Fake negotiations exclude most Palestinians

An air of tedious familiarity hangs over the resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.  Once again, talks have restarted under the cloud of an impending expansion of Jewish settlements intended to permanently transform the social geography of the very territory whose future status is supposedly being negotiated.  And once again, the same uninspiring set ...

Oren Ziv/Getty Images
Oren Ziv/Getty Images
Oren Ziv/Getty Images

An air of tedious familiarity hangs over the resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. 

Once again, talks have restarted under the cloud of an impending expansion of Jewish settlements intended to permanently transform the social geography of the very territory whose future status is supposedly being negotiated. 

An air of tedious familiarity hangs over the resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. 

Once again, talks have restarted under the cloud of an impending expansion of Jewish settlements intended to permanently transform the social geography of the very territory whose future status is supposedly being negotiated. 

And once again, the same uninspiring set of Palestinian negotiators — unelected, unrepresentative, lacking any kind of popular mandate, and with a dismal track record of political and administrative failure — are preparing to return to the same negotiating process that for two decades has proven fruitless. They face an ever more aggressive Israeli government, and, at that, one that enjoys the full and unconditional support of what is supposed to be the neutral mediating party, the United States.   

The point, however, is not so much that this round of negotiations (as with every round before it) is almost inevitably doomed to failure for reasons that have been articulated countless times over the years. It is, rather, that the repetition of this same old hollow performance has made it more obvious than ever that the so-called peace process and its accompanying theater are irrelevant to the actual search for a just and lasting peace. 

To see why, we have to look past the territories that Israel has occupied since 1967 — on which global attention is transfixed at moments like this — and into Israel itself. 

There, we can witness exactly the same process of violent social engineering that also shapes everyday life in the occupied territories. In both cases, the clear intention (manifested in the routine acts of constriction, expulsion, and demolition that have come to define day-to-day life for Palestinians) is to remove, or simply to negate, one people to make room for another. This process of displacement and replacement is the engine that drives — and has always driven — the conflict, yet it attracts hardly any international attention and has certainly never been on the agenda for negotiations. 

Just last month, for example, the Israeli parliament approved a plan for the mass expulsion of Palestinian Bedouin from their ancestral lands in the Naqab (or Negev) desert in southern Israel. Forty thousand Bedouin now face the imminent prospect of home demolition and displacement in order to make room for new Jewish settlements on their land, or for yet more of the forests that the Jewish National Fund has been assiduously planting since 1948 among the ruins of demolished Palestinian homes, or in the uprooted stubble of what had been Palestinian orchards and olive groves. Intent on the project to Judaize the desert, Israel considers the Bedouin to be outsiders and trespassers on their own land. Hundreds of Bedouin homes have been demolished by the state in recent years; the village of Araqib alone has been demolished over 50 times since it was first flattened by Israeli bulldozers in July 2010.

The Bedouin are, on paper at least, citizens of Israel. But, like other Palestinian citizens of that state, they face an extraordinary array of institutionalized forms of discrimination that are expressly intended to secure the rights and privileges of Jewish citizens at the expense of the Christian and Muslim Palestinian minority (which constitutes a fifth of the population of the state within its pre-1967 borders). There are more than 50 laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens in all areas of life, from schooling to access to land and other resources. All of these material and legislative mechanisms are designed to maintain the Jewish identity of the state by containing or eliminating the Palestinian claim to the land. They work in seamless continuity with the dual regime of demolition (of Palestinian homes) and construction (of Jewish settlements) in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. And they are also coextensive with the physical and political obstacles barring the right of return of those Palestinians who were forced from their homes during the creation of Israel in 1948, most of whom eke out a kind of existence in the refugee camps and slums to which they have been condemned ever since. 

The theater of the peace process has only ever been devoted to the occupied territories, where only a minority of Palestinians lives. Even the most optimistic outcome of these negotiations — which no one seriously expects to be fulfilled as the parties go through the same tired old gestures — would do nothing to address the inalienable rights of Palestinians waiting in exile or the rapidly deteriorating circumstances of the second-class Palestinian citizens of Israel.

For in the current round of negotiations, as was the case with all those rounds that have gone before it, the rights of the Palestinian citizens of Israel are completely off the agenda. Moreover, the rights of the single largest component of the Palestinian people — the refugees and those living in enforced exile from their homeland — are also, for all intents and purposes, off the table. In fact, rights in general are, as far as Israel and its American backers are concerned (and, unfortunately, as their subordinated Palestinian counterparts have accepted) not on the negotiating agenda. Rather, the framework for these negotiations is defined by power in the crudest and most reductive sense: the kind of power that Israel possesses in abundance, and of which the Palestinians are bereft. 

In other words, these negotiations merely reproduce in theatrical form the total imbalance in crude power relations between Israel and the Palestinians. Little wonder, then, that they are not only so predictably tedious, but also so vanishingly unlikely to yield a just and lasting peace. 

For it is only when the matrix of power is replaced by one of justice and rights that we will witness the first tangible steps toward a real peace. That will require not only the abandonment of the project of displacement and replacement that Israel has been carrying out since 1948 but also broadening the terms of reference to include all Palestinians, and not merely those who have been suffering under Israeli occupation since 1967. 

Saree Makdisi is professor of English and Comparative Literature at UCLA and the author of Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation. 

Saree Makdisi is a professor of English and comparative literature at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of, among other books, Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation.

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