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Pulling the Plug on the Peace Process?

Has the Israeli-Palestinian peace process passed its sell-by date? Writing in Ha’aretz, Israel’s liberal daily, center-left columnist Ari Shavit eulogizes the Israeli-Palestinian peace process:

[T]he old peace is dead. Really dead. The Islamic revolution in Egypt has removed the southern anchor of that promised peace. The murderous oppression in Syria has neutralized its northern guarantor, and the gradually warming relationship between Fatah and Hamas eliminates its central axis.

Anyone who observes the reality that has emerged around us now understands what was not fully understood a year ago: That the Arab awakening has killed the diplomatic process. In the coming years, no moderate Arab leader will have enough legitimacy or power to sign a peace agreement with Israel. What we’ve yearned for since 1967 and what we believed in since 1993 simply isn’t going to happen. Not now, and not in this decade.

Shavit then advocates shifting future peace efforts from the implausible to the possible:

[T]he death of the old peace requires some creative thinking about a new peace – a peace that won’t be imminent, but gradual. A peace that won’t be final, but partial. A peace that will not necessarily be based on signed agreements. A peace that will learn lessons from the death the old peace and will adapt itself to a new, stormy, historic reality. This new peace won’t be the peace of our dreams. It won’t be the peace that puts an end to the conflict. It will not even be a peace that ends the occupation.

But perhaps this new, modest peace will enable us to forge a path through the storm, to manage the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and somewhat abate it.

The US and other outside powers have almost always been more enthusiastic about the peace process than either the Israelis or the Palestinians.  Israelis aren’t sure they can trust the Palestinians to keep the peace once they have returned all the land and recognized a new state; the Palestinians don’t want to make the concessions (like giving up the ‘right of return’) that peace requires. We end up bribing and cajoling both sides to take part in a process that in many ways serves our interests more than it does theirs.

We want peace and need a peace process; therefore peace must be near at hand. No matter the obstacles–revolutions, rockets, polarized public opinion–the peace process industry has cheerfully proclaimed that the agreement which would transform the Middle East into Shangri-La was just around the corner.

But just as democracy wasn’t just around the corner in Iraq, Egypt or Libya, and may not be today in Syria, so peace was more elusive than it looked.  It may be time now to for a step for many in the peace-process industry has long been unthinkable: to think about managing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rather than ending it outright.

To argue against sinking more and more political capital into this increasingly quixotic quest was to be “against peace.” But in fact, it is those who push deeply unrealistic solutions to real problems who raise expectations, fail fantastically, stoke discontent and cynicism, and prevent progress on the ground. Shavit’s prescription for a more modest and realistic approach is part of the answer.

But we need to do more. Newt Gingrich and others to the contrary, the Palestinians are a real people.  Palestinian nationalism may not be hundreds of years old; indeed it was formed in part by the experiences of Palestinians in the Arab-Israeli conflict — including the cynical use and abandonment of the Palestinians by other Arabs.  The Palestinians are a fact and their feelings matter.

The time may not be ripe for a peace agreement, and conditions may be too adverse for a meaningful peace process to survive.  But there is much to be done to reduce the suffering on both sides that the unresolved conflict entails. Peace between Israelis and Palestinians remains an important American interest; preparing the foundations for a peace that offers both peoples a road to a more secure, prosperous and dignified future comports with our values as well as our interests.

Keeping the old peace process on life support looks less and less like the best way to promote that enduring interest. It’s time to rethink our approach from the ground up.

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  • Walter Sobchak

    “The Palestinians are a fact and their feelings matter.”

    Please. Stop. Nobody’s feelings matter to anybody else, not even their mothers. Certainly not to politicians, who lack any concern with or empathy for other human beings.

    The Palestinians are a people solely by virtue of their feeding off of The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNWRRA) and the “development aid” sent by the EU and others.Their current incentive is to avoid any action that would disrupt that stream of cash.

    If they wanted peace, they would have to lay down their arms, ask for peace, and accept what Israel would give them. They won’t do it because they would no longer be “refugees”, their aid would end, and they would have to work for a living.

  • Roy

    I tend to think that ‘Right of Return’ is no so much a demand for the Palestinians as an excuse. Even they understand that it’s not an issue to be negotiated but a way to sabotage negotiations, as it would effectively dissolve the state of Israel as it is presently constituted.

    Demanding the right of return allows them to postpone the decisive act of formally recognizing Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign nation, a step that Palestinian leadership has clearly never prepared its citizenship to embrace. One need only look at the continual incitement against Israel and Jews in Palestinian media, a phenomenon that only finds its mirror image among a comparatively smaller group of Israeli rightists. The sad fact is, there is no influential left wing movement in Palestinian politics, urging leaders and constituents alike to make the existential choice of ending their quixotic struggle to reclaim a Palestine that never really existed in the form imagined and popularized by their advocates. It’s been one long succession of foreign powers, from the Ottomans to the British to the Egyptians, and so on. A deal along the lines proposed by Barak and then Olmert would be the best thing that has ever happened to the Arabs of Palestine in their long history.

    I frankly doubt that most Palestinians are even aware that two different offers for an independent state were put on the table for their acceptance. Starting by making that fact more widely known would a great beginning to actually preparing them for the transition to the realities and sacrifices of statehood.

  • Jim.

    The Peace Process was costly. But ask yourself, which would be more costly in terms of diplomatic capital: supporting Israel and a peace process, or supporting Israel without any kind of peace process?

    The old status quo was built on promises that we were at least working towards resolving the competing interests of the Israelis and Palestinians. That was the bone we threw the Arab governments, that was the bone they threw to their people. (Their people didn’t think it had any meat on it, but it was something.) We could always truthfully point out, “We’re trying our best, but idiots like Arafat keep messing things up. They’re not keeping up their end of the bargain.”

    There was something we could go to our friends with (as WRM points out, we still have some) to show our good faith, to keep them from being swayed by their countrymen who took a harder line.

    Now what do we have?

    “It’s time to rethink our approach from the ground up.”

    Think fast.

  • PetraMB

    In a related blog post, I noted that a bit more than a decade ago, Shavit did an interview about the negotiations at Camp David and Taba with former Israeli foreign minister Ben-Ami. The interview was published in the Ha’aretz weekend edition of 9/14/2001, i.e. 3 days after 9/11, and close to the 1year anniversary of the so-called Al-Aqsa intifada. It was entitled “The day peace died.”

    WRT efforts to manage the conflict with a view to building a basis for eventual peace, the absolute number 1 issue that needs to be addressed is the mythical “right of return” and the cynical use of the descendants of the 1948 refugees who are being kept in “refugee” camps by their Arab brethren, including in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and PA-controlled West Bank. The “international community” has played along with this cynical game for 6 decades now — enough, it has to stop.

  • Luke Lea

    Peace process? There’s no peach process. Not in this generation. Maybe the next one.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    I will be glad to see an end to the eternal peace process being rammed down our throats by the diplomatic community, as they loot the tax payers to keep it alive.
    I say give war a chance, when one side’s “will to fight” has been broken, then there will be peace.

  • Corlyss

    It passed its sell-by date when Hamas took Gaza. There’s only one peace process I favor: blasting the Arabs continuously until they get the message. People forget that if the current UN philosophy had prevailed at the end of WW2, we’d be living in with an intolerable division in the west whereby Germany occupied most of the continent, bombing and strafing England and the US at will and without resolution, ever. The only solution to intolerable political situations is for one side to bring military might to bear on the other until the latter is humiliated and enervated beyond the capacity to continue. Conclusion to armed conflict make no sense otherwise. Conflicts born of national interests lashed up to feckless organizations like the UN will never, repeat never, resolve themselves into peace, period.

  • Richard S

    Gingrich did not deny that the Palestinians are a people. As I read him, he simply noted, as Mead does, that they’re a new people. That being the case, the claim that their identity is fixed, and the exact borders of there state are fixed, is weaker. Highlighting the newness of the Palestinians can, therefore, give more space for negotiations.

  • Mark in Texas

    Want an alternative to the failed “land for peace” process? Well, here’s my modest proposal: Israel buys the Greek bonds from French and German banks at whatever discount can be mutually agreed on. (The current face value of the loans is something like 400 billion Euros.) The Israelis then use those bonds to purchase the Dodecanese Islands from Greece. (The Dodecanese Islands are several dozen Mediterranean islands near the coast of Turkey.) The Israelis then deport the entire Palestinean Muslim population to the Dodecanese Islands, buldoze Gaza flat and build beachfront condos, resorts, casinos and retirements that they market to Scandinavians and other northern Europeans.

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