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“peace process”

Propaganda Terms in the Media and What They Mean – Noam Chomsky


Watch the full speech:…

United States and the Soviet Union both used propaganda extensively
during the Cold War. Both sides used film, television, and radio
programming to influence their own citizens, each other, and Third World
nations. The United States Information Agency operated the Voice of
America as an official government station. Radio Free Europe and Radio
Liberty, which were, in part, supported by the Central Intelligence
Agency, provided grey propaganda in news and entertainment programs to
Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union respectively. The Soviet Union’s
official government station, Radio Moscow, broadcast white propaganda,
while Radio Peace and Freedom broadcast grey propaganda. Both sides also
broadcast black propaganda programs in periods of special crises.

1948, the United Kingdom’s Foreign Office created the IRD (Information
Research Department), which took over from wartime and slightly post-war
departments such as the Ministry of Information and dispensed
propaganda via various media such as the BBC and publishing.

ideological and border dispute between the Soviet Union and People’s
Republic of China resulted in a number of cross-border operations. One
technique developed during this period was the “backwards transmission,”
in which the radio program was recorded and played backwards over the
air. (This was done so that messages meant to be received by the other
government could be heard, while the average listener could not
understand the content of the program.)

When describing life in
capitalist countries, in the US in particular, propaganda focused on
social issues such as poverty and anti-union action by the government.
Workers in capitalist countries were portrayed as “ideologically close”.
Propaganda claimed rich people from the US derived their income from
weapons manufacturing, and claimed that there was substantial racism or
neo-fascism in the US.

When describing life in Communist
countries, western propaganda sought to depict an image of a citizenry
held captive by governments that brainwash them. The West also created a
fear of the East, by depicting an aggressive Soviet Union. In the
Americas, Cuba served as a major source and a target of propaganda from
both black and white stations operated by the CIA and Cuban exile
groups. Radio Habana Cuba, in turn, broadcast original programming,
relayed Radio Moscow, and broadcast The Voice of Vietnam as well as
alleged confessions from the crew of the USS Pueblo.

Orwell’s novels Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four are virtual
textbooks on the use of propaganda. Though not set in the Soviet Union,
these books are about totalitarian regimes that constantly corrupt
language for political purposes. These novels were, ironically, used for
explicit propaganda. The CIA, for example, secretly commissioned an
animated film adaptation of Animal Farm in the 1950s with small changes
to the original story to suit its own needs.

The United States
and Iraq both employed propaganda during the Iraq War. The United States
established campaigns towards the American people on the justifications
of the war while using similar tactics to bring down Saddam Hussein’s
government in Iraq.

The extent to which the US government was
guilty of propaganda aimed at its own people is a matter of discussion.
The book Selling Intervention & War by Jon Western argued that
president Bush was “selling the war” to the public.

George W. Bush gave a talk at the Athena Performing Arts Center at
Greece Athena Middle and High School Tuesday, May 24, 2005 in Rochester,
NY. About half way through the event Bush said, “See in my line of work
you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the
truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.”

People had
their initial reactions to the War on Terror, but with more biased and
persuading information, Iraq as a whole has been negatively targeted.
America’s goal was to remove Saddam Hussein’s power in Iraq with
allegations of possible weapons of mass destruction related to Osama Bin
Laden. Video and picture coverage in the news has shown shocking and
disturbing images of torture and other evils being done under the Iraqi

A letter from Obama

The White House, Washington
Dear Barb:
I have wonderful news to share with you.  After our success in persuading Congress not to invade Syria and in prevailing upon Russia to accept a peaceful alternative, we achieved an astonishing breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Although some of the details remain to be resolved, both sides have agreed on the terms of a two-state solution.  Israel has agreed to withdraw to the pre-1967 borders.  The rest of the country, including East Jerusalem and Gaza, will become Palestine. All citizens of both countries will be able to travel freely in their own country and the other, as well.
This breakthrough has been accomplished through the tireless, resourceful and imaginative efforts of all the parties, with special mention to Secretary of State John Kerry.  The result will be peace at last between Israel and the new state of Palestine.
The key to success has been that both Israel and Palestine will be Jewish states.  Non-Jews living in these states will be invited to convert to Judaism.  In fact, President Mahmoud Abbas converted years ago and has only now revealed his adoptive faith and his new name, Machlah Abimoaz.  Those who choose not to convert will be ethnically cleansed, in accordance with Israeli tradition.
We are now seeking to resolve the the issue of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, but Prime Minister Netanyahu assures us that a Jewish state in Syria is something they are willing to consider, as well as Jewish states in Lebanon, Jordan, the Sinai peninsula and possibly even Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
Through comprehensive and sustained efforts, we are confident that we can achieve the goal of Jewish states living side by side in peace and security throughout the Middle East.  This approach requires working with Israelis, Palestinians, and other stakeholders over the long term, and my Administration will do just that.
Thank you for your support in promoting peaceful solutions and helping me earn my Nobel Peace Prize.
Barack Obama

Israeli PM Netanyahu: I “stopped” Oslo peace process – ENGLISH SUBTITLES

Another ‘Symbolic Victory’: Abbas’ New Political Gambit

Palestinians are fed up with symbolic victories. (UN Photo/file)

By Ramzy Baroud


When Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas decided to go to the United Nations to request the admission of Palestine as a full member, he appeared to have had an epiphany. Had he finally realized that for the past two decades he and his party, Fatah, have gone down a road to nowhere?

That Israel was only interested in him as a conduit to achieve its colonial endeavor in the remaining 22 percent of historical Palestine? That his national project – predicated on the ever elusive “peace process” – achieved neither peace nor justice?

Abbas claims to be serious this time. Despite all US attempts at intimidation (for example, by threatening to withhold funds), and despite the intensifying of Israeli tactics (including the further arming of illegal Jewish settlers to combat possible Palestinian mobilization in the West Bank), Abbas simply could not be persuaded against seeking a UN membership this September.

“We are going to the Security Council. We need to have full membership in the United Nations… we need a state, and we need a seat at the UN,” Abbas told Palestinians in a televised speech on Sept. 16.

For months, Palestinian intellectuals, historians, legal experts and academicians have warned against Abbas’s haphazard, understudied move. Some have argued that if Abbas’ UN adventure is a tactical maneuver, its legal repercussions are too grave a price to pay for little or no returns. If “Palestine” replaces the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) – currently recognized by the UN as the sole representative of the Palestinian people – then Palestinians risk losing the only unifying body they all have in common (its replacement representing only two million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank).

“Most damaging is that this initiative changes our ability as a people to represent the totality of our inalienable rights,” said Abdel Razzaq Takriti, activist and political historian at Oxford University (according to Ma’an news agency, Sept. 3).  “The simple act of replacing the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people with a state removes the claims of the PLO to sovereign status as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.”

The PLO, which for decades served as a bulwark of the Palestinian national struggle, continues to exist today, but only in theory. The PA, which was founded in 1994 as a temporary authority to oversee a Palestinian transition to statehood has slowly but decidedly hijacked and undercut PLO institutions.

More, the PA itself has neither legitimacy nor credibility. Whatever remained of the latter was lost during the Israeli war on Gaza and the publishing of the Palestine Papers by Al Jazeera and the Guardian. The papers showed that the very individuals now championing a Palestinian statehood bid at the UN once regularly collaborated with Israel to crack down on Palestinian resistance. They helped Israel undermine Palestinian democracy, isolate democratically-elected Hamas, give away the refugees’ right of return, and worse, deprive Palestinians from any meaningful sovereignty in occupied East Jerusalem.

As for its lack of legitimacy, the matter requires no leaked documents. In fact, Fatah’s refusal to concede to 2006 election results led to the circumstances that exasperated a civil war in Gaza. Gaza’s besiegement (a direct consequence of the elections and the civil war) continues to serve both Israel and the PA equally. The latter is functioning in the West Bank with no popular mandate, surviving on international handouts and “security coordination” with the Israeli Army. Even Abbas’s term as a president of the PA has expired.

All of this summons an urgent question: How can an authority that lacks the legal legitimacy as a representative of the Palestinian people take on a role that could change the course of the entire Palestinian national project?

A leaked legal opinion by Oxford University law professor Guy Goodwin-Gill warned of the legal consequences of Abbas’ bid, including the sidelining of the PLO. Goodwin-Gill intended to “flag the matters requiring attention, if a substantial proportion of the people are not to be accidentally disenfranchised.” An equally worrisome issue is the PA’s history of acting in ways that contradict the interests of the Palestinian people. Years of such experience left most Palestinians with significantly less land and greatly reduced rights. On the other hand, a small segment of the Palestinian population prospered. Evidently, the “new rich” of Palestine were all affiliated with the PA, Fatah and the very few on top.

This iniquitous situation would have easily continued were it not for the so-called Arab Spring, which began demolishing the status quo governing Arab countries. Abbas’ corrupt regime was also a member of the ailing Arab political apparatus. Its existence, like others, was propped by American or other Western support. In order to avoid brewing anger in Palestine and the region, the Palestinian leadership was forced to present itself as breaking away from the old paradigm.

More, the “the PA feels abandoned by the US which assigned it the role of collaborator with the Israeli occupation, and feels frozen in a “peace process” that does not seek an end goal,” according to Joseph Massad in Al Jazeera. “PA politicians opted for the UN vote to force the hand of the Americans and the Israelis, in the hope that a positive vote will grant the PA more political power and leverage to maximize its domination of the West Bank.”

The reasons behind the PA bid for statehood range between tactical politics (involving Israel and the US) and diverting attention from the PA’s own failures. The elitist politics almost complete discount the Palestinian people. If Palestinians truly mattered to Abbas, he would have started by unifying Palestinian factions, reenergizing (as opposed to stifling) civil society, and setting in motion the process needed to reform the PLO (as opposed to destroying its hard-earned international legitimacy).

“It is evident that Palestine needs newly elected leadership through an inclusive democratic process encompassing all Palestinians, not just those in the West Bank and Gaza Strip,” wrote leading Palestinian historian Salman Abu Sitta in the Middle East Monitor (July 10, 2011). This, in fact, should be the task at hand, not wasting time and energy pursing political gambits, which, at best will only yield symbolic victories.

Indeed, the Palestinian people are fed up with symbolic victories. They may have guaranteed Abbas and his men all the trappings of power, but they have failed to reclaim even one inch of occupied Palestine.

– Ramzy Baroud ( is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London), available on

Obama’s Draft Speech to Urge ’67 Borders, Negate PA’s State Bid

US president’s coming speech about Washington’s Mideast policy to demand PA recognize Israel, drop unilateral UN bid for statehood, while urging Israel to return to ’67 lines, cease settlement expansion

By Yitzhak Benhorin

May 17, 2011 “YNet” — WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama is set to give his next political speech at 6pm Thursday, just hours before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves for Washington and according to a draft of the speech, obtained by Yedioth Ahronoth, the American president’s Middle East policy, though unwavering, may not be as discordant as some have feared.

Obama is expected to urge Israel to return to the 1967 lines while negating the Palestinian Authority’s planned unilateral bid for statehood in September.

According to the draft – which may change again by Thursday – Obama will call on Jerusalem and Ramallah to reignite the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, saying it is the only way to achieve viable peace.

Obama stands to demand the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as the Jewish state, and that the Palestinians unequivocally abandon terror.

He is also likely to stress Israel must cease any settlement expansion in the West Bank and further avoid any act which could be construed as changing the status quo on the ground.

The subject of Jerusalem also stands to be included in the American president’s speech: Washington sees the city as the capital of both Israel and the Palestinian state, with its east Jerusalem neighborhoods – which are largely populated by Palestinians – under the PA’s sovereignty, and its Jewish neighborhoods under Israeli sovereignty.

Following Netanyahu’s vehement speech before the Knesset plenum Sunday, it seems Washington has decided to lower its expectations of Netanyahu.

Still, State Department Spokesman Mark Toner said that the White House was not “as pessimistic” as reported, adding that the peace process “faces immense challenges.”

Israeli Media Reveals U.S. President’s Forthcoming Mideast Speech

By Xinhua

May 17, 2011 “Xinhua” – JERUSALEM — U.S. President Barack Obama will call on Israel to withdraw to the 1967 borders and agree to additional concessions that will enable a resumption of the peace process, Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth revealed on Tuesday.

The newspaper claimed to have obtained a draft of Obama’s planned speech at the State Department on Thursday in which he will outline his administration’s Middle East policy, in light of the anti-government protests that have swept the region over the past year.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Sunday that Obama would raise the need for progress in the peace process. However, he did not reveal whether the president planned to present a diplomatic initiative to revive the process, after negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians broke down last September.

According to Yedioth Ahronoth, Obama will call on Israel to withdraw to the 1967 cease-fire lines with territorial adjustments that will be agreed on in the negotiations with the Palestinian National Authority. The president will label the West Bank settlements as “illegal” and emphasize that Israel must halt their construction.

Obama’s position on the settlement blocs, which Israel slates to remain under its sovereignty in any peace deal, is yet unclear.

The president is also expected to announce his solution regarding the status of Jerusalem and call for its division. The U. S. envisions the city as the shared capital of the two states, Israel and Palestine, side by side in peace.

Such a stand would essentially echo the so-called “Clinton Parameters” offered by then-president Bill Clinton in 2000, which called predominantly Arab neighborhoods to come under the Palestinian sovereignty while Jewish neighborhoods remaining within the Israeli territories.

Yedioth Ahronoth claimed that the contents of Obama’s speech were shared with Netanyahu’s national security advisor Ya’akov Amidror and his predecessor Uzi Arad in their recent discussions with senior U.S. officials.

Amidror and Arad were dispatched to Washington last week to prepare the ground for Netanyahu’s scheduled meeting with Obama on Friday, the report said.

The two purportedly met with White House national security advisor Tom Donilon, trying to convince him and other officials that Obama’s positions essentially matched those of the Palestinians.

The Israelis are said to have stressed that Obama’s initiative will not enable “real” peace negotiations and demanded that changes be inserted, according to the paper, which quoted an unidentified U.S. official as answering the two that “you are familiar with the positions of American administrations. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already specified in detail an Israeli-Palestinian agreement last October.”

Amidror, however, on Monday categorically denied that such a meeting had ever taken place, saying that “Not one word in that article is correct.”

“There was no meeting with Donilon … no talks. The meeting simply never occurred,” Amidror told Army Radio.

Obama’s address will not be short of demands on the Palestinians, according to Yedioth Ahronoth. The president is expected to explicitly demand a Palestinian willingness to accept the conditions set forth by the Mideast Quartet, including a recognition of Israel’s right to exist, a renunciation of violence and incitement, and dropping a unilateral declaration of statehood at the United Nations in September.

As a precursor to his speech before a joint session of the U.S. Congress next Tuesday, Netanyahu on Monday evening presented lawmakers his basis for negotiations with the Palestinians, saying that Israel was prepared to “cede parts of our homeland for true peace,” though he assessed that there is no partner on the Palestinian side.

In his address, Netanyahu expressed Israel’s willingness to withdraw into several West Bank settlement blocs while maintain its military presence in the Jordan Valley. The future Palestinian state, he said, would be demilitarized and created only through a peace agreement.

Netanyahu outlined his preconditions for entering peace negotiations with the Palestinians, saying that these preconditions enjoyed the support of a majority of the Israeli public.

The Palestinians would first have to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, Netanyahu said. A peace agreement also must end the conflict and any further Palestinian demands. Netanyahu said Palestinian refugees would not resettle in Israel and the settlement blocs would remain under the Israeli sovereignty.

Regarding Jerusalem, Netanyahu said the city would remain Israel’s “united capital,” a position echoed by all Israeli governments since 1967.

The prime minister added that Israel would not be able to strike a peace agreement with a Palestinian government if half of it was comprised of the members of Islamist group Hamas.


The delusions of the peace process

The politics of the peace process have emphatically ensured that the mere prospect for producing peace is nonexistent.
Richard Falk Last Modified: 18 Dec 2010
Netanyahu’s hardline stance on crucial issues is pushing both the US and Palestinian parties into a restrictive corner, potentially closing the current chapter of the ‘ill-fated book’ that is the peace process [AFP]

It is astonishing that despite the huge gaps between the maximum that Israel is willing to concede and the minimum that the Palestine Authority could accept as the basis of a final settlement of the conflict, governmental leaders, especially in Washington, continue to pull every available string to restart inter-governmental negotiations.

Is it not enough of a signal that Israel lacks the capacity or will to agree to an extension of the partial settlement freeze for a mere additional 90 days, despite the outrageous inducements from the Obama Administration (20 F-35 fighter jets useful for an attack on Iran; an unprecedented advance promise to veto any initiative in the Security Council acknowledging a Palestinian state; and the assurance that Israel would never again be asked to accept a settlement moratorium) that were offered to suspend partially their unlawful settlement activity.

In effect, a habitual armed robber was being asked to stop robbing a few banks for three months in exchange for a huge financial payoff. Such an arrangement qualifies as a transparently shameless embrace of Israeli lawlessness on behalf of a peace process that has no prospect of producing peace, much less justice.

Justice here is conceived in relation to the satisfaction of Palestinian rights, especially the right of self–determination that has through the years been whittled down.

The continued division of Historic Palestine

The Palestinian acceptance of the 1967 borders (a decision ratified by the PLO in 1988) as the unilaterally reduced basis of the territorial claims associated with Palestinian self-determination, which is only 22 per cent of historic Palestine, and this is less than half of what the UN had proposed in its 1947 partition plan that was at that time quite reasonably rejected by the Palestinians and their Arab neighbours as a colonialist ploy in which the indigenous population was adversely affected and never consulted.

In retrospect, the Palestinian readiness to settle for the 1967 borders was an extraordinary concession in advance of negotiations that was never acknowledged by either Israel or the United States, casting real doubt on whether there was ever a credible commitment to end the conflict by diplomacy.

The shamelessness continues. Instead of castigating Israel for its refusal to show even a pretense of pragmatic flexibility that would make the Obama approach seem slightly less fatuous and regressively wimpy, the US government simply announced that it was abandoning its efforts to persuade Israel to extend the moratorium, and was now embarking on a resumption of the negotiations between the parties without any preconditions, that is, settlement expansion and ethnic cleansing could now continue uncontested.

EU: vocal on settlements and silent of statehood

This was too much even for the normally passive European Union. A few days ago a meeting of the EU Foreign Ministers in Brussels issued a statement insisting that all Israeli activity cease in what was called the “illegal settlements” and that the Gaza blockade be ended “immediately” by an opening of all the crossings to humanitarian and commercial goods, as well as to the entry and exit of persons.

The EU statement was impressively forthright for once: “Our view on settlements, including East Jerusalem, are clear: they are illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace.”

Regrettably, the EU statement was silent on the issue of recognition of Palestinian statehood, losing the opportunity to reinforce the symbolically important diplomatic step taken by Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay to accord Palestine recognition within its 1967 borders.

Nevertheless, the EU did distance itself from Washington, leaving the United States to the discomfort of its lonely solidarity with Israel. By refusing a diplomatic accommodation with Turkey in the aftermath of the flagrantly criminal attack last May on the Freedom Flotilla carrying humanitarian assistance to the beleaguered people of Gaza, Israel confirms this perception of its pariah status.

Underneath these dark clouds of deception and delusion, the peoples of occupied Palestine, as well as the several million refugees, endure their harsh daily existence while the world watches and waits, seemingly helpless.

The durable American envoy to the conflict, George Mitchell, continues to say that the objective of the talks is “an independent, viable state of side by side with Israel.” The incoherence of such an objective should be palpable. How can one honestly talk about such an envisioned Palestinian state as “viable” when the American leadership agrees with Israel that “subsequent developments” (the code phrase for settlements, land seizures, wall, ethnic cleansing, annexation of Jerusalem) need to be embodied in the outcome of negotiations?

And what sort of “independence” is being contemplated if the Palestinian borders are to be still controlled by Israeli security forces and a demilitarised Palestine is expected to live side by side with a highly militarised Israel? The American approach plays with lives as it plays with language, and yet most of the mainstream media swallows this latest bend in the river without raising even a sceptical eyebrow.

The value of retrospection

These considerations ignore some other problematic aspects of the current framework. The Netanyahu government demands PA acknowledgement of Israel as “a Jewish state,” thereby overlooking the human rights of the Palestinian minority in pre-1967 Israel, numbering about 1.5 million or about 20 per cent of the total population, to live as citizens under conditions of non-discrimination and dignity.

Sometimes history is useful. Even the notorious Balfour Declaration, a pure assertion of British colonial prerogative, promised the Zionist movement only “a homeland,” not a sovereign state. The workings of warfare and geopolitics and clever propaganda gradually shifted the parameters of understanding, allowing a homeland to be transformed into a sovereign state with disastrous chain of consequences for the indigenous population.

In this respect the most recent Hamas position of refusing recognition of Israel while agreeing to the establishment of a Palestinian state within 1967 borders is a reasonable effort to draw a line between affirming the illegitimate and being reconciled to political circumstances. To expect more is to drive the Palestinians into an unacceptable corner of humiliation, in effect, endorsing the nakba, and all that has followed by way of dispossession and abuse.

Of course, the issue of self-determination is not for non-Palestinians to determine. Those who call upon Washington, even now and despite its partisanship and ill-concealed alignments, to impose a solution are thus doubly misguided. Even Hilary Clinton acknowledged days ago the impossibility of adopting such an approach.

What seems clear at present is that both the PA and Hamas seem ready to accept a state of their own within 1967 borders, more or less along the lines set forth back in 1967 in the Security Resolution 242, which remains an iconic document that supposedly embodies a continuing international consensus. What it would mean with respect to implementation is certain to be highly contentious, especially in relation to those infamous “subsequent developments,” better understood as massive encroachments on Palestinian prospects for separate statehood.

The mindlessness of diplomacy

Many in the Palestinian diaspora doubt whether a two-state solution is attainable or desirable. Instead they are calling for a single secular, bi-national democratic state that is co-terminus with the historic Palestinian mandate, and alone has the inherent capacity to reconcile contemporary ideas of democracy, human rights, and a belated realisation of Palestinian rights, including the long deferred claims of Palestinian refugees.

Geopolitics is stubborn, and is not moving in hopeful directions. Now arms are being again twisted by American diplomacy in the region to resume talks between the parties on what are being called “core issues” (borders, security arrangements, Jerusalem, settlements, refugees, relations with neighbours).

While this mindless diplomatic spinning goes forth, other clocks are ticking madly: the settlements expanding at accelerating rates, new segments of the wall are being constructed, ethnic cleansing intensifies in East Jerusalem, the apartheid practices and structures in the West Bank are being steadily strengthened, the entrapped and imprisoned population of Gaza lives continuously on the brink of a survival crisis, the refugees in their camps endure their dreary and unacceptable confinement.

Netanyahu thunderously warns that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, that never will a single Palestinian refugee be allowed to return, that Israel is a Jewish state, and that whatever Tel Aviv calls “security” must be treated as non-negotiable. Given these predispositions, combined with the disparities in bargaining power between the parties, as well as the one-sided hegemonic role of the United States, who but a fool could think that a just peace could emerge from the such a deformed pattern of geopolitical diplomacy?

Is it not better at this time to rely on the growing Palestine Solidarity Movement, peace from below, and the related success being experienced in waging the Legitimacy War against Israel, what Israel itself nervously calls “the de-legitimacy project” that is viewed by its leaders and think tanks as a far greater threat to its illicit ambitions than armed resistance?

Richard Falk is Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and Visiting Distinguished Professor in Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has authored and edited numerous publications spanning a period of five decades, most recently editing the volume International Law and the Third World: Reshaping Justice (Routledge, 2008).

He is currently serving his third year of a six year term as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Al Jazeera

Groundwork laid for media narrative of failed peace talks: It’s the Palestinians’ fault

Oct 13, 2010 07:10 pm | Alex Kane

With direct “peace talks” between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government headed nowhere fast after the Netanyahu government let the so-called “settlement freeze” lapse, the groundwork for the media narrative on who to blame if the “peace talks” officially break off is being laid. Predictably, it will be, and already is, a narrative of Palestinian rejectionism versus Israeli generosity.

Matt Duss, a must-read blogger on Middle East issues over at Think Progress’ Wonk Room, picks up on this, pointing to the headlines written after the Palestinian Authority said “no” to Netanyahu’s “offer” of a partial extension of the “settlement freeze” in exchange for the Palestinians recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. The Palestinians recognizing Israel as such would effectively sign away the Palestinian right of return and relegate once and for all Palestinian citizens of Israel to institutionalized and official second-class status (which is the case already.)

Duss writes:

As opposed to a settlement freeze, the demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish State is an entirely new one. What Netanyahu is essentially saying to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, then, is that, in return for Abbas meeting this new demand, Netanyahu generously offers to partially, temporarily meet one of Israel’s already existing obligations.

Of course the Palestinian Authority has refused this “offer.” Is it really unclear why? Now let’s look at some of the headlines:

The Washington Post: “Israeli prime minister offers conditional settlements freeze”

Associated Press: “Israeli PM offers conditional settlements freeze”

Ha’aretz: “Netanyahu pleads to save talks as Palestinians threaten walkout”

Jerusalem Post: “PA quashes PM’s offer for renewed building freeze”

And thus, magically, the Palestinians have threatened the talks by rejecting yet another generous Israeli offer.

Here’s some more headlines on that theme:

Palestinians Reject Israel’s Offer on Settlement Freeze, Voice of America News

Palestinians Reject Israel Offer, Wall Street Journal

Palestinians reject Israeli offer on settlement freeze, BBC News

Palestinians reject Israeli demand, Reuters

You get the picture. Israel is now essentially saying: we will partially obey international law for 60 days (and then go back to violating it), as long as you sign away basic human rights–refugees and their descendants returning to homes they were expelled from and equality for all–forever. And media, both in the U.S., in Israel and around the world, are adopting Israel’s framing of the issue.

The media narrative of Israeli generosity and Palestinian rejectionism is an old one that was prominently displayed in the aftermath of the collapsed Camp David peace talks in 2000.

Seth Ackerman, writing for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting’s Extra! magazine in July/August 2002, documented the U.S. media’s telling of the Camp David story in an excellent article:

The seemingly endless volleys of attack and retaliation in the Middle East leave many people wondering why the two sides can’t reach an agreement. The answer is simple, according to numerous commentators: At the Camp David meeting in July 2000, Israel “offered extraordinary concessions” (Michael Kelly, Washington Post, 3/13/02), “far-reaching concessions” (Boston Globe, 12/30/01), “unprecedented concessions” (E.J. Dionne, Washington Post, 12/4/01). Israel’s “generous peace terms” (L.A. Times editorial, 3/15/02) constituted “the most far-reaching offer ever” (Chicago Tribune editorial, 6/6/01) to create a Palestinian state. In short, Camp David was “an unprecedented concession” to the Palestinians (Time, 12/25/00).

But due to “Arafat’s recalcitrance” (L.A. Times editorial, 4/9/02) and “Palestinian rejectionism” (Mortimer Zuckerman, U.S. News & World Report, 3/22/02), “Arafat walked away from generous Israeli peacemaking proposals without even making a counteroffer” (Salon, 3/8/01). Yes, Arafat “walked away without making a counteroffer” (Samuel G. Freedman, USA Today, 6/18/01). Israel “offered peace terms more generous than ever before and Arafat did not even make a counteroffer” (Chicago Sun-Times editorial, 11/10/00). In case the point isn’t clear: “At Camp David, Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians an astonishingly generous peace with dignity and statehood. Arafat not only turned it down, he refused to make a counteroffer!” (Charles Krauthammer, Seattle Times, 10/16/00).

This account is one of the most tenacious myths of the conflict. Its implications are obvious: There is nothing Israel can do to make peace with its Palestinian neighbors. The Israeli army’s increasingly deadly attacks, in this version, can be seen purely as self-defense against Palestinian aggression that is motivated by little more than blind hatred.

As the cliche goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

This piece originally appeared on Alex Kane’s blog.

Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi Declares An Alternative To Failing Negotiations

Editor Palestine Monitor


Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi

Palestine Monito, October 12, 2010

Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, Secretary General of the Palestinian National Initiative (PNI), MP and runner-up in the 2005 presidential election declared in a press conference in Ramallah yesterday that failed negotiations are threatening the last opportunity of peace based on a two-state solution. He argued that negotiations are meaningless and damaging while Israeli settlement building continues, and proposed an initiative to surpass the intractable impasse in the so called peace process.

The initiative includes:

Declaration of a Palestinian independent, democratic state on all territories occupied in 1967 including its capital of East Jerusalem, according to the borders of June 4 1967.

Demanding that all states, governments and international institutions recognise the Palestinian state and its borders immediately.

Lobbying the UN General Assembly to issue a recognition of the Palestinian state and a demand that Israel end the occupation of its land, borders, airspace, and water resources, removing all illegal settlements from Palestinian territories.

Demanding punitive action against Israel should it continue its occupation of the Palestinian state.

Dr. Barghouthi added that this initiative is an effort to seize the last opportunity of peace based on a two-state solution, and to achieve real and lasting peace in the wider region. The proposition could be the last chance to save the idea of an independent Palestinian state.

Were the world to recognise a Palestinian state with its borders, it would finally provide an equal footing for negotiations, Barghouthi argued, “rather than conditions of the present negotiations that are happening between totally inequitable parties. Where Israel is effectively allowed a dominant veto power on all issues, including the agenda and terms of reference, as well as total impunity to violate international law and so many UN Resolutions.”

In fact, he said, “The continuation of Israeli settlement activities, even during the false ‘partial’ freeze, is nothing but a well-designed process to kill the possibility of an independent Palestinian state. (Israel is) using negotiations as a cover for the de facto, unilateral imposition of an apartheid system that transforms the concept of a Palestinian state into nothing but clusters of ghettos and small Bantustans.”

Dr. Barghouthi also affirmed that the settlements constitute the front line of a matrix that includes checkpoints, the Apartheid Wall, security zones, classified territories (Area C), segregated roads and even the so-called nature reserves that already consume more than 60% of the West Bank and 80% of water resources. He likened settlements to a cancer that continues to grow, actually enhancing its growth during the endless ‘peace processes’, and that the cancer will ultimately kill the two state solution.

Dr. Barghouthi cited the ‘Jewish Loyalty Oath’ amendment to the Citizenship Act, and Netanyahu’s demand that Israel be recognised as a Jewish state in exchange for a partial, temporary and meaningless freeze of settlements as an official declaration of an apartheid system and abandonment of democracy in Israel.

He also said that the PNI initiative is a test to the claims made by many countries that they support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and the building of its institutions. He cited Kosovo’s declaration of independence and its recognition by the international community as a model to be replicated.

Dr. Barghouthi warned that, “If the international community rejects this option it will be the death of the two-state solution and Palestinians will be left to struggle against apartheid in one state.” He vowed that his movement, the PNI, will initiate an international campaign with other Palestinian parties to convince the governments and people of the world to recognise and support a sovereign Palestinian democratic state on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Learn more about the Palestinian National Initiative here…

America’s Faltering Search for Peace in the Middle East: Openings for Others?

Remarks to staff of the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

and, separately, to members of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs

Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.)

1 September 2010, Oslo, Norway

You have asked me to speak to current American policies in the Middle East, with an emphasis on the prospects for peace in the Holy Land. You have further suggested that I touch on the relationship of the Gulf Arabs, especially Saudi Arabia, to this. It is both an honor and a challenge to address this subject in this capital / at this ministry.

The declaration of principles worked out in Oslo seventeen years ago was the last direct negotiation between Israelis and Palestinian Arabs to reach consequential, positive results. The Oslo accords were a real step toward peace, not another deceptive pseudo-event in an endlessly unproductive, so-called “peace process.” And if that one step forward in Oslo in 1993 was followed by several steps backwards, there is a great deal to be learned from how and why that happened.

There can be no doubt about the importance of today’s topic. The ongoing conflict in the Holy Land increasingly disturbs the world’s conscience as well as its tranquility. The Israel-Palestine issue began as a struggle in the context of European colonialism. In the post-colonial era, tension between Israelis and the Palestinians they dispossessed became, by degrees, the principal source of radicalization and instability in the Arab East and then the Arab world as a whole. It stimulated escalating terrorism against Israelis at home and their allies abroad. Since the end of the Cold War, the interaction between Israel and its captive Palestinian population has emerged as the fountainhead of global strife. It is increasingly difficult to distinguish this strife from a war of religions or a conflict of civilizations.

For better or ill, my own country, the United States has played and continues to play the key international part in this contest. American policies, more than those of any other external actor, have the capacity to stoke or stifle the hatreds in the Middle East and to spread or reverse their infection of the wider world. American policies and actions in the Middle East thus affect much more than that region.

Yet, as I will argue, the United States has been obsessed with process rather than substance. It has failed to involve parties who are essential to peace. It has acted on Israel’s behalf to preempt rather than enlist international and regional support for peace. It has defined the issues in ways that preclude rather than promote progress. Its concept of a “peace process” has therefore become the handmaiden of Israeli expansionism rather than a driver for peace. There are alternatives to tomorrow’s diplomatic peace pageant on the Potomac. And, as Norway has shown, there is a role for powers other than America in crafting peace in the Holy Land.

Over thirty years ago, at Camp David, Jimmy Carter pushed Israel through the door to peace that Egypt’s Anwar Sadat had opened. Twenty years ago, the first Bush administration pressed Israel to the negotiating table with Palestinian leaders, setting the stage for their clandestine meetings in Oslo. The capacity of the United States to rally other governments behind a cause that it espouses may have atrophied, but American power remains far greater than that of any other nation. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Middle East.

For more than four decades, Israel has been able to rely on aid from the United States to dominate its region militarily and to sustain its economic prosperity. It has counted on its leverage in American politics to block the application of international law and to protect itself from the political repercussions of its policies and actions. Unquestioning American support has enabled Israel to put the seizure of ever more land ahead of the achievement of a modus vivendi with the Palestinians or other Arabs. Neither violent resistance from the dispossessed nor objections from abroad have brought successive Israeli governments to question, let alone alter the priority they assign to land over peace.

Ironically, Palestinians too have developed a dependency relationship with America. This has locked them into a political framework over which Israel exercises decisive influence. They have been powerless to end occupation, pogroms, ethnic cleansing, and other humiliations by Jewish soldiers and settlers. Nor have they been able to prevent their progressive confinement in checkpoint-encircled ghettos on the West Bank and the great open-air prison of Gaza.

Despite this appalling record of failure, the American monopoly on the management of the search for peace in Palestine remains unchallenged. Since the end of the Cold War, Russia – once a contender for countervailing influence in the region – has lapsed into impotence. The former colonial powers of the European Union, having earlier laid the basis for conflict in the region, have largely sat on their hands while ringing them, content to let America take the lead. China, India, and other Asian powers have prudently kept their political and military distance. In the region itself, Iran has postured and exploited the Palestinian cause without doing anything to advance it. Until recently, Turkey remained aloof.

On rare occasions, as in the case of the 1973 Arab oil embargo, the Arabs have backed their verbal opposition to Israel with action. Egypt and Jordan have settled into an unpopular coexistence with Israel that is now sustained only by U.S. subventions. Saudi Arabia has twice taken the initiative to offer Israel diplomatic concessions if it were to conclude arrangements for peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians. But, overall, Arab governments have earned the contempt of the Palestinians and their own people for their lack of serious engagement. For the most part, Arab leaders have timorously demanded that America solve the Israel-Palestine problem for them, while obsequiously courting American protection against Israel, each other, Iran, and – in some cases – their own increasingly frustrated and angry subjects and citizens.

Islam charges rulers with the duty to defend the faithful and to uphold justice. It demands that they embody righteousness. The resentment of mostly Muslim Arabs at their governing elites’ failure to meet these standards generates sympathy for terrorism directed not just at Israel but at both the United States and Arab governments associated with it.

The perpetrators of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the United States saw it in part as reprisal for American complicity in Israeli cruelties to Palestinians and other Arabs. They justified it as a strike against Washington’s protection of Arab governments willing to overlook American contributions to Muslim suffering. Washington’s response to the attack included suspending its efforts to make peace in the Holy Land as well as invading and occupying Afghanistan and Iraq. All three actions inadvertently strengthened the terrorist case for further attacks on America and its allies. The armed struggle between Americans and Muslim radicals has already spilled over to Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and other countries. Authoritative voices in Israel now call for adding Iran to the list of countries at war with America. They are echoed by Zionist and neo-conservative spokesmen in the United States,

The widening involvement of Americans in combat in Muslim lands has inflamed anti-American passions and catalyzed a metastasis of terrorism. It has caused a growing majority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims to see the United States as a menace to their faith, their way of life, their homelands, and their personal security. American populists and European xenophobes have meanwhile undercut liberal and centrist Muslim arguments against the intolerance that empowers terrorism by equating terrorism and its extremist advocates with Islam and its followers. The current outburst of bigoted demagoguery over the construction of an Islamic cultural center and mosque in New York is merely the most recent illustration of this. It suggests that the blatant racism and Islamophobia of contemporary Israeli politics is contagious. It rules out the global alliances against religious extremists that are essential to encompass their political defeat.

President Obama’s inability to break this pattern must be an enormous personal disappointment to him. He came into office committed to crafting a new relationship with the Arab and Muslim worlds. His first interview with the international media was with Arab satellite television. He reached out publicly and privately to Iran. He addressed the Turkish parliament with persuasive empathy. He traveled to a great center of Islamic learning in Cairo to deliver a remarkably eloquent message of conciliation to Muslims everywhere. He made it clear that he understood the centrality of injustices in the Holy Land to Muslim estrangement from the West. He promised a responsible withdrawal from Iraq and a judicious recrafting of strategy in Afghanistan. Few doubt Mr. Obama’s sincerity. Yet none of his initiatives has led to policy change anyone can detect, let alone believe in

It is not for me to analyze or explain the wide gaps between rhetoric and achievement in the Obama Administration’s stewardship of so many aspects of my country’s affairs. American voters will render their first formal verdict on this two months from tomorrow, on the 2nd of November. The situation in the Holy Land, Iraq, Afghanistan, and adjacent areas is only part of what they will consider as they do so. But I do think it worthwhile briefly to examine some of the changes in the situation that ensure that many policies that once helped us to get by in the Middle East will no longer do this.

Let me begin with the “peace process,” a hardy perennial of America’s diplomatic repertoire that the Obama Administration will put back on public display tomorrow. In the Cold War, the appearance of an earnest and “even-handed” American search for peace in the Holy Land was the price of U.S. access and influence in the Middle East. It provided political cover for conservative Arab governments to set aside their anger at American backing of Israel so as to stand with America and the Western bloc against Soviet Communism. It kept American relations with Israel and the Arabs from becoming a zero-sum game. It mobilized domestic Jewish support for incumbent presidents. Of course, there hasn’t been an American-led “peace process” in the Middle East for at least a decade. Still the conceit of a “peace process” became an essential political convenience for all concerned. No one could bear to admit that the “peace process” had expired. It therefore lived on in phantom form.

Even when there was no “peace process,” the possibility of resurrecting one provided hope to the gullible, cover to the guileful, beguilement for the press, an excuse for doing nothing to those gaining from the status quo, and – last but far from least – lifetime employment for career “peace processors.” The perpetual processing of peace without the requirement to produce it has been especially appreciated by Israeli leaders. It has enabled them to behave like magicians, riveting foreign attention on meaningless distractions as they systematically removed Palestinians from their homes, settled half a million or more Jews in newly vacated areas of the occupied territories, and annexed a widening swath of land to a Jerusalem they insist belongs only to Israel.

Palestinian leaders with legitimacy problems have also had reason to collaborate in the search for a “peace process.” It’s not just that there has been no obviously better way to end their people’s suffering. Playing “peace process” charades justifies the international patronage and Israeli backing these leaders need to retain their status in the occupied territories. It ensures that they have media access and high-level visiting rights in Washington. Meanwhile, for American leaders, engagement in some sort of Middle East “peace process” has been essential to credibility in the Arab and Islamic worlds, as well as with the ever-generous American Jewish community. Polls show that most American Jews are impatient for peace. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, they are eager to believe in the willingness of the government of Israel to trade land for it.

Previous “peace processes” have exploited all these impulses. In practice, however, these diplomatic distractions have served to obscure Israeli actions and evasions that were more often prejudicial to peace than helpful in achieving it. Behind all the blather, the rumble of bulldozers has never stopped. Given this history, it has taken a year and a half of relentless effort by U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell to persuade the parties even to meet directly to talk about talks as they first did here in Oslo, seventeen years ago. When the curtain goes up on the diplomatic show in Washington tomorrow, will the players put on a different skit? There are many reasons to doubt that they will.

One is that the Obama administration has engaged the same aging impresarios who staged all the previously failed “peace processes” to produce and direct this one with no agreed script. The last time these guys staged such an ill-prepared meeting, at Camp David in 2000, it cost both heads of delegation, Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat, their political authority. It led not to peace but to escalating violence. The parties are showing up this time to minimize President Obama’s political embarrassment in advance of midterm elections in the United States, not to address his agenda – still less to address each other’s agendas. These are indeed difficulties. But the problems with this latest – and possibly final – iteration of the perpetually ineffectual “peace process” are more fundamental.

The Likud Party charter flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan River and stipulates that: “The Palestinians can run their lives freely in the framework of self-rule, but not as an independent and sovereign state.” This Israeli government is committed to that charter as well as to the Jewish holy war for land in Palestine. It has no interest in trading land it covets for a peace that might thwart further territorial expansion. It considers itself unbound by the applicable UN resolutions, agreements from past peace talks, the “Roadmap,” or the premise of the “two-state solution.”

The Palestinians are desperate for the dignity and security that only the end of the Israeli occupation can provide. But the authority of Palestinian negotiators to negotiate rests on their recognition by Israel and the United States, not on their standing in the occupied territories, Gaza, or the Palestinian diaspora. Fatah is the ruling faction in part of Palestine. Its authority to govern was repudiated by voters in the last Palestinian elections. The Mahmoud Abbas administration retains power by grace of the Israeli occupation authorities and the United States, which prefer it to the government empowered by the Palestinian people at the polls. Mr. Abbas’s constitutional term of office has long since expired. He presides over a parliament whose most influential members are locked up in Israeli jails. It is not clear for whom he, his faction, or his administration can now speak.

So the talks that begin tomorrow promise to be a case of the disinterested going through the motions of negotiating with the mandate-less. The parties to these talks seek to mollify an America that has severely lessened international credibility. The United States government had to borrow the modest reputations for objectivity of others – the EU, Russia, and the UN – to be able to convene this discussion. It will be held under the auspices of an American president who was publicly humiliated by Israel’s prime minister on the issue that is at the center of the Israel-Palestine dispute – Israel’s continuing seizure and colonization of Arab land.

Vague promises of a Palestinian state within a year now waft through the air. But the “peace process” has always sneered at deadlines, even much, much firmer ones. A more definitive promise of an independent Palestine within a year was made at Annapolis three years ago. Analogous promises of Palestinian self-determination have preceded or resulted from previous meetings over the decades, beginning with the Camp David accords of 1979. Many in this audience will recall the five-year deadline fixed at Oslo. The talks about talks that begin tomorrow can yield concrete results only if the international community is prepared this time to insist on the one-year deadline put forward for recognizing a Palestinian state. Even then there will be no peace unless long-neglected issues are addressed.

Peace is a pattern of stability acceptable to those with the capacity to disturb it by violence. It is almost impossible to impose. It cannot become a reality, still less be sustained, if those who must accept it are excluded from it. This reality directs our attention to who is not at this gathering in Washington and what must be done to remedy the problems these absences create.

Obviously, the party that won the democratically expressed mandate of the Palestinian people to represent them – Hamas – is not there. Yet there can be no peace without its buy-in. Egypt and Jordan have been invited as observers. Yet they have nothing to add to the separate peace agreements each long ago made with Israel. (Both these agreements were explicitly premised on grudging Israeli undertakings to accept Palestinian self-determination. The Jewish state quickly finessed both.) Activists from the Jewish diaspora disproportionately staff the American delegation. A failure to reconcile either American Jews or the Palestine diaspora to peace would doom any accord. But the Palestinian diaspora will be represented in Washington only in tenuous theory, not in fact.

Other Arabs, including the Arab League and the author of its peace initiative, Saudi Arabia, will not be at the talks tomorrow. The reasons for this are both simple and complex. At one level they reflect both a conviction that this latest installment of the “peace process” is just another in a long series of public entertainments for the American electorate and also a lack of confidence in the authenticity of the Palestinian delegation. At another level, they result from the way the United States has defined the problems to be solved and the indifference to Arab interests and views this definition evidences. Then too, they reflect disconnects in political culture and negotiating style between Israelis, Arabs, and Americans.

To begin with, neither Israel nor the conveners of this proposed new “peace process” have officially acknowledged or responded to the Arab peace initiative of 2002. This offered normalization of relations with the Jewish state, should Israel make peace with the Palestinians. Instead, the United States and the Quartet have seemed to pocket the Arab offer, ignore its precondition that Israelis come to terms with Palestinians, and gone on to levy new demands.

In this connection, making Arab recognition of Israel’s “right to exist” the central purpose of the “peace process” offends Arabs on many levels. In framing the issue this way, Israel and the United States appear to be asking for something well beyond pragmatic accommodation of the reality of a Jewish state in the Middle East. To the Arabs, Americans now seem to be insisting on Arab endorsement of the idea of the state of Israel, the means by which that state was established, and the manner in which it has comported itself. Must Arabs really embrace Zionism before Israel can cease expansion and accept peace?

Arabs and Muslims familiar with European history can accept that European anti-Semitism justified the establishment of a homeland for traumatized European Jews. But asking them even implicitly to agree that the forcible eviction of Palestinian Arabs was a morally appropriate means to this end is both a nonstarter and seriously off-putting. So is asking them to affirm that resistance to such displacement was and is sinful. Similarly, the Arabs see the demand that they recognize a Jewish state with no fixed borders as a clever attempt to extract their endorsement of Israel’s unilateral expansion at Palestinian expense.

The lack of appeal in this approach has been compounded by a longstanding American habit of treating Arab concerns about Israel as a form of anti-Semitism and tuning them out. Instead of hearing out and addressing Arab views, U.S. peace processors have repeatedly focused on soliciting Arab acts of kindness toward Israel. They argue that gestures of acceptance can help Israelis overcome their Holocaust-inspired political neuroses and take risks for peace.

Each time this notion of Arab diplomacy as psychotherapy for Israelis has been trotted out, it has been met with incredulity. To most in the region, it encapsulates the contrast between Washington’s sympathy and solicitude for Israelis and its condescendingly exploitative view of Arabs. Some see it as a barely disguised appeal for a policy of appeasement of Israel. Still others suspect an attempt to construct a “peace process” in which Arabs begin to supply Israel with gifts of carrots so that Americans can continue to avoid applying sticks to it.

The effort to encourage Arab generosity as an offset to American political pusillanimity vis-à-vis Israel is ludicrously unpersuasive. It has failed so many times that it should be obvious that it will not work. Yet it was a central element of George Mitchell’s mandate for “peace process” diplomacy. And it appears to have resurfaced as part of the proposed follow-up to tomorrow’s meeting between the parties in Washington. It should be no puzzle why the Saudis and other Arabs could not be persuaded to join this gathering.

As a last thought before turning to what must be done, let me make a quick comment on a relevant cultural factor. Arabic has two quite different words that are both translated as “negotiation,” making a distinction that doesn’t exist in either English or Hebrew. One word, “musaawama,” refers to the no-holds-barred bargaining process that takes place in bazaars between strangers who may never see each other again and who therefore feel no obligation not to scam each other. Another, “mufaawadhat,” describes the dignified formal discussions about matters of honor and high principle that take place on a basis of mutual respect and equality between statesmen who seek a continuing relationship.

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s travel to Jerusalem was a grand act of statesmanship to initiate a process of mufaawadhat – relationship-building between leaders and their polities. So was the Arab peace initiative of 2002. It called for a response in kind. The West muttered approvingly but did not act. After a while, Israel responded with intermittent, somewhat oblique suggestions of willingness to haggle over terms. But an offer to bicker over the terms on which a grand gesture has been granted is, not surprisingly, seen as insultingly unresponsive.

I cite this not to suggest that non-Arabs should adopt Arabic canons of thought, but to make a point about diplomatic effectiveness. To move a negotiating partner in a desired direction, one must understand how that partner understands things and help him to see a way forward that will bring him to an end he has been persuaded to want. One of the reasons we can’t seem to move things as we desire in the Middle East is that we don’t make much effort to understand how others reason and how they rank their interests. In the case of the Israel-Palestine conundrum, we Americans are long on empathy and expertise about Israel and very, very short on these for the various Arab parties. The essential militarism of U.S. policies in the Middle East adds to our difficulties. We have become skilled at killing Arabs. We have forgotten how to listen to them or persuade them.

I am not myself an “Arabist,” but I am old enough to remember when there were more than a few such people in the American diplomatic service. These were officers who had devoted themselves to the cultivation of understanding and empathy with Arab leaders so as to be able to convince these leaders that it was in their own interest to do things we saw as in our interest. If we still have such people, we are hiding them well; we are certainly not applying their skills in our Middle East diplomacy.

This brings me to a few thoughts about the Western and Arab interests at stake in the Holy Land and their implications for what must be done.

In foreign affairs, interests are the measure of all things. My assumption is that Americans and Norwegians, indeed Europeans in general, share common interests that require peace in the Holy Land. To my mind, these interests include – but are, of course, not limited to – gaining security and acceptance for a democratic state of Israel; eliminating the gross injustices and daily humiliations that foster Arab terrorism against Israel and its foreign allies and supporters, as well as friendly Arab regimes; and reversing the global spread of religious strife and prejudice, including, very likely, a revival of anti-Semitism in the West if current trends are not arrested. None of these aspirations can be fulfilled without an end to the Israeli occupation and freedom for Palestinians.

Arab states, like Saudi Arabia, also have compelling reasons to want relief from occupation as well as self-determination for Palestinians. They may not be concerned to preserve Israel’s democracy, as we are, but they share an urgent interest in ending the radicalization of their own populations, curbing the spread of Islamist terrorism, and eliminating the tensions with the West that the conflict in the Holy Land fuels. These are the concerns that have driven them to propose peace, as they very clearly did eight years ago. For related reasons, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has made inter-faith dialogue and the promotion of religious tolerance a main focus of his domestic and international policy.

As the custodian of two of Islam’s three sacred places of pilgrimage – Mecca and Medina – Saudi Arabia has long transcended its own notorious religious narrow-mindedness to hold the holy places in its charge open to Muslims of all sects and persuasions. This experience, joined with Islamic piety, reinforces a Saudi insistence on the exemption of religious pilgrimage to Jerusalem from political interference or manipulation. The Ottoman Turks were careful to ensure freedom of access for worship to adherents of the three Abrahamic faiths when they administered the city. It is an interest that Jews, Christians, and Muslims share.

There is, in short, far greater congruity between Western and Arab interests affecting the Israel-Palestine dispute than is generally recognized. This can be the basis for creative diplomacy. The fact that this has not occurred reflects pathologies of political life in the United States that paralyze the American diplomatic imagination. Tomorrow’s meeting may well demonstrate that, the election of Barack Obama notwithstanding, the United States is still unfit to manage the achievement of peace between Israel and the Arabs. If so, it is in the American interest as well as everyone else’s that others become the path-breakers, enlisting the United States as best they can in support of what they achieve, but not expecting America to overcome its incapacity to lead.

Here, I think, there is a lesson to be drawn from the Norwegian experience in the 1990s. The Clinton Administration was happy to organize the public relations for the Oslo accords but did not take ownership of them. It did little to protect them from subversion and overthrow, and nothing to insist on their implementation. Only a peace process that is protected from Israel’s ability to manipulate American politics can succeed.

This brings me to how Europeans and Arabs might work together to realize the objectives both share with most Americans: establishing internationally recognized borders for Israel, securing freedom for the Palestinians, and ending the stimulus to terrorism in the region and beyond it that strife in the Holy Land entails. I have only four suggestions to present today. I expect that more ideas will emerge from the discussion period. A serious effort to cooperate with the Arabs of the sort that Norway is uniquely capable of contriving could lead to the development of still more options for joint or parallel action on behalf of peace.

Now to my suggestions, presented in ascending order of difficulty, from the least to the most controversial.

First, get behind the Arab peace initiative. Saudi Arab culture frowns on self-promotion and the Kingdom is less gifted than most at public diplomacy. Political factors inhibit official Arab access to the Israeli press. The Israeli media have published some – mostly dismissive – commentary on the Arab peace initiative but left most Israelis ignorant of its contents and unfamiliar with its text. Why not buy space in the Israeli media to give Israelis a chance to read the Arab League declaration and consider the opportunities it presents? I suspect the Saudis, as well as other members of the Arab League, would consider it constructive for an outside party to do this. It might facilitate other sorts of cooperation with them in which European capabilities can also compensate for Arab reticence. The Turks and other non-Arab Muslims should be brought in as full participants in any such efforts. This wouldn’t be bad for Europe’s relations with both. By the way, given the U.S. media’s notorious one-sidedness and American ignorance about the Arab peace plan, a well-targeted advertising campaign in the United States might not be a bad idea either.

Second, help create a Palestinian partner for peace. There can be no peace with Israel unless there are officials who are empowered by the Palestinian people to negotiate and ratify it. Israel has worked hard to divide the Palestinians so as to consolidate its conquest of their homeland. Saudi Arabia has several times sought to create a Palestinian peace partner for Israel by bringing Fatah, Hamas, and other factions together. On each occasion, Israel, with U.S. support, has acted to preclude this. Active organization of non-American Western support for diplomacy aimed at restoring a unity government to the Palestinian Authority could make a big difference. The Obama Administration would be under strong domestic political pressure to join Israel in blocking a joint European-Arab effort to accomplish this. Under some circumstances, however, it might welcome being put to this test.

Third, reaffirm and enforce international law. The UN Security Council is charged with enforcing the rule of law internationally. In the case of the Middle East, however, the Council’s position at the apex of the international system has served to erode and subvert the ideal of a rule-bound international order. Almost forty American vetoes have prevented the application to the Israeli occupying authorities of the Geneva Conventions, the Nuremberg precedents, human rights conventions, and relevant Security Council directives. American diplomacy on behalf of the Jewish state has silenced the collective voice of the international community as Israel has illegally colonized and annexed broad swaths of occupied territory, administered collective punishment to a captive people, assassinated their political leaders, massacred civilians, barred UN investigators, defied mandatory Security Council resolutions, and otherwise engaged in scofflaw behavior, usually with only the flimsiest of legally irrelevant excuses.

If ethnic cleansing, settlement activity, and the like are not just “unhelpful” but illegal, the international community should find a way to say so, even if the UN Security Council cannot. Otherwise, the most valuable legacy of Atlantic civilization – its vision of the rule of law – will be lost. When one side to a dispute is routinely exempted from principles, all exempt themselves, and the law of the jungle prevails. The international community needs collectively to affirm that Israel, both as occupier and as regional military hegemon, is legally accountable internationally for its actions. If the UN General Assembly cannot “unite for peace” to do what an incapacitated Security Council cannot, member states should not shrink from working in conference outside the UN framework. All sides in the murder and mayhem in the Holy Land and beyond need to understand that they are not above the law. If this message is firmly delivered and enforced, there will be a better chance for peace.

Fourth, set a deadline linked to an ultimatum. Accept that the United States will frustrate any attempt by the UN Security Council to address the continuing impasse between Israel and the Palestinians. Organize a global conference outside the UN system to coordinate a decision to inform the parties to the dispute that if they cannot reach agreement in a year, one of two solutions will be imposed. Schedule a follow-up conference for a year later. The second conference would consider whether to recommend universal recognition of a Palestinian state in the area beyond Israel’s 1967 borders or recognition of Israel’s achievement of de jure as well as de facto sovereignty throughout Palestine (requiring Israel to grant all governed by it citizenship and equal rights at pain of international sanctions, boycott, and disinvestment). Either formula would force the parties to make a serious effort to strike a deal or to face the consequences of their recalcitrance. Either formula could be implemented directly by the states members of the international community. Admittedly, any serious deadline would provoke a political crisis in Israel and lead to diplomatic confrontation with the United States as well as Israel, despite the Obama Administration itself having proclaimed a one-year deadline in order to entice the Palestinians to tomorrow’s talks. Yet both Israel and the United States would benefit immensely from peace with the Palestinians.

Time is running out. The two-state solution may already have been overtaken by Israeli land grabs and settlement activity. Another cycle of violence is likely in the offing. If so, it will not be local or regional, but global in its reach. Israel’s actions are delegitimizing and isolating it even as they multiply the numbers of those in the region and beyond who are determined to destroy it. Palestinian suffering is a reproach to all humanity that posturing alone cannot begin to alleviate. It has become a cancer on the Islamic body politic. It is infecting every extremity of the globe with the rage against injustice that incites terrorism.

It is time to try new approaches. That is why the question of whether there is a basis for expanded diplomatic cooperation between Europeans and Arabs is such a timely one. And it is why I was pleased as well as honored to have been asked to set the stage for a discussion of this issue.


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