Israeli-Palestinian peace process is dead

November 20, 2011


— Traveling in Israel and the West Bank, and talking to leaders on both sides, one thing soon becomes apparent: The Israeli-Palestinian peace process of the last two decades is dead.

Israeli leaders don’t believe in it, Palestinian leaders have given up on it, and the White House has abandoned it.

An end to talks on a two-state solution means a slide toward a “one-state solution” in which Palestinians outnumber Jews inside Israel’s borders. This ensures perpetual violence.

There was a promising alternative to this grim prospect but Israeli, Palestinian and U.S. leaders all failed to seize it. And so the peace process died.

There have been no direct Israeli-Palestinian talks for many months. Instead, Palestinians are seeking recognition of their state at the United Nations. And Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas looks set to reconcile with Hamas, the radical Palestinian group that rules in Gaza and is anathema to the United States and Israel.

Meantime, the two top U.S. officials in the peace process — Dennis Ross and George Mitchell — have stepped down, and President Obama has turned his back on the issue he once championed.

Why did things develop this way?

In part, because the political scene in today’s Israel has moved further to the right than at any time in my 40 years of covering the region. During my stay, Israeli media were focused on bills by right-wing lawmakers aimed at giving conservatives more control over Israel’s Supreme Court and restricting foreign funding for nongovernmental organizations that criticize government policies.

In this climate — and given 18 years of failed talks — Israelis have little faith in the peace process. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he would accept two states, but his concept of Palestinian statehood is too limited for any Palestinian leader to accept. Nor has he shown any willingness to challenge the powerful Jewish settler movement, whose numbers constantly increase on the West Bank.

And in part, the process ended because of public pressure on Abbas to produce some results, in the wake of the Arab Spring. Confronted with expanding Israeli settlements and limited prospects for a state — the Palestinian opted to take his quest to the United Nations.

Abbas’ chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, told me this tack was not meant to preclude negotiations but to save the dying two-state option by enshrining it at the United Nations.

The Obama administration could have worked to channel the Palestinians’ U.N. request in a positive direction — back toward negotiations. Instead, the White House joined Israel in threatening to punish the Palestinian Authority. We now have a situation with little prospects for a return to talks.

There was a promising alternative to this grim impasse: a set of creative peace proposals put forward in 2008 by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, after two years of discussions with Abbas. Well-informed Israelis and Palestinians tell me these ideas could have propelled the process forward. But Israeli, Palestinian and U.S. leaders all dropped the ball.

The two men tentatively agreed on a demilitarized Palestinian state, with extensive security guarantees for Israel; they mapped out a formula for Jerusalem as the capital of two states, with a condominium of Israel, Palestine, along with Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United States, over the holy places.

On borders, they were still dickering, but they enshrined the principle of equal swaps of land for anything Israel retained. The issue of Palestinian refugees was not fully resolved.

And here is where the tragedy occurred. Abbas did not reject Olmert’s offer, but he didn’t accept it. Then came Israel’s Gaza invasion in December 2008, and Olmert’s decision to step down because of corruption charges.

Condoleezza Rice, as she relates in her memoir, “No Higher Honor,” turned over the negotiating file to the Obama team. Olmert advised Hillary Rodham Clinton not to waste time with new proposals but to put his peace framework on the table and encourage both sides to discuss it.

Instead, the Obama team demanded that Israel first stop all settlements yet failed to put this demand within a larger framework. Olmert warned U.S. officials that a freeze alone made no sense; even the Palestinians were not keen on it but could demand no less than the Americans did.

Netanyahu has shown no interest in the Olmert formula, which his team regards as a failure. Yet had the Obama team backed it, it might have provided a vitally needed strategic framework for talks.

Instead, Israel and the Palestinians have drifted away from negotiations, as Obama busies himself with elections. The peace process as we’ve known it is over, but the status quo can’t last.

Trudy Rubin is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Her email address is trubin@phillynews.com.


Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 11 months ago

I have never understood why the Israeli leaders ever allowed the settlements in the first place. They make no sense now, and I can hardly believe they made any more sense in 1967.

Although there will always be those that point out that the Arabs lost the 1967 war, and since there was never a peace treaty signed to end that war with finality, the settlements were the price paid.

Within the last 200 years the United States has acquired territory through war, (Mexican–American War, 1846 to 1848) so is the United States really in any position to judge the actions of others?

I have heard mention from within the Jewish community that the settlements could be detached from Israel, and become part of the new nation of Palestine. But the problem is that it does not appear that any Jewish residents of Palestine would ever be safe there.

There are already calls for all of the new nation of Palestine to be ethnically cleansed of all Jewish people, so it does not look at all likely that freedom of religion will ever be part of the actual reality on the ground there.

And there are those who point out that there are inequalities in Israel proper in that some Israeli citizens (such as the 1,000,000 Arabs that are Israeli citizens) are discriminated against. There is quite a lot of talk about that. But I do not see how it is different in any major way than some of the inequalities in the USA.

It might appear that an isolationist policy might be the best solution such as was practiced in the early part of the 1900s, until you look at the historical event of December 7, 1941.

Jeremiah Chapter 6, verse 14:
They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, `Peace, peace,' when there is no peace.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.
- Alphonse Karr (1808-90) (Old French proverb of questionable origin)

P.S. Years ago, in the late 1970s, I saw a group of Arabic foreign students in a restaurant here in town. They were earnestly discussing something, and I went up and inquired about what their thoughts were on some political subject that was in the news at the time. I forget which one, because there has been so many that have been discussed by now. But I think it had something to do with the borders between modern nations. Or maybe the settlements, it is possible that was what was being discussed.

I remember only two things with clarity of what I was earnestly told.

1) The United States always takes the wrong side.

2) Centuries ago, what are now the Arabic nations did not have well defined borders. Being mostly a nomadic culture, none were necessary. The borders we know today were determined quite recently. (As I understood it, that meant within the last 200 years or so.)

But, I have no clue how accurate those opinions were, that was only what I was told at the time.

jafs 4 years, 11 months ago

I never understand how people can read a column like this, and not conclude that both sides have failed here.

It is a real tragedy that the Olmert proposals have been abandoned - they seem to me like the best ones I've heard, as fair as could be expected, and very close to what I'd advocate.

jafs 4 years, 11 months ago

Actually, all 3 - Israel, Palestinians, and the US.

bszemere 4 years, 11 months ago

Why does every one blame Israel over this? They were attacked 4 times, with Soviet and Chinese support, by all the Arab nations in the area and beat back all of it , hitting Egypt so hard once they were almost in Cairo (and if it wasn't for the US stopping them, they would have had all of Egypt). It isn't Israel launching rockets on a daily basis at schools and homes, hiding the launchers in their schools and homes. It isn't Israel cheering when the planes hit the WTC. The Israelis won the wars and they are entitled to the lands. If they would have lost the wars, would they have gotten their land back? Of course not.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 11 months ago

bszemere, I have only one contention with your posting, however it is very minor. In the last few months, there has not been rockets launched every day, it's down to two or three a week.

Hamas is not the ones launching them, instead they are trying to get the rocket fire stopped, since they don't seem to do much except inflame public opinion. The Qassam rockets are being launched by splinter groups that Hamas has little, if any, control over. Apparently the ones that control Hamas policy are at least making a political attempt at a solution.

I am reluctant to point out the reality of the situation. This conflict has been going on for generations now, and I believe it will go on for quite some time. If the Western nations were not so dependent on crude oil from the Middle East, I think that at least it would be down to a dull roar. Financial clout always brings with it political clout, and the nations that we get a large part of our crude oil supply from do not seem to have the political will to bring about a workable solution.

Many think that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is all about territory, which is simply not the case. It is a conflict that has its basis in tribalism and religion.

It is an Islamic belief that after a nation or territory has once been under Muslim control, it should always remain so. That is one of the major contributions for the conflict. There certainly seems to be a great deal of confusion on that point in the Western media and popular opinion.

But someday, all of these problems will all sound like the dumbest political things that anyone could ever even considering having a war over. (That is assuming that our present technological society survives for centuries, but I think that assumption is somewhat questionable.)

For example, who in the world would think that 'The War of the Roses' (mostly between 1455 and 1485, but a bit before and after also) is even worthy of mention outside of the study of European history?

It is an unfortunate fact of history that a very large number of people died in 'The War of the Roses', and another unfortunate fact is that the history of the human race since antiquity is mostly a series of wars.

bszemere 4 years, 11 months ago

However, Hamas and Hezbola are still hell bent on kidnapping and the reason for the slow down in rocket attacks is the Israeli's ability to counter them, either by shooting them down or quick counter fire to knock out the launchers, not their loving for peace.

They attacked Israel 4 times and lost. They are lucky they have any land left. And what did Israel keep? The Golan, Gaza, and the West Bank. Its a small fraction of what they held and even smaller fraction of what they earned. The Arabs paid a small price for their aggression.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 11 months ago

I do not believe it is Israeli policy to hold onto all of the Golan forever. It's being held as a bargaining chip for peace, is at least what some believe. When a peace treaty is signed with Syria, the Golan is to be returned, as the entire Sinai peninsula was to Egypt when a peace treaty was signed in 1979.

But a peace treaty with Syria anytime soon appears very unlikely, given the political situation there.

Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, so there is certainly no occupation there anymore. However, there are severe restrictions on some materials that can be used for military purposes. Given the reality of what happened after Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip, that appears to have been a mistake.

(There has been a few whispers that the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip was an experiment in withdrawal, as a test case before the same is done at the West Bank. The result of the experiment was: Don't do it!)

As for the West Bank, I doubt very much Israel wants it at all, because it comes with so many Arabs that hate the government of Israel so much, and by extension Jews in general.

But you are certainly correct in your statement: "The Arabs paid a small price for their aggression."

And the reason they paid such a small price? We need crude oil from their allies.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 11 months ago

It seems that I read this somewhere, but I might be clueless as to how closely this description fits reality:

Israel's really big problem is that it is trying to be a European style democratic nation in the Middle East, and the cultures in that part of the world have such different values than Europeans do that it's not working very well at all.

Paul R Getto 4 years, 11 months ago

"right-wing lawmakers aimed at giving conservatives more control over Israel’s Supreme Court and restricting foreign funding for nongovernmental organizations that criticize government policies." === This could be key. Sounds like our 'democratic' friends in Israel aren't exactly following our model for public input and free speech. I agree with some above, all three parties have failed and I don't see a good way out.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 11 months ago

Israel Shuts Down Dovish "All for Peace" Radio Station by Amy Teibel


JERUSALEM -- Israel has ordered the shutdown of a dovish Israeli-Palestinian radio station, officials and the station's operators said on Sunday.

All for Peace radio station at work. Left to right: Orly Noy, Adel Zoemot, Yoav Lapid and Muhamad Aboe-Adwan. Photo courtesy of Nili Basan. The station and other critics said the move was politically motivated, and part of a broader assault on democracy by conservative forces in the government.

Some members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition have pushed forward a series of measures recently that critics say are aimed at stifling opponents.

Among the proposed legislation are attempts to block most foreign funding for dovish nonprofit groups, lowering the threshold for politicians to file libel suits against the media, and a push to shift control of Supreme Court appointments from an independent panel to parliament.

Conservative lawmaker Danny Danon boasted that he had helped close the "All for Peace" radio station. Danon, a member of Netanyahu's Likud Party, claimed the Communications Ministry shuttered the station at his request, after he claimed it "incited" against Israel.

"A radical leftist station that becomes an instrument of incitement must not be allowed to broadcast to the broader public," Danon said.

Operators of "All For Peace" radio said they complied with a shut-down order issued last week. Israel's communications ministry confirmed it issued the order, and said the station was broadcasting into Israel illegally.

The ministry, headed by a Likud Cabinet minister, said in a statement that the station's Hebrew-language broadcasts inside Israel were "economically damaging local radio franchisees." It did not mention the issue of incitement.

Mossi Raz, the Israeli director of the station, said that it transmits from the West Bank where it is not subject to Israeli law. He told Israel Radio that the station, which has been operating since 2004, would go to court in Israel to try to get back on the air.

Raz also said the ministry had never questioned the legality of the station's operations in the past, and that the Israeli Government Press Office has issued press cards to the station's journalists.

The string of moves against Israel's dovish left wing has drawn heavy criticism of the government, and there have been signs that the government may be backing down.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 11 months ago



On Sunday, an official in Netanyahu's office said the prime minister oppose a bill that would allow lawmakers to veto Supreme Court appointments. Conservatives say the court has a liberal bias.

He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to publicly discuss Netanyahu's position.

Israeli journalists also oppose the tightening of a libel law that critics say would put a major chill on investigative reports.

The closure of the radio station "joins a wave of legislation and other measures against a free press in Israel that very much worries anyone who cares about Israeli democracy," said Danny Zaken, the head of the Israeli journalists' association.

© 2011 Associated Press

Commenting has been disabled for this item.