More process than peace

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After eight months of no negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, it is useful to clarify that recent experience has demonstrated that the existence of a peace process does not necessarily mean moving towards peace. The peace process that was launched in Madrid in 1991 included declared objectives of reaching a peace settlement between Israel on the one hand and Palestinians, Syrians, Lebanese and Jordanians on the other hand. But as far as the Palestinians are concerned, and in spite of the ongoing process, the two sides stopped moving towards achieving this objective after the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish terrorist in 1995.

Since then, the process went on but in parallel with the consolidation of the Israeli occupation through illegal settlement activities and vicious rounds of violence in which the two sides exchanged accusations of responsibility.

That’s why we should ask two questions: how can the peace process be resumed and how can this process be meaningful in the sense of moving the two sides, no matter how gradually or slowly, towards achieving its objectives?

There are two sets of causes for the failure of the peace process and the current stagnation. The first is structural. The American-supported Israeli insistence on bilateral negotiations with little adherence to international law and legality and with no role for a third party such as the United Nations has enabled Israel to apply the balance of power that exists on the ground to the negotiations. This has led to the current unbalanced situation.

This also led to very clear trends of radicalization in Israeli and Palestinian public opinion, resulting in the election of Hamas by the Palestinian people in 2006 and the election of the right-wing coalition led by Binyamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman in Israel in 2009.

The second set of reasons has to do with the parties to the conflict as well as the United States, which has been monopolizing mediation between them.

Israel, as a result of the rightward shift in public opinion, has insisted on continuing its settlement expansion policy, giving this policy priority over resuming the peace process. This, in spite of the international consensus that settlements are illegal and an obstacle to peace and in spite of a clear US call on Israel to stop consolidating its occupation through settlement expansion.

The Palestinian side, which succeeded for the first time in fulfilling its obligations to international legality and the roadmap, both in security and reforms, has failed in reuniting the factions Hamas and Fateh, thereby weakening its claims of readiness for a settlement.

Likewise, the United States’ approach to the conflict bears a lion’s share of the responsibility for the failure to resume a meaningful peace process. Its double standard policies, unjustified bias towards Israel and tolerance of Israeli violations of international law and the roadmap have encouraged Israel to go on disregarding the demands of the peace process.

In dealing with this conflict, the international community must apply unified standards that are rooted in international legality and the relevant resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, including the roadmap, which obliges Israel to stop settlement expansion and aims at ending the occupation that began in 1967. In addition, it has to introduce certain elements of accountability into its relations with Israel, otherwise there will be very little hope of resuming the peace process. If it restarts under these conditions, it will be more "process" than "peace".

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