The latest round of peace talks or to be more accurate, talks about peace talks between Israel and Palestine is just one more distraction from the fundamental issue – Justice, or rather the lack of justice in Palestine. The Israelis and their American friends are only too willing to talk about peace. In fact they like nothing better than to talk about peace. For that is all the Israelis have to offer – talks and yet more talks. All about the need for peace. Not a word about justice. At least not a word about justice for Palestinians. The whole thing is a sham and just a cover for yet further Israeli illegal land grabs. The so-called “Peace Process” has become a major enemy of Human Rights. This is not just my view, but the view of Michael Sfard, Israeli human rights attorney and legal counsel and co-founder of Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights. He states in an interview with Israeli online magazine +972 that, “While talks are happening Israel gets away with anything. Land grabs, the expansion of settlements, even [Operation] Cast Lead was waged while there were peace talks.” When the world focuses its attention on the peace process, he explains, it is much less attentive to Palestinian victims and the cries of human rights organizations and civil society. In the past decade or two, “the peace process has become one of the major enemies of human rights,” Sfard continues, and “no peace process will be fruitful if people are suffering on the ground.” You can read the whole interview here.
It is clear that from the Oslo agreements onwards to the present day, peace talks are immensely beneficial to Israel. The Palestinians get nothing out of them. In fact they continue to lose territory to the ongoing illegal settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. I guess the Palestinian leadership continues to participate in this charade, as the Palestinians are too weak to do anything else. However it is not clear just what endgame the Israelis and their American sponsors have in mind. The kind of peace deal that the Israelis are prepared to offer – retention of East Jerusalem, retention of all the illegal settlements – is something that no Palestinian leadership could ever accept. Not even one as weak and craven as the current one. Israel must know this, so it appears that the Israelis are looking for no more than a few positive words in the world’s press while they continue with business as usual. Which for Palestinians means the occupation continuing as usual. The Israeli and Zionist establishment is essentially bankrupt. They have no achievable long term vision for the area. What they really want of course is for the Palestinians to just go away. Which is why the Israelis make life as difficult and intolerable for Palestinians as possible. However the Palestinians are not going to go away. Moreover, however much the Americans support Israel, even the USA would balk at any military attempt by Israel to repeat what they did in 1948/49 – the ethnic cleansing of the remaining Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. So all that Israel can hope for is that things remain much as they are and that the rest of the world turns a blind eye. If the Palestinians continue to participate in meaningless “peace” talks, so much the better.
This rather rosy picture from an Israeli perspective is unlikely to last for too long. Things are beginning to change. The Global BDS movement – Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – has already chalked up a number of important successes. The recent EU decision to limit grants to Israeli organizations that have no links to the illegal settlements was a major blow to Israel. There is hardly any organization in Israel that does not have important links with the settlements. The tide is turning and Israel knows it. Which presumably is why it is so desperate to try and get the debate back to “peace” talks. This is most unlikely to work. Peace without Justice is not really peace and certainly no basis for a sustainable peace. So instead of striving for an illusory peace settlement the focus needs to remain on challenging the status quo. Which is what the BDS movement does by emphasizing instead the three key injustices that need to be resolved before wasting time debating borders etc. Just to remind everyone, here are the three demands:
1. The right of return for all refugees,
2. The end of occupation and
3. Equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel.
These three demands are beautifully simple and very difficult for anyone to reasonably argue against. All are relevant and essential to any long lasting outcome. To take one example, the third demand – Equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel. In many ways this demand goes to the heart of the conflict. For Israel demands that the Palestinians and the rest of the world for that matter, recognizes Israel as a “Jewish” state. But as a Jewish state, Israel necessarily discriminates against its own citizens who are not Jewish. Including those, like the Palestinians, who were born in Israel and whose parents and grandparents were born there. Yet in all kinds of ways, the state discriminates against Palestinian Israelis, both formally and informally. Palestinian political parties are not in practice, allowed to form part of the government. The allocation of public money is heavily skewed in favour of Jews and Jewish communities. Despite the fact that around 20% of the population of Israel is Palestinian. So how could any Palestinian agree to recognizing Israel as a Jewish state? It is hard to imagine how any country could agree to recognizing Israel as a Jewish state as this implies discrimination against non Jews. Yet all Israeli governments continue to make this demand a pre-condition for any final outcome. The very fact that Israel refuses to treat all its citizens equally, should give our governments pause for concern. What are we in the West doing by supporting such an unjust state? There would be greater chance of a long term peace settlement if our governments were to join with the BDS movement in challenging Israel to give reality to these three simple demands for justice.