Archive | July, 2013

John Kerry’s sham peace process

20 Jul

A new round of Israeli-Palestinian talks have been announced. We are meant to be pleased. We are meant to praise the persistence of US Secretary of State John Kerry in bringing two foes together. We are meant to feel re-assured that a peace process exists and that with proper resuscitation it can help bring Israel and Palestinian towards what Kerry calls ‘peace and security’. With the US acting as an ‘honest broker’, the two sets of negotiators can be brought around the table where they can thrash out an agreement.
But this is a fiction. There is no peace process. It might be comforting for outsiders to think: ‘Finally, these implacable foes are going to sort out their quarrel’. But the talks announced by Kerry do not stand any chance of reaching a sustained peace. It would be magnificent if they would lead to a just and fair peace, but there are enormous structural impediments to peace. If these structural impediments are not addressed then there can be no peace process, and no peace.
The notion of the two sides coming together in talks perpetuates the fiction that they are equals. Nothing could be further from the truth. Israel is a legally recognized state, backed militarily and economically by a superpower. It is very comfortable with the status quo. It is protected politically, economically and militarily by the United States. It has created conditions on the ground that suit it: whether seizing land via wars, creating illegal settlements to make a Palestinian state unviable, controlling water courses, and building its apartheid security wall. It has a political economy and a polity that does very well out of the conflict so there is little incentive to change this status quo.
Palestinians, on the other hand, have very few advantages. This has to be one of the most uneven playing fields on the planet. We are familiar with the term ‘asymmetrical warfare’, but this is ‘asymmetrical peacemaking’. There cannot possibly be an equitable outcome if deeper problems of power inequalities are left unaddressed. Unless these structural issues are dealt with then the peace process will merely be a case of dealing with a few surface issues while leaving the deeper problems alone. That suits Israeli political elites, and probably fatah Palestinian political elites.
All of this may be terribly depressing, but there is a value in being honest and recognizing that power lies at the heart of this dispute. One side has a lot of power (thanks to their superpower patron) and the other side has very little. Those with power use it to their advantage. If the tables were turned, and Palestinians were favoured by a superpower, I would not be optimistic that they would treat Israelis with much generosity.
Doubtless, the US State Department is already drafting the optimistic press release for when the two sides meet. Protocol diplomats will be discussing the merits and demerits of possible photo opportunities. But this is just froth and tinsel. It perpetuates the notion that there is a peace process. But for a peace process to be worthy of that name then surely it should involve the main actors to the conflict (that would mean including Hamas) and involve discussion of the main issues. There may be a few token gestures here and there. Israel has said that it will release some prisoners (unwittingly underlining that these men are actually hostages rather than people who have been convicted through due process).
A number of actors can gain from the idea that there is a peace process, even if that process delivers nothing. Obama and John Kerry will bask in the media limelight. The Israeli and Palestinian elites will be able to talk peace, while continuing in power. Both will leverage yet more aid from the international community. And the peacebuilding industry (and hangers-on like Tony Blair) will be able to justify their continued activities. But will this peace process involve genuine and substantive negotiations on how two peoples can live side-by-side? Will it involve people-to-people exchanges so that barriers of misunderstanding can be broken down? Will it involve the routine and systematic violence of the Israeli state and its apartheid policies against Palestinians? Will it confront the corruption and kleptocracy of the Palestinian Fatah elite? If it did any of those things then it might deserve the term ‘peace process’.