US Secretary of State John Kerry in early November chaired the latest round of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. His visit to the region was downbeat, highlighting once again the failure of the US-backed “peace process”.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu predictably blamed the failure of the negotiations squarely on the Palestinians. “[The] pressure has to be put where it belongs: that is on the Palestinians, who refuse to budge”, he told Kerry. Israel, its prime minister insists, does not have a partner for peace.
Netanyahu’s argument is not new. Similar claims have been made repeatedly by Zionist leaders – both before and after the creation of Israel. In 1923 Ze’ev Jabotinsky, in his essay “The iron wall”, acknowledged that Palestinians would never give up their homeland willingly:
“Any native people – it’s all the same whether they are civilised or savage – views their country as their national home, of which they will always be the complete masters. They will not voluntarily allow, not only a new master, but even a new partner.” Therefore, argued Jabotinsky, peace was dependent “not on our relationship with the Arabs, but exclusively on the Arabs’ relationship to Zionism”.
In the absence of Palestinian capitulation and “peace” on Zionist terms, it was necessary, he argued, to create an “iron wall [of bayonets] which the native population cannot break through”.
This view of “peace” and what to do in its absence has been the mainstay of Israel policy since 1948. The claim that the Zionist state had no partner for peace became further entrenched in the Zionist narrative in the wake of the failed Camp David Summit in 2000. At the time, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak claimed that Israel had made a “generous” and “unprecedented” offer that had been rejected by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
However in a wide-ranging 2003 interview in Israel’s largest circulating Hebrew newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, Barak admitted that the so-called “generous” offer was a lie. “I did not give away a thing”, he boasted.
This was reaffirmed in 2011, when some 1,700 documents relating to the “peace process” between 1999 and 2010 were leaked. The documents, belonging to the office of the chief Palestinian negotiator, Sa’eb Erekat, revealed that the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) had been willing to make extensive demographic and territorial concessions to Israel.
Not only had PA/PLO negotiators been willing to accept the annexation of all but one of Israel’s illegal colonies in occupied Jerusalem, they were also prepared to allow the annexation of parts of Palestinian neighbourhoods in occupied East Jerusalem.
The Palestine Papers also revealed that the Palestinian negotiators were prepared to allow “flexibility” in regard to Haram al-Sharif (the third holiest Muslim site in the world) and had been willing to negotiate away the right of return for the majority of the 6 million Palestinian refugees living in exile, while also acceding to Zionist demands that Israel be explicitly recognised as a Jewish state.
When these revelations became public, the PLO and the PA were widely condemned by Palestinians. However, the Palestine Papers also revealed Israel’s rejectionism. Even when the Palestinian negotiators were prepared to give what Erakat termed “the biggest Yerushalayim [Jerusalem] in history” and to accede to the majority of Israel’s demands, including surrendering Palestinian rights enshrined in international law, it had not been enough for the leaders of the Zionist state.
Despite these unprecedented concessions, Israel would agree to “peace” with the Palestinians only if they capitulated to every Israeli demand, accepted all Zionists goals and foreswore the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.
Illegal construction continues
The lack of an Israeli peace partner was again amply highlighted during Kerry’s recent visit, when Israel announced it would build 5,000 new Jewish only residences in occupied East Jerusalem and 20,000 new Jewish only residences in illegal colonies in the occupied West Bank.
In a 7 November interview with Israel’s Channel 2, Kerry was forced to admonish Netanyahu: “How – if you say you’re working for peace and you want peace and a Palestine … that belongs to the people who live there – how can you say ‘We’re planning to build in the place that will eventually be Palestine?’ … it sends a message that somehow perhaps you’re not really serious.”
Israel’s lip-service to the peace process should come as no surprise. Today, more than half a million Israeli settlers reside illegally in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem – double the figure of 241,500 prior to the Oslo agreement in 1993.
While Israel continues its widespread colonisation in occupied East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, it has also announced plans to ethnically cleanse more than 40,000 Palestinian Bedouins, who are Israeli citizens, from more than 40 villages in the Negev desert in southern Israel.
Gaza under siege
Israel’s actions in Gaza over the last seven years have also revealed that it has little interest in ending the conflict with the Palestinians. Since 2006, Israel has imposed a brutal blockade on the 1.6 million people living in Gaza. The coastal strip was transformed into the world’s largest open air prison. This siege is illegal; collectively punishing a civilian population is a war crime under international law.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Israel’s blockade has now resulted in 44 percent of Gaza’s population (more than 700,000 people) suffering from food insecurity, while 80 percent (just under 1.3 million people) are dependent on donor aid.
This month, Gaza’s Ministry of Health warned that the territory was on the brink of a “health catastrophe”. Not only is there a severe shortage of vital medicines; there is also a fuel shortage that threatens the 13 hospitals and 54 primary health care centres in the Gaza Strip. Since 2006, when Israeli bombing destroyed much of Gaza’s public infrastructure, including the only electricity plant, Gaza’s population, hospitals and essential services have been subject to frequent and lengthy power cuts.
Palestinian hospitals and other essential services have been forced to rely on emergency generators to power life-saving equipment, as well as intensive care units and neonatal units. The fuel shortage also impacts greatly on the ability to dispatch emergency outreach services and ambulances to those in need.
From its inception, the so-called “peace process” was doomed to failure because the Zionist state is not interested in reaching even a limited peace settlement with the Palestinians, let alone a just one. Israel’s actions over the last 20 years have confirmed that it plans to continue its apartheid and occupation policies, as well as ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.
It is because Israel has demonstrated that it has no interest in peace that Palestinian civil society in 2005 launched the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, calling on all people of conscience to support the non-violent campaign until Israel meets its obligation to recognise the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with international law.