The “Middle East Peace Process” is like one of those big budget Broadway extravaganzas; they go on for years, but with each revival the cast changes. What may seem like a tired production to some nevertheless manages to remain fresh to the gullible throngs willing to hand over the price of admission.
Unlike a few hours of theatrical escapism, however, the producers of the Middle East Peace Process hope that the audience will actually believe that what they are viewing on stage, whether performed in Madrid, Oslo, London, Washington or Sharm al-Sheikh is real-life and even has the potential to end the conflict caused by a century of western-supported Zionist colonization in Palestine.
In the latest revival, Condoleezza Rice plays the US secretary of state determined to bring the long-running conflict to a close with skillful diplomacy designed to put in place a “process” eventually leading to a two-state solution. George Bush, tired of being typecast as a warmonger, tries on the role of lame-duck president who spent years enabling Israeli colonization, but who, with an eye on his legacy, is now committed to peacefully ending the conflict once and for all.
Other key actors include Mahmoud Abbas, a colorless quisling whose only power base is the American and Israeli guns that keep him installed in his Ramallah Green Zone — filling in for the late Yasser Arafat as leader of the Palestinians, and Ehud Olmert, understudy to Ariel Sharon who left the stage unexpectedly.
Special guest star Tony Blair, who just completed a long and controversial run as prime minister of a marginal European power, hopes that by joining the peace process cast as “Quartet special envoy” he can breathe life into a flagging career.
Once in a while, reality bursts on to the stage to disrupt the show — and that has happened again just as the producers are getting ready to take it on tour to Annapolis, where President Bush plans to hold a meeting of key leaders some time this autumn.
Last week, just after Abbas’s representatives met with Israeli counterparts to try to hammer out a “declaration of principles” to unveil at the Annapolis meeting, the Israeli army announced the expropriation of almost 300 acres of Palestinian land near occupied East Jerusalem for the purpose of expanding the already massive Jewish-only settlements which bisect the West Bank and render a contiguous Palestinian state impossible. Since the peace process began in 1993, Israel has confiscated an area equivalent to the size of Washington, DC, for the construction of Jewish-only colonies fully confident that none of the actors on stage will lift a finger to stop it.
Rice feigns frustration: “Frankly it is time for the establishment of a Palestinian state,” she said at a press conference with Abbas. “We frankly have better things to do than invite people [to the Annapolis meeting] for a photo op.” Yet she will be lucky if she even gets that. Already the meeting date is likely to be pushed back, not only because of accelerated Israeli colonization, but because despite the spin there is no fundamental agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians on the details of what a two-state solution would look like. As I have argued elsewhere and in my book, One Country, peace through partition is an unachievable fantasy.
What’s more, none of the players has the credibility or strength to negotiate on behalf of those whom they purport to represent. Abbas and his unelected cronies are seen by many Palestinians as petty collaborators determined to do all they can to retain their place at the master’s table. Despite an overwhelming desire among Palestinians for unity, Abbas, blackmailed and bribed by the EU and US, refuses to talk to Hamas to heal the rifts caused by the efforts of Fatah militias armed and supported by Israel and the US to overturn the results of the January 2006 election won by Hamas. There can be no serious peace talks without Hamas on board.
Olmert, who is fending off multiple criminal corruption probes, heads a coalition that depends for its majority on Jewish racists who cannot countenance peace and equality with Palestinians under any circumstances. Last week, Tony Blair met with one of those coalition leaders, deputy prime minister Avigdor Lieberman who heads the proto-fascist Israel Beitenu party. According to Haaretz, Lieberman told Blair that any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “has to include Israel’s Arab citizens as well, when the basis for an agreement should be a land swap and a population transfer.” In other words, there can be no peace without the expulsion of over one million Palestinian citizens of Israel. Lieberman has repeatedly promised to bring down the government if Olmert even discusses “core issues” at Annapolis such as borders, settlements and the rights of Palestinian refugees expelled by Israel.
Haaretz did not record Blair’s reaction to this renewed call for ethnic cleansing from a senior Israeli official. (How would Blair have reacted if Ian Paisley had publicly declared that there could be no peace in Northern Ireland without the expulsion of all Catholics from the Six Counties so that Protestant supremacy could be perpetuated?) But it is a measure of how bankrupt the process is that EU and US officials meet willingly with avowed ethnic cleansers of Lieberman’s caliber (presumably on the basis that he is elected) and yet refuse to deal with Hamas, the democratically-elected representatives of Palestinians under occupation. Hamas leaders have repeatedly offered Israel a long-term ceasefire and negotiations exactly on the Northern Ireland model that led to the Belfast Agreement of which Blair is so proud.
Blair is apparently unable to understand that what ended the conflict in Northern Ireland was not his charm, but the acceptance by all parties of the fundamental principle of equality among all people regardless of ethno-religious identity and the progressive reform of state institutions, like the police, that had been nothing more than sectarian militias in official uniforms, just as the Israeli police and army that steal land for Jews are nothing more than thuggish sectarian militias with uniforms.
In Palestine-Israel, this means abrogating all laws in Israel that systematically privilege Jews and harm non-Jewish citizens, ending Israel’s military tyranny in the Occupied Territories, and allowing refugees to return home. Nothing like that will be on the agenda in Annapolis which is why the effort will fail.
Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah is author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse (Metropolitan Books, 2006).
This commentary was originally published by The Guardian’s Comment is Free and is republished with the author’s permission.