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February 14, 2014 11:51 am

Can There be Peace Without Process?

avatar by Gidon Ben-zvi

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, and Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat. Photo: State Department.

With the Palestinian Authority recently declaring that the stalled peace talks with Israel will not be extended past April, it’s starting to look like U.S. President Barack Obama’s wish for a single foreign policy success will go unanswered. And the PA’s refusal to even acknowledge that Israel is populated by Jews does not bode well for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s chances of bringing a Nobel Peace Prize back to Boston.

Yet with the fraying of Kerry’s framework agreement, there is now an opportunity to reassess the conventional wisdom that equates peace in the Middle East with U.S.-backed negotiations between Jerusalem and Ramallah.

For decades, the road map to peace in the Middle East has run through Washington, D.C., as the assumption has long been that Israel is either unwilling or unable to negotiate a treaty with a belligerent Arab country without America’s active involvement.

The 1978 Camp David Accords were the first attempt at a comprehensive peace between Israel and one of its neighbors, fuelled by the desire to end 30 years of relentless hostility and costly wars.

Cajoled by U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin agreed to pull his country out of the Sinai Peninsula; uproot 7,000 Israelis from their homes; abandon the Alma oil field that could have made Israel energy independent, and evacuate dozens of early warning stations and strategic defense locations.

Egypt, the Middle East’s most powerful Arab nation at the time, reciprocated with a cold, if nonbelligerent, shoulder.

The terribly steep price tag that Israel had to pay as a down payment for peace, as arbitrated by the United States, has generated the following dividends: Sinai today is a vortex of chaos and violence. The deteriorating security situation across Israel’s southern border since the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak, America’s closest Arab ally in the Middle East for decades, has turned the peninsula into a launching pad for rockets being fired at Israel with ever greater frequency.

What a difference a peace makes, no? Israel’s original U.S.-backed capitulation spawned many others. The pullout from Sinai set the stage for later expulsions and launched athree-decade-long period rife with Israeli retreat.

And have all these retreats — Bethlehem, Hebron, Jenin, and Gush Katif — brought Israel one moment of peace? The grandchild of the 1978 Camp David Accords, the Oslo process, brought only a dramatic escalation in violence and bloodshed.

Not only have the best intentions of various U.S. administrations not facilitated fruitful talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the presence of a Western power at the negotiating table has actually hampered constructive engagement since the PA realizes that time is on its side.

All the Palestinian Authority needs to do is run out the clock without fear of being held accountable for contributing nothing of substance to the peace talks. While Israel has floated dozens of ideas ranging from population swaps to pulling the IDF out of the Jordan Valley, the PA still clings to such nonstarters as the right of return.

The latest wrench thrown into the framework agreement talks: A senior-level Palestinian Authority member said this week in an interview with Israel’s Channel 10 News that there will be no peace deal with Israel unless the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism, falls under the sovereignty of the Palestinian Authority.

However, should the United States extricate itself from the internal affairs of Jerusalem and Ramallah, Israel’s peace partners may finally acknowledge that the only way out of its dilemma is face-to-face negotiations,

Beyond peace in our time, there’s also the matter of a nation’s inalienable right to defend its citizens and secure its borders without first needing to obtain a foreign power’s approval to do so. Israel’s decision to outsource its security to the United States makes the Jewish state highly vulnerable to the whims and biases of a supposedly impartial and honest peace broker.

Case in point: Last week, the U.S. secretary of state said that if Israel does not act to promote peace, it may be ostracized politically and sanctioned economically. And Kerry’s repeated attempts to portray himself as being little more than a spectator of events taking place in the region are increasingly falling on deaf ears.

U.S. motives in backing peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are also being called into question. Shouldn’t an honest and objective broker turn, at some point, to the Palestinian Authority and assert that there will be a price to pay for continuing to deny the Jewish people’s right to their own state, for continuing its policy of rejectionism and for continuing to use official PA media outlets and the education system to incite against Israel?

However, the American administration’s full court press to get a peace deal signed is applied only on Israel’s prime minister and his cabinet.

Going forward, a new diplomatic paradigm, based on mutual respect, trade, tourism, investment and collaborative efforts in the fields of technology and medicine should be developed. In other words, scrap land-for-peace and replace it with peace-for-peace.

Sound far-fetched? The world is filled with countries that are embroiled in long-simmering territorial disputes. India and Pakistan continue to squabble over Kashmir; China and Japan are at odds over the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands; Russia and Japan both claim the Kuril Islands — to name but a few of the dozens of international flash points.

Yet, somehow, sovereign nations are managing to iron out workable, if imperfect, living arrangements with quarrelsome neighbors — without unrelenting U.S. pressure, without European threats and away from the television cameras.

Gidon Ben-Zvi is the Jerusalem correspondent for The Algemeiner newspaper and blogs at Jerusalem State Of Mind. This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.

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