Why the Palestine-Israel peace process is not all doom and gloom

The path to a lasting solution may need to resume from America's streets

The devastating wars between Israel and Hamas continue to dominate discussions concerning the Palestine-Israeli conflict, especially since both parties appear bent on repeating the same fatal miscalculations, producing the same disastrous results. Despite the cruelty of Israel's assaults and the tragic toll they take, and Hamas's hollow boasts of victory, no one ever wins these wars, with the people of Gaza paying the dearest price from Israel's blows and its continued stranglehold over the Gaza Strip.

It's not enough to criticise only Israel and Hamas for the current disastrous state of affairs in the Palestine-Israel arena. Two other parties have varying degrees of responsibility – the US government and the Palestinian Authority (PA) – who also appear unwilling to learn lessons from past failures and, therefore, keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

Most responsible for this mess are successive US administrations and Congresses. By continuing to operate according to the maxim that "there must be no light between the US and Israel", Washington has, in effect, given Israel a green light to follow their worst instincts while providing no effective restraint on their bad actions.

Refusing to apply public pressure on Israel, the US has instead relied on "quiet diplomacy" that has been repeatedly ignored. And by refusing to place conditions on US support for Israel, successive administrations have not only enabled Israel's bad behaviour, but have also weakened forces for peace in that country.

For decades now, the US has said "No" to new settlements, expressed concern with repression in the occupied territories, and urged Israel to pursue peace. All have been ignored. And yet, because the US continues to provide Israel with massive amounts of assistance and diplomatic cover at the UN, it has fostered Israel's sense of impunity. Like a spoiled child, Israel has learned that it can literally get away with murder.

It sometimes appears that the asymmetry of power between the Palestinians and Israel is augmented by another potent asymmetry: US public pressure is applied only to Palestinians, while Israel alone is rewarded.

Meanwhile, the PA has become a ghost of what was envisioned at its creation, with Israel denying it the opportunity to become the precursor to a truly independent, sovereign and contiguous Palestinian state.

Because of the PA's need to support tens of thousands of Palestinian employees and their families, it has become dependent on international aid. Israel, while demanding the PA's co-operation (and at times subordination), continues to incite and undercut it in every manner possible – from provocative, deadly night raids in the heart of Palestinian cities, to land seizures, demolitions and creeping occupation.

At the same time, the PA has failed to project a political strategy that can mobilise Palestinians and a vision that could inspire hope for the future. About all the PA appears to offer as an approach is taking the Palestinian case to the UN or other international bodies – where it runs smack into a US veto. By focusing on this failed approach and its own survival, the PA's complacency has left the masses of Palestinians despairing and vulnerable to the appeal to violence promoted by Hamas, which also lacks any vision or strategy.

While the PA cannot be faulted for Israel's behaviour or US policies, its own actions are worthy of criticism since it appears to be rushing headlong toward committing political suicide. Seemingly impervious to the damage it is doing to the Palestinian cause, the PA continues to operate as an increasingly detached mini-authoritarian regime, cancelling elections and using repressive force to silence critics and activists. Recent uprisings in the West Bank in response to the death of a critic of PA corruption at the hands of Palestinian security forces are a clear indication of its growing lack of legitimacy.

And so with all the parties continuing to act as they have without learning lessons, their tragic dance with death continues: Israel continues to act with impunity making the one-state apartheid solution it most fears an inevitability; Hamas while boasting of a hollow victory appears to be paving the way for the next deadly round; the PA sitting in Ramallah, besieged now by its own citizens, appears more concerned with its own survival than leading Palestinians to justice and an end of occupation; and the US, falling back on its tired mantra of "negotiations (with whom, no one knows) leading to a two-state solution", is "fiddling while Rome burns".

However, despite this dire state of affairs, there are some hopeful signs of change.

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A more balanced US policy that conditions support for Israel will be the sword that cuts the Gordian Knot

There are steady shifts in US public opinion toward Israel and its policies. A majority of Americans, including a majority of American Jews, now want to see conditions placed on US assistance to Israel and a more balanced US policy toward the conflict. And the impact of this shift in attitudes is reflected both in congressional elections – with candidates who support justice for Palestinians winning contests against pro-Israel opponents – and in a recent letter signed by a record-setting 73 members of Congress calling on the Biden administration to support Palestinians.

If this continues and the US develops a more balanced policy that conditions support for Israel, it will be the sword that cuts the Gordian Knot. It will end Israel's sense of impunity, empower peace forces in Israel, break the hold that Israel's hard right has over country's policy debate, and inspire Palestinian civil society to see that justice can be achieved.

After such a change in US policy, the next election in Israel will be about more than which right-wing government can get away with more oppression and creeping annexation. Moreover, Palestinians will be able to debate creative strategies to confront the occupation and have elections that will be about more than which corrupt group will administer the occupations of Gaza and the West Bank.

Then and only then will we be able to see policies from all parties focused on ending the conflict instead of pointlessly pursuing the same dead-end approaches that only sink everyone deeper into the mess they are in.

Published: July 20th 2021, 5:00 AM
James Zogby

James Zogby

Dr James Zogby is the president of the Arab American Institute and a columnist for The National