Einstein had it right: John Kerry’s latest Middle East ‘peace process’

Israel-Palestine talks will continue to fail until they are based on international law, human rights and equality for all, writes Phyllis Bennis

August 21, 2013
6 min read


Phyllis Bennis is Red Pepper’s United Nations correspondent, and a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam. Her books include Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer.

kerryJohn Kerry: spot the pattern

US Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest foray into Middle East negotiations should be called the Einstein peace process. Doing the same thing over and over again and still expecting different results is the great scientist’s definition of insanity. This time around, all evidence to the contrary aside, indications are that Kerry actually believes this latest iteration of the decades-old industry known as the ‘peace process’ might really accomplish something. But unfortunately for Kerry, his political calculations are about to run aground on the unforgiving shoals of political reality.

Regardless of Kerry’s beliefs, the timing of this latest version of the talks clearly has a lot to do with the crises erupting across the Middle East region. The escalating civil and regional war in Syria, the growing sectarian and religious-secular divides exploding across the region, and even the Washington-backed Egyptian military’s coup against the Muslim Brotherhood, all reflect broader US weakness and failures in the Middle East. The inability of the US to respond strategically to those challenges is certainly part of why plunging back into Israel-Palestine talks, however repetitive of earlier failures, might have seemed a useful move – for distraction, for reassurance of Israel’s backers, for reassertion of a weakened empire’s fading but still extant power.

But despite all those reasons, these talks are doomed to the same failure as the 22 years of failed diplomacy that precedes them.

A one-sided peace

Part of the problem lies squarely in Kerry’s stated US goal for the talks: ‘ending the conflict, ending the claims.’ Not ending the occupation, not ending the siege of Gaza, not ending the decades of dispossession and exile of Palestinian refugees. Not basing diplomacy on United Nations resolutions and the obligations of international law. Only ending the tension, the dispute – regardless of which version of current reality becomes the officially agreed upon final status. Then, in Kerry’s world, all Palestinian claims will disappear, and the Palestinians, even if their internationally-recognised rights remain out of reach, will smile, applaud their brave leaders, and politely agree to suck it up. (Israeli claims of course will not have to end, because Israeli claims, all about ‘security,’ are inherently legitimate and non-negotiable, while Palestinian claims – to self-determination, real sovereignty, equality, return – are always political and up for grabs.)

The appointment of Martin Indyk as US envoy to the talks is a further indication that no one intends to change the framework of the last 22 years of failed US-led diplomacy. Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel, former deputy research director of AIPAC – the powerful pro-Israel lobby – and co-founder of the AIPAC-linked Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has been central to US-controlled Israel-Palestine diplomacy for years. (For years now, it has become common to see Indyk, Dennis Ross, Aaron Miller and others responsible for 22 years of failed US diplomacy in the Middle East, burnishing their ‘veteran’ status as a credential for continuing their careers.)

This round, like before, will ignore international law, and instead be based on the current disparity of power between occupied and occupier. The pro-Israel US arbiter will determine Israeli positions and Israeli-proposed ‘compromises’ to be ’reasonable’. Israel will continue to build and expand settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank based on the thousands of new permits already in place, while offering some kind of short-term partial delay in granting some number of new permits – and that will be called a major compromise. More than 600,000 Israeli settlers will continue to live in huge city-sized Jews-only settlements throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the talks will be rooted in the understanding that in any final arrangement Israel will be allowed to keep all the major settlement blocs and 80 per cent or more of the settlers right where they are.

The meaning of ‘swaps’

Secretary Kerry announced proudly that this round of talks is based on the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, without mentioning that the ‘new’ US- and Israeli-imposed amendment to that plan stripped it of its potential value – the requirement that Arab normalisation with Israel could come only after ‘full’ withdrawal to the 1967 borders and a just solution to the refugee problem based on UN resolution 194 guaranteeing their right of return. Kerry’s new version ignores the refugees (at least so far) and adopts the US-Israeli language on borders (always said as one word) of 1967-borders-with-swaps. Those ‘swaps,’ of course, mean Israel gets to keep all its settlement cities, all its illegal settlers, virtually all the Palestinian water sources, while the Palestinians will be offered some undeveloped desert land abutting Gaza perhaps, or perhaps a proposal to place Palestinian-majority cities inside Israel, such as Nazareth, under the jurisdiction of the to-be-created Palestinian ‘state’. (There is likely to be no compromise on Gaza – Israel’s siege will remain, strengthened by Egypt’s new post-coup government tightening the closure of the Egypt-Gaza crossing at Rafah – and the Palestinian Authority diplomats are not likely to make Gaza a major part of their negotiating strategy.)

Palestinians, of course, will be expected to accept Israel’s ‘reasonable’ compromises as if both sides, occupied and occupier, have the same obligations under international law. (Oh right, international law doesn’t have a role here.) The price, if Palestinians reject any of those oh-so-reasonable proposals, will be US and perhaps global opprobrium for blocking peace.

Right now some developing countries (South Africa, Brazil) are hinting at somewhat more independent positions towards Israel-Palestine. The European Union’s new restrictions on funding settlement entities, made public just before Kerry’s announcement of the new talks and Israel’s acceptance of them, is particularly important, reflecting the impact of even mild sanctions on Tel Aviv. But while the civil society movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) continues to build, it remains unclear how the governments tentatively backing away from US positions would respond to the collapse of the US-controlled talks, especially if the US claim is that the failure is the Palestinians’ fault.

Israeli violations of international law, the Geneva Conventions, UN resolutions and more remain. The US does not set an end to those violations as a goal of these peace talks – let alone as a precondition. If it did, Israel would have to end its occupation of the 1967 territories and recognise the Palestinians’ right of return unilaterally – ending violations shouldn’t require negotiations. That’s why, ultimately, these talks will fail. Until negotiations are based not on US support for Israeli power but on international law, human rights, and equality for all, the ‘peace process’ will fail and will remain an example of Einstein’s insanity.


Phyllis Bennis is Red Pepper’s United Nations correspondent, and a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam. Her books include Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving

Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History

Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.

A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas

Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'

The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion

The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.

Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.

Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism

What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry


23