"This is how I understand the struggle...To stand steadily like spears, and never give up." Naji Al-Ali

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Collapse of Negotiations a Gain for Palestine

As the United States sends US Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell to grasp at straws in hopes of restarting negotiations to create a Palestinian state after the Israeli government refused to curb settlement construction, Obama’s inability to entice Netanyahu’s coalition to comply with international law has frustrated many who wish for peace between Israel and Palestine. However, upon closer inspection it becomes apparent that Obama’s specific failure and the now-seemingly inevitable collapse of negotiations in general constitute a tactical victory for Palestinians.

Firstly, Obama’s initial offering and its subsequent rejection have opened the door to mounting malcontent among the American public, causing some to examine the United States’ special relationship with Israel more critically. The very contents of the aid package began this process. In the midst of a prolonged recession the US offered Israel $3 Billion worth of F-35 fighter jets among other incentives (such as a  guarantee of U.S veto should the Palestinian Authority call upon United Nations Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state) at the same time that Bush tax cuts for the wealthy were extended for two years. To many Americans, politicians’ Israel First attitude became glaringly obvious –and quite a few did not like what they saw. Incidents such as this offer a powerful foundation for reexamining Israel’s special place in the United States’ pocketbook. The context of this offer, embedded in a time in which the state of the economy has facilitated the emergence of staunch movements against large government expenditures, could not be worse for Israel, which relies on US aid to sustain the occupation. Undermining this relationship has real consequences for Palestinians on the ground.

On a political level, the generosity of the offer exposed the United States’ impartiality in the matter. America usually functions more as Israel’s lawyer than a third-party facilitator of negotiations. Illuminating Obama’s position and methodology gives observers a perfect example of such behavior. Recognition of this reality is an integral component of its correction.

Luckily, US taxpayers avoided further subsidizing Israel’s war crimes and in doing so escaped an unnecessary if not immoral burden. Obama’s failure also did more to expose the United States’ weakness in the face of Israeli obstinacy, calling into question exactly who is in control of this relationship. Palestine solidarity activists and impartial analysts have long argued that Israel “wags the dog” when it comes to the US to American detriment. Israel’s refusal to cooperate with US demands is not new, yet this particular incident highlights the country’s arrogance in a startlingly demonstrative way. Each instance of recalcitrance works to undermine Israel’s position in American esteem, or at the very least stretches the bounds of what previously unconcerned Americans are willing to stand.

Some believe that Obama’s offer was simply a pretext for items that Israel will inevitably receive irrespective of compliance with any US demands. Various analysts have suggested this is the very reason Netanyahu was unable to convince his coalition to accept a partial moratorium –why by the cow when you can get the milk for free? Yet the delinking of the package from the peace process again offers US citizens more grounds to question policy toward Israel. Apologists might be compelled to excuse the fiscal magnitude of Obama’s gift with the belief that peace is worth any price. What excuse can they offer if Israel still receives it regardless of intransigence? If receiving these items were inevitable, there are only three outcomes. 1) The US will be further exposed as putting Israel’s interests ahead of its own in even more explicit terms 2) Israel will have to actually pay for the jets or 3) The US will be forced to create another pretext for the gift.  In any event, Palestinians win.

As for US Security Council veto, while many assume Israel needs no such guarantee as the US consistently veto’s “anti-Israel” legislation without precondition, Israel’s refusal to meet demands obviates 100% certainty on the subject.

The current stall in and ultimate failure of negotiations also renders moot the weakness of any agreement that would have been reached, specifically the inability to enforce it due to Hamas’ absence in the process. As the ruling government of what will be the other half of a Palestinian state, Hamas’ cooperation with Fatah in implementing any promises made to Israel and acceptance of Israel’s pledges as sufficiently just are integral to the contract’s viability. Leaving Hamas out only works to ensure that the entire process will be an exercise in futility, in which case Palestinians will (most likely) have given up much in exchange for nothing at all while Israel exploits Hamas’ non-cooperation to excuse its own inevitable shortcomings. If the peace process does not fall apart completely, at the very least stalling the resumption of negotiations will give Hamas and Fatah a chance to continue the next round of reconciliation talks between the two factions.

In most cases, Israel has sufficiently controlled popular discourse concerning all aspects of the conflict, whether they center on war history, the humanitarian situation in Gaza, the level of existential threat the country faces, justifications for various human rights abuses or the disintegration of negotiations. The latest collapse serves as a marked departure from such control of the narrative.

While Arabs were unfairly blamed for everything from their own ethnic cleansing (by not implementing the UN’s 1948 Partition Plan) to not accepting a state of their own when they were offered one (as Arafat rejected Camp David), the world has finally woken up to Israel’s role in perpetuating conflict. Main stream outlets’ coverage of negotiations plainly refers to Israel’s refusal to curb settlement construction as the reason for the stalemate. Couple this development with international backlash against Operation Cast Lead in 2008 and reactions to the flotilla massacre this past May and Palestinians just might be getting the sympathetic ear their cause deserves. People are looking at the conflict through a new paradigm, one which is more reflective of reality and consequently works to empower the Palestinian position.

At the same time, the more radical elements of Netanyahu’s settler-controlled coalition are finally being exposed. The more racist legislation that passes through the Knesset, the more opportunities for peace that the coalition rejects, the more Israel will be treated like a rouge pariah state. The political isolation that will ensue provides Israel with a compelling reason to fall in line with accepted international norms or will at minimum mount international support in defense of Palestinian rights.

The international community has already begun to act in solidarity with Palestine as a result of Obama’s failure. The Palestinian Authority’s threat to appeal to the United Nations to facilitate the declaration of an independent state has been historically seen as an empty threat, however as a result of the latest collapse Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay have formally recognized a Palestinian state along 1967 borders in the past weeks. The European Union will discuss recognition in as soon as one year. Israel is losing its chance to impact the substance of a settlement.

What’s more, the media are now openly discussing other alternatives to solving the conflict, including a one-state solution. As Alex Kane reports, while the debate on a one-state solution has been discussed in reference to its allegedly disastrous consequences for Israel, any solution-oriented debate that utilizes the term “apartheid” is a step in the right direction to achieving justice for Palestinians both inside and outside Israel.  

Because the proposed settlement moratorium was admittedly partial (excluding East Jerusalem in contravention of international law) and temporary (only to last 90 days), Palestinians did not stand gain much tangibly. In contrast, Israel’s rejection of Obama’s incentive package has provided myriad advantages to the Palestinian cause which would have proved difficult to attain in alternate iterations of events. While peace still seems illusive, it is fair to say that Palestinians have gained more than they have lost this week.

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