Saturday, December 16, 2017

Tour de Peace-John Kerry’s attempts to revive the Middle East peace process


By Sam Gilbert - June 30, 2013
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation]
Tags: [John Kerry] [Mahmoud Abbas] [settlements] [Peace Process] [US foreign policy] [Two State Solution] [Oslo Accords] [Benjamin Netanyahu]

John Kerry and Benjamin Netanyahu meeting in 2010.  Photo Credit: Anne Gearan

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew out of Jerusalem, Sunday June 30th, the end of a four day effort to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks between President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  

Over the course of the four days Kerry met with Prime minister Netanyahu four separate occasions, spending nearly 13 hours with the Israeli Prime Minister in an attempt to make progress on the long fabled peace process.  Kerry also made two trips to meet Palestinian Authority President in Amman, Jordan, and one more final meeting with Abbas this Sunday in Ramallah.

This feverish diplomatic schedule is part of an ongoing campaign by the U.S. to bring both sides to the negotiating table to engage in bilateral talks.  Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported earlier this week that Kerry is intent on making “headway” between the two parties before the U.N. General Assembly gathers in September.

This U.S. campaign began in earnest following Obama’s trip to Israel earlier this year.  Kerry’s return to Israel and Palestine this Thursday marks Kerry fifth visit to the region in the last three months.  Despite the marathon visit, the prospects for substantial progress seem distant.  According to Al Jazeera English, Kerry has ended meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders without an agreement on resuming peace talks.

The proposed talks have been billed as a last ditch effort to save the two-state solution from imminent demise, yet question remains whether there is the political will in Israel, or enough trust from the Palestinians to make any meaningful progress.

Land for Peace

A senior cabinet minister from the Likud Party expressed that the Israeli Prime Minister would be willing to withdraw from most of the West Bank and evacuate numerous settlements so long as his security demands were satisfied, according to Haaretz .  This proposed “land swap” has been referred in the past, in which major settlement blocks would remain in Israeli hands while Palestine sovereignty would extend into part of Israel in return.

However Netanyahu reiterated his stance that “a peace agreement must be based on security and not on good will” adding: "Without security we won't be able to defend ourselves if the peace unravels," according to Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post

The security arrangements Netanyahu refers to would be the requirement of a demilitarized Palestine, with the Isreali Defense Forces remaining in full control of Palestinian borders and internal security. 

Conflicting Positions

The Palestinian Authority reiterated its demand that Israel halt the construction of Jewish settlements on occupied land, and agree in principle that peace negotiations be based on Israel withdrawing from all land occupied during the 1967 war.  

Construction in major settlement blocks does not substantially affect Israel's ability to come to an agreement

According to Haaretz Netanyahu said “construction in major settlement blocks does not substantially affect Israel’s ability to come to an agreement, adding that both parties should enter negotiations without preconditions. 

The continued Settlement construction in the West Bank an East Jerusalem is internationally recognized to be the single biggest obstacle to peace in the region as they physically undermine the viability of a future Palestinian state.  There are over 500,000 settlers living is East Jerusalem and the West Bank today, a population that rose rapidly since the onset of direct negotiations between the PLO and the Israeli Government beginning in the early nineties. 

Prospects for Peace

The narrative in the Mainstream media is that the failure of the peace process reflects the intransigence of both Palestinian and Israeli negotiators and a series of missed opportunities by both sides.  While there may be some truth to this, an analysis of the post Oslo “peace process” period is telling.  

Since the landmark Oslo agreement, which was the supposed first step towards Palestinian statehood, the Israeli settler population in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has doubled, Israeli has extended administrative/military control over the majority of Palestinian territory creating a de-factor annexation of area C and making a two state solution geographically improbable.

Since the onset of Kerry’s attempt to revive the peace process Israel has rapidly expanded settlement constructions, up 335% in the first quarter of this year according to settlement watch organization Peace Now.  This is consistent with Israeli activities in the past; the last round of talks in 2010 broke down when Israel refused to extend a construction moratorium on settlements in the West Bank. 

Nothing has indicated that Israel intends to halt its settlement campaign or support the establishment of a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders

Nothing has indicated that Israel intends to halt its settlement campaign or support the establishment of a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders.  Recent candid comments by high-ranking government officials speak to this sentiment within the Knesset.   In an interview with the Times of Israel defense minister Danny Dannon said  “there was never a government discussion, resolution or vote about the two-state solution… and nobody will bring it to a vote, it’s not smart to do it — but if you bring it to a vote, you will see the majority of Likud ministers, along with the Jewish Home [party], will be against it.”  

What has been offered to Palestinians when they do sit down to negotiations does not resemble autonomous statehood as imagined by Palestinians and the international community.  According to Netanyahu, if a Palestinian state is established “it would have to be demilitarized and with arrangements that rely fully on the Israel Defense Forces for security.”  This coupled with Netanyahu’s position towards retaining all of Jerusalem along with major settlement blocks makes any future agreement based on this low ceiling likely unacceptable to most Palestinians. 

To date The U.S. brokered peace talks have provided diplomatic cover as Israeli extends its occupation and settlement of the West Banka and East Jerusalem.  While much has been made of the diligence of Kerry in working for peace, the approach remains the same.  As its stands today this proces has been a comprehensive failure.

 

 

 

 

 

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