Taking the ‘peace’ out of the process
The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has been dead for years, but a revival of talks between the two sides this week in Amman proved that ‘the process’ still serves a purpose. For Israel, even topical engagement in the process is necessary to maintain its aura of righteousness – that the Palestinians are to blame for a perpetual state of conflict – thereby allowing it to continue presenting the status quo as the only viable option. For the Palestinians, returning to the table justifies the revitalization of a stalled push for statehood by pointing to the futility of negotiations, and in a way, also helps maintain the status quo that serves the Ramallah political elite.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak took to the Israeli airwaves to discuss the upcoming talks a day before the two sides met in Amman this week. He discussed the various strategic advantages for Israel in resuming contacts with the Palestinians and at the same time made clear he had no expectations from them. But most notably, never in the 15-minute interview did he once say the word “peace.”
Perhaps feeling the need to justify to a domestic audience the simple act of sitting at the same table with a Palestinian, Barak explained that resuming talks would “act to reduce tensions with the Palestinians, reduce tensions with Turkey and reduce possible tensions with Egypt.”
Addressing the so-called “deligitimization” of Israel fueled by the ongoing occupation of Palestinians, he argued that the appearance of bona fide Israeli engagement in ‘the process’ serves to “hinder the effectiveness of attempts to isolate us internationally.”
Attempts to isolate Israel are of course real. For good reason, the international community is “concerned,” as European diplomats regularly put it, by the ongoing occupation and the lack of any effort to end it. Barak, along with most mainstream Israeli leaders, believes that by maintaining the semblance of a peace process Israel can stave off more serious international pressure and perhaps sanctions aimed at ending Israel’s military rule over Palestinians.
For Israel, negotiation as a means has taken on its own ends, which seem to be completely disconnected from the stated goal: peace.
The Palestinian Authority too has disingenuous motives for pretending to restart good-faith negotiations with Israel, although some are the polar opposites of Israel’s motivations. In order to continue his plan to seek recognition in statehouses and international institutions, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas needs to continue painting Israel as the stubborn belligerent with whom a two-state solution cannot be negotiated.
It is the inevitable failure of talks with Israel, ensured by conditions imposed by both sides, that Abbas will likely point to in the near future when explaining the next push for statehood in the United Nations and other steps outside ‘the process’ designed to usher in independence and liberation.
Also speaking on the eve of the latest meeting in Jordan, Abbas repeated his clichéd threat that “all options will be on the table” if the current round of talks do not bear fruit. “If there is no peace,” he said, “the entire world will bear the consequences of the failure of the peace process.” He knows, however, exactly what the results the talks will produce.
Perhaps more importantly, as popular unarmed struggle against the occupation experiences a resurgence in Palestine, the Palestinian president, who is about to enter the seventh year of a four-year term, needs ‘the process’ to hold onto his legitimacy in the Palestinian street.
Asked what they think of Abbas, Palestinians in barber shops, cafes, bars, living rooms and city squares have all repeated to me a variation of the same answer, describing him somewhere in between Israel’s stooge and its paid agent.
Lending credence to the notion that Abbas is in power to serve Israel, Barak described how it is a top Israeli interest to promote stability in Palestine by entering into talks with the Palestinian Authority. “Today we have quiet in [the West Bank],” the defense minister said. That quiet is “an accomplishment of the Shabaq (Israel Security Agency) and the IDF, but also not insignificantly, it is a result of coordinated actions with the Palestinian security services.”
In 2012, the peace process exists only because foreign powers insist on perpetuating it with the cognitively dissonant hope that one day it will bear fruit. But despite having dropped “peace” from the process, both Israelis and Palestinians still have significant interests in playing along.
“From our perspective,” Barak said, it is important to hold negotiations “even if it’s written in the stars that there won’t be results.”
So there won’t be peace. At least we still have the process.