The US government is very pleased with itself for restarting the “stalled peace process” between Israel and the Palestinians after five years.
Events since the talks started are a reminder why it was stalled in the first place and why it was never a peace process worth the name.
Palestinian negotiators insisted on the release of 26 long-term prisoners. Israel calls them terrorists, but the men are fighters against the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Israel’s occupation and oppression of Palestinians has been consistently backed by the US.
PLO official Yasser Abd Rabbo said, “Israel will dodge, evade and propose unachievable demands in order to promote a conclusion that negotiations are futile, and so Israel will continue to steal lands as they are doing now.”
Israel showed how seriously it was taking the process by announcing just before talks started that it was stepping up the construction of settlements on occupied territory.
Israeli governments and settlers have a long tradition of setting up “facts on the ground”—expanding territory and then using that expansion as the basis for weakening any opposition.
Israel confiscated 35,000 acres of Arab land in the West Bank between 1994 and 2000. The previous talks finally broke down because Israel would not stop expanding its settlements.
US representative John Kerry has told the Palestinians that the issue of ever expanding settlements is, “best resolved by solving the problem of security and borders.”
At the same time the Israeli government is dispossessing up to 70,000 Bedouin. Under its new Prawer law they are being forcibly moved from 35 villages in the Negev desert.
Thousands protested last week. One woman said, “The law to remove the Bedouin, who have been there for thousands of years, is all part of the same policy of ethnically cleansing this land of the Arabs.” She added, “Where are we supposed to go? They just want us to vanish. They think the new generation will simply forget what has happened, but we won’t.”
Israel was only forced to negotiate with the Palestinians at all by the first Intifada which began in 1987. Then Palestinians rose up in the Occupied Territories, the land Israel took over after the 1967 war.
The Oslo peace accords of 1993 are often looked back on as a golden age of hope. But the reality was that they legitimised Israel’s constant expansion. They also forced the Palestinians to accept they could only live in a state that would function in Israel’s shadow.
The idea of a single Palestine, where both Arabs and Jews could live was abandoned. But the impracticality of the two state solution has become increasingly obvious over the past 20 years.
Under Oslo, control granted to the Palestinian Authority in the autonomous areas remained limited. The scope of Palestinian control amounted to no more than that exercised by a local authority.
The only exception was a requirement that the Palestinian Authority policed the Palestinian resistance. The Palestine Liberation Organisation had spoken for Palestinians since the late 1960s. In accepting this role they lost popular support to the Islamist Hamas, which refused to accept Israeli demands.
The period of Oslo witnessed a catastrophic decline in the Palestinian economy, causing a collapse of living standards.
This was caused by Israel’s closure policy, which banned the movement of Palestinian labour and goods. Checkpoints and Israel’s apartheid wall surround Palestinian communities.
Furthermore, the accords said nothing about justice for the five million Palestinian refugees.
The US always tries to present the problem of Palestine as one unrelated to other events in the Middle East, but it has always been intimately bound up with events elsewhere. The greatest hope for Palestinian freedom is the wave of Arab revolutions sweeping the region since January 2011.
The new call for talks is an attempt by the US to reassert its influence.