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The Middle East Peace Process Scam

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Editor's Note:

Henry Seigman has been writing on the Middle East for many 
years. This is over 3000 words, so let's get right to it. 


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The Middle East Peace Process Scam
By Henry Siegman

When Ehud Olmert and George W. Bush met at the White House 
in June, they concluded that Hamas's violent ousting of 
Fatah from Gaza – which brought down the Palestinian 
national unity government brokered by the Saudis in Mecca 
in March – had presented the world with a new 'window of 
opportunity'. (Never has a failed peace process enjoyed so 
many windows of opportunity.) Hamas's isolation in Gaza, 
Olmert and Bush agreed, would allow them to grant generous 
concessions to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, 
giving him the credibility he needed with the Palestinian 
people in order to prevail over Hamas. 

Both Bush and Olmert have spoken endlessly of their 
commitment to a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine 
conflict, but it is their determination to bring down Hamas 
rather than to build up a Palestinian state that animates 
their new-found enthusiasm for making Abbas look good. That 
is why their expectation that Hamas will be defeated is 
illusory. Palestinian moderates will never prevail over 
those considered extremists, since what defines moderation 
for Olmert is Palestinian acquiescence in Israel's 
dismemberment of Palestinian territory. In the end, 
what Olmert and his government are prepared to offer 
Palestinians will be rejected by Abbas no less than by 
Hamas, and will only confirm to Palestinians the futility 
of Abbas's moderation and justify its rejection by Hamas. 
Equally illusory are Bush's expectations of what will be 
achieved by the conference he recently announced would be 
held in the autumn (it has now been downgraded to a 
'meeting'). In his view, all previous peace initiatives 
have failed largely, if not exclusively, because 
Palestinians were not ready for a state of their own. The 
meeting will therefore focus narrowly on Palestinian 
institution-building and reform, under the tutelage of 
Tony Blair, the Quartet's newly appointed envoy. 

In fact, all previous peace initiatives have got nowhere 
for a reason that neither Bush nor the EU has had the 
political courage to acknowledge. That reason is the 
consensus reached long ago by Israel's decision-making 
elites that Israel will never allow the emergence of a 
Palestinian state which denies it effective military and 
economic control of the West Bank. To be sure, Israel 
would allow – indeed, it would insist on – the creation 
of a number of isolated enclaves that Palestinians could 
call a state, but only in order to prevent the creation 
of a binational state in which Palestinians would be the 

The Middle East peace process may well be the most 
spectacular deception in modern diplomatic history. Since 
the failed Camp David summit of 2000, and actually well 
before it, Israel's interest in a peace process – other 
than for the purpose of obtaining Palestinian and 
international acceptance of the status quo – has been a 
fiction that has served primarily to provide cover for 
its systematic confiscation of Palestinian land and an 
occupation whose goal, according to the former IDF chief 
of staff Moshe Ya'alon, is 'to sear deep into the 
consciousness of Palestinians that they are a defeated 
people'. In his reluctant embrace of the Oslo Accords, and 
his distaste for the settlers, Yitzhak Rabin may have been 
the exception to this, but even he did not entertain a 
return of Palestinian territory beyond the so-called Allon 
Plan, which allowed Israel to retain the Jordan Valley and 
other parts of the West Bank. 

Anyone familiar with Israel's relentless confiscations of 
Palestinian territory – based on a plan devised, overseen 
and implemented by Ariel Sharon – knows that the objective 
of its settlement enterprise in the West Bank has been 
largely achieved. Gaza, the evacuation of whose settlements 
was so naively hailed by the international community as the 
heroic achievement of a man newly committed to an honour-
able peace with the Palestinians, was intended to serve 
as the first in a series of Palestinian bantustans. Gaza's 
situation shows us what these bantustans will look like if 
their residents do not behave as Israel wants. 

Israel's disingenuous commitment to a peace process and a 
two-state solution is precisely what has made possible its 
open-ended occupation and dismemberment of Palestinian 
territory. And the Quartet – with the EU, the UN secretary 
general and Russia obediently following Washington's lead – 
has collaborated with and provided cover for this deception 
by accepting Israel's claim that it has been unable to find 
a deserving Palestinian peace partner. 

Just one year after the 1967 war, Moshe Dayan, a former IDF 
chief of staff who at the time was minister of defence, 
described his plan for the future as 'the current reality 
in the territories'. 'The plan,' he said, 'is being 
implemented in actual fact. What exists today must remain 
as a permanent arrangement in the West Bank.' Ten years 
later, at a conference in Tel Aviv, Dayan said: 'The 
question is not "What is the solution?" but "How do we 
live without a solution?"' Geoffrey Aronson, who has 
monitored the settlement enterprise from its beginnings, 
summarises the situation as follows: 

Living without a solution, then as now, was understood by 
Israel as the key to maximising the benefits of conquest 
while minimising the burdens and dangers of retreat or 
formal annexation. This commitment to the status quo, 
however, disguised a programme of expansion that 
generations of Israeli leaders supported as enabling, 
through Israeli settlement, the dynamic transformation of 
the territories and the expansion of effective Israeli 
sovereignty to the Jordan River. 

In an interview in Ha'aretz in 2004, Dov Weissglas, chef 
de cabinet to the then prime minister, Ariel Sharon, 
described the strategic goal of Sharon's diplomacy as being 
to secure the support of the White House and Congress for 
Israeli measures that would place the peace process and 
Palestinian statehood in 'formaldehyde'. It is a fiendishly 
appropriate metaphor: formaldehyde uniquely prevents the 
deterioration of dead bodies, and sometimes creates the 
illusion that they are still alive. Weissglas explains that 
the purpose of Sharon's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, 
and the dismantling of several isolated settlements in 
the West Bank, was to gain US acceptance of Israel's 
unilateralism, not to set a precedent for an eventual 
withdrawal from the West Bank. The limited withdrawals 
were intended to provide Israel with the political room to 
deepen and widen its presence in the West Bank, and that 
is what they achieved. In a letter to Sharon, Bush wrote: 
'In light of new realities on the ground, including already 
existing major Israeli population centres, it is un-
realistic to expect that the outcome of final status 
negotiations will be a full and complete return to the 
armistice lines of 1949.' In a recent interview in 
Ha'aretz, James Wolfensohn, who was the Quartet's 
representative at the time of the Gaza disengagement, said 
that Israel and the US had systematically undermined the 
agreement he helped forge in 2005 between Israel and the 
Palestinian Authority, and had instead turned Gaza into a 
vast prison. The official behind this, he told Ha'aretz, 
was Elliott Abrams, the deputy national security adviser. 
'Every aspect' of the agreement Wolfensohn had brokered 
'was abrogated'. 

Another recent interview in Ha'aretz, with Haggai Alon, 
who was a senior adviser to Amir Peretz at the Ministry 
of Defence, is even more revealing. Alon accuses the IDF 
(whose most senior officers increasingly are themselves 
settlers) of working clandestinely to further the settlers' 
interests. The IDF, Alon says, ignores the Supreme Court's 
instructions about the path the so-called security fence 
should follow, instead 'setting a route that will not 
enable the establishment of a Palestinian state'. Alon 
told Ha'aretz that when in 2005 politicians signed an 
agreement with the Palestinians to ease restrictions on 
Palestinians travelling in the territories (part of the 
deal that Wolfensohn had worked on), the IDF eased them 
for settlers instead. For Palestinians, the number of 
checkpoints doubled. According to Alon, the IDF is 'carry-
ing out an apartheid policy' that is emptying Hebron of 
Arabs and Judaising (his term) the Jordan Valley, while 
it co-operates openly with the settlers in an attempt to 
make a two-state solution impossible. 

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A new UN map of the West Bank, produced by the Office 
for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, gives a 
comprehensive picture of the situation. Israeli civilian 
and military infrastructure has rendered 40 per cent of 
the territory off limits to Palestinians. The rest of the 
territory, including major population centres such as 
Nablus and Jericho, is split into enclaves; movement 
between them is restricted by 450 roadblocks and 70 manned 
checkpoints. The UN found that what remains is an area very 
similar to that set aside for the Palestinian population 
in Israeli security proposals in the aftermath of the 1967 
war. It also found that changes now underway to the 
infrastructure of the territories – including a network of 
highways that bypass and isolate Palestinian towns – would 
serve to formalise the de facto cantonisation of the West 

These are the realities on the ground that the uninformed 
and/or cynical blather in Jerusalem, Washington and 
Brussels – about waiting for Palestinians to reform their 
institutions, democratise their culture, dismantle the 
'infrastructures of terror' and halt all violence and 
incitement before peace negotiations can begin – seeks to 
drown out. Given the vast power imbalance between Israel 
and the Palestinians – not to mention the vast pre-
ponderance of diplomatic support enjoyed by Israel from 
precisely those countries that one would have expected to 
compensate diplomatically for the military imbalance – 
nothing will change for the better without the US, the EU 
and other international actors finally facing up to what 
have long been the fundamental impediments to peace. 

These impediments include the assumption, implicit in 
Israel's occupation policy, that if no peace agreement 
is reached, the 'default setting' of UN Security Council 
Resolution 242 is the indefinite continuation of Israel's 
occupation. If this reading were true, the resolution would 
actually be inviting an occupying power that wishes to 
retain its adversary's territory to do so simply by means 
of avoiding peace talks – which is exactly what Israel 
has been doing. In fact, the introductory statement to 
Resolution 242 declares that territory cannot be acquired 
by war, implying that if the parties cannot reach agree-
ment, the occupier must withdraw to the status quo ante: 
that, logically, is 242's default setting. Had there been 
a sincere intention on Israel's part to withdraw from the 
territories, surely forty years should have been more than 
enough time in which to reach an agreement. 

Israel's contention has long been that since no Palestinian 
state existed before the 1967 war, there is no recognised 
border to which Israel can withdraw, because the pre-1967 
border was merely an armistice line. Moreover, since 
Resolution 242 calls for a 'just and lasting peace' that 
will allow 'every state in the area [to] live in security', 
Israel holds that it must be allowed to change the 
armistice line, either bilaterally or unilaterally, to make 
it secure before it ends the occupation. This is a specious 
argument for many reasons, but principally because UN 
General Assembly Partition Resolution 181 of 1947, which 
established the Jewish state's international legitimacy, 
also recognised the remaining Palestinian territory outside 
the new state's borders as the equally legitimate patrimony 
of Palestine's Arab population on which they were entitled 
to establish their own state, and it mapped the borders of 
that territory with great precision. Resolution 181's 
affirmation of the right of Palestine's Arab population to 
national self-determination was based on normative law and 
the democratic principles that grant statehood to the 
majority population. (At the time, Arabs constituted two-
thirds of the population in Palestine.) This right does 
not evaporate because of delays in its implementation. 

In the course of a war launched by Arab countries that 
sought to prevent the implementation of the UN partition 
resolution, Israel enlarged its territory by 50 per cent. 
If it is illegal to acquire territory as a result of war, 
then the question now cannot conceivably be how much 
additional Palestinian territory Israel may confiscate, 
but rather how much of the territory it acquired in the 
course of the war of 1948 it is allowed to retain. At the 
very least, if 'adjustments' are to be made to the 1949 
armistice line, these should be made on Israel's side of 
that line, not the Palestinians'. 

Clearly, the obstacle to resolving the Israel-Palestine 
conflict has not been a dearth of peace initiatives or 
peace envoys. Nor has it been the violence to which 
Palestinians have resorted in their struggle to rid 
themselves of Israel's occupation, even when that violence 
has despicably targeted Israel's civilian population. It 
is not to sanction the murder of civilians to observe that 
such violence occurs, sooner or later, in most situations 
in which a people's drive for national self-determination 
is frustrated by an occupying power. Indeed, Israel's own 
struggle for national independence was no exception. Accord-
ing to the historian Benny Morris, in this conflict it was 
the Irgun that first targeted civilians. In Righteous 
Victims, Morris writes that the upsurge of Arab terrorism 
in 1937 'triggered a wave of Irgun bombings against Arab 
crowds and buses, introducing a new dimension to the 
conflict.' While in the past Arabs had 'sniped at cars 
and pedestrians and occasionally lobbed a grenade, often 
killing or injuring a few bystanders or passengers', now 
'for the first time, massive bombs were placed in crowded 
Arab centres, and dozens of people were indiscriminately 
murdered and maimed.' Morris notes that 'this "innovation" 
soon found Arab imitators.' 

Underlying Israel's efforts to retain the occupied 
territories is the fact that it has never really considered 
the West Bank as occupied territory, despite its pro forma 
acceptance of that designation. Israelis see the 
Palestinian areas as 'contested' territory to which they 
have claims no less compelling than the Palestinians, 
international law and UN resolutions notwithstanding. This 
is a view that was made explicit for the first time by 
Sharon in an op-ed essay published on the front page of 
the New York Times on 9 June 2002. The use of the biblical 
designations of Judea and Samaria to describe the 
territories, terms which were formerly employed only by the 
Likud but are now de rigueur for Labour Party stalwarts as 
well, is a reflection of a common Israeli view. That the 
former prime minister Ehud Barak (now Olmert's defence 
minister) endlessly describes the territorial proposals he 
made at the Camp David summit as expressions of Israel's 
'generosity', and never as an acknowledgment of Palestinian 
rights, is another example of this mindset. Indeed, the 
term 'Palestinian rights' seems not to exist in Israel's 

The problem is not, as Israelis often claim, that 
Palestinians do not know how to compromise. (Another former 
prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, famously complained 
that 'Palestinians take and take while Israel gives and 
gives.') That is an indecent charge, since the Palestinians 
made much the most far-reaching compromise of all when the 
PLO formally accepted the legitimacy of Israel within the 
1949 armistice border. With that concession, Palestinians 
ceded their claim to more than half the territory that the 
UN's partition resolution had assigned to its Arab 
inhabitants. They have never received any credit for this 
wrenching concession, made years before Israel agreed that 
Palestinians had a right to statehood in any part of 
Palestine. The notion that further border adjustments 
should be made at the expense of the 22 per cent of the 
territory that remains to the Palestinians is deeply 
offensive to them, and understandably so. 

Nonetheless, the Palestinians agreed at the Camp David 
summit to adjustments to the pre-1967 border that would 
allow large numbers of West Bank settlers – about 70 per 
cent – to remain within the Jewish state, provided they 
received comparable territory on Israel's side of the 
border. Barak rejected this. To be sure, in the past the 
Palestinian demand of a right of return was a serious 
obstacle to a peace agreement. But the Arab League's 
peace initiative of 2002 leaves no doubt that Arab 
countries will accept a nominal and symbolic return of 
refugees into Israel in numbers approved by Israel, with 
the overwhelming majority repatriated in the new 
Palestinian state, their countries of residence, or in 
other countries prepared to receive them. 

It is the failure of the international community to reject 
(other than in empty rhetoric) Israel's notion that the 
occupation and the creation of 'facts on the ground' can 
go on indefinitely, so long as there is no agreement that 
is acceptable to Israel, that has defeated all previous 
peace initiatives and the efforts of all peace envoys. 
Future efforts will meet the same fate if this fundamental 
issue is not addressed. 

What is required for a breakthrough is the adoption by the 
Security Council of a resolution affirming the following: 
1. Changes to the pre-1967 situation can be made only by 
agreement between the parties. Unilateral measures will 
not receive international recognition. 2. The default 
setting of Resolution 242, reiterated by Resolution 338, 
the 1973 ceasefire resolution, is a return by Israel's 
occupying forces to the pre-1967 border. 3. If the parties 
do not reach agreement within 12 months (the implementation 
of agreements will obviously take longer), the default 
setting will be invoked by the Security Council. The 
Security Council will then adopt its own terms for an end 
to the conflict, and will arrange for an international 
force to enter the occupied territories to help establish 
the rule of law, assist Palestinians in building their 
institutions, assure Israel's security by preventing cross-
border violence, and monitor and oversee the implementation 
of terms for an end to the conflict. 

If the US and its allies were to take a stand forceful 
enough to persuade Israel that it will not be allowed to 
make changes to the pre-1967 situation except by agreement 
with the Palestinians in permanent status negotiations, 
there would be no need for complicated peace formulas or 
celebrity mediators to get a peace process underway. The 
only thing that an envoy such as Blair can do to put the 
peace process back on track is to speak the truth about 
the real impediment to peace. This would also be a historic 
contribution to the Jewish state, since Israel's only hope 
of real long-term security is to have a successful 
Palestinian state as its neighbour. 


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