Columns / Discourse / October 13, 2010

World Politics Corner: Words of peace

How do you barter for peace? That is a question that should be asked in the latest meeting attempt by the Palestinian Authority and Netanyahu’s government. So far there hasn’t been much ground broken except on the soil of the newly permitted Settlements. The partial moratorium Israel set in December of 2009 of planned settlements ended on Sept. 26 this year, and now the peace talks are in jeopardy.

Not really any more than usual, actually. This pattern of settlement-building has been in effect for decades. The difference this time is that Netanyahu called for a partial moratorium. This meant that no new settlements would be built until Sept. 26, excluding public buildings and building on 3,000 settlement homes already under way. Palestinians saw this as somewhat of an advantage for the other side. The settlements are seen as changing the “facts on the ground,” and giving Israel more land to keep when a peace deal is finally made and signed. The settlements are built in occupied territories, which under international law do not belong to Israel but rather to the Palestinians. This freeze is seen internationally as new groundwork for possibly more successful talks.

Based on the facts on the ground, though, nothing has changed. In Feb. 2010, two months after the freeze was set, 600 new homes were built to expand a settlement in East Jerusalem (not internationally recognized as part of Israel) as an exception to the freeze. In March of 2010, three months after the partial freeze was set, 112 new homes in a settlement in the West Bank were approved, also as an exception to the freeze. This was seen as an insult to United States Vice President Joe Biden, as it was announced while he was visiting Israel for the first time. Yes, it was a partial freeze, so there is no hypocrisy in Israel’s exceptions, but a settlement is a settlement.

However, Haaretz, an Israeli News Agency, uncovered many settlements not meeting the exceptions being constructed only ten days after the freeze was announced, and no Civil Administrators (in charge of monitoring settlement construction) were present. To add insult to injury, the majority of labor used was Palestinian, those who had no other opportunities for work. Anti-settlement Israeli Peace groups Yesh Din and Peace Now reported that a building boom started while the US was demanding a “construction freeze” in the settlements. Either a slow trickle of settlement building or a great flood is an obstacle to the peace process.

Perhaps a better question to ask in this peace process does peace requires a give and take, or in a system of unequal powers, can the stronger can manipulate the peace to its will?

Mark LeVine, professor at the University of California at Irvine and a Middle East expert, categorized the Peace talks as “Drunken Diplomacy,” characterizing Israel as a drunkard and the US as an enabler because of its failure to take a harsher stance against the settlements being built. This metaphor, although quite painful, is not an accurate description.

The best question to ask in all this is “Who benefits from peace?” This is not a question of which population wants peace more, but which government gains most from it.

If we are to characterize the peace process as it limps pathetically in the background, a drunkard is too simplistic. The peace process along with the settlements is much more mechanical. The machine’s function is simple: keep going with the status quo. Given Palestine’s weak position in this conflict, peace is obviously beneficial whether they know it or not. With an established peace the Palestinians have a final border drawn, one which Israel cannot cross with settlements. For Israel the issue is quite different.

No one is interested in conspiracy theories, and this is not one of them. This is basic analysis. Through this discord, Israel has gained much more land, economic and military superiority and a greater PR campaign particularly in the US. The Palestinian hands are tied; with no power there is no ability to negotiate peace rather than active resistance (refusing to resume peace talks) or succumbing to Israel’s wishes. Either choice made, the settlements will continue.

However, Israel has lost its legitimacy through mainly recent events (the strike on Gaza in 2009, Flotilla Raid, use of foreign passports to commit assassinations, etc.) Though unless Israel’s most loyal ally decides to withdraw support and the international community gives Israel real consequences to deal with for certain illegal actions, this will not affect Israel much. So who is benefiting from the status quo and who is benefitting from the peace?

The separation walls, settlements and undermining of human rights for its own Arab citizens can only exist in this conflict while the notion of “national security” is still valid. With peace and a disintegration of the security threat none of these would be able to keep happening.

But this is probably in the nature of power hungry administrations. Hamas would probably do the same if not worse given Israel’s same level of economic and military power as well as powerful allies.

A possible solution could be another Land for Peace deal brokered by the US, but that is unlikely to be brought up. Why would Israel let go of the land it just attained?

So for now, unless a new breed of politicians on both sides comes to the forefront from the actual peace loving people of Israel and Palestine, rather than their current “heirs to the government,” perhaps Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman is somewhat correct: peace will not be attained in this generation.

Rana Tahir
Rana Tahir is a political columnist for The Knox Student, primarily covering international issues. She will graduate in June 2013 with degrees in political science and creative writing, after which she will attend the University of Denver's publishing institute.

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