Why Obama's Peace Process is Still Going Nowhere

Much of the debate about US
President Barack Obama's push for Middle East peace resembles the
proverbial argument about whether the glass is half full or half empty.
But even a full glass is not very useful if you need to fill an entire

A common assumption is that earlier American administrations were
insufficiently "engaged." Obama's early moves, including the
appointment of former Northern Ireland mediator George Mitchell as his
envoy, have therefore been widely welcomed.

The problem was never a lack of American engagement, but what kind.
Indeed, the Bush administration took engagement to unprecedented
lengths. It pushed for Palestinian elections, and then when Hamas
defeated the US-backed Fatah faction, America attempted to overturn the
result. The Bush administration helped arm and train Palestinian
militias opposed to Hamas and vetoed a Palestinian "national unity
government." It supported the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip and
politicized financial aid to bolster Palestinian leaders whose
legitimacy, as they have effectively become Israeli quislings, has all
but vanished. At the same time, the United States and the Quartet
imposed lopsided preconditions for dialogue that they well know Hamas
cannot accept.

Absolutely none of this has changed under the Obama administration.
Despite lip service about easing it, the United States continues to
support Israel's criminal blockade of the Gaza Strip, and like the Bush
administration, Obama has never criticized Israel's attack on Gaza
despite incontestable evidence of atrocities and war crimes.

America continues to funnel arms and money to Fatah-controlled
militias, encouraging them to attack Hamas in the West Bank, sabotaging
the possibility of intra-Palestinian reconciliation.

And while the Obama administration and the British government prepare
for negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan, they intransigently
reject talks with Hamas despite that group's electoral mandate, its
repeated offers of a reciprocal long-term ceasefire with Israel and its
acceptance of a two-state solution.

The Obama administration has used up its first six months negotiating a
settlement freeze with Israel (with little to show). At this rate, how
long would it take to negotiate the core issues in the century-long
conflict resulting from the Zionist effort to transform an almost
entirely Arab (Muslim and Christian) country, into a "Jewish state"
with a permanent Jewish majority?

The constant focus on process and gimmicks -- like trying to get Arab
states to normalize ties with Israel -- has obscured the reality that
Obama's stated goal -- a workable two-state solution -- is almost
certainly unachievable. The idea of separating Palestinians and
Israelis into distinct ethno-national entities has become an article of
faith within peace process circles, but rarely are its supporters asked
to justify why a "solution" that has eluded them for decades has any

Today, as a result of natural growth, Palestinians form half of the
population living in historic Palestine despite decades of expulsion
and exile. Within a few years they will once again be the majority. A
two-state solution as currently envisaged would leave Palestinians with
a state on no more than a fifth of the land, with less of the water and
no real sovereignty. Even if Palestinian refugees agreed to return to
such a state, there would be no room for them.

Nor would repartition actually separate the populations: no one
involved in the "peace process" is talking about removing all, or even
most of the half million Israeli settlers implanted illegally in the
West Bank -- especially around Jerusalem -- since 1967. There is talk
of compensating Palestinians for the land taken by settlers with
"equivalent" land elsewhere. But whoever can find land that can
"compensate" Palestinians for Jerusalem, would be just as likely to
find land that could "compensate" the British for London or the French
for Paris.

As for the 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of Israel, a two-state
solution would only make their situation worse. Already treated as
second-class citizens, they face escalating racist campaigns and a raft
of legislation proposing to ban them from commemorating Israel's
near-destruction of Palestine in 1948, forcing them to take loyalty
oaths, or even to sing the explicitly Jewish Israeli national anthem.
If Israel remains an unreformed ultra-nationalist "Jewish state," its
Palestinian citizens are more likely to face apartheid conditions at
best or ethnic cleansing at worst, than be allowed to live as equal
citizens in the land of their birth. Israel's foreign minister Avigdor
Lieberman represents the growing number of Israeli Jews who think a
Jewish state should be cleansed of non-Jews.

This is why an increasing number of Palestinians, conflict resolution
experts, and a small but growing number of Israelis are giving serious
attention to the idea of a one-state, or bi-national solution for
Palestine/Israel. This would dismantle the current system of Israeli
ethno-religious domination and institute a democratic system
guaranteeing the civic, political, religious and cultural rights of all
citizens and communities.

Although peace process insiders constantly dismiss these ideas as
far-fetched, utopian or naive, they continue to gain adherents. After
all, similar, but even deeper-rooted conflicts between settler-colonial
and indigenous communities were resolved peacefully along such
democratic principles in Northern Ireland and South Africa.

As George Mitchell surely knows from his experience in Northern
Ireland, when two national communities lay claim to the same land and
one dominates the other by force, partition only changes the contours
of the conflict. It was by dismantling the "Protestant state for a
Protestant people" in the north of Ireland and replacing it with a
bi-national democracy, increasingly integrated with the rest of the
island, that the 1998 Good Friday Agreement ended a conflict long
thought to be insoluble.

Neither South Africa nor Northern Ireland offer exact analogies or
ready-made blueprints for Palestine/Israel. But to continue to pretend
that these working bi-national and one-state models have nothing to
teach is to condemn Palestinians and Israelis to decades more of
conflict, as diplomats chase mirages and Israel pursues its colonial
policies unchecked.

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