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Distracted by the peace process: What really happened during the talks

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Israeli settlements in the West Bank (Photo: Reuters)

Israeli settlements in the West Bank (Photo: Reuters)

There was a mad scramble by Washington last week to prevent the seemingly inevitable – an implosion of the Middle East peace talks. In a last-ditch effort to stop Israel reneging on a promise to release a final batch of Palestinian prisoners, the US briefly threw in possibly the biggest bargaining chip in its hand: the release of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard.

With Israel still dragging its feet, an infuriated Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas submitted applications to join 15 United Nations conventions, thereby reviving a campaign to win international recognition of Palestinian statehood.

Although Washington will continue quietly arm-twisting the two sides a little longer, President Barack Obama is reported to be worried that US diplomacy is starting to appear “desperate”.

The negotiations’ failure could prove an important clarifying moment, signaling the effective demise of the two-state solution.

Both the US and Israel have come to rely on the endless theatrics of the two-decade peace process. Settlement freezes, prisoner releases, rows about Palestinian Authority funding and, of course, intermittent negotiations have served as useful distractions from the main developments on the ground.

As Bassem Khoury, a former Palestinian Authority minister, observed last week: “Israel hasn’t changed. It is the same colonial entity pursuing the same ethnic cleansing policies it did for decades.”

That was also the little-noticed conclusion reached by Richard Falk as he stepped down last month as the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied territories. In line with warnings he has issued in his UN post for the past six years, Falk, a professor emeritus in international law at Princeton University, said Israeli policies were designed to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from the occupied territories, and especially East Jerusalem, the expected capital of any Palestinian state.

Falk noted that Israel had cynically exploited the peace process to expand its settlement programme, as it did again during these past nine months of talks.

In his meeting last month with Obama at the White House, Abbas unveiled a map showing that Israel had approved more than 10,000 settler homes since the talks began. That number has grown further, with Israel unveiling 2,000 more, including 700 last week in the East Jerusalem settlement of Gilo.

For every settler home built, Palestinians lose territory needed not only for a state but also to keep individual families living where they are now. The innocuous term “settlements” conceals their true role: as Israel’s primary vehicle for ethnic cleansing Palestinians through dispossession and harassment.

Washington welcomed Falk’s departure, calling him a “noxious” presence. But his warnings have been echoed by others, including Israeli and Palestinian human rights organisations. Falk’s findings were also confirmed by a usually circumspect group: European Union diplomats. A leaked joint report by EU consulates in the occupied territories observed that ethnic cleansing was advancing at an ever-accelerating pace in East Jerusalem.

The diplomats’ immediate concern is a “conflagration” as Israel’s extreme right is allowed ever greater access to the supremely sensitive site of the Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Pushing to be given prayer rights there, the Israeli right hope they can eventually win from their government a partition of the site, as occurred earlier at the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron. There, the settlers’ control has effectively turned the once-thriving centre of Hebron into a Palestinian ghost town.

In East Jerusalem, Israel’s ethnic cleansing policies are at their most intense. As the EU notes, Palestinians have been starved of municipal funds, deprived of schools and blocked from commercial activity, and are leaving, heading for the greater security of West Bank cities.

In recent weeks, Palestinians in sections of East Jerusalem have even discovered that, despite its claims to treat Jerusalem as its “unified capital”, Israel has stopped supplying them with water.

Official data provide clues to Israel’s real intentions. This year’s first-quarter figures show that Israel sold more land to settlers for house building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem than it did for construction inside Israel itself. West Bank construction has more than doubled over the same period last year.

Last week a Knesset committee effectively stymied efforts to force the government to disclose how much it is spending on settlement construction. Nonetheless, left wing legislators managed to extract partial treasury figures showing that the settlement budget has increased by at least $143 million over the past six months, during the height of talks with the Palestinians.

In another sign of how Israel has been entrenching the settlements while paying lip-service to a peace process, the Israeli media revealed that 24 major infrastructure projects had been approved for the West Bank. They include more than $57 million for new settler roads and the first planned train service linking the settlements to Israel.

Israeli dispossession policies are not limited to the occupied territories. Foreign minister Avigodor Lieberman’s plan to redraw the borders to strip part of Israel’s large Palestinian minority of its citizenship received a major fillip last month. For the first time government lawyers rejected the opinion of international law experts and gave their blessing to what the liberal Haaretz daily called Lieberman’s programme of “ethnic cleansing” of its own citizens.

If negotiations collapse, it should be clear that, while both sides were supposed to be talking, one side – Israel – was vigorously and unilaterally acting to further its goals.

It now seems the Palestinian leadership will respond in kind, by pushing their bid for statehood at the UN. Israel has already threatened “punitive measures”, meaning things are likely to turn yet uglier. But the era of wishful thinking may finally be coming to an end – and that will be progress in itself.

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

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29 Responses

  1. a blah chick on April 7, 2014, 10:08 am

    “President Barack Obama is reported to be worried that US diplomacy is starting to appear “desperate”.

    Starting to appear?

    This part stood out for me: “…immediate concern is a “conflagration” as Israel’s extreme right is allowed ever greater access to the supremely sensitive site of the Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City.”

    The right wing nut jobs know that they have a core of support that will forgive them anything, which is why they are over reaching on the Temple Mount. I predict in the very near future they will cause some violence or major damage to the mosque and all hell will break loose. It will be so bad that even the American government will wince.

    • ToivoS on April 8, 2014, 12:38 am

      That quote from Cook “start to appear’ jumped out at me also. It is not just the IP negotiations, but it looks like US diplomacy is appearing desperate in every venue — Syria, China and Ukraine. At least the Iran negotiations seem to be on a coherent course, unless that comes off the rails in the next month.

      Sadly, it looks like Kerry and Obama are floundering on every front. Israel is the least of their problems.

      • NickJOCW on April 8, 2014, 7:56 am

        ToivoS, There was an interesting overview of the Iran situation in al Jazeera the other day.

        and the Treasury Department just issued licenses for Boeing and GE to sell aviation stuff to Tehran.

      • American on April 8, 2014, 11:10 am

        ToivoS says:
        …..that quote from Cook “start to appear’ jumped out at me also. It is not just the IP negotiations, but it looks like US diplomacy is appearing desperate in every venue.”

        A ‘desperate policy’ is the natural outcome of a political system based on acquiescing to certain special interest and then having to try to ‘minimize the damage’ acquiescing to those interest causes.
        The policy becomes ‘ incoherent’.
        A constant hamster wheel circle of providing for those special interest and then trying to avert whatever crisis it fosters.
        But you never can stop the wheel or catch up because each crisis only brings on more special interest involvement ‘as a solution’ to each crisis.
        And its not just in FP either, this is the way US economic FED policy has also been working for decades.
        Sooner or later however it breaks down….even the best juggler cant keep all the balls in the air forever.

    • LeaNder on April 8, 2014, 10:31 am

      I predict in the very near future …

      I doubt that the Israelis are that stupid. That would enormously harm their image as the world’s security experts.

      But Temple Mount affairs could be an old recipe to trigger revolt, which in turn could be used to feed the usual imagery into media channels.

      Although, I can see slight changes in German media reports, so they maybe shouldn’t trust that it will work easily again.

      • American on April 8, 2014, 11:33 am

        LeaNder says:

        April 8, 2014 at 10:31 am

        I doubt that the Israelis are that stupid. That would enormously harm their image as the world’s security experts. >>>>>

        Yeah, they are that stupid. Remember what Sharon provoked with his deliberate march on the temple mount.
        And Israel is even worse now with their religious extremist having so much influence.
        You are basically dealing with two kinds of I-People who have any power, both in and out of Israel, the primitive religious fanatics of Judaism and the secular Jewish Chauvinists of Zionism, including US Zionist.
        That combination as described below by Shahak is toxic.

        Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel
        Israel Shahak and Norton Mezvinsky

        ”The reason for the willful ignorance of this danger, shared by many Israeli Jews, including Rabin himself, was in our view Jewish chauvinism, which is so prevalent among Jews. The chauvinists falsify the history of their nation in order to make it appear better than it really was. They also falsify the current situation by claiming that their nation is the best.
        This claim, often made by too many Jews, is especially dangerous when reinforced by a combination of religious fanaticism and willful ignorance.
        Jewish chauvinism is especially virulent, because the identification between Jewish religion and Jewish nationality has prevailed for so long and still prevails among many Jews.
        It should not be forgotten that democracy and the rule of law were brought into Judaism from the outside. Before the advent of the modern state, Jewish communities were mostly ruled by rabbis who employed arbitrary and cruel methods as bad as those employed by totalitarian regimes.
        The dearest wish of the current Jewish fundamentalists is to restore this state of affairs.”

  2. seafoid on April 7, 2014, 10:54 am

    Israel doesn’t appear to have any coherent strategy now the peace process has run out of road. They need the kabuki but they beat it to death. And Power does her best but she destroys American PR in the process. And this can go on indefinitely, can it ?

  3. eljay on April 7, 2014, 11:05 am

    Foreign minister Avigodor Lieberman’s plan to redraw the borders to strip part of Israel’s large Palestinian minority of its citizenship received a major fillip last month. For the first time government lawyers rejected the opinion of international law experts and gave their blessing to what the liberal Haaretz daily called Lieberman’s programme of “ethnic cleansing” of its own citizens.

    And when it finally does happen:
    – hard-core Zio-supremacists will pump their fists in the air, cheer wildly and celebrate; and
    – “liberal Zionist” Zio-surpemacists will wring their hands, cluck their tongues, shake their heads…and then, discreetly, they will “primarily celebrate”.

    (“Liberal Zionists” don’t necessarily advocate for ethnic cleansing, but they do admit that they “cannot consistently say that ‘ethnic cleansing is never necessary'”.)

  4. Taxi on April 7, 2014, 11:47 am

    The occupied Palestinians and israel’s Arab neighbors actually have NOT been “distracted”. They’ve known all along that ethnic cleansing is the name of the israeli game. Why else is the axis of resistance getting more and more popular amongst the masses especially the younger generations? The more illegal israeli colonies are established, or existing ones enlarged on the backs of Palestinian land, the more people of the region align themselves to the resistance as being the answer.

    Israel can build all the settlements it wants, but it certainly will not be able to keep them when the final crunch occurs.

    There is no liberation without an armed resistance. Unfortunately.

    • Taxi on April 7, 2014, 1:53 pm

      It would seem to be the case that Joe and Jane have not been “distracted” either. Check out the comments section on the peace talk impasse:

      So true: the jig is really, so very really up!

      • puppies on April 7, 2014, 2:40 pm

        @Taxi – Thanks for your optimism but nothing is up before the Zionists are physically restrained.

      • Taxi on April 7, 2014, 11:26 pm

        I’ve been posting on the I/P conflict since 12th September, 2001, when maybe 2% of punters posting had a semblance of knowledge of israeli crimes against the Palestinians. I reckon currently, it’s close to 60%.

        I can’t even begin to tell you the uphill struggle on the blogs that I experienced back then; in fact I’m proud to say that I’ve been banned from most name sites in defense of Palestine. And I got banned specifically for saying, but in much more mercurial language, that the zios need to be seriously “physically restrained”.

        It’s not “optimism” as such, but we really have come a long way.

      • puppies on April 8, 2014, 10:23 am

        @Taxi – Sure, it looks better out here. Meanwhile, back at the farm… Oslo.

      • Taxi on April 8, 2014, 10:43 am

        At this stage of the game, no one at the farm really believes in Oslo (designed specifically to take away all guns from the resistance).

        I don’t mind to share here that the late and great Mahmoud Darwish was at my father’s apartment in Paris when he phoned the PLO in Ramallah at 3pm, to resign over Oslo.

      • American on April 8, 2014, 10:46 am

        @ Taxi

        I started shortly after you did….after 6 months or so of intensive research on ME-Isr-USA-I/P.
        It has been an uphill struggle but the payoff is that now 99% of everyone commenting on Isr is saying exactly what we said 11 years ago.
        And yes, economic or military force is the only way Isr is going to be stopped.
        But what that requires is a citizens uprising against the Zionist and Israel infiltration in all countries governments.

      • brenda on April 9, 2014, 10:07 am

        I started posting to Phil’s old New York Observer blog in 2002. I remember the exact day I got enlightened to the issue — it was a little no-account anti-Iraq War “teach-in” sponsored by our little hick high school out in the boonies. I live in a place where people still wave at cars passing by and wait politely several minutes for an oncoming vehicle to clear the little one-lane bridges. The kids had brought in an Iranian professor from the local college to explain the basic geography and politics of the Middle East to us. The meeting was busted up by three big city AIPAC types confronting the professor, rudely demanding equal time.

        I had read a bit about AIPAC and Campus Watch, but it wasn’t until coming face to face with it that I got politicized. I still didn’t know what was going on though. I was mostly worried about the professor. In September of that year we went to the big ANSWER anti-war march in Washington and encountered a huge, huge presence of Palestinian-Americans. It was shortly after that we lost the great Jewish anti-war and civil rights organizers. Huge loss. It isn’t only the Palestinians who are losing, although for sure they are physically suffering more — our own country needs our Jewish activists! Uncompromised and unconflicted in their loyalties. How can we hope to get any traction at all to address the very real problems here when a foreign nation is taking the cream off the top?

        I agree with Taxi, we’ve come a long way since Phil’s column in the Observer was the only game in town. Also I notice Jonathan Cook mentioned the EU diplomats; it could be that the US has rested, but Europe is coming up to speed. Also, the negotiations are still continuing, both Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are anxious to meet with Martin Indyk, the US envoy. It ain’t over till it’s over.

  5. HarryLaw on April 7, 2014, 11:51 am

    The ethnic cleansing and settlement building are nothing new, the Israelis genuinely expect no consequences either from the International Community or from the ICC.
    The Palestinians have put too much faith in the so called honest broker, Samantha Powers diatribe the other day should have disabused them of that notion. To the US, the settlement enterprise is only ‘unhelpful’ diplomatic code for ‘we don’t care’. Applying for membership of all the UN Agencies [or at least as many as they can afford] plus formally joining the ICC, may bring retribution from US/Israel in the short term, but in my opinion it would be best to apply for all the Agencies plus the ICC all at once, and let the rest of the world judge the illogical and probably unlawful responses from US/Israel, it will not be easy for the Palestinian leadership to invite such retribution, but they must fight back, by gaining non member statehood at the UN and judging by the threats which were made at the time, one would have thought the sky would fall in, it did not, Abbas was a hero. Now is the time to build on that success, they have a lot to lose in the short term, in the long term by putting their trust in the institutions of the UN and International Law and public opinion generally, they can only win.

    • Walid on April 7, 2014, 2:00 pm

      … Applying for membership of all the UN Agencies [or at least as many as they can afford] plus formally joining the ICC, etc. etc. etc.”

      Harry, they need to start by getting themselves a good Jewish lawyer to help them with the negotiating and a good Jewish PR agency to coach them on strategy. Until they do those things, they will continue pissing in the wind and getting run over at every turn.

  6. Taxi on April 7, 2014, 12:12 pm

    OT but here’s another Jonathan Cook article regarding Seymour Hirsh’s take on the chemical attack in Ghouta/Syria and Obama’s back-peddling from his “red line”:

  7. crone on April 7, 2014, 3:44 pm

    Haven’t the Israelis been putting money (US taxpayer dollars) in Abbas’ pockets for years? It’s not that Abbas is not capable of standing up for Palestine, it is that he has simply not done so until recently… let’s hope he has finally told the bribers to stuff it.

  8. DaBakr on April 7, 2014, 4:17 pm

    “President Barack Obama is reported to be worried that US diplomacy is starting to appear “desperate”.”

    really. can not imagine what he thought US policy appeared to be before this current stupidity

  9. Kay24 on April 8, 2014, 1:10 am

    The ICRC list on occupation. Israel has violated most of these regulations, and should be severely sanctioned, and be held responsible for crimes against the occupied.
    The crimes are documented by the UN agencies, Red Cross and BT’selem.
    The US has been aiding and abetting a brutal occupier commit these crimes.
    The US has plenty of opportunity to stop the mindless support of a rogue state, and do the right thing for it’s helpless victims.

    3. What are the most important principles governing occupation?
    The duties of the occupying power are spelled out primarily in the 1907 Hague Regulations (arts 42-56) and the Fourth Geneva Convention (GC IV, art. 27-34 and 47-78), as well as in certain provisions of Additional Protocol I and customary

    international humanitarian law.

    Agreements concluded between the occupying power and the local authorities cannot deprive the population of occupied territory of the protection afforded by international humanitarian law (GC IV, art. 47) and protected persons themselves can in no circumstances renounce their rights (GC IV, art. 8).

    The main rules o f the law applicable in case of occupation state that:

    The occupant does not acquire sovereignty over the territory.

    Occupation is only a temporary situation, and the rights of the occupant are limited to the extent of that period.

    The occupying power must respect the laws in force in the occupied territory, unless they constitute a threat to its security or an obstacle to the application of the international law of occupation.

    The occupying power must take measures to restore and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety.

    To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the occupying power must ensure sufficient hygiene and public health standards, as well as the provision of food and medical care to the population under occupation.

    The population in occupied territory cannot be forced to enlist in the occupier’s armed forces.

    Collective or individual forcible transfers of population from and within the occupied territory are prohibited.

    Transfers of the civilian population of the occupying power into the occupied territory, regardless whether forcible or voluntary, are prohibited.

    Collective punishment is prohibited.

    The taking of hostages is prohibited.

    Reprisals against protected persons or their property are prohibited.

    The confiscation of private property by the occupant is prohibited.

    The destruction or seizure of enemy property is prohibited, unless absolutely required by military necessity during the conduct of hostilities.

    Cultural property must be respected.

    People accused of criminal offences shall be provided with proceedings respecting internationally recognized judicial guarantees (for example, they must be informed of the reason for their arrest, charg ed with a specific offence and given a fair trial as quickly as possible).

    Personnel of the International Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement must be allowed to carry out their humanitarian activities. The ICRC, in particular, must be given access to all protected persons, wherever they are, whether or not they are deprived of their liberty.

  10. Walid on April 8, 2014, 8:49 am

    “In recent weeks, Palestinians in sections of East Jerusalem have even discovered that, despite its claims to treat Jerusalem as its “unified capital”, Israel has stopped supplying them with water.” (Jonathan Cook)

    It’s been over a month now that Israel has starred tightening the vise around the Palestinians of Jerusalem to make them leave the city.

    45,000 Palestinians are without state-supplied water forcing them to buy water. Electricity has also been cut off in certain sectors and ambulances are not allowed into the Arab sectors. Mountains of garbage are left uncollected. Israel has resorted to slum lord tactics that force occupants to leave their homes by cutting off their water and electricity; a new twist in the ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem’s Palestinian Arabs.

    • LeaNder on April 8, 2014, 10:37 am

      I have only looked at first and last response. But yes, one day later the water issue still seems to be on top of things that come to mind after having read the article yesterday.

      Do you have any sources for the claim concerning garbage, outside the–I forget the name of the little wall surrounded, as I remember it, oasis–for couples with East Jerusalem and West Bank ID’s?

      Ambulances, electricity?

      • Taxi on April 8, 2014, 11:23 am


        News footage of Palestinians lugging gallons of water and trash piling up in Arab Jerusalem is looped on Al-Mayadeen TV.

      • Walid on April 8, 2014, 2:21 pm

        “Garbage, ambulances, electricity?”

        Some information about water and garbage: still looking for electricity and ambulances:

        From “Emergency Water Sanitation and Hygiene in the Occupied Territories”

        “… He who dared to ask that now-famous question is of course Mr. Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament. So was Mr. Shulz’s 70-to-17 liter water-consumption ratio a “blatant lie”?

        In actuality, for Palestinians in some neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, the situation can be much worse.

        Welcome to Ras Hamis, Ras Shahada, Dahyat a-Salam, and the Shuafat Refugee Camp. Together, these neighborhoods of East Jerusalem are home to some 80,000 Palestinians. Some 80,000 human beings who since early March have almost no running water.

        Imagine what would happen if your neighborhood was suddenly cut off from the water supply. The municipality would surely do everything it could to fix the situation within hours; if for some reason the fix was delayed, the city would rush in water trucks, and keep updating the residents on its progress.

        How long would you take it, with no running water to drink, cook, shower, clean?

        In East Jerusalem it took countless interventions to finally get the local water authority to just bother to take a look at the situation in the neighborhoods cut from supply — after 17 days. Not 17 hours: 17 days before they bothered to show up. And still they have not fixed the situation. Hence an urgent appeal submitted to the High Court of Justice on behalf of the residents of these East Jerusalem neighborhoods by Attorney Keren Tsafrir from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).

        Ras Hamis, Ras Shahada, Dahyat a-Salam, and the Shuafat Refugee Camp all happen to be Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, on the east side of the separation wall. After 1967, Israel expanded the municipal boundaries of West Jerusalem and annexed these neighborhoods, as well as many others in the East. But in 2008, when Israel built the separation wall cutting through East Jerusalem, these four neighborhoods were left on its East (Palestinian) side. In principle, Israel’s, and the municipality’s, responsibility toward these neighborhoods should not have changed. In fact, it did.

        No garbage collection, almost no public transportation, a dearth of schools, lack of health services, no sidewalks, no street names, no green public spaces, no street lighting; the list goes on and on.

        And now, for almost three weeks already, no running water. In the first few days — no water at all. Then water came back, in trickles, to some of the residents. The situation now: Some have intermittent water supply; others get low pressure supply; and the rest get no water.

        With its treatment of these Palestinian neighborhoods, Israel has given new meaning to the word “in.” While being in a state of denial that it could ever act in such a way toward Palestinians, Israel is the state that denies these Palestinians of water. Surely, a State of denial.

        After three weeks without water, it is not just time to ask questions. It is time to get answers….”

      • SQ Debris on April 8, 2014, 2:44 pm

        Sources on failure to pick up garbage? I’ve got a frame grab of Meir Margalit, Jerusalem Municipal Councilman in front of garbage accumulated in the Anata neighborhood inside Jerusalem city limits. I’ll try sending it to this site. It won’t copy into the reply box. It was shot in 2007 so the despicable failure of the city of Jerusalem to provide equal services to its residents has been going on for a long long time.

      • Walid on April 8, 2014, 3:34 pm

        About Ambulances, from a report on the 20 years of Oslo and health care:

        In 2012, only 9% of requests for ambulances to enter East Jerusalem were approved.

        August 12, 2013, boy bit by snake at a checkpoint; Israel’s finest refused to call ambulance. An ambulance from the Palestinian Red Crescent Society managed to get to the area after an hour and a half and
        transferred the boy to Rafida hospital, where he was said to be in a critical condition.

        Most (91%) West Bank ambulances trying to reach Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem are refused access necessitating ‘back-to-back’ transfers.

  11. LeaNder on April 8, 2014, 12:14 pm

    Taxi, the ideal scenario to give tourists that wander off into areas they aren’t expected the impression of the anti-modernist “Arab village” is not such a bad idea. And this is a bit cynical.

    I have to look into security matters on my system. … I hope that newcomer Nurit Baytch gives me some time to respond to her polite answer and the thread won’t be closed meanwhile. Although, it does not really matter. Interesting question and context she raises.

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