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May 16, 2011

Middle East: What peace process?

The Canadian Charger

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The Cairo's unity agreement between Hamas and Fatah has caused consternation in the Israeli government. It was already upset by the announcement that Egypt would open its border with Gaza, thus ending Gaza's isolation and Israel's ability to control what products and who can enter and leave.

While the main worry is over importation of weapons, Israel has also limited importation of such things as building materials and foodstuffs.  Israel control was already slipping with the Egyptian declaration.  Now this.

In response to the Hamas-Fatah agreement, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said, “I call on Abu Mazen to annul the agreement with Hamas immediately and choose the path of peace with Israel.”  The all-Palestine agreement, he charged, “is a hard blow to the peace process.”

We have seen what that peace process has amounted to.  During the talks, Israel has continued to expand, taking more and more land in the West Bank and Jerusalem and dispossessing more and more Palestinians.  And in the talks the Palestinians have made concession after concession, to no avail.  All this becomes very clear from the recently leaked documents from Wikileaks and al-Jazeera. 

As Akiva Eldar put it, writing in Haaretz, “The leaked documents completely discredit the claim that there is ‘no peace partner’ made by the leader of the newly formed Atzmaut faction, Ehud Barak, and his boss Benjamin Netanyahu.”  Just what was the Palestinian Authority prepared to concede?

To begin, they were prepared to abandon almost all of the Arab sector of Jerusalem.  Temple Mount would be given up to control by an international conglomerate.  The Palestinian right of return would be satisfied by the return of 1,000 selected refugees a year for ten years.  Palestine would be completely demilitarized–in essence Israel’s client state.  There would be land swaps transferring populated areas to Israel in exchange for largely agricultural territory to Palestine.  And Palestine would recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

The question of recognition as a Jewish state is interesting for a couple reasons.  First off, that is not how states recognize each other.  They recognize each other de facto or de jure.  Period.  Second, Israeli Palestinians are under increasing threat from the right wing extremists in the Knesset who exhibit more and more power.  There is a current drive to make Israeli Palestinians sign loyalty oaths and to outlaw the commemoration of the nakba.  Recognition of Israel as a Jewish state could jeopardize their rights as well as the refugees’ right to return.

Clearly, a weak Palestinian Authority was prepared to give away the store for a piece of paper, but that was simply not good enough for Netanyahu and company.  To take an expression from Trotsky, in a very different situation, Netanyahu’s strategy is “neither war nor peace.”  Stall and steal.  Demand more and more but never agree.

When the Palestinian concessions became public by the massive leaks, the Palestinian street expressed outrage, Hamas denounced the concessions, and Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, was forced to resign.  The concessions are now gone. And again to quote Eldar, the peace process is “now widely believed to have reached a dead end.”  Netanyahu can hardly play the negotiations card anymore.

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M. Elmasry

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