The Futility of the “Peace Process”

Via Stephen Walt, Akiva Eldar’s piece in Haaretz on long-time Middle East adviser Dennis Ross lays out pretty forcefully the futility of the “peace process” as directed by U.S.-Israel. Futile for the prospects of a Palestinian state, that is. And now Dennis Ross is attempting to suck the Palestinians back into the self-defeating peace process:

If they give up on the UN vote, Ross argues, then Netanyahu will be so kind as to negotiate a final-status agreement with them. Has anyone heard anything recently about a construction freeze in the settlements?

Ross is trying to peddle the illusion that the most right-wing government Israel has ever seen will abandon the strategy of eradicating the Oslo approach in favor of fulfilling the hated agreement. In an effort to save his latest boss from choosing between recognizing a Palestinian state at the risk of clashing with the Jewish community and voting against recognition at the risk of damaging U.S. standing in the Arab world, Ross is trying to drag the Palestinians back into the “peace process” trap.

The route the Palestinians plan to take for U.N. recognition in September has been belittled by some, but it seems like it may be a real threat to the Israelis, threatening to dissolve much of their political leverage. Indeed, as Eldar points out, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman “had previously threatened that if the United Nations recognizes a Palestinian state, Israel will annul the Oslo Accords.” That means abandoning the longtime basis for negotiations on the 67 borders, it means reoccupying Gaza with the IDF as well as settlements, it means cracking down harshly on the West Bank.

But the notion that the drawn-out peace process is just a cover for slow and gradual Israeli incursions deeper into Palestine coupled with slow and gradual weakening of legitimacy for the Palestinians is well founded. Before the hoopla in May over Obama’s daring reiteration of the long-time basis of negotiations and then Netanyahu’s resentful backlash to it, Obama’s first step was (ostensibly) to request (pretty please with a cherry on top?) a settlement freeze. And the immediate proceedings exemplify Israeli obstinacy and Palestinian marginalization. From the Palestine Papers:

Netanyahu rejected the US president’s request for a complete settlement freeze, agreeing only to suspend new construction in the West Bank (thousands of new tenders were issued in East Jerusalem during the freeze period). But the White House accepted the offer, and Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, would later praise Israel for its “unprecedented” concession”.

Dennis Ross, the State Department’s unabashedly pro-Israel envoy, tried to put a positive spin on Netanyahu’s offer during that September 2009 meeting in Jericho attended by Hale and Erekat.

[…] And in an October 1, 2009 meeting, Mitchell downplayed the importance of Jerusalem, telling Erekat to take comfort in Israel’s offer of “restraint”. “With negotiations, we will have more leverage, and there will be less settlement activity [in East Jerusalem],” Mitchell said, according to an NSU summary of the meeting.

The facts on the ground, however, show that Mitchell’s confidence was misplaced: During the 10-month West Bank freeze, the Jerusalem municipality approved, among other projects, 1,600 housing tenders in Ramat Shlomo; 377 in Neve Yaakov; 230 in Pisgat Ze’ev; 117 in Har Homa; and 20 in Sheikh Jarrah.

(Settlers in the West Bank quickly made up for lost time, too: They started 1,629 new houses in six weeks after the freeze ended, nearly as many as they started in all of 2009, according to the Israeli group Peace Now.)

And soon we will again be in the phase of “restarting talks” in the context of the upcoming U.N. vote. If history’s any guide, that phase will again be met with smiles and handshakes in front of the camera and then further Israeli dereliction, with full U.S. support.