumption of reaching a peace deal.
“The negotiations process that we’ve been going through for 20 years now, actually in September it’s going to be 20 years, has not led us anywhere,” said Ahmad Omar, 24, one of the protesters. Omar (a pseudonym) spoke to me from a street off of the Ramallah police station because he feared that he would be sacked if his employer found out he was demonstrating against the PA. Omar, like many Palestinians look at territorial loss in the West Bank since the Oslo Accords and Gaza’s siege as examples for why revisiting American engineered talks are futile. Not just futile, but also in the long run harmful because the energy into Kerry’s plan takes away considering alternatives. “We feel that negotiations is just the diplomatic cover that provides Israel with the means necessary to actually continue its colonization process,” he continued.
Omar hopes to see Palestinians championing their cause through more aggressive means, but not necessarily shutting off diplomatic channels. “We need to go back into a paradigm of confrontation with Israel. Whether the confrontation is through the internationalization of the conflict or through protests.”
“Internationalization means,” explained Omar, “since we gained the upgrade of membership into the United Nations we have some tools in terms of joining various international organizations and filing lawsuits.” He argues this can be done by “utilizing the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice and other places to advocate for the Palestinian cause–nobody thinks that this is enough, but this is a start.”
“Internationalization of the conflict” is a term to watch. Human rights lawyer and Georgetown University Associate Adjunct professor Noura Erakat has used it repeatedly in television appearances over the past few months. On MSNBC Erakat dropped the term to reference letting go of America’s role as arbitrator and aid donor and employing the United Nations General Assembly resolutions.
Later, when the Ramallah demonstration disbanded police arrested five protesters who were being treated in a nearby public hospital. The protesters were taken into custody from their beds, prompting a second round of protests later that evening.
Such discontentment, which was organized by one of the two communist parties in the PLO that do not support Kerry’s brokered meetings, showcases the divisions inside of the Palestinian camp.
The following week the PLO met to hammer out a unified position and released a statement on the status of Jerusalem. “East Jerusalem Today” outlined the PLO negotiations affairs department’s stance on creating two states based on the June 1967 armistice line in juxtaposition to de facto borders re-drawn by Israel’s separation wall. “The Palestinian acceptance of the 1967 border, which includes East Jerusalem, is a painful compromise: It is the acceptance of the State of Palestine over only 22% of historic Palestine,” said the statement.
Israel’s bad-faith, good-faith
Similarly, Israeli officials hardly presented a united front on meeting with Palestinian leaders, or a two-state framework in general. While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to nine months of discussions with his counterpart Mahmoud Abbas, his party, Likud, is against two states. Moreover two-thirds of Netanyahu’s ministers oppose Palestinian sovereignty. And major construction projects like the planned rail across the West Bank indicate an Israeli desire to expand into, not retract from, the occupied Palestinian territories.
Israel’s far right is also making forays into obstructing Kerry’s plans. Settler leaders Dani Dayan from the YESHA Council and Gershon Mesika from the Shomron Regional Council traveled to Washington DC to lobby congress. Dayan met with GOP members in June and last week Mesika met with 20 congressman and attended the GOP studded Christians United for Israel’s annual summit, an evangelical pro-Israel group founded by Pastor John Hagee who has been accused of anti-Semitism after a series public comments regarding Adolf Hitler fulfilling prophecy.
“Today there is only private construction, not governmental. We are concerned they will try to stop us again, so we build faster,” said David Ha’Ivri, director of public diplomacy and communications at the Shomron Liaison Office to the Washington Jewish Week. Ha’Ivri was pleased with the settler delegation’s advocacy and said they will pressure Europe next. “We do not come to replace Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs…but we want the decision makers to hear about our positions directly from us — it’s obvious we wouldn’t need to do it had Israeli diplomats represented them properly,” he continued.
At the same time, a pro-Israel think tank also tried to fray U.S. support for negotiations. The Endowment for Middle East Truth, founded by an adviser for the Islamophobic Clarion Fund and funded in part by Sheldon Adelson, pushed a letter asking Attorney General Eric Holder to sandbag Israel’s commitment to release 104 prisoners as a good-faith effort to jump-start the talks. The first 26 Palestinians will be released next week. Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), one of the officials Dayan met with in June, circulated the appeal.
Challenging the prisoner release is not the only daylight between Dayan and the Israeli negotiations team. The settler favors a one-state solution, where Israel would annex Area C of the West Bank, rendering no territorial sovereignty for the Palestinians. It’s a controversial position that has gained steam in far right circles after two years of Knesset members backing the “Application for Israeli Sovereignty Over Judea and Samaria,” or the Israel-only one-state conference. In the U.S. this is position is not popular (yet), and only gets traction from Dayan’s extremist counterparts in the GOP. Nonetheless, Dayan does represent a sizable “anti-negotiations” bloc that exists within the Israeli government itself.
No one believes Kerry will succeed
Popular support for peace negotiations is also abysmal. A joint Israeli-Palestinian poll from July of this year showed 68 percent of Israelis and 69 percent of Palestinians think there’s no real chance for a two-state solution in the next five years. Yet over half of Israelis and Palestinians said they do want a negotiated two-state solution. They just don’t think it’s going to happen from Kerry. As for one bi-national state with equal rights for all, around one-third of both Israelis and Palestinians support this option. Interestingly, Israelis support the one-state solution 2 percent more than Palestinians.
So in the end most people in the region—leaders and laymen—want two states but no one is taking this peace process. seriously. Yet both parties are willing to play along with Kerry. Likely the $4 billion that the U.S. promised last month to support the Palestinian economy weighs in heavy enough that both Netanyahu and Abbas will sit a the meeting table. But is money enough to change politics? It seems unfathomable that Netanyahu will agree to give up land gobbled by settlements, even though over half of Israelis think settlements are the main obstacle to ending the conflict. As for the Palestinian officials, if they accept anything less than a removal of at least some settlements, their tenuous mandate will implode. Only 200 Palestinians protested negotiations last week, but last winter thousands protested the PA over its political direction and economic failures. Any more missteps from PA leadership, especially when dealing with the Israelis, will not blow over softly.