As the people of Palestine come to terms with the apparent betrayal of their rights by the people appointed to negotiate with the Israelis on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, a number of commentators are declaring the "peace process" to be dead and buried. With all due respect to them, that process has never existed in any form as a genuine attempt to secure a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians; it has, from the earliest days of the Zionist movement, existed as a process whereby Israel can grab as much of historic Palestine as it can. The "peace process" has been invaluable in buying time for successive Israeli governments as they take more and more of Palestinian land in a piece process that is as cynical as it is effective.
The latest Al-Jazeera leaks of documents purporting to reveal how much Messrs Erekat and Qurie have been prepared to give away in return for absolutely nothing suggest that the peace process has been nothing more than a charade, in which the Palestinian negotiators have played the part of the fall guys. Despite their immediate condemnation by the Palestinian Authority, the content of the leaks has, according to some journalists, been common knowledge "among insiders" for years.
According to the Guardian (and quoted on the BBC website), at a 2007 meeting, in response to "Palestinian negotiators' suspicions that 'Israel takes more land [so] that the Palestinian state will be impossible'", the then Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, replied that that had been "the policy of the government for a really long time". For once, I find myself in agreement with Ms. Livni.
When Theodor Herzl wrote "The Jewish State" in 1896, he did not have any particular territory in mind. He went on to gain the nickname "The Ugandan" because he favoured accepting a British offer of some land in Africa for such a state. By 1917 and the issue of the infamous Balfour Declaration, "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people" was established as the Zionists' objective. At that stage, the existing Arab population of Palestine was already being dismissed as "non-Jewish communities" in their own land.
Britain was given the League of Nations Mandate over Palestine in 1922 and it came into being a year later. Thanks to Lord Balfour, the "National Home" for the "Jewish people" acquired proper noun status and was an integral part of the mandate's purpose. After the Second World War, the fledgling United Nations came up with a partition plan in December 1947 which gave the Jews 54% of historic Palestine; in the fighting and ethnic cleansing of the land that preceded and followed Israel's declaration of independence, the nascent state took more land than had been allocated by the UN partition plan. The state was declared without any mention of borders, it already being known to the Zionist leadership – notably David Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel – that whatever land the state had acquired was to be a stage in a longer process to establish Greater Israel, from the sea (some say the Nile or, at least, the Suez Canal) to the River Jordan. Ben-Gurion's intentions in this regard are recorded by Prof. Norman Finkelstein in his book Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict.
The Suez Canal theory takes on some credibility with Israel's participation with France and Britain in the "Tripartite Aggression" against Egypt in the Suez Crisis of 1956. The Israelis hoped to gain control of Gaza and Sinai through this invasion and although they were forced to withdraw, had to wait just 11 years before taking full control of the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in the 1967 Six-Day War. Sinai was evacuated as part of the peace deal with Egypt in 1979 but Israel maintains control over the West Bank through its military occupation and colonisation programme. Having withdrawn its soldiers and colonists from Gaza in 2005, Israel keeps control over Gaza's air, land and sea access; in legal terms, it is still the occupying power. It maintains an interest in Sinai through the deal it agreed with the Egyptians before it withdrew.
Israel's creeping colonisation of the West Bank – creating "facts on the ground" – includes not only settlements but also settler-only roads, the annexation wall, self-declared military zones and "nature reserves" and checkpoints, making normal life impossible for the Palestinians who live there. At best, if an independent state of Palestine was declared tomorrow it would be on around 22% of historic Palestine. The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their land continues with expulsions of people from their homes in East Jerusalem and inside Israel itself; the homes are then demolished to make way for more Jewish settler-colonists. The above tools of Israel's occupation mean that the land allocated to a Palestinian "state" will not be contiguous and is, literally, getting smaller day by day. As Finkelstein describes brilliantly in Image and Reality, a "free Palestine", if it ever comes into being at all, will be little more than an entity similar to the discredited Bantustans created by apartheid South Africa.
None of this piece by piece land grab has taken place by accident; when Tzipi Livni confirmed that this has been "the policy of the government for a really long time" she meant it.
The international community and the Palestinian Authority have some serious questions to ask themselves. Is this Israeli government, like its predecessors, really inclined towards a peace agreement with the Palestinians? The Al-Jazeera documents suggest not; claims that Israel has never had "a Palestinian partner for peace" have been exposed for the lies that they have always been (and that shouldn't surprise anyone either – Israel was founded on lies and terrorism). Is America going to push on and try to get these now discredited Palestinian negotiators back to the table with their Israeli opposite numbers? Will the Palestinian people accept such a humiliation, one of many heaped upon them by the US, Israel and, it now transpires, their own Authority in Ramallah? Why should they?
This could be a turning point in the whole conflict, but not in the way that many think. The Israeli right-wing has been hinting strongly that Jordan is "the alternative homeland" for Palestinians and the desirability of their "transfer" across the River Jordan has been stated openly by Israel's racist Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. We can almost hear the cheers in Israeli society as they celebrate the latest Palestinian debacle: "The peace process is dead; long live the piece process!"
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.