The Orwellian Middle East “Peace Process”

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President Obama has arrived in Israel for the start of a carefully choreographed four-day trip to the Middle East guaranteed not to rile the status quo. Based on the flurry of anodyne advanced press briefings and statements issued by administration officials in the lead-up to the trip, it’s clear the strategy is to tamp down expectations that anything of substance might actually happen during the President’s visit. Administration officials have been especially careful not to raise hopes of an American-brokered end to the intractable, decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, stating flatly that the President will put forward no new initiatives, and offering only tepid and vague statements about the administration’s willingness “to continue to play a facilitating role” in the peace process.

This is disappointing but not at all surprising. As Noam Chomsky observes in this excerpt from the documentary Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land, for years the peace process has been “the process by which the United States has prevented peace”:

In a blistering op-ed in The New York Times on the eve of Obama’s visit, Middle East scholar Rashid Khalidi advanced much the same argument, detailing how the American-led peace process has mutated into an “Orwellian grotesquerie”:

The American-led ‘process’ has ultimately strengthened the Israeli far right and made Palestinian self-determination more unattainable than ever. Continuing with the Orwellian grotesquerie that is the ‘peace process’ is contrary to any enlightened definition of American self-interest. It has burnished the image of the United States as Israel’s uncritical defender and enabler. Furthermore, it insults the intelligence of the Palestinian people. Despite the complicity of some of their leaders in a process that has left them stateless while the unending colonization of the West Bank and East Jerusalem continues, they deserve to be more than prisoners in their own land.

Just days before Obama’s visit, things became even more grotesque – and more Orwellian – when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu announced the appointment of two high-level cabinet ministers who are staunch supporters of expanding Israeli settlements. Settlements are not only the most notorious stumbling block to peace – flying in the face of a longstanding international consensus that says the clearest path to peace is to dismantle the settlements and end the occupation altogether. They are also, of course, a clear violation of international law.

Apparently unfazed by these kinds of details, newly appointed Housing Minister Uri Ariel, a member of the pro-settler Jewish Home Party and a Jewish settler himself, said in a recent television interview that “building will continue in [the occupied territory] in accordance with what the government’s policy has been thus far.” Using the Biblical names for the territory Israel captured in the 1967 war, Ariel pledged that Israel “will build in Judea and Samaria more or less as it has done previously. I see no reason to change it.”

Meanwhile, newly minted Defense Minister Moshe “Boogie” Yaalon, a longtime advocate of the right-wing dream of a Greater Israel (or Eretz Yisrael) encompassing all of the occupied Palestinian territories, is on record as saying “that Jews have the right to live anywhere in the Land of Israel forever,” adding that nothing – apparently not even the tacit support of the Americans – will get in his way: “I, for one, am not afraid of the Americans. There are issues on which one should say, ‘that’s enough.’”

Setting aside the sheer absurdity of Yaalon’s bravado given how willingly American presidents have rolled over in the face of settlement building, Netanyahu’s appointment of hardliners like these demonstrates just how entrenched the occupation has become – and how ridiculous it is for the United States to continue to posture as an honest and neutral broker in the peace process.

More than anything else, as Norman Finkelstein and Mouin Rabbani make clear in this recent interview, the US-led peace process has worked in reverse to make peace less possible:

While it’s clear the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not be found in the current framework known as “the peace process,” that doesn’t mean that peace can’t be achieved. The fact remains that the best possibility for peace lies in Israel simply ending its nearly 50-year occupation — in accordance with an overwhelming international consensus, countless UN resolutions, rulings by the International Court of Justice, and the courageous grassroots resistance movements that have been struggling daily and largely out of the limelight to ensure that Palestinians have access to the dignified lives they deserve.