Why Peace Talks Always Fail
In the Age of Dodging Words
All expense paid visits to Israel woo U.S. Congress members wined and dined and shown the best and most beautiful creations of the Jewish State. The tour focuses on their ability to sway voters to support Israel’s policies while avoiding mentioning the abuse of Palestinians under its military control.
Besides politicians, Israeli propaganda aims at educated and well read Americans, especially Jewish Americans who rely on the first hand reports of their political representatives returning from their trip to Israel.
Avoided in talks and in press coverage are inflammatory words such as “apartheid” and “occupation,” which open raw wounds to sensitive Jews quick to fling charges of anti-Semitism. The mantra “never forget” becomes a slogan specific for Jews that applies guilt for tragic Jewish history on Europeans and Americans; the gentlest criticism of Israel brings stinging demands for retractions and apologies resulting in humble retractions by offenders of every station.
During the peace talk attempts in 2016, Secretary of State John Kerry drew sharp criticism when he used the term “apartheid” to describe the ongoing division between Israel and the Palestinians; his sheepish explanation and reluctant retraction followed. Media focusing on his reaction cast aside important issues – human rights and Israel’s policy of segregating people based on ethnicity – yes, apartheid.
Kerry gave the restart of peace negotiation his best shot. His all out effort followed a long line of previous well informed negotiators with broad experience in resolving difficult issues from around the world – Ireland, South Africa and Yugoslavia. All negotiators had preceded his attempts to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli issue; and like them, Kerry left exhausted and frustrated.
In Palestine, I heard Sam Bahour, a Palestinian-American business development consultant from Ohio speak in Beit Sahour at a program I attended at the YMCA near where I was staying. Bahour is a policy advisor of Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network and was living in the West Bank. A forceful speaker, who minces no words, he began his talk by saying he thinks a one state solution is the answer; he followed it by saying he didn’t care if it was called Israel, but the name decision had to include Palestinians who should demand treatment equal to the Jews – health care and freedom to travel among them.
Bahour gives three issues crucial to understanding the conflict and offers three basic reasons for the pattern of consistent peace process failures: global historic guilt, colonial responsibility and the U.S. “special relationship” with Israel.
Guilt imposed on European nations for the anti-Semitism practiced against Jews throughout the 19th and 20th centuries goes back even further. Historically, anti-Semitism developed in white Christian European places and in the U. S. Jews keep the beat going with repetitious drumming of the “never again” motto. The ingrained strain passed down through successive generations eventually lost its universality to a cliché linked solely to Jewish anti-Semitism.
Guilt hobbles objectivity, says Bahour: and the Jewish capacity to skew Israel’s actions for what they are – a continuation of crimes against humanity – plays on sympathy for the fledgling new state. But late in the nineteenth century, long before the Holocaust, Zionist political ideology charted a path toward ethnic cleansing of Palestine’s Muslim and Christian population paving the pathway for the creation of a “Jewish State.”
Players at the negotiation game table harbor hidden guilt. During peace attempts, global powers carrying their own legacies of colonial incursions complete with the displacement of indigenous peoples now find they are burdened with the task of negotiating a fair deal. The U.S. charged with being a “fair broker” carries guilt left in the wake of its maltreatment of Native Americans. Seeing the obvious parallel between Israel’s behavior and their own abuses of indigenous people make it difficult to point the finger. As long as the powerful nations and negotiations are fixed on an outdated partition model, resolution is not possible. Plain and simple, the conflict is “ongoing colonialism.” And until admitted, the parties are not equal and there is no unbiased moderator.
Jewish paranoia did not occur in a vacuum. They cannot forget the horrors of their past; and through commemoration, museums, films and tribute inadvertently lay guilt on later generations and on people who had nothing to do with past suffering of Jews. Palestinians are perplexed. They ask, why is it that if mainly Christian Europeans created anti-Semitism, are we Arab Muslims being targeted? Why are Jews destroying our villages, killing us and running us off our land? And why can’t they remember when Jews were harbored by Muslims during the darkest hours of the European wars?
Dredging up the past, fixing an eye on Israel’s security and playing on words neatly avoids problem solving by making it unapproachable. To Israeli Jews, security and “never again” assures a long historical past is never forgotten; yet, the recent past, before 1948 and Israel, is erased.
I gave a program to the International Club at St. Petersburg College and began by asking them when the state of Israel was created. Answers varied – “Israel was always there,” “since ancient times,” “the nineteenth century.” Only two in a group of about twenty knew Israel did not come into being until 1948.
Nakba – the catastrophe – the Israeli military destruction of Palestinian villages and the 750,000 Palestinian Christians and Muslims driven out of their land was unknown. Today’s Middle East problems and its connection to U.S. policy with Israel and Palestine are shadowed by reports of crisis between Israel and Palestine. Students not taught to ask why and seek meaning from history remain ignorant and worse; are candidates most likely to succumb to heavy propaganda.
Ruled by fear of new attacks, suicide bombings ended in 2009. Yet, it did not stop the wall expansion separating Israel from Palestinian land that began in 2000, before bombings began. The barriers continue being built today. The increased security implies threat. As long as fear rules Jewish minds security follows and so do financial appeals: money flows and the arms industry grows. Financial aid depends on Israel’s ability to promote fear and make Jews everywhere feel threatened. Pleas for universal human rights and justice for all are kept out of negotiations; stealthily swept off the table.
Promoting myth through continuous repetition assures control. The unapproachable remain unknown and therefore dangerous. Walls, checkpoints and soldiers enhance fear and spawn prejudice, while a jittery press measures cautionary words to soft sell a hope filled dream that promotes peace between unequal partners as being possible.
Exert from the upcoming book Silenced Voices.