Peace at what price and at whose expense?

DAN-CHYI CHUA
Aug 21, 2010
*Special to asia!

Zippadee-doo-da, zippadee-yay, peace talks are starting on a wonderful September day! But wait, why aren't the Palestinians celebrating?

After four months of indirect US-mediated peace negotiations, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas will meet Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for direct talks on September 1.

In a year, there will be peace in the Middle East, proclaims US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  “It will 're-launch direct negotiations to resolve all final-status issues which we believe we can complete in one year," she said.

Listening to the spokesman after gives the impression that these talks throw up more doubts that no one at the State Department seem to be able to arrest. (Watch video here.)

 

Hillary Clinton on relaunching "direct negotiations to resolve all final-status issues which we believe we can complete in one year"

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with US Mideast envoy George Mitchell announcing the launch of direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in September. (Photo: US State Department)

 

A few weeks ago, when rumours of these talks were circulating, a Palestinian man told me,

“I am always afraid when there are peace talks. They will negotiate one thing and it will be good, but the situation on the ground is always different. The Israelis will continue what they are doing.”

He isn't a cynical naysayer. He just knows better than to swallow whole the positive spin the Americans put on the talks.  And he would know. From where he lives in East Jerusalem, he witnesses every day Palestinian land being taken and turned over for Jews. In Jerusalem's Mamilla district, Muslim graves are destroyed, most recently just the day before Ramadan to make way for a US$ 100 million Museum of Tolerance and Human Dignity, funded by the American Jewish Simon Wiesenthal Center. Such destruction would hardly ever happen to ancient Jewish graves, because Israel is aware of the outcry it will unleash from ultra-religious Jews.

Two-thirds of the demolitions for 2010 have occurred since Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama.

This is the reality in the Palestinian territories. While Palestinian homes are being destroyed, more Jewish ones are being constructed with governmental approval in illegal Israeli settlements, illegal because under international law, these settlements are constructed on Palestinian land occupied by Israel since 1967.

But Israel has very little respect for international law in such cases.

 

The United States has always paid lip service to Israel's recalcitrance. This March, President Obama gave Netanyahu the snub for continuing settlement expansion, despite saying he had put in place a construction freeze. But when Netanyahu returned to Washington in July, he was dined by the president who would not even grant him a photo opportunity the last time.

What's happened since July? According to the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, an Israeli group that monitors such seizures of Palestinian land,

"Two-thirds of the demolitions for 2010 have occurred since Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama. More than 3,000 demolition orders are outstanding in the West Bank, and up to 15,000 in Palestinian East Jerusalem."

 

As Israel continues to swallow up land that would constitute a future Palestinian state, the Obama administration responds by shoving the Palestinians back into direct talks with the Jewish state. It's as if you were being robbed blind by a burglar, and the police tell you, it's alright, let's try to sort this out by talking. Maybe that way you will get something back.

What makes Obama push Abbas into negotiations under the worst possible terms for the Palestinians?

 

No preconditions please, we are Israeli.

 

Abbas has repeatedly stated that two things need to happen before he will sit down for direct talks with Israel: settlement building in the West Bank has to stop completely and the acceptance of an independent Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders.

No one imagines that Netanyahu will not face objection from his foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman who has elected to house himself in one of these illegal Israeli settlements.

Netanyahu - on the other hand - hemmed and hawed that his fragile coalition clobbered together with extreme hardliners will fall apart, if he agrees. He cannot extend the current construction freeze beyond its expiry date of September 26.

Why, of course. No one imagines that Netanyahu will not face objection from his foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman who has elected to house himself in one of these illegal Israeli settlements.

Hence come September, the talks will open with no conditions. Netanyahu 1, Abbas 0.

Israel will continue to build homes inside the future independent Palestinian state, embedding Jews where it has no intention of pulling them out from. (No one constructs where they do not expect to be for a foreseeable future.)

As Abbas enters the peace talks with a clearly-unfair United States playing broker, Palestinian groups are calling these talks a sham, including Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Regardless of whether you agree with their tactics, they have actually called these talks what they are. Respected Palestinian leader and former presidential candidate Mustafa Barghouti called the US move "shameful."

Some Israelis too are skeptical. Parliamentarian Haim Oron from the left-wing Meretz Party said,

 

"Without (Israel) continuing a total freeze on settlement and a genuine readiness to withdraw to the international borders and an end to offering the Palestinians a caricature of a state it will be a waste of everybody's time."

 

dan-chyi chua

Dan-Chyi Chua was a broadcast journalist, before forsaking Goggle Box Glitz for the Open Road. A three-year foray led her through the Middle East, China, SE Asia, Latin America and Cuba, and she's now grounded herself as a writer for theasiamag.com, content with spending her days in Jerusalem.

Contact Dan-Chyi