July 07, 2014

The Peace Process Ends: Not With a Bang, But a Whimper

I read Barak Ravid’s excellent “peace process” post-mortem with a sense of deep dismay. In fairness, however, one might first note a modest cause for optimism and a preliminary caveat. Optimism, you say? Well, as far as it goes, there is at least a "Framework Document" now on the shelf (or in a Foggy Bottom safe). Perhaps, although I’m dubious, it won't just gather dust for years and effectively be relegated to the dust-bin. As for the caveat, Ravid's is but one journalist’s accounting, nor should one cheaply denigrate John Kerry, Martin Indyk and their respective staff's sweat equity invested into trying to get a deal across the line over nine months, especially in the context of arm-chair quarterbacking from afar.

And yet, what paucity of great power diplomatic imagination, verve and resolve is revealed in this reportage! More than anything, the negotiations were in the main solely with the Israeli-side. The Palestinians were effectively absent in the equation (more on this critical factor below). To boot, the U.S. was effectively ‘negotiating with itself’ in that we were merely gently pressuring the Israelis to claw-back positions that had largely already been successfully broached with predecessor Israeli Governments (see notably Camp David 2000 vintage + Taba, both post the Wye River Memorandum). Is this where the rather risible ‘honest broker’ descriptor has gotten us to, really?

Best I can make out, many months were squandered by such moments: ‘Pretty please, Israelis, may we have the ’67 lines + related swap(s) be the principle buttressing the negotiations?’ You mean, a cynic might say, the cornerstone ‘land for peace’ formulation that dates to U.N. Resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973)? This elemental principle—almost half a century old now--masquerades as some large concession! And, even here, Ravid’s reportage makes clear Netanyahu would not entertain details behind the principle—let alone pulling out maps to get into the potential nitty-gritty of precise borders and exchanges—but even broaching such discussions on a theoretical level.

Or, pretty please, Israelis, may we (after we effectively agreed on the Palestinian’s behalf to their having a demilitarized state and a continued Israeli military presence in the Jordan River Valley), may we also get your agreement that some international troops could stay behind as face-save ‘internationalization’ sop for the Palestinians? Please, on the U.S. tax-payers dime, doubtless? Would you terribly mind?

Or, pretty please, Israelis, can we perhaps not mention a “Jewish State” full–stop, but “nation-state of the Jewish people”? This will make minorities within ’48 Israel so much more comfortable, especially as Israel also reportedly agreed to emphasize that “the equality of rights of the minorities in Israel will not be infringed in any peace agreement.” And let us not concern ourselves too much with the painful symbolism this Jewish nation-state engenders for the Palestinians with regard to their effectively forsaking forever former ’48-era lands, especially in the context of the de minimis concessions offered up regarding ‘right of return’.

As for the Jerusalem issue, U.S. negotiators at least understood the language required would have Jerusalem described as capital of both states. Yet here Netanyahu would not budge an inch, save to possibly agree there was a “future aspiration in this regard, or a general sentence to the effect that it would not be possible to achieve a final agreement without resolving the Jerusalem issue.” But if the Palestinians are meant to effectively relinquish any meaningful right of return plus recognize Israel as "nation-state of the Jewish people", you can be assured the price of such compromises will be a modest portion of East Jerusalem (at minimum including some of the Muslim Holy sites) becoming the capital of Palestine. After all, it takes two to cut a deal.

All this is painful enough: that months of diplomatic capital were squandered on what should have been low-hanging fruit given legacy negotiations. But the kicker is that the Framework Document was essentially only being shown to one side, if you believe Ravid’s reporting! It points to the incestuousness of the U.S.-Israeli relationship, where as ever dutiful legal counsel, we sought to ‘dot I’s/cross T’s, tweak language to help Netanyahu with his hardliners (who get worse by the day)—but little to none of the time deigning to share the draft with the other side—save perhaps little verbal 'teasers' and such semi-disclosures. I don’t know about other readers with experience in either the public or private sectors negotiating deals—but from my experience it is unfathomable that you don’t show the other side the deal documentation; perhaps not necessarily every single iteration given tactical reasons--but none of the developing drafts for months and months?

It’s frankly almost emblematic of a caricatured ‘Orientalist’ bias, after the Western sophisticates have battened down the document in the hifalutin’ conference rooms, we’ll let those somewhat dim 'Middle Easterners' in on the document and patronizingly explain to them what miracles our exertions wrought on their behalf. Unsurprisingly, the Palestinian side was not impressed. As Ravid reports: “At this time, drafts of the document were being exchanged between Washington and Jerusalem on a daily basis. The Palestinians’ response, when they grasped what was going on, was that they were being duped. So great was their suspiciousness and so intense their frustration with the Americans that they lost interest in the process completely.”

The ‘peace process’ has become a phrase now almost of ribald derision in many quarters, a moniker for seemingly endless cycles of aimless discussion mired in its own rituals, positions, talking points, coteries of drafters and scriveners that come and go, like the seasons. And beyond this, the conventional wisdom has developed into a burgeoning sense that—with everything else afoot in MENA—does Israeli-Palestinian peace really even matter all that much? Deep down, however, true friends of Israel realize it very much does. The continued quashing of the dignity of an occupied people is eroding Israel’s national soul as heretofore soi disant enlightened democracy. Israel is descending into pre-Enlightenment brutishness day-by-day, month-by-month, year-by year. Like its enemies, it begins to wax rhapsodic about irredentist strategies, annexation of lands, ethnic cleansing, ‘eye-for-an-eye’ tactics (see the barbarism of teens slain on both sides this past week). Its basic legitimacy is inexorably compromised because of the original sin of the occupation.

Alas, Yigal Amir’s bullet constituted one of the most catastrophically effective political assassinations of modern times, bringing down arguably the greatest leader and peacemaker Israel had in Yitzhak Rabin. As ‘peacemaking fatigue’ sets in and the clock runs on, legalistic huddles around Framework documents that constitute but begrudging ‘pulling along’ on the most basic matters will not meaningfully resuscitate chances for a real peace. What is needed is a convincing leader of a great power (hello, Barack) to tell his client—politely but firmly—that its many untold billions upon billions of aid come with a small price, meaning, a modicum of respect for its patron.

Here instead, we are being played for fools, negotiating with ourselves for the privilege of trying to help a client who pays us too little heed back. Even the hapless Palestinians 'waiting for Godot' in Ramallah could not tolerate this theater of transparent chicanery this go around. A ‘process’ like this is indeed a mockery. What is required is an end to the tyranny of such incremental process obsession, instead tabling firmly before the counterparties what everyone knows are the broad parameters of a deal, and exerting real pressure (including suspension of material components of financial and military aid) until people get serious about inking the real deal (see too the levity around this time being ‘serious’ in Ravid’s reporting, an inauspicious harbinger that helped foretell the outcome).

What is this deal, you ask? It's quite simple: the Palestinians agree 1) Israel proper is the "nation-state of the Jewish people", and 2) that right of return will only mean refugees can one of: A) stay where they are or go to 3rd countries; B) 'repatriate' to the '67 lines' putative new Palestinian state or C) on a highly selective case-by-case 'humanitarian' basis have Israel in its sole discretion look at possible bona fide repatriation to '48 lands; 3) Jerusalem will be a shared capital of both Israel and Palestine (special arrangements around the Temple Mount); 4) Palestine will be broadly demilitarized (but generally control its airspace and have robust security forces) with a continued Israeli military presence in the Jordan River Valley and 'emergency access' protocols; 4) approximately 93-96% of '67 Occupied Territory will form the Palestinian nation-state (broadly contiguous), with land swaps to account for the most 'institutionalized' settlements which would be annexed by Israel (with concomitant swaps); and 5) assuming 80% of settlers now under Israeli ambit, the remainder would be relocated should they desire.

But my expectations are tremendously low for such a broadly fair, all things considered, resolution. How can they not be given past as prologue? But make no mistake, more than anything, this is Israel’s loss first and foremost. The Palestinians have nursed their wounds for decades. Their beleaguered polity—often hate-infected as it is--reflects their state of historic development and national narrative, one which showcases they’ve essentially stalled out. But Israel’s current trajectory is even worse, in that it’s heading backwards. It is one of history’s cruel ironies that so many so-called ‘friends of Israel’ are so blind to this. Indeed, how sad and meek that the United States, the power that subsidizes her Israeli client--cannot summon the requisite will to nudge Israel more firmly towards the imperative strategic objectives that must be seized if Israel is to stave off further de-legitimization and anti-democratic decay. The path to resolution is relatively clear, but a limping and ultimately ministerial 'process for process's sake' essentially ending by underwhelming 'whimper' is not a persuasive way forward or commensurate with convincing statecraft.

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About Belgravia Dispatch

Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.

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