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Shamir 1991; Netanyahu 2013; history repeats itself

January 24, 2014 at 6:41 am

Unlike the Palestinians, Netanyahu’s government does not depend on negotiations. The importance of the negotiations goes beyond tables and press conferences. It is more important for Israel to be praised in the process and to negotiate for negotiation’s sake, nothing more, nothing less. This issue does not concern Netanyahu or any members of the right wing coalition and far-right politicians who govern Israel. The issue, quite simply, is that these politicians know that Israel’s “best interest” lies in prolonging negotiations and promoting the illusion that a peace process exists and that progress is made every time negotiations are held. Beneath this illusion and behind the curtain of lies, Israel is hard at work with its construction project. Behind the propaganda, Israel is continuing its colonisation, Judaisation and annexation by imposing a fait accompli on the Palestinian land it has occupied since 1967.

Netanyahu, like his predecessors, fears nothing more than a clash with Washington. He does not want to appear hindered by the tasks that America sets forth. He does not want to place himself in a confrontation with Barack Obama and John Kerry and for that reason we see him go to the negotiating table and pretend to make more “painful concessions”. After all, was he not the one to tell his cabinet, “We agreed to release 104 terrorists so we would not be forced to stop settlement expansion”?

History repeats itself. Think back twenty-two years when James Baker travelled to and fro within the region. The then US Secretary of State embarked on a whirlwind eleven trips. He dealt all of his strongest cards and put pressure on Israel by guaranteeing American loans amounting to ten billion dollars. Who was Yitzhak Shamir, Netanyahu’s predecessor and mentor, to stand in the way of Baker’s ambitions and risk upsetting the master in the White House? Shamir yielded to the pressure and he went to Madrid vowing to drag the Palestinians and Arabs along in ten years of barren negotiations. The ten years have gone by only to be followed by ten more years and countless others. We still find ourselves caught in a series of pointless negotiations.

Today, after six trips to the region, John Kerry has dealt all of his cards including the latest European resolution to exclude Israeli settlements from any future agreements between Israel and the European Union. The only thing left for Netanyahu to do is add fuel to the fire by imposing unwavering pre-conditions for himself and his government. The first was the rejection of the 1967 borders and the second was a refusal to stop any and all settlement expansion. Anything and everything else was open for negotiation.

In 1991, the United States was destined to become the world’s only hegemonic power and as a result of this needed to partake in a new initiative of great importance. Washington took it upon itself to relieve the tensions of the Arab World in order for the Arab states to play a crucial and “legitimate” role (in the eyes of the media at least) in the liberation of Kuwait and subsequent occupation of Iraq. After the war, the Madrid Conference succeeded in reviving hope in the peace process and combatting aggression until America and Israel went back to their strategic alliance.

In 2013, the United States seems to be operating in a different mode, though its interests and tactics have not really changed. It seems as though our world, with only one hegemonic power, is destined to enter a new era where there are multiple zones of influence. Washington is retreating strategically from the region. In fact, the region in its decaying state is currently at the lowest point on the scale of America’s priorities. Yet, when it comes to the Middle East, where there are currently issues that are more important than the Palestinian struggle and its conflict with its enemy, Washington’s stance is rather surprising. Almost all of Senator Kerry’s attention is currently focused on setting a steady rhythm to the Arab-Israeli conflict before branching out and dealing with the more volatile cases in the region, among them Iran, Syria and now Egypt and Tunisia.

Netanyahu knows the truth about all of this and it is for this reason that he is playing along with Kerry’s wishes. He undoubtedly knows that the peace process is not a necessary gateway to solving the region’s problems and that it is not among the top priorities on Washington’s agenda. He knows that this is a “final attempt” at peace with extremely modest parameters. He will play along as long as the costs are limited and the results are subject to control. He will play along as long as Israeli supremacy prevails and the negotiations remain behind closed doors, and as long as none of the results threaten settlement expansion and the occupation.

A lot can be said about Kerry and his efforts and even more can be said about the “consensus” among the negotiators. There is no doubt that the Arabs are praying for Kerry to succeed in his mission. Due to their limited options, they do not believe that prayer alone will suffice in saving the peace process from its imminent doom. However, Kerry’s mission is like a book we can judge by its cover. This mission concerns itself with Tel Aviv, not Washington. It will deal with Jerusalem, West Bank settlements, the Jordan Valley, western hills and various security arrangements… and here is where the mission will fail, just like Oslo and Madrid failed. So do not be so optimistic and do not celebrate prematurely for an agreement that has yet to be made.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.