The Present Impasse


With the breakdown of the peace process in December 2010, followed by the revelations of the Palestine papers in January 2011, one would have thought it would be evident to all that the path which has been followed since the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993 has failed. Is it not blindingly obvious that the Israelis are, at any price, not even prepared to halt the building of settlements, let alone to relinquish the West Bank? It has been a long, drawn-out, and at the end of the day completely futile process; through which it was hoped that negotiations would deliver a state for the Palestinians. Time – so one would have thought - for a major reassessment; perhaps the end of any hope that there could be a two-state solution.

Yet what do we see?

‘The international response is based on the assumption that more forthcoming Palestinian concessions and a continued dialogue with the Israeli political elite will produce a new reality on the ground. The official discourse in the West is that a very reasonable and attainable solution is just around the corner if all sides would make one final effort...

Nothing is further from the truth than this optimistic scenario. The only version of this solution that is acceptable to Israel is the one that both the tamed Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and the more assertive Hamas in Gaza could never ever accept. It is an offer to imprison the Palestinians in stateless enclaves in return for ending their struggle.’

Ilan Pappé, Palastine News, Summer 2010

The unedifying spectacle of a yet further – and now frantic - attempt by Western leaders to resuscitate a ‘peace process’ which some of us might have hoped had finally been shown up for the farce that it has been. In a speech delivered on 10 Dec. 2010 Hillary Clinton informed us, not that the States, drawing the consequences, will change direction but, in defeatest and vague terms, that ‘the parties’ could ‘hopefully find enough common ground on which to eventually re-launch direct negotiations’. (The Washington Post, 10 Dec. 2010). The Quartet’s ‘Special Envoy’ for the Middle East, Tony Blair, likewise commented (‘The World at One’, BBC Radio 4, 5 January 2011) that ‘every effort must be made to unblock the negotiations’.  The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs (again British, Cathy Ashton), chimed in that she had met with George Mitchell (Obama’s Middle East Envoy) ‘who has just returned from his mission to the Middle East to discuss the latest developments in the peace process’ (16 December 2010).

It is time to seriously question what is going on. It would seem that finding the will to do what is needed is dependent in the first instance in coming to a correct estimation as to what Israel is about. David Cameron was still admonishing Netanyahu to undertake substantial talks with the Palestinians, leading to a 2-state solution, during Netanyahu’s visit to London on 4 May; exactly the same message that Obama conveyed in a frosty session with him in Washington on 21 May. If it was not clear enough before, one would have hoped that Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress on 24 May would have made it crystal clear that he has absolutely no intention of undertaking talks which would lead to the formation of any such independent Palestinian state. Yet Cameron prevaricates as to what Britain’s position will be when the Palestinians ask for recognition of a Palestinian State at the meeting of the General Assembly of the UN in September (and Hague has since advised that Britain will not vote in their favour) while Obama categorically stated in his major speech on the Middle East given in Washington on 20 May: ‘Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the UN in September won’t create an independent state.’ Since when did the States alone decide what the UN decision will be? Did Israeli Jews not precisely go to the UN asking for recognition in 1948?

In this section, which brings the website together, I shall attempt to comment on the malaise that has brought us to this impasse. While the world’s leaders fiddle, Rome burns. The Israelis simply drive ahead with their project, bringing untold suffering to Palestinians and endangering the peace of the world. One judgement is that 2011 could prove a turning point. The Palestinian Authority cannot forever be propped up by Western powers; the Palestinians will have had enough, while Abbas himself knows the situation to be hopeless. With the lack of an agreement, a wider war becomes more likely. 2010 saw an international crisis over Iran; only postponed, not solved, through Israel in collaboration with the United States introducing a bug into the Iranian computer systems. Israel may be gearing up for another onslaught on Gaza, or the Lebanon. Through the failure of the talks that they have sponsored, the Obama Administration’s Middle East policy is in a state of paralysis. Would that Europe were to find its own voice and cease simply to fall in behind the States. The consequences of doing nothing could be so horrific that they do not bear thinking about. Meanwhile the West now has to take account of widespread Arab revolt and regime change, which may well serve to take the ground from under its feet.

With the dawn of the Obama presidency in 2009 the world breathed a collective sigh of relief. More particularly, after the exhilarating speech which Obama gave in
Cairo (, 4 June 2009, in which before an Arab audience he as much as admitted that the States had not been a fair broker, many were prepared to suspend their disbelief that the States would ever use its power to deliver justice. It was however well recognised that this was probably the last chance for the American-led ‘peace process’. And what has happened? At first Obama seemed prepared to stand firm,

Official White House Photo, Chuck Kennedy

Obama speaks at Cairo University, 04.06.09.

demanding of the Israelis that settlement-building cease. Eighteen months later he was forced into a humiliating climb-down. His Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was to be found attempting to bribe the Israelis to extend the moratorium on building (which at best had only ever been partial) for just a few more weeks; as though by magic the States could conjure up a settlement to which all could agree.  The bribe was of no avail: on behalf of the Israelis, Netanyahu turned the offer down, as they continued to build, now at the heightened pace that he had always said that they would at the end of the moratorium. If the world pricked up its ears at Obama’s Cairo speech, when he made a similar speech in Indonesia (another Islamic country) eighteen months later

With Reference to Obama’s Speech in Indonesia:

‘What Obama should have said was that it has now become clear that Israel’s Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has no desire for any peace agreement that does not provide for perpetual and absolute Israeli dominance over the Palestinians. He should have added that he knows that Netanyahu has nothing but contempt for him personally in the wake of the midterm election debacle and he might also observe that his ability to act independently is conditioned by the Israel Lobby so he can do nothing to help Palestinians achieve statehood or even to recover a measure of dignity under Israeli occupation. He might admit that he has now been reduced to offering multi-billion dollar bribes of military equipment to Israel just to tempt it to suspend some settlement activity for ninety days. Obama’s words would not have changed reality on the ground, but at least he would have told the truth for a change and candor would have been refreshing.’

Philip Giraldi, former counter-terrorism specialist and military intelligence officer of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, ‘Liar, Liar’, Anti-War, 18 Nov. 2010.

no one took a blind bit of notice. It was apparent that the United States had become Israel’s poodle, its president impotent to do what he knows to be right.

The American failure would seem to be not a straightforward failure of diplomacy, but rather the failure of a mistaken diplomacy, based on a misreading as to what Israel is about. The tendency of many in the West is to think that the Israelis are our kith and kin; Israel a Western state, with democratic norms. Nothing could be further from the truth. Israel is an expansionist state, with a population many of whom believe it has a right to borders other than those agreed by international law; furthermore, which has in large part imbibed a racist ideology which counts the ‘Arabs’ little more than vermin, such that it does not much matter what becomes of them. We could not get our minds around this racist-expansionist outlook in the case of Nazi Germany and we are failing to do so in the case of Israel. There is a failure to grasp the momentum that propels such a state: it thrives on turmoil and must undermine any stalemate of peace with neighbouring states, for it is within a situation of conflict that more land can be grabbed. Israel must perpetually show-off its prowess in order to cow its neighbours; in order that it may - to employ the Israeli vocabulary - have a ‘deterrent’ effect. Meanwhile within Israel itself, the OPT and the Gaza strip, the Palestinians are its victims.

In tamdem with this failure of imagination to grasp what Israel is about is the failure to recognise that what Israel means by ‘peace’ with the Palestinians (which it professes to want) is wholly incompatible with any state of affairs that the Palestinians might be induced to accept. The American Administration attempts to square the circle: on the one hand there is the Palestinian demand (which simply reflects international agreements) that the boundary of Palestinian territory is the ‘green line’, the boundary of 1948-67; on the other, what the Americans and Israelis call Israel’s need for ‘security’, and in addition the unfortunate Bush/Sharon ‘exchange of letters’ in which Bush conceded that a peace deal must necessarily take into account ‘facts on the ground’.  Clinton precisely verbalises the fudge, speaking out of both sides of her mouth at once. On the one hand she speaks of ‘an independent viable [Palestinian] state, based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps [there is no problem in minor swaps to which both parties are agreed, but the Palestinians are hardly likely to agree to swapping districts around Jerusalem, where settlements have been built, for parts of the Negev desert]; on the other of ‘secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments on the ground [a phrase which refers to the Bush/Sharon exchange of letters]’.(1) Again, Clinton fudges when she says that the United States does not ‘accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity’ (12 Dec. 2010). Does this mean that the United States does accept existing settlements (clearly illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention, which forbids an occupying power transferring its own population to land which it occupies)?

Related to the question of boundaries is that as to what is to be understood by a Palestinian ‘state’. The Israeli demand is that it be something quite other than what the Palestinians (and one would hope the rest of the world) intend. Again the issue is not helped by obfuscation. What the Palestinians are demanding (and at least the Europeans say they should get) is a viable, contiguous state, on the green line (the 1948-67 border) with East Jerusalem as its capital. As has been discussed, such a state will need to have an international airport, a port at Gaza, and free-flow of commerce between Gaza and the West Bank. One would have thought the Second Intifada, caused in part by the fear of Palestinians as to what Arafat in their name might negotiate away, was a sufficient portent that they will accept nothing less. Alternatively, with the collapse of the ‘peace process’ there is renewed Palestinian interest in the idea of a one-state solution (which the Israelis would even less like). But a state such as the Palestinians are demanding is precisely what Netanyahu has said they must be denied! (See for example his speech at Bar–Ilan University in June 2009.)(2) Of course Israel would willingly make peace with a Palestinian rump, so-called ‘state’, consisting in nothing more than some disconnected Bantustans over which it maintained ultimate control. No wonder that as soon as Obama insists that the issue of boundaries be placed on the table, Netanyahu shies away from negotiations. The Israeli ploy has always been to prevaricate about the critical issues, while continuing to create what they hope will be impregnable ‘facts on the ground’. The Americans are caught in the middle.


The United States

It has well been said that nothing more divides the American and the European outlooks than the question of Palestine. Of course this is not absolute. There are a number of highly informed and outspoken Jewish Americans who think very much as does many a European, among them Norman Finkelstein, Richard Falk, Jeff Halper (now an Israeli but originally from Minnesota), M. J. Rosenberg and Henry Siegman (the last two, interestingly, converts from a much more right wing position). Further, there are leading Americans, notably General Petraeus, who have warned that, through its one-sided support for Israel, the States is hurting its own interests.

Nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. ... The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim.

So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld.

From George Washington’s Farewell Address, 1796

Time Magazine (March 2010) has not been past saying of AIPAC (the main American Jewish pressure group) that it is very unwise of a group of Americans to put the interests of a foreign state before the interests of America. Furthermore again there does seem to be some movement among at least a section of young Jews, liberal and Democrats as are most American Jews, who do not go in for ‘exceptionalism’ in the case of Israel in the way that their parents have.(3) I shall not however here be considering these Americans who, despite their best efforts, seem so singularly powerless to influence the outlook of their fellow countrymen. Rather shall I briefly attempt to consider what it is about the American system of government, and what presuppositions drive so many Americans, such that on the issue of Israel and Palestine by and large the States comes out a different place than does Europe. 

In the first place a European should consider the nature of American democracy. The House of Representatives and a third of the Senate are elected every two years, so that every second year is an election year. A president only initially has four years and he may well be hoping for re-election. Compare this with for example the British case, in which a government with a decent majority (even it seems if it be a coalition) can plan for a minimum of five years before it need go to the country; moreover by definition commanding a majority in the Commons so that it can get its legislation through. It is true that in the States foreign policy lies within the remit of the President; but there is the question of funding, for which the President needs to carry agreement. Given this context - and remembering how much it costs to run for office in the States - ponder then this. An analysis of the funding of those Representatives who voted in favour of the Resolution which (with little consideration) simply slammed the Goldstone Report, shows that they received on average $51,260 more from pro-Israeli pressure groups as compared with those who voted against ($81,020 as compared with $29,770) since 1989. Those who voted against received $15,760 more from pro-Arab groups ($16,360 as compared with $600). But look at the difference in the figures. In 2009 it was reckoned that pro-Arab groups had since 1998 spent $70,000 on lobbying; compared with pro-Israeli groups a staggering $5,800,000. It is also interesting that Members of Congress travel more frequently to Israel than to any other country (so important is this to them or their constituents); in  November 2009 it was reckoned that, since 2000, a total of 845 trips costing £6 million.(4) (One wonders what they see?) In Britain, likewise, the Conservative party in particular woos Jewish money. But it is a question of scale.

Consider further (in so far as one can generalize about this) the presuppositions of so many living between the two coasts and in the south. A European - I have myself spent five years in the States - is brought up short by the differences (as when, lecturing to a university audience, I took Darwin for granted). Apart from an educated elite, America is a world turned in on itself, its media insular. It would seem doubtful that most Americans could place most European states on the map. In June 2008 a mere 27% of Americans held passports. Moreover the American public would seem to have a propensity to be swayed by particular ideologies. (I recall an Irish Jesuit friend of mine in Boston in the 1980s taken aback by the enthusiasm for the IRA which he encountered.) Further, many Americans have what one could call a ‘theological’ understanding of history, read from a fundamentalist perspective. (I recall a woman telling me, at the height of the cold war, that she did not dread cataclysmic war as this would presage the eschaton.) It is in such a context that the belief flourishes that God has given ‘the Holy Land’ to the Jews, who were expelled and are now rightfully claiming as theirs. (In fact - as the Israeli historian Shlomo Sand has shown - there was no such exodus of any size, rather was the local population converted to Islam.)(5) Then again there is of course the background of the holocaust.  Further again, the Jews are seen as ‘like us’, the Palestinians as ‘Arabs’ inclined to be ‘terrorists’. There has of recent years been a marked rise in Islamaphobia in the States.(6) One would be curious to know whether there is, furthermore, a sense that the Jews are ‘pioneers’, claiming a land, as did so many Americans’ ancestors who tamed the West. (One may note what happened to the native population in that case.) Together these sentiments make for a heady mix, such that for example Joan Peters’ From Time Immemorial (which claims that the returning Jews in effect found an empty land) could meet with the reception that it did. One would hope that the British are somewhat more informed: for a start they are aware of the existence of Palestinians; they held a mandate over that land.

Yet even having grasped something of this background and context, the unthinking nature of the support for Israel in the States must strike one. Again (as one who has spent happy years there) I have to say that the most striking difference that I have noticed is that, whereas in the UK we have on-going public debate about every conceivable political and social matter, in the States there seems to be no such tradition. In the present context, I have seen it suggested that it would be quite impossible in the States for the kind of public airing of dissenting views on current Israeli policy to take place that occurs in Israel itself, for example in editorials in Ha’aretz. In fact from the earliest days of the US taking over from the UK as the dominant outside power in the Middle East, British officials were aghast at the one-sided nature of American support for Israel. I vividly recall walking through the lobby of an American hotel where I had just met a Palestinian whom I had greatly liked twenty years earlier. I commented that I thought well of Hamas and, thinking her to be a pacifist, asked if she thought my judgement mistaken. Without answering the question my friend (who has done much lecturing in the States on the Palestinian issue) was stopped in her tracts, commenting that no American would ever say that! It is in these circumstances that Congress can simply vote against the Goldstone Report (so that Goldstone himself was taken aback at the lack of consideration of the evidence); or, most recently, again with little consideration, rush through a motion (in fact drafted by AIPAC) condemning in advance any unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood.  In such a situation Obama has very little room for manoeuvre.(7)

The stance of leading American politicians must strike one as astonishing. Initially Obama was telling Netanyahu that, until he had different news - and Obama’s door remained open - there was nothing further to discuss. By July 2010 (with the mid-term elections coming up) Obama was telling the American public that Netanyahu ‘wants peace’; that he is ‘willing to take risks for peace’? (Well, yes; so did the Germans in the 1930s under certain conditions want peace, in each case at what cost to others whose land they would take.) When Obama continues by speaking of ‘the bond of two democracies who share a common set of values and whose people have grown closer and closer as time goes on’ (8) what are we to think? Of course this is for public consumption. Do the Americans really share a set of ‘common values’ with the Israelis, who are doing what they are to the Palestinians? How can Israel be counted a ‘democracy’ when 20% of Israelis are second class citizens, subject to a plethora of debilitating rules and restrictions; when Israel is as a colonial power, holding down a subject people in the West Bank, which it would assimilate to Israel; finally, keeping Gaza in bondage? Again, Vice President Joe Biden was publicly humiliated when, in March 2010, the very day of his arrival in Jerusalem to restart peace talks, the building of a further 1,600 new settlers’ homes in East Jerusalem was announced. Yet, speaking to the Jewish Federation of North America in November 2010, Biden tells his audience that he is ‘absolutely certain that our support for Israel must continue … forever’.(9) One would have thought that this fawning attitude ill befitted the most powerful country in the world.

Did American politicians really think that, could the Israelis be persuaded to extend their (only ever partial) settlement building moratorium for a mere couple of months, they could bring an agreement acceptable to all which has alluded them out of the hat? Obama is surely not so naïve. He is informed about the Arab world, known to have at least one good Palestinian friend and contact. Is it that the present Administration is perfectly well aware what needs to happen but does not possess the domestic support to act? Or is that the Administration and Clinton more particularly, whose position seems to differ little from that of her predecessor Condoleezza Rice, is living in cloud cuckoo land? Having backed down as he has, Obama has lost the initiative that he had at the time of his Cairo speech. The Israelis know he is vulnerable. The bribes offered to the Israelis in exchange for an extension of the moratorium in November 2010 were not inconsiderable: $3.2 billion worth of fighter jets, control over the Jordan valley (in perpetuity?), and the promise to use the American veto at the UN in the face of any Palestinian move to unilaterally declare themselves a state. In refusing the bribe, the Israelis probably reckoned that the military equipment would be forthcoming in any case. The Israelis know full well that, at the end of the day, no matter what they do they are likely to receive unconditional support from the United States. But in that lies the whole essence of the problem. Under these circumstances there is absolutely no pressure on the Israelis to mend their ways. Any persuasive power that the Americans might otherwise possess is undermined.

Within the United States the conflict would appear to be becoming deeply destructive of the political process. This was highlighted by Netanyahu’s visit in late May 2011. On 20 May Obama gave what was billed as his first major speech on the Middle East since that given in Cairo in 2009. After much deliberation he broke with recent American policy by making explicit reference to the 1967 border as the starting point for Israeli/Palestinian negotiations with, as he added ‘mutually agreed swaps’. If this was progress on the other hand he made no mention whatever of illegal Israeli settlements. Within a few hours of the speech it was announced in Israel that further settlement building had been given the green light. The following day discussions between Obama and Netanyahu were clearly difficult, though in public there was talk of ‘disagreement between friends’. Two days later, on 23 May, Netanyahu addressed AIPAC and on 24 May gave a speech to a joint session of Congress which was met with rapturous applause. Many have been disturbed by this, possibly including among them members of Congress who participated but who feared to lose funding money if they were spotted on camera dissenting. Such is the grip which funding from Jewish sources has acquired over the American political process. The fact that American foreign policy is increasingly made in Tel Aviv rather than Washington, in the interests of a foreign power, clearly fills many informed Americans with dismay. 

The Europeans

So what of the Europeans? One could wish that, in the face of American impotence, they would see it as incumbent upon them to take the lead. They may yet do that. There is some small evidence that, given Israeli intransigence, they are making moves. Nevertheless it is still most discouraging. Europe is tied into the same industrial-military complex as is the States and, perhaps on account of the fact that the States is the effective head of NATO, European leaders appear reluctant to stray too far from American foreign policy. Certainly the European public is in a very different place than is the American public: this would seem to be true of a whole range of European countries. But the leadership of the European Union has lagged far behind its publics. The question is that as to whether a tipping point can be reached, such that Brussels has to become more responsive to public demand. For Europe does actually have it in its power to radically change Israeli policy. Europe is Israel’s largest trading partner: an astonishing two thirds of Israeli exports are destined for Europe. Moreover Israel is bound to Europe through a whole range of cultural ties, many Israelis liking to think of themselves as honorary Europeans. Europe needs to take the bit between the teeth: the cost of not doing so must be too high.

Economically Europe has proved itself generous in supporting ‘the Palestinians’. Take for example the Paris Donor Conference of December 2007 in support of the Palestinian reform and development programme. 53% of the pledges came from Europe, whereas only 11% from the US and Canada, and 20% from Arab countries.(10) The Europeans are the largest contributor of aid to the Palestinians; and the UK ranks high in this, having pledged £30 million assistance to the Palestinians in 2009, as well as £100 million to UNRWA (The United Nations Relief and Works Agency), making it the second largest donor.(11) But to whom does the money go and to what effect? It is sobering to realize that for the most part it goes to the Palestinian Authority who are in large part prepared to do the work of the Israelis in holding down the Palestinian populace. (See the Palestine papers.) Furthermore, according to a UN estimate, no less than 45% of this ‘aid’ finds its way back into the Israeli economy! The former head of OCHA, David Shearer, has commented: ‘pouring an immense amount of aid into a conflict without either the structure of a peace agreement or a solid analysis of its impact is comparable to speeding along a road at night without headlights’.(12)

In other respects one may think that the European governments have behaved abominably. Subsequent to the Israeli assault on Gaza, the French were quick to send a warship to enforce the blockade, while it seems that the Israelis ended their attack on Gaza when they did in part on account of receiving assurances (including from Gordon Brown) that they would stop the ‘smuggling’ of arms into Gaza. (Given that the Israelis met with almost no counter-attack one wonders how far this is a camouflage for other aims?) By contrast European citizens have been foremost among those who, symbolically at least, have tried to lift the siege of Gaza. John Ging, the Irishman who has served for the past five years as the head of UNRWA in Gaza, where the UN runs 221 schools, plus health centres, employment projects and women’s rights services, describes the situation as a ‘medieval siege’.(13) Why have European nations not sent their combined navies to raise it? The siege of Gaza could well be said to be to constitute collective punishment, forbidden under the Geneva Conventions. Left helpless, no wonder the Gazans come to rely more heavily on Iran for aid than they might otherwise choose to.

So what might be changing? In the EU there does seem belatedly to be some movement but it is too little and too late. In December 2008, the EU refused to upgrade the Association Agreement, a stance that has been maintained since. When in the second half of 2009 the EU presidency was held by Sweden and the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council was chaired by the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, there appeared to be some progress. After that Council’s meeting in December 2009 a strong statement was issued, speaking of there being ‘within an agreed time-frame … an independent, democratic, contiguous and viable State of Palestine’.(14) Coming as it did immediately following the collapse of the peace process, the statement issued by the Foreign Affairs Council in December 2010, was equally outspoken. Whether however the EU can be persuaded to grasp the nettle, turning words into action, is quite another matter.

Shortly before the EU Foreign Affairs Council met in December 2010, a group of twenty-six so-called ‘grandees’, who included among their number Mary Robinson (the former president of the Irish Republic), Chris Patten (a former EU commissioner) and Javier Solana (former EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs), sent an open letter to Herman van Rompuy (the EU President) and Cathy Ashton (the High Representative). Without a ‘rapid and dramatic move’, they warned, ‘a two-state solution, which forms the one and only available option [one wonders quite why, given all the difficulties it entails?] for a peaceful solution … will be increasingly difficult to attain’. They recommend that the EU should reiterate (what has always been its position) that it will not recognise any changes to the June 1967 boundaries of Israel (this in conformity with UN Security Council Resolution 242, which following the war of that year spoke, as is demanded by the Geneva Conventions, of the ‘inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war’ and clearly declared settlement building illegal). A Palestinian state should have ‘territory equivalent to 100% of the territory occupied in 1967’ and the capital of this state should be East Jerusalem.(15)  Small wonder that a spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry found the letter ‘extremely problematic’ (The Guardian 10 Dec. 2010.) At a lecture delivered in London on 11 July, Solana had already previously expressed the opinion that, ‘after a fixed deadline, a UN Security Council resolution should proclaim the adoption of the two-state solution’.(16)

For the most part however the EU, whether in its direct dealings with Israel, or as part of the Quartet (whose ‘Special Envoy’ is Tony Blair) seems prepared to play second fiddle to the United States. In December 2009 Cathy Ashton, newly in office, commented: ‘We cannot and nor, I doubt, can the region tolerate another round of fruitless negotiations’.(17) To her credit Ashton during her first year in office did twice visit Gaza; unlike in this respect Blair, who was in post for a year and three quarters before he did so, subsequent to the devastating Israeli attack. However, the negotiations having proved ‘fruitless’, Ashton is to be found, along with Clinton and George Mitchell, embarking in frantic diplomacy to try to resurrect the defunct peace process. Meanwhile Blair parrots the Americans in speaking of Israel’s supposed  ‘security’ needs.(18) Incidentally one may ask in passing why it is that statements put out by these bodies and individuals routinely demand of Hamas that it release the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, while making no mention of the – it is reckoned 10,000 – Palestinian prisoners, often held in appalling conditions in Israeli jails?

Could it be that the report of 11 January 2011 in The Times that the EU is to take concrete steps, which will include an attempt to force Israel to relinquish its hold over East Jerusalem, barring Jewish settlers with a record of violence from entering EU countries, and EU diplomats being present as monitors at house demolitions, could presage a new attitude?

‘The Europeans are in a unique position to put an end to this human suffering, if only they could muster the moral courage, in spite of American pressure.’

David Abdullah reviewing David Cronin’s book Europe’s Alliance with israel, The Middle East Monitor, 21 Dec. 2010.

In the UK there seems to be a greater readiness on the part of the Prime Minister David Cameron and the Foreign Secretary William Hague to distance themselves from the American position than one might have expected. (See UK.) The tragedy has been that the Europeans failed to adhere to their own Enlightenment tradition of fair play, the advocacy of human rights and pursuit of democracy. Not least, given its former involvement with the territory and its enabling of early Jewish emigration to Israel, the UK must have a deep responsibility to come to the Palestinians’ aid.

The Jewish Israelis

Here the situation seems to go from bad to worse. On 17 January 2011 the Labour leader Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister - whom it might have been thought could well leave the Israeli cabinet taking his labour colleagues with him, thereby weakening the Netanyahu-led coalition, contrary-wise has deserted the Labour party, thus strengthening the coalition. Furthermore one may perhaps stick one’s neck out and say that, when it comes to questions of foreign policy and settlements, the difference between left and right in Israel is wafer thin. It was actually ‘left-wing’ Israelis who were the first settlers. Again, if one reads the well-known inaugural speech which the Labour leader Yitzhak Rabin gave as Prime Minister to the Knesset, in which he declared that his government would take Israel in a new direction and make peace with the Palestinians, this notwithstanding one is left aghast at the attitudes expressed in it.(19) The Israelis, he says, should be magnanimous towards the defeated Palestinians; while the Palestinians should take what is on offer for they will not see anything better. The question of conforming to the demands of international law, or ceasing from an illegal military occupation, is not given a look-in. If this was the stance from which the Israelis approached the Oslo Accords no wonder that that attempt at ‘peace making’ came to naught. The Palestinians were expecting a state. Indeed, it was during the years of the Oslo Accords that settlement building really took off. (And this Prime Minister was to loose his life to a ‘right-wing’ assassin.)

Nevertheless it is certainly the case that since the days when Labour was the default party of government, Israel has moved markedly to the right. The present coalition is the most right-wing that the country has known. There is no reason to think that it does not represent the outlook of an increasing number of Israeli Jews. In the last elections there was a significant showing by extreme right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party, which is now represented in the Cabinet.

Significantly, in his early days of his presidency when he seemed to be gunning for a settlement, Obama only enjoyed the support of 6%-10% of the Israeli public. ‘They dislike [Obama] because of his peace efforts. He will regain their affection only when he abandons these efforts.’

Henry Siegman, ‘Israelis and Obama’, New York Times, 2 Nov. 2009.

We should remember that, in dealing with the Americans, Netanyahu for his part has a free hand than does Obama. Half his cabinet believes that the Jewish people have a God-given right to those territories that they refer to as ‘Judea’ and ‘Samaria’, the West Bank.  There are now half a million settlers living on land that, in any peace agreement, should rightly fall to the Palestinians. One could think that the Israelis have no clear sense of boundaries. Step by step they have taken what they could. The outcome of the war of 1967 was seen by many as an unexpected opportunity to unify Jerusalem under Israeli rule and to expand into the Palestinian territories, fulfilling the dream of recapturing Eretz Israel. The green line is not taught in Israeli schools nor shown on Israeli maps.

In this context it is instructive to consider the rising ethnic nationalism among Israeli Jews. In recent months there has been increasing pressure on others to recognize Israel as a specifically ‘Jewish state’, rather than a state which (at least in theory) is the state of all its citizens. In October 2010 it was reported that, in exchange for Palestinian recognition of the Jewish nature of the Israeli state, Netanyahu offered to extend the (partial) freeze on settlement-building. Presumably this was in part at least a ploy intended for public consumption: whatever may have been going on behind closed doors (Palestine papers), unsurprisingly in public Abbas outright reject what would have made the 20% of the Israeli population who are Palestinians second class citizens in law.(20) In the same month the Israeli cabinet endorsed a draft law that would compel non-Jews applying for citizenship (for example on account of marrying Israeli Arabs) to pledge loyalty to Israel as a Jewish state.(21) It is presumably the case that, with the demise of the apartheid state in South Africa, no state (at least in the Western world and perhaps anywhere) is avowedly an ethnocracy, or one in which those not of a particular religious persuasion are by law second class citizens? Hence, in opposing this, Palestinians can simply appeal to what are common, democratic, Western norms. The courageous first female Arab member of the Israeli Knesset, Haneen Zoabi, need simply say: ‘I represent a democratic vision for all Israelis. It so happens that it is Palestinians who are the victims of a deeply undemocratic system. But my politics are based on ethics, not ethnicity. I represent the universal values of justice, equality and freedom.’(22) It is for taking such a stance that she finds herself in no little trouble in the Knesset.

The problem for Jewish Israelis is that they are faced with a dilemma. They cannot both be an ethnic state and a democracy (of equal citizens); this whether one simply considers Israel, or the Eretz Israel that many would wish for. Indeed, considering the whole territory ‘from the river to the sea’, Jews are now in a slight minority and, given the Palestinian birth rate, the situation will worsen for them. The only possible solution –which surfaces as an idea from time to time – would be the wholesale expulsion of Palestinians (as indeed was carried out with the founding of the state of Israel).
Today, such an action would be classed as ‘ethnic cleansing’. Yet none other than Israel’s present foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has in the past made such suggestions. In 2003 Ha’aretz reported that he had (notoriously) called for thousands of Palestinian prisoners to be drowned in the Dead Sea, Lieberman offering himself to provide the buses. In 2004 he remarked that Palestinians could ‘take their bundles and get lost’.

Perhaps yet more

US. Department of State’s photostream

Secretary Clinton meets with Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Liebermann,

Jerusalem,15 Sept. 2010.

chilling are the results of a poll conducted among Israeli youths in March 2010 which found that 56% of Jewish Israelis under 18 thought Arabs should not be allowed to vote, while 26% thought ‘Death to Arabs’ a legitimate expression.(23) Worst of all, in January 2011 the Israeli news site Ynet brought to attention a decree, signed by rabbis and published in a weekly magazine distributed in synagogues, which suggested, in accordance with their interpretation of verses in the Torah, that it was the religious duty of Jews to call for the creation of death camps for Palestinians. If one is inclined to dismiss these wild remarks by right-wing Israelis as being of much significance, one should remember the wise words of Richard Falk who, in an article (for which he was criticised as being over the top), published in 2007, pointed out that holocausts are preceded by such inflammatory rhetoric.(24)

In such an atmosphere it is perhaps unsurprising to find that ‘peace’ as an issue is a very low priority for Israeli Jews; in polls it has been found to rank only 8th.(25) It would seem that the majority simply take for granted a state of perpetual enmity, punctuated by war, with those whom they refer to as ‘Arabs’, thereby negating any sense of specific Palestinian identity. Indeed, most Jewish Israelis know very little of the lives of Palestinians and care even less. Israeli Jews are, after all, living a good life.(26) But it must seem somehow crazy to an outsider that caring Israeli Jews set up facilities for the victims of the Haiti earthquake, while they are apparently oblivious to the tragedy which unfolds in their midst. The beaches of Tel Aviv are less than 100 km from Gaza; in the midst of central Jerusalem Palestinians regularly have their houses demolished, leaving them homeless. The two societies live cheek by jowl in their separation from one another. (Try – as an obvious tourist – getting a taxi to take one from Arab East Jerusalem to the Dung Gate but a few miles away, or indeed back again in the opposite direction.) Observers remark that, of recent years, Israeli Jews appear to have become ever more hardened in their attitude towards Palestinians, as also ever more oblivious to what opinion the rest of the world may hold of them.

The Palestinians

Or, given, the seemingly hopeless prospect of the Palestinians achieving a state through negotiation, should the Palestinians unilaterally declare themselves a state, asking the United Nations (and other states) for recognition? Supported by EU funds, Salem Fayyad, the PA ‘prime minister’, has been building up Palestinian institutions over a projected two-year period, due to terminate in August 2011, with Palestinian statehood in view. On 13 Dec. 2010 Abbas called on the EU to take a step towards recognition of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders. The UK has indeed now upgraded Palestinian diplomatic recognition, following similar moves by France, Spain and Portugal. The statement issued by EU foreign ministers after their meeting already in December 2009 spoke of the EU’s ‘readiness, when appropriate, to recognize a Palestinian state’;(27) and this they have reiterated since. The World Bank has judged that (to quote an EU statement) ‘if the PA maintains its current performance it is well positioned for the establishment of a state at any point in the near future’ (Telegraph, 13 Dec. 2010). So what of it? A considerable number of states have already jumped the gun and recognized a Palestinian state; most recently Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia and Uruguay (December 2010), followed by Chile, Peru and Guyana (January 2011). The Americans will of course vote against such recognition. Some European countries may follow suit, though it seems not unlikely that others will vote in favour. Why not? The UN recognizes the green line as the legitimate boundary of Palestinian territory. In this situation the Europeans could, for once, exercise some real influence on the outcome of this vote and thus the future of Palestine.

It may well be that the PA’s recent appeal to the UN Security Council to condemn settlements as illegal was an initial ploy to test the waters as to what would transpire in the case that they should ask for recognition of statehood. On the settlement issue, the United States was put in a tight spot, since it is undoubtedly the case that in international law settlements are illegal. With the new united stance of Fatah and Hamas the Palestinians must have strengthened their hand in regard to the issue of statehood. Interestingly, with such an uncertain outcome, the (now pro-Palestinian) American Jew M J Rosenberg advocates that, rather than focus on statehood, the Palestinians should focus on human rights. Basic human rights (the right to vote, equality before the law, freedom of movement and resistance, peaceful assembly and association, the right to own property and not be deprived of it - precisely those rights which the Palestinians are denied) are guaranteed to all by the Universal Declaration of Human rights, ratified by the United Nations with the support of the US and Israel.(28) It would seem that the present situation is untenable, the more especially with the Arab awakening which raises the pertinent question as to why the Palestinians should not also enjoy basic human rights and have their own democratically elected government. Meanwhile the Fatah/Hamas agreement of April 2011 states that there will be Palestinian elections, both presidential and parliamentary, within one year. Thus it looks at present as though there is much to play for. 

One may judge – and this was not changed but rather confirmed by the release of the Palestine papers - that Abbas is not simply a traitor to his people. Rather has he been caught between a stone and a hard place. The PA and he himself owe their position to the Israelis, backed by the Americans. Yet for any peace agreement to work he must get the Palestinians on board. 

Re Palestinians returning to the West Bank from Jordan:

‘A Palestinian stamps their passport [sic]. Behind the Palestinian there is tinted glass. Behind that, an Israeli. The Palestinian puts the documents in a box. They go to the Israeli, who has a computer. He can send them back, with questions. The Palestinian asks them. Only if the person is suspect does he go into a back room to be interrogated. There was a three-day discussion as to whether the glass should be tinted or opaque. I think we decided dark-tinted.’

(Described by an Israeli negotiator, Uri Savir, quoted by Ali Abunimah One Country, p.65-66, quoting Connie Bruck, ‘The Wounds of Peace’, New Yorker, 14 Oct. 1996, p.75)

The problem is that it is only too apparent to the Palestinians that Abbas and the 150,000 strong army of police and civil servants under him who rule the lives of Palestinians are in the pay of the Americans and Europeans and, in the first instance, under the thumb of the Israelis. Hence they can appear to be little more than Quislings: see the inset quotation, which captures the situation in a thumbnail. Such collaboration on the part of a section of the population is of course deeply divisive of Palestinian society. The dilemma that confronts Abbas is well articulated by Al Jazeera in a recent article.(29) Advocating that his first step must be a disengagement from collaboration with Israeli ‘security’ in the West Bank, the writer also recognises that 150,000 jobs are dependent upon this collaboration. In the circumstances of the West Bank, that loss of employment would have a huge impact on the fragile Palestinian economy.

The Americans and Europeans have been propping up what is, at the end of the day, a quite impossible situation for the Palestinian people. That observant watcher of the Palestinian scene who, himself of Palestinian heritage runs the Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah, spoke (31 Dec. 2010) of ‘… the ongoing and lavishly-funded fantasy of Salem Fayyad’s “state-building” initiative of recent years – in reality a repressive US-managed police state apparatus to crush any form of resistance’. Can the West not read the signs? A Palestinian wall painting (in a photo captured by Al Jazeera) shows Arafat, his arm raised in a victory salute.(30) That is to say ‘Arafat’ (his place now taken by the current PA leadership) proclaims ‘victory’ in the peace process; while actually the negotiations could prove treacherous to the Palestinians. With the release of the Palestine papers we see this to be spot on. Hamas had always said, as it now appears with great prescience, that given the present power-imbalance the path of negotiations was hopeless. As the Al Jazeera article I have just mentioned put it, exhorting a united front: ‘regardless of whether Palestinians opt for a one or two state solution, they cannot avoid a battle to end the occupation under which they currently live’.(31) The international community would not appear to be about to hand them a state on a plate. It was clear of course that the Americans were dead against any Hamas/Fatah reconciliation: the Palestinian papers revealed that Obama warned Abbas not to surprise him with any deal. Of course, did the Americans but want a reasonable peace they would precisely recognise that only this could lead to the formation of a representative Palestinian delegation which could negotiate on the Palestinians’ behalf with Israel, such that an agreement might stick.

In the event the collapse of the peace process together with the effect of the ‘Arab Spring’ on the wider Palestinian population, opened up a renewed prospect of Palestinian reconciliation. The wider Palestinian population and non-aligned youth were demanding it. On 15 March there were mass demonstrations in Palestinian towns demanding reconciliation. Already on 8 January 2011 it was reported that the wealthy businessman from the West Bank Munib Al-Masri and others were carrying on a shuttle diplomacy. Abbas offered to visit Gaza. Predictably Israel reacted with horror, Netanyahu telling Abbas that Fatah must choose between the peace process and relations with Hamas. Then on 27 the world was caught by surprise as the Egyptian news agency announced the successful conclusion of secret negotiations that had been carried on in Cairo. The wholly different stance of the new Egyptian government than that of Mubarak’s government, which had always been anti-Hamas, promising not to interfere in what was an internal Palestinian matter, enabled this to come about. Under the agreement there is to be a provisional government which will oversee the preparation of new elections, both presidential and parliamentary, a year after the signing of the agreement; a reform of West Bank security; a release of prisoners on either side; and the reform and activation of the PLO and the Palestinian Legislative Council. Israel has in response threatened to withhold Palestinian taxes from the PA, which it collects on the PA’s behalf. Whether the Europe and the Americans will be prepared to deal with a government which has an Hamas element remains to be seen, but in the case of Europe at least there are some hopeful signs.


(1) ‘Hillary Clinton chews off Netanyahu’s Ear’, Israeli Insider, 12 Nov. 2010.


(3) Peter Beinart ‘Israel and the Failure of the American Jewish Establishment’, talk given at St Antony’s College, Oxford, 12 Nov. 2010.

(4) Jihan Andoni ‘Open Secrets’, 5 Nov. 2009.

(5) The Invention of the Jewish People (Verso, 2009), original 2008.

(6) Cf. Max Blumenthal, The Great Islamaphobic Crusade, reviewed by Tom Engelhardt:

(7) Al Jazeera, 16 Dec. 2010.

(8) (7 July 2010).


(10) ‘Implementing the Palestinian Reform and Development Agenda’, The World Bank, 2 May 2008.

(11) CAABU Press Release 9.11.2009,

(12) Quoted by David Cronin, Europe’s Alliance with Israel, p. 75.

(13)The Guardian, 17 Jan. 2011.

(14) Press release: Council of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, 8 Dec. 2009.

(15) The Guardian, 10 Dec. 2010.

(16) Rami Khouri ‘European Hardball’, 15 July 2009,

(17) Speech to the E.U. Parliament, 15 Dec. 2009.

(18) Interview on the (BBC Radio 4) ‘World at One’ 5 Jan. 2011.

(19) Rabin speech

(20) Telegraph, 29 Nov. 2010.

(21) Financial Times, 10 Oct. 2010.

(22) Interview with Hilary Wise, Palestinian News, Autumn 2010.



(25) Interview with Philip Weiss, 4 Oct. 2010.

(26) Cf. Jeff Halper interview with Philip Weiss, 4 Oct. 2010.

(27) EN Council Conclusions on the Middle East Peace Process (pdf)


(29) Lamis Andoni ‘The PA’s ultimate act of resistance’, 7 Dec. 2010.


(31)Lamis Andoni ‘The PA’s ultimate act of resistance’, 7 Dec. 2010.


Flickr Commons

US Department of State photostream.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Hillary Clinton, Mahmoud Abbas and George Mitchell chat after meeting, 14 Sept. 2010

This page is the first page of a two-page narrative of which Whither Then? is the second part