Obama's Peace Effort Has Failed but Our Struggle Continues

There is the old joke about
a man who is endlessly searching on the ground beneath a street light.
Finally, a neighbor who has been watching him asks the man what he is
looking for. The man replies that he lost his keys. The neighbor asks
him if he lost them under the streetlight. "No," the man replies,
pointing into the darkness, "I lost them over there, but I am looking
over here because here there is light!"

The intense focus on the "peace process" is a similarly futile search.
Just because politicians and the media shine a constant light on it,
does not mean that is where the answers are to be found.

The meeting hosted by US President Barack Obama with Israeli Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas at New
York's Waldorf Astoria hotel on 22 September signaled the complete and
terminal failure of Obama's much vaunted push to bring about a
two-state solution to the Palestine/Israel conflict.

To be sure, all the traditional activities associated with the "peace
process" -- shuttle diplomacy, meetings, ritual invocations of "two
states living side by side," and even "negotiations" -- will continue,
perhaps for the rest of Obama's time in office. But this sterile
charade will not determine the future of Palestine/Israel. That is
already being decided by other means.

Before coming to that, let's recall those heady days in May when
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton set out the Obama Administration's
firm policy on Israel's colonization of the West Bank: "We want to see
a stop to settlement construction -- additions, natural growth, any
kind of settlement activity -- that is what the president has called

Obama's envoy, former Senator George Mitchell, traveled to the region
almost a dozen times to convince Israel to implement a freeze. Every
proposal he took, the Israelis rejected. And to emphasize the point,
the Israeli government accelerated the approval of major new settlement
plans. Instead of threatening consequences for such intransigence,
Mitchell simply diluted American conditions to meet Israeli objections
until finally there was little left of the American demands -- or

So it was that in his remarks at New York, Obama's call for a total
construction freeze was reduced to a polite request to Israel merely to
"restrain" itself from devouring more Palestinian land.

Speaking to reporters after the New York meeting, Mitchell dropped the
demand for a settlement freeze and made the US surrender official. "We
are not identifying any issue as being a precondition or an impediment
to negotiation," Mitchell said, adding, "We do not believe in
preconditions. We do not impose them and we urge others not to impose

This is of course completely untrue. The Obama Administration, like the
Bush Administration before it, continues to boycott Hamas (which has a
legitimate electoral mandate to represent Palestinians under
occupation) on the grounds that Hamas has refused to meet one-sided
American preconditions!

The next day in his UN speech, Obama repeated the call for negotiations
without preconditions. He did not explain why such negotiations would
be any more fruitful than the 200-odd negotiating sessions held between
the PA and the previous Israeli government headed by Ehud Olmert. Obama
may have told the UN that the peace process must "break the old
patterns," but he is simply repeating them.

The New York meeting produced yet another image of an American
president cajoling reluctant Israeli and Palestinian leaders to shake
hands, a kitschy and tiresome reprise of the famous 1993 White House
lawn handshake between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin with President
Clinton looking on, that sealed the ill-fated Oslo accords. Unsatisfied
by its failures to date, the Obama Administration apparently craves
more. It aims for a resumption of "negotiations" within weeks, to be
inaugurated with what a US official called a "launch event." Ideas
under discussion, the unnamed US official told the Israeli daily Haaretz, include "a meeting in Sharm al-Sheikh in Egypt."

That this is the level of thinking within the Obama Administration is
utterly depressing. I can see it now -- as we have so many times before
-- another meeting at the Egyptian resort attended by all the usual
suspects: Israeli and Palestinian leaders (except of course Hamas),
"moderate" leaders of repressive US client regimes like Jordan's King
Abdallah and Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, and the whole pack of
peace process parasites led by Quartet representative Tony Blair and EU
"High Representative" Javier Solana. We can expect more statements that
there is a "window of opportunity," that this is "the only game in
town," and that "time is running out."

If this is not absurd enough, consider what the US is really saying to
the Palestinians in the wake of Mitchell's failure: "We, the greatest
superpower on Earth, are unable to convince Israel -- which is
dependent on us militarily, economically and diplomatically -- to abide
by even a temporary settlement freeze. Now, you Palestinians, who are a
dispossessed, occupied people whose leaders cannot move without an
Israeli permit, go and negotiate on much bigger issues like borders,
refugees, Jerusalem and settlements, and do better than we did. Good
luck to you."

Even if Israel agreed to a settlement freeze and negotiations resumed,
there is no chance for a viable two-state solution or any just
resolution coming out of such talks. So like its predecessors, this
administration is substituting process and gimmicks for substance.

If the "peace process" is not driving events, then what is? Israeli
colonization -- as Obama initially understood -- is the major factor
determining the present and future of Palestine/Israel. Geographer and
former Israeli deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Meron Benvenisti, has
observed that Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip
effectively ended the 1948 partition. "The decades since the war have
proved that 1967 was not a disjunction but quite the opposite, a union,
and that the preceding period was merely a reprieve," Benvenisti wrote
in 2007.

After more than 40 years, Benvenisti views the "occupier/occupied
paradigm" as too limited and misleading to describe the post-1967
reality. It is, he writes, an "anachronism that hides behind the
portrayal of a temporary condition." He proposes instead that we call
the situation in Palestine/Israel a "de facto
binational state ... because it describes the mutual dependence of both
societies, as well as the physical, economic, symbolic and cultural
ties that cannot be severed except at an intolerable cost."

Repartition of Palestine would only change the shape of the conflict,
not solve it. Even if Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were
given a state, an unreformed, ultranationalist "Jewish state" of Israel
would be more likely to turn its aggression and ethnic cleansing
against its own 1.5 million Palestinian citizens than live in peace.
After all, as Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has asked
repeatedly, what is the point of a two-state solution that doesn't
produce an exclusively Jewish state?

The 1967 boundary may have legal and political salience, but it does
not demarcate geographically compact, ethnically homogenous and
economically independent geo-political units. Ramallah Palestinian
Authority (PA) Prime Minister Salam Fayyad may harbor fantasies about
creating a "de facto"
Palestinian state in the West Bank, but the close collaboration between
Israel and the PA only confirms the trend towards binationalism -- of
the wrong sort to be sure.

Isn't it ironic that the most enthusiastic boosters of the ugly
collaboration between the Israeli occupation army and US-trained PA
militias to suppress resistance to the occupation, simultaneously
insist that it is implausible for Palestinians and Israelis to build a
joint society under conditions of equality? Apparently Palestinians and
Israelis can collude to maintain oppression and injustice but not to
transcend them!

A second factor determining the present and future is the resistance in
all its forms that Israeli colonization continues to generate: the
movement of Palestinians within Israel for full equality in a state of
all its citizens; the refugees' steadfast insistence that Israel not be
allowed to prevent them returning home just because they are the wrong
religion; the refusal of Palestinians in Gaza to buckle under a
crippling blockade. During Ramadan, hundreds of thousands of fasting
Palestinians endured unbelievable hardships to break Israel's ring of
steel around Jerusalem to enter the occupied city for Friday prayers at
al-Aqsa Mosque.

This spirit of resistance is expressed in millions of daily acts and
refusals by individual Palestinians, but also in highly directed,
creative and organized ways such as the weekly demonstrations against
Israel's apartheid wall in the West Bank, or the rapidly expanding
Palestinian-directed international campaign of boycott, divestment and
sanctions (BDS).

These forms of organized resistance and solidarity are changing the
balance of moral and political power and have the potential to force
Israeli Jews to abandon their quest for ethno-religious purity and
domination just as Afrikaners did in South Africa, Unionists did in
Northern Ireland, and white Americans did in the southern US. They are
bolstered by the growing calls for international accountability, the
most recent of which include the Goldstone report's recommendation that
Israeli leaders be prosecuted for war crimes and crimes against
humanity in Gaza.

Official complicity with Israel's crimes -- such as the Obama
Administration's despicable decision to attack and quash the Goldstone
report -- are likely only to spur further support for BDS. These
sources of power are still comparatively small compared to Israel's
military and diplomatic might, but their momentum is increasing and
official Israel's panic in the face of the growing challenge is

For years, scholars and activists calling for serious research and
discussion about a unified state guaranteeing the rights of all who
live in it, were ignored or ridiculed by defenders of the failed
two-state solution. But the growing appeal of a vision that inspires
and attracts individuals because of its universalism is terrifying the
high priests of partition. The peace process industry, its think tanks
and "experts," understand that they can no longer monopolize the
discussion. Peace will not be made at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan;
it will be made everywhere that people of conscience are prepared to
join the struggle for liberation, justice and equality for all the
people who live in Palestine/Israel.

In one sense then, the significance of the New York meeting was its
utter insignificance. The real struggle for justice carries on

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