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Why the talks were always destined to fail

Key Points:

  • The recent stalemate in talks is not surprising as they followed a failed formula.
  • No peace settlement can ever be reached if:
    – Israel continues to plan and build illegal Israeli settlements and occupy Palestinian territory in defiance of international law;
    – The Palestinians are disunited – Hamas needs to be in the frame;
    – Israel does not recognise Palestinian national rights – to self-determination and the right of return;
  • A different approach with a different solution is needed, but this is unlikely with the current players around the table. 


The Palestinian Authority and Israeli government began direct 'peace talks' in September 2010 after coercion by the US; this time it was going to be different. The two sides would go back to their people and claim that peace has been 'negotiated' and that the conflict has ended. Some may have called this naïve; sceptics claimed these were just fantasies. But those around the negotiating table, analysts who have been following this conflict for decades, and those on the ground knew different. The success of these talks depended on three key issues, which one or both sides would never abandon and so this worn out approach was destined to fail yet again:

  1. Land: the exchange of land and/or no return of land.
  2. Recognition of Palestinian rights: the recognition of the national rights of the Palestinians as determined by international law, including the right of return.
  3. The establishment of a sovereign state of Palestine.

Without these key elements being resolved there can be no resolution to this conflict.


It has been widely accepted by international communities and leadership that peace in the Middle East can only be achieved on the basis of the return of land. The 'land for peace' formula was included in UN Security Council Resolution 242 [S/Res/242] and is one of the most commonly referenced UN resolutions to bring about an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict. It calls on Israel to withdraw from territories it seized and occupied in 1967, returning the territories to its neighbours in the region. Resolution 242 stipulates the 'withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied' during the six-day war in 1967.

Since 1967, Egypt and Jordan, who had each occupied areas of Palestine previously, recognised and signed up to 242 and renounced their claims on the occupied Gaza Strip (Egypt, 1979) and the West Bank (Jordan, 1988) respectively, passing them on to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). However, these territories remain under Israeli occupation.

In 2005, Israel withdrew its settlers unilaterally from the Gaza Strip but, in 2006, it began a devastating siege aimed at crippling the democratically-elected Hamas government. Apart from the siege, Israel still maintains control over Gaza's land and sea borders as well as its air space.

In the West Bank, the Palestinians are faced with daily house demolitions, land seizures and destruction of their crops by the occupying forces and Israeli settlers. The occupied West Bank is usually referred to by the Zionists as 'Judea and Samaria'; according to the Biblical texts, Judea refers to the southern territory of the West Bank, including Jerusalem, and Samaria refers to the northern region of the West Bank. Israel is now trying to revive the names in an attempt to assert its claim on the West Bank and Jerusalem and remove the Palestinians from the equation. International law, of course, does not recognise the claim of a "chosen people". Theological attempts to justify Israel's land grab should not go unchallenged.

Such Biblical claims also extend over Jerusalem, a city revered by Judaism, Christianity and Islam alike. In 1967, Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan and annexed (illegally) East Jerusalem, claiming the whole city as its "undivided capital for all time. The annexation is recognised internationally as 'illegal' and 'null and void'i . Israel ignores the law pursues its expansionist policies to create a 'Greater Israel'; Palestinians in East Jerusalem are expelled and their homes are demolished on a regular basis. This "Judaisation" of the Holy City threatens the historic Muslim and Christian presence; even cemeteries are not safe from this policy; an ancient Muslim graveyard has been cleared in order for the Israelis to build a "Museum of Tolerance"; it would be laughable if it wasn't so serious.

Jerusalem has been a sticking point in all negotiations; the perennial item put back to "final status talks"; a euphemism for giving Israel more time to Judaise the city even further. Israel refuses to end its occupation and the Palestinian leadership will not accept any resolution without East Jerusalem as the capital of a new state. This is recognised widely as the 'make or break' clause of previous talks, so much so that President Obama agreed to move the discussions on Jerusalem to the end of the negotiations rather than the beginning; he knew that if Jerusalem was at the top of the agenda there would be an earlier stalemate.

Even as the talks got going, there was no willingness by Israel to give up land. In fact, the policy remains to expand and take as much land as possible, through house demolitions and the growth of illegal settlements in defiance of international law.

The stumbling block to peace deal is Zionist ideology to which the Netanyahu government adheres. Israel's ideological claim is that the West Bank belongs to the Jewish people by default, allowing it to place its historical claim on the land over the Palestinians' much longer attachment and residence.

Recognition of Palestinian national rights

The way forward in any conflict situation is for the parties to acknowledge the wrongs committed. Hence, post-apartheid South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Committee which allowed the minority white community to acknowledge its injustices against the majority black and "non-white" communities. This not only enabled bridges to be built but also developed trust and cooperation between one-time foes.

Israel and western powers have yet to acknowledge the Zionist state's "original sin" which led to the Palestinian refugee crisis, the illegal occupation and decades of human rights abuses and injustice. Until and unless this is done, it is hard to see any real peace with justice emerging from any "peace negotiations".

What is more, Israel has yet to recognise the Palestinian people as a nation. The term 'recognition' holds some significance in the way in which the Middle East conflict is played out. Israel bemoans being 'delegitimised' and not being 'recognised' by the Arab and Muslim world, and is now demanding recognition as the Jewish state of Israel.ii

This demand goes deeper than simple "recognition"; it plays into the 'two states for two peoples' mantra, pushing one Jewish and one Palestinian state. Israeli PR has been using this phrase to suggest there is already a clear demographic distinction between Israel and the OPTs, erasing the 20% of Israeli citizens who are Palestinian. As one commentator suggests, Israel would in effect be "obliging the Palestinians to recognise a system in which Israel's Arab citizens are second class… who will become the 'non-Jewish' citizens of the 'Jewish state' – a contradiction with serious implications".

Meanwhile, the Palestinians are not afforded the basic right to be recognised as a people. Israeli commentators and Members of the Knesset (MKs) refer to their Palestinian citizens as the 'Arabs', negating their claims to be recognised as a Palestinian nation and demeaning the struggle for justice and equality into nothing but an Arab communal conflict.

This type of discourse has become normalised in Israeli and Zionist circles, with direct calls for Palestinians to find an 'alternative homeland' in neighbouring Arab states such as Jordan or Syria. These Israeli plans have taken on a new momentum under Netanyahu's government, which wanted to designate Jordan as an alternative home for the Palestinians in 2009. That would mean that around 2 million Palestinian refugees currently living in refugee camps in Jordan would lose their right of return currently guaranteed under international law.iii  Such law stipulates that the first generation of refugees who were expelled from their homeland, together with their descendants (estimated to exceed four million people), have a right to return to the land in which they lived piror to the Israeli onslaughts in 1948 and 1967.  United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3236 also reaffirms "the inalienable right of the Palestinians to return to their homes and property from which they have been displaced and uprooted, and calls for their return". According to some commentators, the proposal also implies 'the expulsion of Palestinians from the Occupied West Bank, driving them east of the River Jordan, and suggesting Amman take control of the West Bank as an alternative to an independent Palestinian state'.

In contrast, Israeli legislation contains laws such as the Law of Return and the Law of Naturalisation for the Jewish diaspora which helps to advance its racist Zionist ideology, discriminating against the indigenous Palestinians by encouraging Jewish immigration and the confiscation and Judaisation of Palestinian lands. These laws, together with escalating illegal settlement construction, will continue to hinder any progress in the peace talks.

The latest round of talks coincided with the end of the moratorium on the 'settlement freeze' and the subsequent resumption of illegal settlement construction on the 26th September. In recent weeks, there has also been an escalation in settler violence against Palestinian villages; if left unchallenged, this has the potential to turn the conflict into a full-blown religious confrontation. Settlers are using the olive harvest season as an excuse to escalate these attacks as part of a clear policy to impoverish the Palestinian people.

It is important to note that the settlers who carry out such attacks are protected by the Israeli military and their government. This is a well-orchestrated policy of creating 'facts on the ground' which serve the Israeli government and Zionist ideology.

Palestinians' humanitarian and human rights are enshrined in international laws and conventions. Israel and its supporters claim that they are not binding on the Zionist state and dispute historical facts about the events leading up to and after the its creation, including the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Until and unless the Israelis acknowledge their responsibility for the current state of affairs, their negotiators have no option but to block any solution that paves the way for peace with justice for the Palestinians.

Establishment of a sovereign state of Palestine

A sovereign state has been defined as a state with "a permanent population, a defined territory, a government and the capacity to enter into relations with other sovereign states"iv. Using this definition, it is implied that the state in question is independent and not under the control of external powers. By the same criteria, Israel is not a sovereign state; it has never declared what its borders are and it has no "defined territory" accepted by the international community.

Moreover, for Palestine to achieve such status, Israel would have to accept and adopt UN Security Council Resolution 242 (S/RES/242)v,  which was adopted unanimously by the UN Security Council on November 22, 1967. Negotiations will never amount to anything as long as Israel's colonialist expansionism and aim for Jewish hegemony in the region remains. One of many obstacles at the most recent talks was the Israeli government agreeing to accept and recognise a Palestinian state, but with pre-conditions; namely that

  1. the Palestinian state would be a demilitarised state, with no control of its borders and air space;
  2. there would be no 'right of return' for Palestinian refugees who had been forced out and/or fled during the 1948 war; and
  3. the Zionist state would be recognised as a 'Jewish' state.

In essence, Israel wants to keep the conditions of the occupation without the being the Occupier. It wants to set up an entity which is devoid of any sovereign rights and turn it from an occupied territory under Israeli control into a functional state established as a makeshift security arrangement, under Israeli control. The only version of a Palestinian 'state' that Netanyahu and his government are willing to accept is a 'state' that is controlled by Israel, loyal to Israel and wholly accountable to Israel. That is how they envision democracy to be practised in the Middle East. These preconditions in themselves preclude any successful 'peace talks'.

Nevertheless, even if such pre-conditions didn't exist, a viable and successful sovereign Palestinian state requires reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah to form a unity government. Hamas is currently the only party with a democratic mandate, having won the Palestinian election in 2006. The Palestinian Authority controlled by Fatah is the representative of the Palestinians chosen by the West and Israel, but it has neither authority nor a legitimate mandate.

All of this is entirely irrelevant, however, in the face of right-wing Zionist ideology that claims the whole of the West Bank as its own; no Palestinian state will ever be established on "Judea and Samaria" if the settlers and their supporters in Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government have anything to do with it; so if the Prime Minister wants to stay in power, how far will he be prepared to compromise on this basic point, if at all?

Concluding thoughts

The peace talks were never designed to work. The Palestinian representative and Israeli leadership have sat at the negotiation table on and off for almost 20 years, with little or no progress. Israel's colonial claims on the West Bank and Jerusalem will always be a barrier for progress. Jewish hegemony and superiority are implicit in Zionist ideology, which underpins the Israeli state. Any successful outcome – meaning, bringing peace and justice to the Palestinians, for what other criterion of success could there be? – depends on a recognition of the historic wrongs committed against the people of Palestine by successive Israeli governments and their forebears. Benjamin Netanyahu and his government must be prepared to allow a Palestinian state to exist without interference from Israel; his sincerity and sense of urgency on this issue is betrayed by his insistence that "an agreement, if any were reached, must be implemented over a period of 20 years".

The one thing standing in the way of peace in the Middle East and a Palestinian state is the Zionist State of Israel. As long as it delays explicit acts of goodwill, such as the dismantling of all illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and ending the siege on Gaza, it is unlikely that the peace talks will resume and even less likely that there will be a realistic 'two state' solution. Indeed, some academics and political thinkers have suggested that increasing the number of 'facts on the ground' means that the only viable solution is a 'bi-national' state; with the current crop of politicians at the negotiation table, this is a highly unlikely outcome.

iUN Resolution 478
iiA recent bill introduced to the Israeli parliament calls for the recognition of Israel as a 'Jewish State' and for non-Jews to pledge an oath of loyalty to Israel as a Jewish state, which clearly discriminates against Arab citizens of Israel and will 'relegate' their status. Furthermore, Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention has clauses relating to human dignity, family rights and respect for religious convictions and practises as well as freedom of movement for the civilian population.
iiiThe right of return of Palestinian refugees is a right under international law which has been codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rightsiii (UNDHR) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country. -Article 13(2), Universal Declaration of Human Rights (10 December 1948) and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights  (ICCPR). No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country. -Article 12, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (23 March 1976)
ivShaw, Malcolm Natchan (2003). International law. Cambridge University Press. p. 178. "Article 1 of the Montevideo Convention on Rights and Duties of States, 1933 lays down the most widely accepted formulation of the criteria of statehood in international law. It note that the state as an international person should possess the following qualifications: '(a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with other states'"
Jasentuliyana, Nandasiri, ed (1995). Perspectives on international law. Kluwer Law International. p. 20. "So far as States are concerned, the traditional definitions provided for in the Montevideo Convention remain generally accepted."

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