How many nails does the peace process coffin need?

Once again, Palestinian and Israeli officials have come together around the negotiating table to resuscitate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In examining the history of negotiations over the past 17 years, one cannot help but think of the peace that is supposed to result from this process as a stillborn child. With each failed attempt to bring the child back to life, a new nail is hammered into the coffin.

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process was launched on the premise of partitioning the Mandate territory of Palestine, all under effective Israeli control since the 1967 War, to allow for the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip through a negotiated settlement. From the outset, Israel was by far the more powerful side and, with impunity continually bestowed by the United States, could choose which of its negotiated commitments to implement. The Palestinian Authority (PA), on the other hand, was rendered into no more than a glorified municipal authority with one card to play in the negotiations game: the ability to sign away Palestinians’ legal, moral and historic claims.

Since 1993, the peace process has provided a smokescreen for Israel to continue the colonization of historic Palestine through a policy that can be summarized as maximum land under exclusive Jewish control, and minimum Palestinians on the land. A pillar of Israel’s project has been the separation of Palestinians into distinct groups: those of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jerusalem, citizens of Israel, and refugees. Each of these groups has fared differently under Israeli policies, and any evaluation of the potential of the negotiations must look at how each of them stands to be affected. As it turns out, the framework for the current peace process, like its predecessor, will ignore the rights and grievances of most of these groups, leaving unaddressed some core issues in this conflict.

Palestinian citizens of Israel, especially those in the urban ghettoes or “mixed cities” (Jaffa, Lydd, Ramla and Akka) and the unrecognized villages (concentrated in the north and south of the country) have faced eviction, home demolition and land confiscation on an almost weekly basis. Just as the announcement was made that direct negotiations were to recommence, Israeli forces demolished Al-Araqib, a Palestinian village in the Negev, for the fourth time in the span of 20 days, forcibly displacing 300 Palestinians who began their Ramadan atop their cemetery as they worked to rebuild their demolished homes. These Palestinians will not be discussed in Washington in the coming days, as they are considered an internal Israeli matter, and have been throughout the negotiations process.

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip still struggle to survive in what has become the world’s largest prison and one of the most densely populated areas in the world (360 square kilometers for 1.5 million people, two-thirds of them refugees of the 1948 War). These Palestinians will not be discussed in any meaningful way, as Hamas is not party to the meetings and expensive luncheons currently underway in the US capital.

Palestinian refugees are, according to Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, the world largest and longest standing refugee population. They continue to be denied their internationally recognized right to return to their places of origin, as well as their rights to restitution and compensation. As a mostly stateless refugee population, these Palestinians have been the most vulnerable to waves of secondary displacement, as evidenced in Jordan (1970), Lebanon (1982 and 2007), Kuwait (1990-1991), Libya (1994-1995), and US-occupied Iraq (2003-present). Israeli officials have consistently reassured Jewish-Israeli society that they will not permit the return of refugees, and have passed legislation to this effect. As such, even if refugees are discussed in the coming days, it will be to test the price at which Palestinian negotiators will be willing to publicly disavow the rights of over six million Palestinians.

Palestinians in Jerusalem–who have a distinct status under Israeli law as non-citizens benefiting from increased mobility and certain social services–have also faced ongoing home demolition, eviction and revocation of residency rights. The Israeli municipality of Jerusalem has publicly stated that no more than 27 percent of the city’s population should be “non-Jewish” (the favored Israeli phraseology for “Palestinian”), and Jewish settler groups have actively sought the support of the Israeli court system and police to evict Palestinian families and replace them with Jews. Israeli officials insist Jerusalem is the undivided and eternal capital of Israel and is not up for negotiation. Even if Palestinian negotiators attempt to make demands on behalf of Palestinian Jerusalemites, they will undoubtedly be met with deaf ears.

The fate of the vast majority of Palestinians will not be up for discussion in the upcoming peace process. The talks only affect those living under the jurisdiction of the Fatah-dominated PA in the West Bank–a group who, since 1993, has seen half of its land seized for the benefit of Israel’s Jewish-only settlements, military bases, closed military areas, Israeli-only roads, and separation wall that criss-crosses through Palestinian territory. And with Palestinian negotiators threatening an early exit from the negotiations should Israel fail to commit to a settlement freeze, Palestinians in the West Bank may also have little to hope for. 

Much like the Oslo talks, the scope of issues that are up for negotiation this time around is very narrowly defined. Considering that Palestinian rights under international law are not integral to the process, that the United States has made its allegiance to Israel clear time and again, that Israeli officials have benefited in the past from prolonging the peace process as they continue their colonization activities, and that Palestinian negotiators are at their weakest having lost control of the Gaza Strip and their popularity and legitimacy in the West Bank, why should anyone think this round of negotiations will be any different from past ones? How many nails need to be hammered into this coffin before Arab states accept that another strategy is needed if we are serious about implementing Palestinian rights and holding Israel accountable for its crimes?

Hazem Jamjoum is a Palestinian writer and member of the Global Palestine Right of Return Coalition. He is the editor of al-Majdal Quarterly Magazine.

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