Chasing mirages in the Middle East

Chasing mirages: Bush, Abbas and Olmert meet to advance the “peace process” in Annapolis, US in 2007. (Dennis Brack/Sipa Press)

I remember learning at school about the mirage effect. It never struck me as real or possible, but only theory. Later as a young diplomat I drove repeatedly from Amman to Kuwait, via Baghdad. In the endless flat desert, I saw large areas covered with what appeared to be blue, gently moving water. I could never reach the water, but it never disappeared. Thanks to those early physics lessons, I remembered enough to know it was indeed a mirage. So there was fascination without any deception.

The peace mirage, however, is all deception with no fascination. The so-called “peace process” and the resulting negotiations long ago became ends in themselves: profitable or self-serving for the participants and failure-disguising for all concerned. For Israel, it is ideal to give the impression that it is engaged in peace talks while it continues to occupy and colonize Palestinians and deny their rights, as if the situation on the ground would have no effect on any negotiations. And for the Palestinian Authority which failed completely (due to its own corruption as well as Israeli occupation) to establish any real gains for the Palestinian people, the continued negotiations became the sole reason for its existence and the only way for those who control it to earn a living.

When the peace process relaunched at Annapolis in 2007 hit the wall, those who rallied massive international support behind it, claiming it was the last best chance to realize the Bush vision of a two-state solution, had nothing to show for all their promises. So they made vague claims that it had laid the foundation for the envisioned peace, which could yet be built upon. Former United States President George W. Bush’s promise to establish a Palestinian state before he left office morphed into a promise merely to “define” such a state. Yet even that vague and insignificant goal could not be achieved.

Annapolis was just an exercise to buy time for a horde of international operators whose sole concern was reduced to repeatedly reviving and reinventing the peace process without ever undertaking a meaningful assessment of why all their efforts failed, or of the dangers of continuing on the same path. Annapolis never carried any promise and laid no foundations for peace. If anything, it provided Israel with the needed assurance that it was immune for at least another year from any pressure to curb its settler-colonial aggression against Palestinians with the cover of sterile, though regular meetings between Israeli and Palestinian officials.

For all the rest, including the so-called international community and the Arab states, the concept that the parties are engaged in negotiations — transparently fake though they have been — has been enough to exempt them from any real action in pursuit of peace. This might include, for example, actually holding Israel accountable for its endless violations of international law, and recognizing that all actions must be based on the recognition that there is an occupier and an occupied, violator and violated, aggressor and victim, as opposed to continuing to pretend that there are two equal sides (or as became fashionable recently that the Palestinians are the aggressor and Israel is the victim that needs to be protected with European warships and “monitors”).

Hence there has been endless chasing after the mirage by people who know or should know the mirage is just that, but who nevertheless insist that the water is real and they will soon drink it. The peace process industry have now transferred their attention to US President Barack Obama. They continue to scrutinize every “helpful” gesture or insignificant “move,” reading into them mountains of hope and expectation — while any much clearer and more pronounced indications that there will be no change of direction in US policy are conveniently ignored or explained away as campaign rhetoric.

We have reached the point now where every setback is reinterpreted as a “window of opportunity.” Take for example the recent Israeli elections. As if the crowds of “experts” showing up on hungry satellite channels around the clock to analyze and assess could not cope with the demand, the search for new recruits has been on. Except for once when I answered some questions by phone for the Jordanian daily Al-Ghad, I declined numerous offers to participate in discussions of the Israeli election results. I expressed my standing belief that the Israeli election results will have no effect whatsoever on the peace process simply because the peace process has long been dead and a more extremist Tel Aviv regime would not make a dead thing more dead.

The leaders of the three biggest parties: Kadima, Likud and Yisrael Beitenu have not only been proclaiming loudly and clearly their adherence to policies that make peace impossible, but outbid each other with promises to back away from any minor hints of a more peaceful direction by previous administrations. There is no choice in Israel between moderation and extremism, but only between different flavors of extremism.

The truth which no one would dare to speak is that Hamas, with its offers of a long-term truce with Israel, and its readiness to recognize the 1967 borders is much more moderate and conciliatory than any significant Jewish Israeli party.

But the peace process industry will always be ready to deny reality and chase the mirage. Israel as a whole is so extremist and intransigent that even a right-wing, settlement building, warmongering national unity government of Kadima and Likud would be welcomed warmly by the “international community” as a peace government for which we should be thankful and eager to engage. Of course they will say — as always — that now is not the time for pressure on Israel or we might end up with a worse government! Even the months it might take for any Israeli government to be formed are no problem. This will provide a perfect alibi for the show to go on.

I wish we could dismiss these failed policies and their practitioners as the joke that they are. But those who pay the price for so much international negligence, complicity, lack of courage and accountability, are innocent people, most horrifyingly in Gaza. But their reality, their anger, their resistance is one that the mirage cannot conceal any longer.

Hasan Abu Nimah is the former permanent representative of Jordan at the United Nations. This essay first appeared in The Jordan Times and is republished with the author’s permission.