Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Failure of the Mideast 'Peace Process'

The Middle East peace process seems all but doomed. Although U.S. President Barack Obama said he remained "convinced" it could still succeed when he met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas this week, Secretary of State John Kerry has said trust between the Israelis and the Palestinians has reached a "nadir."
David Cameron visited Jerusalem and Bethlehem last week, his first visit to the Israel-Palestine region after four years as British Prime Minister. His government has kept the Middle East at arm's length. It is Secretary Kerry who has made all the running in this latest peace process, endlessly shuttling between the two sides.
Ostensibly, both the U.S. and the U.K. are urging both sides equally to take "tough political risks," as Mr. Obama put it, for peace. Alas, such exhortations seem to elicit merely disdain from both Jews and Arabs.
A poll by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University revealed last week that 64% of Israelis do not trust Mr. Kerry to treat Israel's security as a "crucial factor" in the framework peace proposal, while some 53% of Israeli Arabs don't trust him either.
Both the U.S. and Britain present themselves as Israel's candid friends. Israel doesn't quite see it like that.
Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with Barack Obama. saul loeb/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
For all his well-received remarks in the Knesset, where he declared his "unbreakable" belief in Israel and "rock solid" commitment to its security, Mr. Cameron's government is widely viewed there with suspicion. Last year, the U.K. played a key role in the EU's provocative decision to label goods made in the disputed territories, and even issued an explicit warning to British companies over the risks of doing business there—initiatives the Israelis regarded as gratuitous acts of aggression.

More important, there is also deep shock within Israel at what it sees as bullying by the U.S. When President Obama met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this month, he issued a veiled threat that if Israel did not accept the Kerry framework, the U.S. would no longer defend Israel against its enemies at the U.N. and elsewhere. This followed Mr. Kerry's remark last year that if Israel stymied the peace process, it might soon be facing an international delegitimization campaign "on steroids."
In Israel, there is bewilderment that it alone is being held responsible for the absence of peace. After all, while Mr. Netanyahu has accepted the prospect of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, Mr. Abbas has said repeatedly that the Palestinians will never accept that Israel is a Jewish state.
He also continues to insist on the right of every Palestinian "refugee" to immigrate not just to Palestine but also to Israel, which would destroy it as the Jewish national home.
In addition, despite President Obama's statement this week that Mr. Abbas has "consistently renounced violence," the Palestinian Authority continues to incite hatred against Israel through its educational materials and regime-controlled media, and permits and glorifies acts of terrorism by the al Aqsa brigades and others.
Yet the U.S. and U.K. hold only Israel's feet to the fire. Why? An important part of the answer lies in the inherent nature of the "peace process" itself.
This rests on two premises. The first is the Western fallacy that everyone in the world is governed by reason and material self-interest, whereas in fact some have non-negotiable agendas. The second is the current liberal belief that trans-national instruments such as international law can transcend the grievances of nation states.
War thus becomes a primitive throwback. It must be replaced by conflict resolution, negotiation and the "peace process."
This then becomes a deeply problematic end in itself. Based on an amoral equivalence in such negotiations between aggressor and victim, the peace process has to be kept going at all costs if war is to be avoided.
That means ignoring the fact that the aggressor in the dispute may still be violent or threatening. For if that is acknowledged, the "peace process" becomes something unconscionable: an enforced surrender to violence.
If the victims protest at this free pass to murderous aggression and refuse to submit, it is they who get the blame for derailing the peace process. That process is therefore innately inimical to justice, and biased in favor of the aggressor in a conflict.
This is what happened in the Northern Ireland peace process. Widely viewed as a triumph in creating a power-sharing administration between the hitherto warring Catholic Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Protestant Unionists, this is the template for the Middle East negotiations and Mr. Kerry's last stand.
The U.K. government first under John Major and then Tony Blair is credited with having turned IRA terrorists into statesmen by bringing them into this peace process. In fact, the IRA came in only because they were in effect beaten by the British army and British intelligence. They realized they could never win by military means. So they put their weapons "beyond use" and were given a share in the government of the province.
But to keep the peace process on track, the Unionists were denied knowledge of certain facts, such as deals being made to not prosecute IRA terrorists. When these secret deals recently became public, Mr. Cameron had to move swiftly to stop the Unionists from destroying Northern Ireland's power-sharing administration, which brought the risk of a return of IRA terrorism.
Not so much a true peaceful democracy, therefore, as an institutionalized protection racket. For Northern Ireland, the peace process was a Faustian pact in one U.K. province. For Israel, the stakes are rather higher.
This article has been updated to clarify that David Cameron's recent visit to Jerusalem and Bethlehem was his first trip to the Israel-Palestine region as British Prime Minister, not his first visit to the broader Middle East.
Ms. Phillips is a columnist and author. Her e-book, "Guardian Angel," can be downloaded from or Amazon.

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