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Middle East diplomacy: time to pull the plug



 By Tariq Shadid

for Middle East News Online Reporter.
See also Tariq's  Musical Intifada

It has become increasingly obvious that talks are failing to affect the course of events in the continuing confrontations between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Many seem to be seeking the cause of these 'deadlocks' in the attitudes of the 'peace partners', by underlining the unwillingness of each side to make concessions on their territorial and security demands. However, evidence suggests, for those who are willing to see, that the real cause of the problem should be sought in the framework in which this diplomacy has been taking place.

When the 'negotiations', often termed the 'peace process', were first launched under the flag of the Oslo agreements in 1993, many people on both sides of the conflict believed that the first steps in the direction of a lasting peace treaty had finally been made. However, the supporters of this process of negotiations failed to see the implications of the flaws in the basic framework of the process. In truth, the Oslo plan could not have worked out any other way than it has now, and saying that the plan has failed to succeed would unjustly imply that it ever had a chance of succeeding.

To understand this, it is essential to analyze the situation under which the Palestinians and the Israelis decided to participate in the Oslo scheme, and to determine the end situations that both sides were expecting from the agreements. First, let's look at the reasons and motivations for Israel to accept the Oslo situation, when they decided to sign the accord in 1993.

Israel's motivations for accepting Oslo

It is quite easy to see why Israel was bent on occupying the West Bank and Gaza, and why it was not willing to either annex it or abandon it, but preferred to maintain the status quo as much as possible. If the Palestinian people had not stood up to claim their basic rights in the first Intifadah, when the world community was only paying lip service to these rights and doing nothing to consolidate them, no 'territorial concessions' would ever have been made by Israel regarding Gaza or the West Bank. Under the pretext of a 'humane occupation', the Israelis would have been able to continue to profit from their practically ideal situation. Their policy of economical suffocation of the occupied territories created enough unemployment to give rise to a virtually endless supply of cheap laborers, that would be willing to work for less than half the wages of an Israeli citizen. In the meantime, expenditures were extremely low, since no money was being invested in the improvement or even maintenance of Palestinian infrastructure, except were Jewish settlements on confiscated lands were involved.

Therefore, the first time that the occupied territories were actually starting to cost a considerable amount of money instead of generating it, was when the Palestinian population expressed their refusal to live under this oppressive system by declaring the Intifadah, an uprising consisting of non-violent demonstrations and stone-throwing at heavily armed occupation soldiers . The Israelis spent huge sums on weapons and troops involved in quelling the uprising, albeit to no avail, since the people were obviously refusing to succumb to aggressive military repression. It was under this financial pressure, but also because of the negative effects on public opinion of the continuous killing of defenseless civilians by heavily armed soldiers, that Israel decided to sit down at the negotiating table.

From this perspective, what was Israel bargaining for in these negotiations? To start with, lacking a backup plan in the event of losing the Palestinian workforce, Israel sought to maintain economical control over the occupied territories, even if the local population would eventually be allowed some form of autonomy. But even without the argument of needing a reservoir of cheap laborers, ideological motivations expressed through Israel's continued settlement policies made it impossible for Israel to relinquish their possession of the illegally occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

With agreeing to the Oslo framework, Israel aimed to model the occupation into the South African model of Bantustans, by having the Palestinians being directly controlled by people from their own ranks. Their aim in this construction was to allow the creation of a Palestinian administrative body that would continue to work under severe restrictions dictated by the Israeli government. Naturally, control over water resources would have to remain in Israeli hands, as well as control over the borders. A Palestinian police force would have to be held responsible for quelling any unrest in the event that this should develop, which would eliminate Israel, the true power monger, as a target for resistance. The local Palestinian authorities would, as a consequence, serve as a perfect instrument for the indirect oppression of the indigenous population of the occupied territories. Although this is undoubtedly the role that Israel had in mind for the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian officials themselves have a very different perception of their role, and have continuously been aspiring for genuine independence.

These opposing perceptions lie at the basis of many conflicts that have ensued repeatedly in the negotiations between the two sides.

In other words, what has been termed 'peace process' by scores of international news agencies for nearly eight years, should rather have been termed 'pacification process', since giving up control over any territory occupied by Israel in 1967, is as unacceptable to the Zionist state as returning territories confiscated in 1948 to their rightful owners. Leaving this amount of injustice unaccounted for, and forging the present situation into a new status quo of indirect occupation, equals what the Romans used to call 'pacification' whenever they had managed to force the indigenous populations of newly conquered territories into submission and acceptance.

Territorial concessions are not consistent with Zionist ideology, and have never even been contemplated by any Israeli leader, unless one should wrongfully consider the institution of an 'autonomous government', consisting of indigenous people in a Bantustan-like construction in an area where they already constitute a demographic majority, a territorial concession. The Israelis were bargaining for a change of strategy in their occupation, not for the negotiation of an end to it, a fact that has been proved repeatedly in the past decade by their attitude in the negotiations.

Palestinian motivations for accepting Oslo

What were the Palestinians bargaining for, by agreeing to sign the Oslo treaty? Because of this agreement's multi-interpretable use of language, it was easy for the Israelis as well as for the other countries involved in the process to explain it as the first step in the direction of an independent Palestinian state. Since the Palestinian population was exhausted by the first Intifadah, mainly in the economical sense because of the continuous closures of the boundaries of their lands, but also because of the heavy physical losses inflicted to them by the Israeli occupation forces in this struggle of 'ant against elephant', the people were desperate to see any light at the end of the tunnel.

The Palestinian Authority has always made it perfectly clear that they are after official statehood, not limited autonomy, as can be read in various statements made by Palestinian officials. In this respect, they have been voicing the desire of the people that they have been assigned to rule over. The wish for full statehood has always been the driving force behind the desire of the Palestinian Authority to accept and adhere to the Oslo agreements, seeing it as the only available way to ever come close to reaching that goal. The Palestinian stand on the issues that were postponed under the Oslo accord, namely Jerusalem, the illegal Zionist settlements and the right of return of Palestinians living in forced exile, is obvious and supported by international law, the Geneva convention and numerous UN resolutions. But even with these 'difficult' issues set aside, the aims of both parties involved in the 'negotiations' are diametrically opposed: the Israelis do not want to give up the occupied territories, and the Palestinian people will not settle for less than their return.

It may seem that this sufficiently illustrates why Oslo's framework is, and always has been, doomed to fail. However, one major factor has not been highlighted yet, which is the role of the so-called broker in the negotiations.

The United States as an 'independent broker'

Throughout history, there has rarely been a situation watched so closely by so many millions of people, where the 'broker' in a conflict situation is so evidently and shamelessly partial as the United States of America. The US have proved to be acting as a coach for the Israeli team rather than a broker in negotiations, despite the endless lags, repeatedly caused by the Israeli government as attempts to generate exhaustion on the other, already suffocating side of the table. Netanyahu's government was especially notorious for creating these impasses, even to the extent of causing irritation with the US administration. It is striking how the lack of neutrality portrayed by the United States is acknowledged by almost every inhabitant of this world, but has consistently lacked follow-up by criticism on an international level.

In other words, the only military and economic superpower of this world that could be considered motivated and qualified enough to act as a broker for any form of negotiation between these two parties, has consistently chosen to defend practically all Israeli policies. This has given rise to a situation that only a wizard of semantics would dare to call 'negotiations': the world's strongest superpower and the Middle East's strongest superpower are sitting at one end of the table, and at the other end there is a group of people that do not even possess an army, let alone a financial, strategic or any other basis from which to exert power in these so-called negotiations.

Diplomatic efforts: a different perspective The arguments presented above, can only lead to the conclusion that where a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is concerned, the current style of diplomacy has long reached a dead end. This road from Oslo to nowhere has led the peoples of the region into a dangerous swamp, where violence continuously looms, and the way out is becoming increasingly difficult to find.

This does not mean that diplomacy can never work in this situation; it just depends on the type of diplomacy that is conducted. Proper non-violent pressure at Israel is long overdue, and is the least the world community can do to force the Zionist state to comply with United Nations resolutions it has constantly ignored and refused to implement. This would still be called diplomacy, but it would be of a kind that is consistent with the regular implementation of international law. It would still be a long shot from what countries like Iraq and Serbia have had to endure for ignoring UN resolutions because of very similar situations, namely coordinated economic and military 'punitive measures'.

Nonetheless, it would be the first step in the right direction, and a desperately needed change from the application of double standards that has led to the terrible situation the Palestinians find themselves in today.

Let us face these realities before things get even worse, because they will, especially with Ariel Sharon at the head of the Israeli government, a man notorious for his capital role in several ruthless massacres of civilians. Let us effectuate the international perception of the equality of all human beings, start a new brand of Middle East diplomacy, and admit that the current process has proved to be clinically dead, a natural course due to its inherent lack of viability. Continuing to artificially prolong its life stands no chance of eventually initiating any kind of recovery. The time has come for the world to face up to reality, and have the courage to pull the plug on this futile exercise of continuous resuscitation called the 'peace process'.

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