Kabuki theatre comes to the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

I’ve spent a lot of time studying and writing about Middle East politics.  I care a lot about the issue.  And I find it quite impossible to register even an iota of interest in the talks proceeding in Washington now.

Does anyone think that the current Israeli government is prepared to make meaningful concessions on settlements and territory?

Does anyone think that the Palestinian Authority is prepared to make meaningful concessions on refugees?

And if the answer to either of these questions is no — which they must be — then why do we even care about this?

It seems to me that the Obama Administration is doing this not because of any chance of a breakthrough or even meaningful progress, but rather so it can show its Arab allies that it is “doing something” about the problem.  And these Arab allies want this, so that they can say that they are “doing something” about the Palestinians.  It’s all a cynical game, brought about by the obsolete view that direct negotiations can accomplish something.  I don’t blame Obama for this in the least: that’s the way that the diplomatic game is played. 

But no one else should be fooled.  This isn’t about peace: it’s about the peace process.  If anyone was serious about peace, they would have advanced Sari Nusseibeh’s Plan for taking the issue to Israelis and Palestinians.  They’re not, so they haven’t.  End of story.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

9 thoughts on “Yawn”

  1. Of course it's theater. The real purpose of this is to burnish Obama's credentials as a peacemaker. But, seriously – what kind of meaningful concessions by Israel do you believe would improve the chances for peace if made?

  2. Fuzzy —

    It's not unilateral concessions, but rather a comprehensive deal. Basically, the Nusseibeh-Ayalon People's Voice Accord: http://www.cmep.org/documents/peoplesvoice.htm

    It isn't about burnishing Obama's credentials as a peacemaker: Presidents who attempt to burnish their credentials through the Middle East rarely succeed. It's about trying to diminish Iran's claim to be the Palestinian champion. But it won't work because neither side will make concessions.

  3. Let us imagine that such a deal is actually signed. What reason is there to believe that it will be upheld? I cannot recall a single promise to Israel that the Palestinians have kept. Israel has hardly been perfect, but it has handed over land (about the most substantial concession you can make), and taught it citizens that Palestinian Arabs should have a right to their own territory. Can you identify Palestinian Arab leaders who has declared that Israel has a right to exist as a sovereign Jewish state? Where is the Palestinian equivalent of Peace Now?

    And it cannot be that world opinion would force the Palestinians to uphold their side – world opinion has never called the Palestinians to task for anything, or any other enemy of Israel, for that matter. Remember UN resolution 1701, in which UNIFIL was supposed to prevent the rearming of Hezbollah? Didn't work too well. Where were all the world condemnations of the hundreds of missiles fired at Sderot from Gaza? Or the outrage at the recent murder of four Israelis, in an attack for which Hamas took credit?

    In short, any agreement at this point is a sucker deal for Israel. The Palestinians will be free to violate it at will, and any Israel attempts to reign them in will result in outrage against Israel – that's been the pattern over and over.

    Of course, I don't believe that such a deal could be signed in any event, given Hamas control of Gaza and probably enormous influence elsewhere. And what would happen if Israel agreed and Hamas / Gaza didn't? The agreement, just like every concession Israel has ever offered, would be used as a starting point for the next round of talks.

    As long as the Palestinian leadership does not want peace, and the world has no intention of holding them responsible for its lack, there will not and can not be peace.

  4. I agree that Jonathan's casual American Jewish "equivalence" here is distressing. Israeli governments are, to use a phrase, reality-based. if Livni or Barak were Prime Minister I don't think the situation would be substantively different. Peace depends on the Palestinians giving up the notion that refugees from 1948 and their descendents will have the right to live in Israel, and agreeing to divide Jerusalem. They're not there yet. They may never be.

  5. Fuzzy Face and Larry Birnbaum are correct. Even if the process had some kind of intrinsic value, Obama has utterly botched it. By picking a fight with Israel over whether Jews can expand their homes in a Jewish part of Jerusalem, and not allowing for add-ons of bathrooms or bedrooms during the settlement moratorium, combined with having allowed a nearly two year hiatus in direct talks by promoting the prior proximity talks, the President gave Abbas an easy excuse to insist on walking out on the negotiations as soon as the moratorium expires. If ObamaMitchell were mediators in one of my cases, I would advise my clients to terminate them forthwith. Kabuki is for entertainment, and this is for real.

  6. Jonathan – Any reaction to this oped: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/arti… ?

    "…contrary to popular wisdom, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is proving to be the most dovish leader that Israel has had in many years, one who is using military force cautiously and seeking, at long last, a diplomatic resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. …

    …Ten months ago, Netanyahu told me in a phone interview for Haaretz, the liberal Israeli daily where I am a columnist and editor: "I want to promote a peace agreement with the Palestinians. I can bring a deal." I wrote afterward that I believed him, only to receive mocking comments from many readers who called me naive. But I have not changed my mind — and neither has Netanyahu."

  7. npm —

    Aluf Benn is a good reporter, but with Bibi especially, rhetoric is meaningless. The question is whether he'll actually DO anything. And I have yet to see anything that indicates that. Compare him with Ehud Olmert, who really did change his position when confronted with facts. Nothing that Bibi has done indicates that he will change. I hope I'm wrong. More importantly, even assuming that he would want to, his coalition partners would desert the government the moment he did so. Perhaps Kadima would bail them out, but I have a very hard time seeing it happen.

    As for Larry and Mel and the rest, you've got to get over this idea that somehow the settlements are a strategic asset for Israel. They're not. They're not a bargaining chip, they're not facts on the ground generating Palestinian acquiescence. They are a moral and strategic cancer that will make it extremely difficult for any Israeli government to leave the West Bank. You saw what happened when Arik Sharon tried to leave Gaza: it will be worse with the West Bank. (Incidentally, that's why I supported Cast Lead: if Israel is going to leave territories, it needs to be able to use force to stop cross-border terrorism).

    And as for Larry's point about comparing governments: I'll take Salem Fayeed over Avigdor Lieberman and Ovadia Yosef any day of the week.

  8. Of course the settlements are a bargaining chip; that is why PA is only setting up a freeze and not a withdrawal as a condition for the continuance of the talks. Israel has nothing else to bargain with. The real lesson of the Gaza withdrawal is not that settlements are "a moral and strategic cancer," as however you feel about them, they can't just disappear. Instead, the true lesson is that no Israeli government, Labor, Kadima or Likud, can withdraw from the West Bank if all they have to fall back on is the freedom "to use force to stop cross-border terrorism." Israel will only feel secure to withdraw when the PA unequivocally rejects incitement, support of terror, with the ability to stop Hamas, or even members of the PA itself, from resuming so-called "resistance to occupation." Until then, the peace process will be a pipe dream, not dependent on whether one trusts Bibi or not.

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