Posted by: sean | August 12, 2007

How to live without a solution

Henry Siegman, the director of the US/ Middle East Project, who served as a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations from 1994 to 2006, and was head of the American Jewish Congress from 1978 to 1994, has an excellent piece on Palestine and Israel in LRB, “The Middle East Peace Process Scam.”

He comes out and says that the impediment to peace is Israeli stalling while slowly chipping away at Palestinian land with the wall, roads and settlements, while the international “peace process” gives it cover. He says that Palestinian statehood has been put in formaldehyde, which is to say that it is given the appearance of still being alive while not allowed to visibly decompose.

Siegman quotes Moshe Dayan, who says “The question is not ‘What is the solution?’ but ‘How do we live without a solution?'” He then goes on to quote Geoffrey Aronson,who has this to say:

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.

He opens with this sober and depressing assessment of the peace process, which he calls a scam and a spectacular deception:

In [Bush’s] 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 majority.

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.

These days, it’s hard to find a piece about the peace process as a whole that has anything new to say, and this one is no exception. What is different, however, is that more and more American and Israeli Jews (Burg, for example) are asking hard questions of Israel and its brutal occupation and making piercing observations about the situation as a whole, including international complicity. These are not questions and observations that went unasked and unobserved before by Arabs and Europeans; they’re just gaining credibility in the international discourse because it’s hard to paint the former head of the American Jewish Congress as an anti-Semite for asking them.


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