WALTER L. HIXSON
This White House photo shows President Bill Clinton (c) meeting with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators on July 24, 2000 at Camp David, MD. When the meetings collapsed, Clinton and his AIPAC-spawned negotiator Dennis Ross—like Jared Kushner today—heaped all the blame on the Palestinians. (L-r) Abu Ala, Nabil Sha’ath, Clinton, Ross, Elyakim Rubinstein and Oded Eran. (RALPH ALSWANG/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES)
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May 2020, pp. 32-33
By Walter L. Hixson
IN THE “DEAL OF THE CENTURY” Israel and the Trump administration called on the Palestinians to endorse a plan to hand over the heart of their homeland to Zionist settlers. When the Palestinians of course refused, they were branded the enemies of peace.
This is the oldest play in the Israeli propaganda playbook. It was put into words by the famous Israeli diplomat Abba Eban in 1973 when he declared, “The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity [for peace].”
Well before and ever since that time, it has been a staple of Israeli and U.S. lobby propaganda that the peace-loving “sole democracy” of the Middle East always genuinely strives for a just settlement in Palestine, but just can’t find a rational partner for peace among the fanatical Arabs. It is thus only with great reluctance that Israel goes about regimenting, repressing and episodically massacring Palestinians.
Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner—laughably described by the president as “an internationally recognized top expert on Middle Eastern affairs”—played the Eban card as he unfolded the stacked “deal.” Dripping with the arrogance of the wealthy white privilege that he personifies, Kushner asserted that the deal provided the Palestinians with an opportunity to achieve “something excellent.” He added, “If they screw up this opportunity, which again, they have a perfect track record of missing opportunities, if they screw this up, I think they will have a very hard time looking the international community in the face, saying they’re victims, saying they have rights.”
A HISTORY OF REJECTIONISM
Contrary to the Eban-Kushner canard, the historical record clearly shows that it is Israel that “has never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity” for peace. Throughout the history of the conflict Israel has had regular and realistic opportunities to pursue a two-state solution, but the drives of settler colonization invariably trumped all such efforts.
In 1948, amid the war that broke out in response to partition, Zionists rejected U.N. mediation—and assassinated the mediator, Count Folke Bernadotte of Sweden. Committed to cementing “facts on the ground,” Israel refused to pull back to the legally sanctioned partition lines or enable the return or compensate refugees driven out in the Nakba. By the time of the ceasefire in January 1949, the Zionist state had increased in size from the 55 percent under the U.N. partition to 77 percent of the former British mandate of Palestine. Israel still refused to negotiate with its Arab neighbors. “After the sobering experience of military defeat at the hands of the infant Jewish state,” historian Avi Shlaim has pointed out, the leaders of the Arab states were, “prepared to recognize Israel, to negotiate directly with it and even to make peace with it. Each of these rulers had his territorial price for making peace with Israel but none of them refused to talk.”
Rather than talk peace with its neighbors, Israel demonized them as Nazis, repeatedly attacked Jordan and Syria, and in 1956 joined with Britain and France in an invasion of Egypt. Under U.S. pressure the Europeans pulled out but Israel refused to withdraw from Egyptian territory until the Americans acquiesced to Israeli demands for access to the Gulf of Aqaba, which was disputed under international law.
In June 1967 Israel launched the pivotal aggressive war in which it seized the West Bank as well as the Syrian Golan Heights and the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. Israel at this time had a clear opportunity to negotiate a settlement with the Palestinians as well as with Egypt and Jordan (Syria remained obdurate). But “Israel preferred land to peace,” as historian Avi Raz has pointed out, “and thus deliberately squandered a real opportunity for a settlement” in the wake of the June war. Former Israeli diplomat Shlomo Ben-Ami adds that as a result of “hubris” and “triumphalism” an “opportunity was missed to turn the tactical victory in war into a major strategic victory for Zionism that could have made the Six-Day War into the last major war of the Arab-Israeli conflict and an avenue to a settlement with at least part of the Arab world.”
In subsequent years Israel fended off a peace settlement based on U.N. Resolution 242 (1967) while enabling settlers to flow into the occupied territories. Only after another war with Egypt in 1973 and the determined diplomacy of Anwar Sadat and Jimmy Carter at the first Camp David summit did the Israelis disgorge the Sinai. Israel refused to negotiate the promised follow-up accord with the Palestinians and instead tried to destroy the PLO with the first of repeated savage assaults on Lebanon.
The Palestinian intifada, Yasser Arafat’s recognition of Israel in 1988, and international pressures forced the Zionist state back into negotiations. The subsequent Oslo Accords (1993) proved a disaster for the Palestinians. Negotiating from a position of weakness, Arafat consented to deferring to future discussions the critical issues of final borders, return of refugees and status of Jerusalem. The PLO failed even to secure a freeze on Israeli construction of new settlements in the occupied territories.
Not only had Oslo failed to secure Israeli concessions, it created a “double occupation” as the new Palestinian Authority became a repressive police-state determined to stifle protest and dissent on the part of the Palestinians. It also embraced neo-liberal economic policies constructing a façade of economic growth to mask colonial dependency.
Despite the fact that Oslo was a lopsided accord in Israel’s favor, Zionist reactionaries led by Binyamin Netanyahu condemned it as appeasement and vilified Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, leading to his assassination in 1995.
In signing the Oslo Accords the PLO made the historic mistake of relying on the United States to play the role of honest broker and to pressure Israel into ending the occupation. Under the thumb of the Israel lobby and the widespread distortions of the Palestine issue that it fosters, Washington failed to use the leverage that its massive annual military allocations and economic assistance to Israel provided.
When a new round of talks at Camp David collapsed in 2000, President Bill Clinton and his AIPAC-spawned negotiator Dennis Ross—like Jared Kushner today—heaped all the blame on the Palestinians. In fact, however, Arafat had made a number of concessions, including signing off on Israeli annexation of West Bank settlement blocs and Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem as well as de facto demilitarization of the new Palestinian state.
After the breakdown of the talks, Ariel Sharon sabotaged all diplomacy, orchestrated the extreme violence of the second intifada, and threw open the doors to West Bank settlers who today number more than 620,000 illegal occupants. The Obama administration issued a tepid call for renewed negotiations but quickly backed off in the face of Netanyahu’s rejectionism and the sweeping influence of AIPAC and its cohorts.
Israel’s persistent opposition to pursuing a Middle East peace flows from the logic of Zionist colonization in which the settlers seek to gain control of as much land as possible with as few Palestinians as possible living on it. Israeli leaders—David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Dayan, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Sharon and Netanyahu among them—often explicitly advanced this very policy in these very terms.
Never missing an opportunity to sabotage negotiations in deference to establishing facts on the ground, Israel remains today what it has always been: a congenitally aggressive settler state determined to privilege land over peace, to commit war crimes and to violate international law with impunity. Despite all its lofty pretensions as leader of the “free world,” the United States continues to serve as the relentless enabler of an oppressive apartheid state.
The “deal of the century” is merely the latest bad act in a long-running historical tragedy.