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Another sterile peace mission

Aug 29,2017 - Last updated at Aug 29,2017

As many feared, the US team led by the president’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner ended its effort to resuscitate the moribund Palestinian-Israeli peace process without any tangible result.

And yet, neither of the two directly concerned sides nor the Arab capitals that the Americans visited while en route to Jerusalem and Ramallah, seem greatly disturbed by the sterile outcome.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had no reason to worry. The mediators are totally on his side. 

During an earlier visit, in June, Kushner only conveyed to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas the exact messages he had been given by Netanyahu.

Besides expressing anger and obvious disappointment, Abbas, according to his top adviser Ahmad Majdalani, requested clarification on two key issues: Washington’s position on the settlements and its support for Palestinian independence.

Not only have both matters been totally ignored, but the Trump administration seems to be gradually distancing itself from the main peace formula upon which the Palestinians and the so-called international community have been pinning their hopes for years.

When Netanyahu visited the White House in February, Trump surprised many by saying: “I am looking at two-state or one-state, and I like the one the both parties like.”

Nikky Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, then rushed to correct what many thought was not a deliberate statement of policy, but one of the president’s usual wild statements.

“First of all, the two-state solution is what we support,” Haley insisted. 

“Anybody that wants to say the United States does not support the two-state solution — that would be an error. We absolutely support the two-state solution.”

But that seems now to be outdated. Last week, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert refused to explicitly endorse the two-state solution.

“We are not going to state what the outcome has to be,” Nauert said.

“It has to be workable to both sides. That’s the best view as to not really bias one side over the other, to make sure that they can work through it.”

Under the present circumstances, this sudden American discovery of the need to be even-handed is entirely to the benefit of Israel.

Kushner’s visit has only reassured Tel Aviv that the Trump administration is totally on its side. Not one of the unpleasant issues for the Israelis was ever raised — not settlements, not home demolitions, not Jerusalem and not the siege of Gaza.

It is a win-win situation for Netanyahu. If Abbas agrees to resume talks while settlement construction continues apace, Israel would be very happy with that.

Talks that managed to last for 20 years without coming to any results can easily continue indefinitely without interrupting Israel’s colonisation plans. In fact, resumed talks would be useful, providing convenient cover.

If, on the other hand, Abbas continues to decline offers to renew the stalled talks, that would also work perfectly for Israel.

Israel will continue to claim that its hand is stretched in peace, while the stubborn Palestinians cross their arms and sulk.

Israel’s only nagging concern would be if Washington were to come up with its own peace proposals. Israel has been relentless in opposing such a possibility, including when the idea was floated in the closing months of the Obama administration, and so far its efforts have been successful.

The Trump administration seems to be the least likely to even contemplate such an idea. Like his predecessors, Trump made it clear that the two sides have to work out a solution on their own.

That will never happen with Israel in full control of the situation, with the full weight of US military, financial and diplomatic support on its side.

What has surprised observers, though, is Abbas’ positive response to a mission that not only brought him nothing, but, worse, further confirmed that Washington has fully adopted the hardline Israeli stance towards all the conflict’s components.

But for Abbas, the US delegation’s visit to Ramallah was an end in itself, a much needed morale-boosting step.

Abbas is isolated, his peace strategy has totally failed and he is out of options.

His legitimacy has long expired and the Palestinian “institutions” his authority built are empty shells, while the Palestinian people suffer in divided and isolated bits of land under the crushing weight of Israeli occupation. For Abbas, any international contact can help extend his authority’s life and reason for existence, even if for just another day.

For these reasons, Abbas is determined to stay on good terms with the Trump administration no matter what it costs and no matter how little it brings to the Palestinians.

Israel has always been keen to prolong a relatively tranquil status quo as a convenient climate for continued colonisation of occupied Palestinian lands, eliminating the possibility of the Palestinian state Abbas yearns for.

It seems Abbas has reached the same conclusion: in the absence of any hope for a breakthrough or any movement towards a decent settlement, better keep going with the little available than declare political bankruptcy.

 

Both the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority have, for their own reasons, an interest in preserving the status quo in the short term. But that will lead neither to stability nor to peace for any of them, for the region, or for the world.

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