Is Washington's Peace Process Over?


The decision of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to resign and not stand in proposed January elections is a blessing in disguise. Perhaps now, after years of futile "negotiations" between the Palestinian Authority, Israel and America, we can declare the official, Washington-backed "peace process" dead. It has achieved nothing. No freedom for Palestinians, no end to the occupation and no independent Palestinian leadership.

But Abbas’ apparent decision (or threat) to leave his post has necessarily focused the minds of many officials across the world on the shortcomings of the present negotiations.

President Barack Obama, through various speeches and public pronouncements against ongoing Israeli settlements, clearly convinced Abbas that he was in a strong bargaining position. But, like every US president before him, Obama and his team are now mouthing the Israeli line.

It’s ironic that Abbas, a leader backed, funded and armed by the US, would expect to be treated as anything other than a useful idiot. The Western media went along with this fiction for years, framing Abbas as an independent player when he was the exact opposite. Palestinian bloggers remain unimpressed with the kind of Palestinian leadership on offer.

Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said just this week that, "all issues should be resolved through negotiations. No one should allow the issue of settlements to distract from the overarching goal of lasting peace". It’s unclear how peace can be achieved while colonies continue to expand and settler violence and incitement is ignored. Indeed, the US State Department recently released a report that found profound intolerance within Israeli society.

The Palestinian Authority has always been a compromised body. Set up in the 1990s as a way for the international community to fund and back a compliant and weak Palestinian elite, political progress was only ever achieved at the rhetorical level. While it is true, as Bernard Avishai argued recently in Harpers, that economic progress has occurred in parts of the West Bank, being able now to go to the cinema in Nablus does not replace an end to settlement building or truly viable Palestinian institutions.

Saeb Erekat, the Western-friendly chief Palestinian negotiator, spoke with the New York Times this week. He said, "I think he [Abbas] is realizing that he came all this way with the peace process in order to create a Palestinian state, but he sees no state coming". Erekat told Israeli daily Ynet that the only alternative left to the Palestinians was to "refocus their attention on the one-state solution where Muslims, Christians and Jews can live as equals. It is very serious. This is the moment of truth for us".

Martin Indyk, vice president of the Brookings Institution and an adviser to George Mitchell, Obama’s envoy to the Middle East, was pessimistic and implied that the two-state solution was dead. "At the end of the day", he told the New York Times, "I fear that the United States, Israel and the Arabs will fall short of meeting Abu Mazen’s [Mahmoud Abbas] requirements for staying on. More than likely, we are entering a new era."

This is a defining moment. I agree with Steve Walt, co-author of The Israel Lobby, who outlined this week what this new reality could look like:

"Israel is going to get what it has long sought: permanent control of the West Bank (along with de facto control over Gaza). The Palestinian Authority is increasingly irrelevant and may soon collapse, General Keith Dayton’s mission to train reliable and professional Palestinian security forces will end, and Israel will once again have full responsibility for some 5.2 million Palestinian Arabs under its control."

Indefinite occupation looks like the only game in town: the Obama administration is walking into a nightmare it has helped come to life. Allowing Israel free reign to maintain the status quo can lead to a few possible outcomes. Simply talking about the two-state solution — and wishing Hamas would just disappear — appears to be the grand plan of the moment.

Meanwhile, back in reality, demographics and global public opinion are running strongly against Zionist interests. Long-term supporters of the two-state equation are starting to panic. Even reliable American commentators are talking about withholding US aid to the Jewish state.

The French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said this week that Israelis no longer seem interested in peace. The US Ambassador to Israel, James B Cunningham, recently acknowledged during a speech at Tel Aviv University that the "status quo is not sustainable" — but offered no solutions except unqualified backing for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

While the media in Israel and beyond became excited about the White House’s supposed symbolic rebuke of Netanyahu during his recent fleeting visit to Washington, such meaningless stories mask the ritual humiliation of Abbas. They also mask that Hamas is being ignored and the deepening of the occupation: all signs of full support for the Zionist agenda. For example, nobody has criticised Israeli plans to once again invade Gaza, something strongly implied by a senior Israeli official, according to this recent article in Haaretz.

A few commentators in Israel seem alert to the cliff Israel is approaching — Akiva Eldar in Haaretz is a key example — but it’s hard to find many Zionists willing to accept the ramifications of the two-state failure. Blaming the Arabs is a full-time profession for many Israelis. It takes an outside voice, such as the Financial Times, to tell Israelis that they are embarking on a "project of national suicide".

Abbas is a bit-player in this drama. If it wasn’t him, somebody else would be appointed to his position. It doesn’t really matter. The Palestinian people won’t trust any leader who talks about negotiations but watches their land being swallowed up by Jewish colonies.

Hamas are left to observe from the sidelines, seemingly unable to receive international legitimacy (something they say they want) even though they are now publicly backing a two-state solution, if supported by the bulk of the Palestinian people in a referendum. Their role in any elections held next year is unclear. Not being Fatah or the Palestinian Authority may help, but Gazans are suffering and many blame Hamas for their predicament (even though Israel and Egypt are both blocking the borders into the Strip).

Inevitably, the prospect of the end of the Jewish state has resulted in some desperate calls. Kadima leadership hopeful Shaul Mofaz has called for a Palestinian state with negotiable borders within a year and Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad, according to Haaretz, has told Washington that he will declare a Palestinian state within 1967 borders by 2011. Such a move would "likely transform any Israeli presence across the Green Line, even in Jerusalem, into an illegal incursion to which the Palestinians would be entitled to engage in measures of self-defence".

The elephant in the room is the one-state solution, currently unimaginable to most Israeli Jews and the Zionist Diaspora but growing in global legitimacy. Ali Abunimah explained recently how to convince sceptical players that South Africa is the ideal model to copy in the Middle East. When the legal editor of Israel’s leading daily, Yediot, calls his country’s behaviour in the West Bank "apartheid", it’s understandable why a single, democratic state that includes rights and responsibilities for all is emerging as a viable option. Separated Bantustans, the only possible two-state solution with half a million illegal settlers now in the West Bank, is morally and legally unacceptable.

The likely departure of Abbas, either in the coming months or some time soon after, only matters because it has forced even the most traditional Palestinian leaders to consider advocating a one-state solution.

Zionists and the Western powers will have a hard time countering a campaign that simply equates one person with one vote — no matter their religion or race.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.