Israelis and Palestinians are being brought back to the table, but no one really seems to be all that happy about it. Indeed, I can’t remember a time when renewed peace talks were greeted with such widespread cynicism. And that’s when you can even read about it at all – as I scour my usual media outlets for news and commentary on the peace process, I’m getting the distinct impression that this kind of thing is simply not considered to be news any more.
The only significant piece I’ve read recently is Ethan Bronner’s front page article in Saturday’s NY Times. The first few paragraphs pretty much tell you everything you need to know:
The American invitation on Friday to the Israelis and Palestinians to start direct peace talks in two weeks in Washington was immediately accepted by both governments. But just below the surface there was an almost audible shrug. There is little confidence — close to none — on either side that the Obama administration’s goal of reaching a comprehensive deal in one year can be met…
“These direct negotiations are the option of the crippled and the helpless,” remarked Zakaria al-Qaq, vice president of Al Quds University and a Palestinian moderate, when asked his view of the development. “It is an act of self-deception that will lead nowhere.”
And Nahum Barnea, Israel’s pre-eminent political columnist, said in a phone interview: “Most Israelis have decided that nothing is going to come out of it, that it will have no bearing on their lives. So why should they care?”
I used to believe where there’s talk, there’s hope. (In fact, I think I’ve even written those very words on this blog once or twice before). I don’t think I really believe this any more – not, at least, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. For almost two decades, the US and the international community has been brokering talks between both sides and now this is what it has come to: beyond the pro-forma diplomatic statements, everyone seems to agree that it’s really just a road to nowhere. And a half-hearted attempt to bring the “crippled and the helpless” to the bargaining table simply doesn’t inspire hope. Quite the opposite.
I’m not even tempted any more to engage in an analytical discussion of how/why/where talks have failed. There are still more than enough pundits out there ready to parse the political maneuvering. To my mind, it’s all fairly moot at this point. For so many years, so many of us have been working overtime to advocate for the peace process. But while so many of us have held forth the two-state solution as a kind of Holy Grail, the prospect of a viable Palestinian state has grown increasingly remote.
Again, from Ethan Bronner:
Most Palestinians — and many on the Israeli left — argue that there are now too many Israeli settlements in the West Bank for a viable, contiguous Palestinian state to arise there. Settlement growth has continued despite a construction moratorium announced by Mr. Netanyahu.
Moreover, support for many of the settlements remains relatively strong in Israel. In other words, if this view holds, the Israelis have closed out any serious option of a two-state solution. So the talks are useless.
As someone who has fervently supported peace talks from the beginning, I write these words with great sorrow: it is time to face the facts and declare that the peace process is dead. I respect those who honestly disagree with such a position, but for myself at least, I cannot in good conscience advocate for a peace process that is so fatally flawed in so many ways. For me, the much more critical and pressing question at this point is not “how can we get both parties to the table?” but “how can we find a way to extend civil rights, human rights, equity and equality for all inhabitants of Israel/Palestine?”
That’s really the crux of the issue for me: peace without justice is no peace at all. Whether or not there is eventually a one-state, two-state or fifteen-state solution, it will need to be a just solution. And at the moment, justice seems to be precisely what is missing from the peace process.
At the end of the day, Israel simply cannot claim to take the concept of Palestinian statehood seriously while it establishes Jewish settlements throughout the Palestinian territories with impunity. Israel cannot say it accepts the concept of a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem yet at the same time evict Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem with a clear intention of Judaizing these neighborhoods. And perhaps most critically, Israel cannot claim to meet the Palestinians across the peace table in good faith while it oppresses Palestinians on a daily basis.
My friend and colleague Cantor Michael Davis once said to me that the real problem with the peace process is that “we are focusing exclusively on the future at the expense of the present.” I agree. For far too long we have been using the peace process as a shield to keep us from honestly facing the very real and troubling human rights abuse Israel is committing on the ground right now. Yes, there will need to be a political solution to this conflict. But until a present justice is consciously attached to a future peace, I believe in my heart that the peace process will remain as good as dead.