It is astonishing that despite the huge gaps between the maximum that Israel is willing to concede and the minimum that the Palestine Authority could accept as the basis of a final settlement of the conflict, governmental leaders, especially in Washington, continue to pull every available string to restart inter-governmental negotiations. Is it not enough of a signal that Israel lacks the capacity or will to agree to an extension of the partial settlement freeze for a mere additional 90 days, despite the outrageous inducements from the Obama Administration (20 F-35 fighter jets useful for an attack on Iran; an unprecedented advance promise to veto any initiative in the Security Council acknowledging a Palestinian state; and the assurance that Israel would never again be asked to accept a settlement moratorium) that were offered to suspend partially their unlawful settlement activity.
In effect, a habitual armed robber was being asked to stop robbing a few banks for three months in exchange for a huge financial payoff. Such an arrangement qualifies as a transparently shameless embrace of Israeli lawlessness on behalf of a peace process that has no prospect of producing peace, much less justice.
Justice here is conceived in relation to the satisfaction of Palestinian rights, especially the right of self–determination that has through the years been whittled down.
The continued division of Historic Palestine
The Palestinian acceptance of the 1967 borders (a decision ratified by the PLO in 1988) as the unilaterally reduced basis of the territorial claims associated with Palestinian self-determination, which is only 22 per cent of historic Palestine, and this is less than half of what the UN had proposed in its 1947 partition plan that was at that time quite reasonably rejected by the Palestinians and their Arab neighbours as a colonialist ploy in which the indigenous population was adversely affected and never consulted. In retrospect, the Palestinian readiness to settle for the 1967 borders was an extraordinary concession in advance of negotiations that was never acknowledged by either Israel or the United States, casting real doubt on whether there was ever a credible commitment to end the conflict by diplomacy.
The shamelessness continues. Instead of castigating Israel for its refusal to show even a pretense of pragmatic flexibility that would make the Obama approach seem slightly less fatuous and regressively wimpy, the US government simply announced that it was abandoning its efforts to persuade Israel to extend the moratorium, and was now embarking on a resumption of the negotiations between the parties without any preconditions, that is, settlement expansion and ethnic cleansing could now continue uncontested.
EU: vocal on settlements and silent of statehood
This was too much even for the normally passive European Union. A few days ago a meeting of the EU Foreign Ministers in Brussels issued a statement insisting that all Israeli activity cease in what was called the "illegal settlements" and that the Gaza blockade be ended "immediately" by an opening of all the crossings to humanitarian and commercial goods, as well as to the entry and exit of persons.
The EU statement was impressively forthright for once: "Our view on settlements, including East Jerusalem, are clear: they are illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace." Regrettably, the EU statement was silent on the issue of recognition of Palestinian statehood, losing the opportunity to reinforce the symbolically important diplomatic step taken by Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay to accord Palestine recognition within its 1967 borders. Nevertheless, the EU did distance itself from Washington, leaving the United States to the discomfort of its lonely solidarity with Israel. By refusing a diplomatic accommodation with Turkey in the aftermath of the flagrantly criminal attack last May on the Freedom Flotilla carrying humanitarian assistance to the beleaguered people of Gaza, Israel confirms this perception of its pariah status.
Underneath these dark clouds of deception and delusion, the peoples of occupied Palestine, as well as the several million refugees, endure their harsh daily existence while the world watches and waits, seemingly helpless. The durable American envoy to the conflict, George Mitchell, continues to say that the objective of the talks is "an independent, viable state of Palestine..living side by side with Israel." The incoherence of such an objective should be palpable. How can one honestly talk about such an envisioned Palestinian state as "viable" when the American leadership agrees with Israel that "subsequent developments" (the code phrase for settlements, land seizures, wall, ethnic cleansing, annexation of Jerusalem) need to be embodied in the outcome of negotiations? And what sort of "independence" is being contemplated if the Palestinian borders are to be still controlled by Israeli security forces and a demilitarised Palestine is expected to live side by side with a highly militarised Israel? The American approach plays with lives as it plays with language, and yet most of the mainstream media swallows this latest bend in the river without raising even a sceptical eyebrow.
The value of retrospection
These considerations ignore some other problematic aspects of the current framework. The Netanyahu government demands PA acknowledgement of Israel as "a Jewish state," thereby overlooking the human rights of the Palestinian minority in pre-1967 Israel, numbering about 1.5 million or about 20 per cent of the total population, to live as citizens under conditions of non-discrimination and dignity. Sometimes history is useful. Even the notorious Balfour Declaration, a pure assertion of British colonial prerogative, promised the Zionist movement only "a homeland," not a sovereign state. The workings of warfare and geopolitics and clever propaganda gradually shifted the parameters of understanding, allowing a homeland to be transformed into a sovereign state with disastrous chain of consequences for the indigenous population. In this respect the most recent Hamas position of refusing recognition of Israel while agreeing to the establishment of a Palestinian state within 1967 borders is a reasonable effort to draw a line between affirming the illegitimate and being reconciled to political circumstances. To expect more is to drive the Palestinians into an unacceptable corner of humiliation, in effect, endorsing the nakba, and all that has followed by way of dispossession and abuse.
Of course, the issue of self-determination is not for non-Palestinians to determine. Those who call upon Washington, even now and despite its partisanship and ill-concealed alignments, to impose a solution are thus doubly misguided. Even Hilary Clinton acknowledged days ago the impossibility of adopting such an approach.
What seems clear at present is that both the PA and Hamas seem ready to accept a state of their own within 1967 borders, more or less along the lines set forth back in 1967 in the Security Resolution 242, which remains an iconic document that supposedly embodies a continuing international consensus. What it would mean with respect to implementation is certain to be highly contentious, especially in relation to those infamous "subsequent developments," better understood as massive encroachments on Palestinian prospects for separate statehood.
The mindlessness of diplomacy
Many in the Palestinian diaspora doubt whether a two-state solution is attainable or desirable. Instead they are calling for a single secular, bi-national democratic state that is co-terminus with the historic Palestinian mandate, and alone has the inherent capacity to reconcile contemporary ideas of democracy, human rights, and a belated realisation of Palestinian rights, including the long deferred claims of Palestinian refugees.
Geopolitics is stubborn, and is not moving in hopeful directions. Now arms are being again twisted by American diplomacy in the region to resume talks between the parties on what are being called "core issues" (borders, security arrangements, Jerusalem, settlements, refugees, relations with neighbours). While this mindless diplomatic spinning goes forth, other clocks are ticking madly: the settlements expanding at accelerating rates, new segments of the wall are being constructed, ethnic cleansing intensifies in East Jerusalem, the apartheid practices and structures in the West Bank are being steadily strengthened, the entrapped and imprisoned population of Gaza lives continuously on the brink of a survival crisis, the refugees in their camps endure their dreary and unacceptable confinement. Netanyahu thunderously warns that Jerusalem is Israel's capital, that never will a single Palestinian refugee be allowed to return, that Israel is a Jewish state, and that whatever Tel Aviv calls "security" must be treated as non-negotiable. Given these predispositions, combined with the disparities in bargaining power between the parties, as well as the one-sided hegemonic role of the United States, who but a fool could think that a just peace could emerge from the such a deformed pattern of geopolitical diplomacy? Is it not better at this time to rely on the growing Palestine Solidarity Movement, peace from below, and the related success being experienced in waging the Legitimacy War against Israel, what Israel itself nervously calls "the de-legitimacy project" that is viewed by its leaders and think tanks as a far greater threat to its illicit ambitions than armed resistance?
Richard Falk is Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and Visiting Distinguished Professor in Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has authored and edited numerous publications spanning a period of five decades, most recently editing the volume International Law and the Third World: Reshaping Justice (Routledge, 2008).
He is currently serving his third year of a six year term as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights.