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The Curious Case of US Domination of Palestine-Israel Peacemaking

United Nations subordination to U.S. “leadership” has greenlighted the “peace-free process” that Washington has pursued continuously since 1993

President Donald Trump talks with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jared Kushner in Jerusalem, May 22, 2017. (Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO)

President Donald Trump talks with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jared Kushner in Jerusalem, May 22, 2017. (Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO)

How weird is it that Palestinians, Israelis, and the rest of the world have been agog for months, awaiting the launch of a new “peace process” from a young, seldom successful real-estate developer named Jared Kushner?

There are many different levels at which this is weird. First, it’s very strange that, though a robust and much respected global organization dedicated to the resolution of international conflicts has existed for 74 years now, nonetheless, all the other nations of the world still seem content that the United States, which represents fewer than 5% of the world’s people, has monopolized all decisionmaking on this vital issue for the past 45 years.

Secondly, the content and track record of the policies Washington has pursued in this diplomatic venture over this period have been bizarre, one-sided, and unsuccessful in the extreme.

(From that perspective, I guess we could say that having Jared Kushner now be Washington’s “peace process tsar” is par for the course?)

But why have so few people in the U.S. political elite ever remarked on all this weirdness?

At the level of the long history of U.S. monopolization of the peace diplomacy, I suppose a general U.S. jingoism has—since the days of Henry Kissinger’s much-publicized “shuttle diplomacy” in the 1970s—made U.S. “peace diplomacy” in the Middle East seem like some noble national mission?

I’m skeptical.  But the truly disgraceful moment in global politics came in 2002, when Pres. George W. Bush created something called the “Middle East Quartet”. The “Quartet” was—and sort of still is—an organization of four bodies: the United States, the United Nations, the EU, and Russia… but always under the clear leadership of Washington.

Yes, that’s right: Back in 2002, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan actually agreed to subordinate the world body that he headed to the “leadership” of Washington, regarding Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking. (Russia’s President Putin and the EU also went along.)

The UN’s subordination to the US in the Quartet has had huge consequences. Throughout the past 17 years, the United Nations as a body has (like the rest of the Quartet) issued no significant challenge at all to Washington’s diktat on the Palestine Question, whether on Jerusalem, Gaza, Israel’s settlement-building, or any other issue related to Palestine.

A few years ago, it seemed as if the Quartet had died a quiet and blessed death. But last September– well after Pres. Trump had moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and kicked the PLO’s representative out of Washington– it showed a brief sign of revival. Its four members issued a short joint statement expressing “concern” about the possibility of escalation between Israel and Gaza. But no word at all about Jerusalem, or the brutal siege of Gaza, or Israel’s continued settlement-building project.

And regarding the big, central issue, that is, the question of how to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Quartet–including the UN– has also remained mum. This, despite 50 years’ worth of resolutions from the UN’s (non-executive) General Assembly calling on Israel to end its occupation of the Palestinian territories and to allow the Palestinians to exercise their right of self-determination… And despite the fact that the UN’s executive body, the Security Council, remains committed to its own key resolutions 242 of 1967 and 338 of 1973, which underline “the inacceptability of the acquisition of territory by force” and call on Israel to withdraw from lands its army occupied in 1967.

By subordinating the UN to the “leadership” of the United States in Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking and by failing to insist on the UN’s own clearly stated goals in this diplomacy, successive Secretaries-General of the UN have given a greenlight to the very specific kind of “peace-free process” that Washington has pursued continuously since 1993.

Washington’s approach to this diplomacy has focused overwhelmingly on the “process” rather than the attainment of any actual peace. And it has cast aside any reference to international legality or international resolutions regarding the content of the peace, laying stress instead on the (always fruitless) search for a formula that “the two parties can agree on.”

If you were Benjamin Netanyahu and you could blow off all the entreaties from a US President that you throw some small crumbs to the Palestinians, and you could march into the U.S. Congress and openly humiliate the President (as he did to Pres. Obama back in 2015), and could pummel Gaza’s civilians to smithereens every couple of years—and still get a commitment of $38 billion of US armaments over ten years from Obama… Then why on earth would you ever bother to make “peace” with that fraction of the Palestinian people who’ve been your captives for the past 51 years?

The US approach of focusing endlessly on the “process” rather than the attainment of peace and giving Israel complete veto power over the peacemaking was the brainchild, primarily, of one man, an eminence grise who has popped up again and again in high-level posts in Washington’s Middle East diplomacy—in administrations run by both parties. His name is Dennis Ross. He’s someone who’s been much more consistently committed to the Zionist project itself than he has to any of the presidents he’s worked for.

Ross’s whole biography is fascinating. One notable point came in the mid-1980s, when along with his ally Martin Indyk he co-founded a brand-new, AIPAC-backed think tank called the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP).

In the 1990s, Ross and Indyk completely dominated all of Pres. Clinton’s Middle East policymaking. One of the key innovations Ross introduced was wherever possible to avoid any discussion of a “final status” agreement between Palestinians and Israelis. Whenever he came under unbearable pressure to do “something” in the peacemaking, he would pull something we could call “the Ross confidence trick”: He would argue that the parties could not address the final issues until more “confidence” had been built between them.

So his diplomacy would focus on ever smaller and smaller interim-stage issues. And meanwhile, Palestine and the Palestinians remained occupied, and the Israelis built yet more settlements.

In 2002, after his gig with Clinton ended, Ross went to Jerusalem. There, on behalf of the Jewish Agency, he and veteran Democratic pol Stuart Eizenstat founded a think-tank called the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI),  which is dedicated to the idea that “the Jewish People” worldwide constitute a single people “with Israel at the core.” (Convicted felon Elliott Abrams is also on the board.)

Throughout the years that Ross and Indyk ran Washington’s Middle East policy, they failed to complete any of the negotiations they attempted (except for the always-easy, 1994 “final peace” between Israel and Jordan.) Yet these days, Ross, Indyk, and their wingman Aaron Miller regularly get quoted in the corporate media as if they are somehow “experts” on negotiations, on “the Arab mind”, or on Palestinian affairs! Go figure.

The long, sorry story of Washington’s monopolization of Israeli-Arab peacemaking has many chapters.

Americans who want to push for a just and sustainable peace between Israel and Palestine need, I think, to break free of the mindset that it’s somehow “desirable” or even “normal” that this monopoly should continue. Instead, we should demand that our government and the Israeli government both comply fully with international law. There should be no “Israel Exception” to international legality– and no “American Exception”, either. We need to work with likeminded allies around the world to ensure that the U.N. and the legitimate international bodies take back control of the diplomacy… and that they do so on the basis of the long-stated principles of international law.

And this just in from Trumpworld: At the recent “Warsaw summit” that Mike Pompeo convened as part of the current push against Iran, guess which former U.S. official was given a starring role? Yes, Dennis Ross. Watch closely to see whether he will now slide back, perhaps alongside Jared Kushner, into some even more powerful government position.

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Helena Cobban

Helena Cobban is a writer and researcher on global affairs. She is a Contributing Editor of Boston Review, and writes weekly news analysis on Middle East affairs for Inter-Press service. Her blog can be enjoyed at Just World News.

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