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Why John Kerry is wasting everyone's time

January 24, 2014 at 10:09 am

It’s back ladies and gentlemen. The latest instalment in the Israel-Palestine peace-process-charade is upon us once again. US Secretary of State John Kerry was back in the Middle East last month trying to re-start talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis for the fourth time since being sworn-in in early 2013. While most of the world is yawning in boredom at this latest attempt to bring both parties to the negotiation table, Kerry and the Obama administration are insisting stubbornly that talks resume as soon as possible. What they fail to realise, however, is that we are further away from a peace deal than we have ever been, and if peace is to happen, it will not come from the Americans. Here is why.

The two-state solution is dead. Let’s face it, what might have seemed a good idea in the early nineties is no longer an option. The blunt reality is that as long as the Israeli government is building illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, peace is impossible.

Just two weeks ago, the government coalition in Israel led by Benjamin Netanyahu snubbed the Americans – again – when it announced that it was taking steps to approve four new illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank, just days before Kerry met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Unsurprisingly, right after Kerry left the region and Israeli President Shimon Peres spoke passionately about a “window of opportunity” for peace at the World Economic Forum in Jordan, Israel’s Housing Minister gave the green light for the illegal construction of settlements in occupied East Jerusalem.

During his speech, Peres said that he knows from experience “how difficult these decisions are to make, on both sides”. Of course, Mr. Peres. Both parties do need to compromise. But the onus falls on the Israelis to make the biggest share of concessions because they are the occupying power, and they are consistently, and illegally, annexing Palestinian land.

Netanyahu and fellow critics of President Mahmoud Abbas call him foolish for insisting that settlement construction and expansion stop before the Palestinians return to the negotiation table. The truth of the matter is that he doesn’t have much of a choice. How can you negotiate for something that is slowly being taken away from you as you are talking about it? It is as if two people are discussing how to divide a chocolate cake while one of them is eating it as they are negotiating how to divide it. By the time they have finished talking, there won’t be much cake left to share.

If Kerry wants to negotiate peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians he must acknowledge this reality, however awkward and uncomfortable it is. Wishing the settlement issue to go away is not a solution. The Americans must insist that Israel puts a freeze on the construction of illegal settlements. Anything less than that just won’t do.

The Palestinian leadership is also coming around to the idea that the two-state solution is no longer feasible. On May 15, about 30 of the most prominent Fatah officials signed a statement endorsing the one-state solution and launching a “Popular Movement for One Democratic State in Historic Palestine”.

Israelis are, understandably, not all that keen on the One-State idea; such a solution will kill their Zionist dream of a Jewish state, but they are principally at fault for the fact that this is the only viable solution left on the table.

Illegal settlement construction has increased significantly and systematically since the signing of the Oslo accords 20 years ago this September, and Israel has continued to introduce discriminatory laws that help to enforce their occupation of Palestinian territory. On top of that is a long list of violations of international law and human rights abuses against the people of Palestinian.

All that John Kerry has proven so far is that the solution to this protracted conflict cannot come from the US. The Americans have already lost credibility in the region and cannot be taken as a serious and honest broker for peace. Their understanding of the conflict is also fundamentally flawed, especially if they think that they can bribe the Palestinians into signing yet another peace deal with $4 billion to stimulate the Palestinian economy of the West Bank; Gaza, of course, wasn’t even mentioned in Kerry’s speech. While this could be great news for West Bank Palestinian state-building, it will certainly not lead to peace. Such an approach is not sustainable nor will it address the fundamental issues that must be discussed for a lasting peace deal to be achieved.

Obama and Kerry clearly want to mark history by brokering peace but another photo-op Oslo-style will do no good to anyone. In fact, it will more than likely be disastrous for the future of both nations.

The Secretary of State’s latest trip to the Middle East will probably not be his last this year. However, if all parties involved do not change their approach to demonstrate concretely their seriousness about peace, then John Kerry is not only wasting his own time, but that of everyone else involved as well.

Shereen Eldaly completed her Master’s in Public and International Affairs at the University of Montreal. She also holds a degree in Political Science and Middle Eastern Studies from McGill University. The focus of her studies and work has been conflict resolution and the Middle East. She has worked for the the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Canadian NGO Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME). Follow on Twitter: @shereeneldaly

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