Twenty years since Oslo, US leadership has yielded endless ‘process’ with no ‘peace’ in sight

The War of Ideas in the Middle East

on September 13, 2013

Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shake hands on the White House lawn, September 13, 1993. (Photo: AP)

Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shake hands on the White House lawn, September 13, 1993. (Photo: AP)

Yasser Abed Rabbo, a key participant in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations over the past two decades, is far from sanguine about the latest iteration of talks, convened in July by the United States.  Last week, the Palestinian negotiator despondently told Voice of Palestine radio that “These negotiations are futile and won’t lead to any results.”

A brief sketch of the Israeli proposal on offer, leaked to the Associated Press from within the Palestinian negotiating team, demonstrates why Abed Rabbo’s assessment is unfortunately correct.  In the negotiations, Israel has “shown no intention to dismantle any settlement,” according to an anonymous Palestinian official, potentially leaving in place as many as 650,000 Israelis in colonies established illegally on Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since Israel militarily occupied these territories, along with the Gaza Strip, in 1967.

Together with the annexation of these Israeli colonies, Israel would retain control of the West Bank’s border with Jordan and keep military bases in the Jordan Valley, leaving Palestinians with provisional borders in a fragmented temporary “state” in 60 percent of the West Bank, which together with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip constitute just 22 percent of historic Palestine. Meanwhile, the resolution of other permanent status issues, such as Jerusalem and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to properties from which they were ethnically cleansed by Israel during its establishment in 1948, would be deferred indefinitely.

Rather than resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this proposal would only prolong it, while providing Israel a pretext to further entrench its military occupation and extend its colonization of Palestinian land. Rather than allowing Palestinians to exercise independence over a small portion of their homeland, this proposal would result in the establishment of an entity devoid of sovereignty akin to a South African apartheid-era Bantustan. No wonder that advocates of a legitimate two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are souring on its prospects.

This Friday marks twenty years since Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed the Oslo Accord on the White House lawn, triggering a “peace process” that was supposed to have concluded by May 1999 with the parties resolving all outstanding issues and signing a peace treaty. After two decades of fruitless talks that have yielded only an interminable “process” with “peace” nowhere in sight—a period in which Israel more than doubled its settler population on Palestinian land—will more U.S.-mediated talks succeed in achieving a just and lasting resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or will the current round of negotiations merely validate Einstein’s definition of insanity as doing the same thing and expecting a different result?

The answer depends, to a large extent, on whether the United States continues to act as “Israel’s attorney, catering and coordinating with the Israelis at the expense of successful peace negotiations,” in the words of former Clinton- and Bush-era U.S. “peace process” player Aaron David Miller, or finally acts as the “honest broker” it claims to be but has not been to date.

At the outset of President Obama’s first term, it appeared that the new administration might adopt a more evenhanded approach. By appointing former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell as his Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, Obama sensibly jettisoned the tradition of appointing an individual with pro-Israel ideological baggage to lead U.S. mediation efforts. And unlike his predecessors who had turned a blind eye to the expansion of Israeli settlements during the “peace process,” Obama forcefully demanded that Israel fulfill its prior agreed-upon obligations to halt settlement expansion in order to enable successful negotiations.

However, the hopeful signs of a potential policy shift proved illusory as Obama was unwilling to stand up to the pushback from the Israel lobby and capitulated to it by appointing quintessential Israel-firster Dennis Ross to “quarterback” all Middle East policies from that point forward. The Obama administration then proceeded with the most overtly pro-Israel policy in U.S. history by increasing military aid to Israel to unprecedented levels, blocking the international community from holding Israel accountable for war crimes committed during its 2008-2009 attack on the Gaza Strip, and scuttling efforts for Palestine to become a member of the United Nations.

Unfortunately Obama’s second term policies have only exacerbated this problematic and one-sided orientation.  When Secretary of State John Kerry reconvened Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in July, unlike during its last attempt to do so in 2010, the Obama administration did not even pretend that Israel would halt its colonization drive this time around. Meanwhile, Obama’s appointment of Ambassador Martin Indyk—a former employee of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee—as Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations clearly signals that there will be no veering from pro-Israel orthodoxies in this term.

By failing to act as an “honest broker” that would promote a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on U.N. resolutions, international law, and Palestinian self-determination, through the never-ending “peace process,” the United States is complicit in and a partner to Israel’s ongoing denial of freedom, justice and equality for the Palestinian people.


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