Facing the truth of what's really behind the UN statehood gambit.
A year ago, veteran American Mideast negotiator Aaron David Miller wrote a much-talked about article for Foreign Policy magazine in which he disavowed any hope for the Arab-Israeli peace process. Called “The False Religion of Mideast Peace: And Why I’m No Longer a Believer,” the piece detailed his disillusionment with what began with the Clinton administration’s Mideast peacemaking, of which he was a participant, in the 1990s. The main casualty of the failure of the administration’s efforts throughout that decade, Miller had written, was hope. “And that has been the story line ever since: more process than peace.”
But that line, buried 3,000 words into the 5,000-word cover story, should have been featured more prominently. It’s the point. Because if there’s one thing that has been proven time and again in the course of Arab-Israeli negotiations, it’s that you cannot have both peace and the process; it’s one or the other.
Just in time for the first anniversary of the FP story, Miller has another one striking similar themes. The main difference this time is that Miller now exhorts President Obama to join him in hopelessness. Called “The Virtues of Folding,” Miller’s message is simple: give up—at least for now.
“Thirty months in, a self-styled transformative president with big ideas and ambitions as a peacemaker finds himself with no negotiations, no peace process, no relationship with an Israeli prime minister, no traction with Palestinians, and no strategy to achieve a breakthrough,” Miller writes.
To be sure, the process of which Miller was a part caused so much damage to the lives of Israeli Arabs and Jews that we should be perfectly content to let him retire without protest. But Miller has still—unbelievably—refused to learn the primary lesson from all his years of failure: the peace process was over before Miller ever got involved.
That doesn’t mean that neither side wants peace. Most Israelis have always wanted peace, and if the polls are accurate many Palestinians want peace as well. It’s the process that has always stood as the principal hindrance to peace. The process allows the Palestinian leadership to soak up foreign money. It allows the United Nations—via its Relief and Works Agency—to keep generations of Palestinian families mired in poverty by assigning them a nonsensical “refugee” status that encourages the Arab leaders of their country of residence—Syria, Lebanon, Jordan—to preserve their identities as second-class citizens. And it forces Israel to make tangible concessions in return for promises.
Contrary to popular mythology, the peace process didn’t begin with the Paris peace conference and the Oslo accords; that’s where it ended. Here is Yitzhak Rabin—the symbol of the peace process for many, especially on the left—speaking to the Knesset in 1992: “From this moment on, the concept of a ‘peace process’ is irrelevant. From now on we shall speak not of a ‘process’ but of making peace.”
This was echoed by Palestinian legislator and terrorist Leila Khaled (who once led a bungled attempt on Rabin’s life): “You know, it’s a process, but it’s not a peace process. It’s a political process where the balance of forces is for Israelis and not for us and they have all the cards to play with and the Palestinians have nothing to depend on, especially (when) the PLO is not united.... We are from the other side, against the whole process.”
Rabin’s quote perfectly encapsulated the Israeli position—we want real peace, not endless blathering, photo ops, and empty promises. And Khaled represented the Palestinian leadership’s preference for a process whose underlying goal was explicitly not peace.
Of course, the Palestinians got their way. Rabin couldn’t convince the rest of the world that the peace process had ended (not that he put in enough effort on that front). That makes the Palestinian threat to call for a vote at September’s UN General Assembly on Palestinian statehood so ironic. The vote is the Palestinian expression that they now believe the entire peace process has concluded—and any European country that votes for Palestinian statehood is expressing that same sentiment.
Every Western leader who has called for Israel to return to the negotiating table has done so using the same formulation: "Negotiations are the only way toward a comprehensive and lasting resolution to the conflict,” in the words of the joint statement from the G-8 countries.
You either believe that or you don’t. A vote for Palestinian statehood at the UN is a public pronouncement that you don’t. In which case, I would expect that every country that votes for statehood understands they have forfeited their credibility on pressuring Israel to negotiate. The hectoring ends at Turtle Bay.
Those who support this ridiculous stunt at the UN are also acknowledging another aspect of the peace process: negotiations have always been a scam to pilfer what rightfully belongs to the Israelis. For example, through biblical history, modern history, 20th century history, and Israeli history, there is an unmatched Jewish national attachment and possession of Hebron. The Arabs of pre-state Israel massacred the town’s Jewish residents in 1929, and the world has been rewarding them for it ever since. Shechem is already under Arab control. The Palestinians have been negotiating with the purpose of establishing in the international community’s opinion some right to Jerusalem. They have succeeded in this with the Europeans, and Obama’s suggestion that the two sides start with the 1967 lines is the closest the Palestinians will likely ever get with the United States.
Therefore, the negotiating process has yielded all it can for the Palestinians, and the rest they will attempt to take—as they have indicated consistently throughout the years—by force. This is what is behind the UN statehood gambit. If this is the end of the peace process—again—it may be for real this time.