When it comes to peace in Israel-Palestine, America isn’t the solution—it’s the problem.

An Israeli policeman removes a Palestinian flag stuck on a wall outside the British Consulate in Jerusalem Nov. 2. (CNS photo/Ammar Awad, Reuters) 

The Tony Award-winning play “Oslo” depicts the secret, back-channel negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization that led to the Oslo Accord in 1993. A riveting political drama, “Oslo” offers a crash course in diplomacy—the highs, the lows, the pitfalls, the ever-important human factor on which so many critical decisions hinge. Three hours long, it is never dull. At the end, the play acknowledges, without explanation, that an accord which laid out steps to lead, within five years, to an independent Palestinian state and a final settlement of the conflict did not result in peace.

Instead, the West Bank remains under Israeli military occupation and Gaza under a punishing 10-year blockade that has turned it into a hellhole. Peace seems no closer than it did before the Oslo Accord. Since its signing, 300,000 more Jewish settlers have moved to the West Bank, shrinking the land Palestinians hope to build their state on. As one round of peace talks has followed another, the peace process has become little more than a convenient fig leaf for Israel’s ongoing colonization of the area.

Advertisement

Peace seems no closer than it did before the Oslo Accord.

What happened? It is the question one asks after every debacle, whether it is Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the 2016 presidential election or the squandered opportunities for peace since Oslo.

Palestinian leader Hanan Ashrawi answered that question when she gave a talk I attended last month and granted an interview. A member of the P.L.O. Executive Committee and for years a spokesman for the Palestinian Delegation to the Mideast peace talks, she addressed the sorry history of the past 24 years, promises to the Palestinians that were postponed and broken and obligations that were ignored and abrogated. A transitional period that was to lead to the devolution of military occupation by the Israelis and to statehood for the Palestinians became instead the evolution of the Israeli occupation into an unaccountable matrix of control, with Israel doling out to the Palestinian Authority some of the tasks of statehood but with Palestinian independence and self-determination stalled indefinitely.

“I must say we can tell you exactly what not to do in peacemaking,” Ms. Ashrawi told me. There were many built-in flaws in the peace process, she noted; foremost among them was that it never addressed the power asymmetry between occupier and occupied. Also, the United States mediated the peace talks that followed the 1993 accord. But instead of being an evenhanded broker that would hold both sides to their commitments, the United States, under the influence of the pro-Israel lobby, actually emboldened Israel’s occupation and encouraged Israeli unilateralism, exceptionalism and impunity. Israel was given a free hand to renegotiate or violate its obligations.

The United States, under the influence of the pro-Israel lobby, actually emboldened Israel’s occupation and encouraged Israeli unilateralism, exceptionalism and impunity.

“We ended up with this lethal equation—the equation where we get all the pressure, the threats and the blackmail, and Israel gets all the rewards, all the positive inducements, advance payments in order to join the peace process as though it’s a favor [to the Palestinians] for Israel to have peace,” Ms. Ashrawi said.

The P.L.O. had staked its policy on a peace settlement and the creation of an independent Palestinian state. When these failed to arrive, it began to lose credibility and support. Enter Hamas and the era of divided government, with the P.L.O. political party Fatah ruling in the West Bank and Hamas ruling in Gaza.

Interviewed just days after Fatah and Hamas announced a reconciliation agreement, an important first step in creating a united government that can represent Palestinians in negotiations with Israel, Ms. Ashrawi was optimistic about it holding, but adamant that after 24 years of failure a new approach to peacemaking was necessary.

“We need a multilateral approach, not a bilateral approach. And when we talk about third-party intervention, it’s not a euphemism for the U.S. It is the need to have the international community involved,” she said.

But the United States opposes efforts to involve other countries in peace-negotiations, just as it opposes efforts to either sanction Israel for its settlement expansion or pressure it to make peace.

Instead, it threatens to cut off direct aid to the Palestinian territories if Palestinians join other U.N. organizations or the International Criminal Court. The U.S. position is that violence from an occupied people is not to be tolerated; their peaceful efforts to create change are not either. It is a feckless, incoherent policy. When it comes to peace between Israel and Palestine, we are the problem, not the solution.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Michael Barberi
3 weeks 2 days ago

The only problem with this article is that it ignores a major problem in Palestinian-Israel negotiations, namely, that the Palestinians refuse to acknowledge Israel's right to exist and their refusal to amend their constitution that states that Israel should be destroyed.

Why would any country that is threatened by extinction agree to give a major amount of its territory to the Palestinians without any fail-safe accords and security measures. Once the Palestinians have a home-state and are recognized by the U.N. as a sovereign country, why would anyone believe they will not import military equipment or manufacture a military arsenal. Even if they are precluded from any type of military equipment, who truly believes that Hamas will not grow stronger to the point and plot to overthrow Israel at some future date?

I think the status quo is deplorable. However, the real issue is Israel's future security. At the present time, a blockage is imposed by Israel because of the secret and illegal importation of military equipment and technology. Even if a treaty can be structured involving inspections, etc, who believes that the Palestinians will honor it? We already suspect that Iran is not leaving up to the spirit of the U.S.-Iran deal and continues to sponsor terrorism.

As for multi-lateral negotiations, Israel will never accept this primarily because Europe will agree to almost anything. They tried to resolve this conflict and got nowhere. For one thing, it was France and the UK after WWI that caused this problem in the first place.

The real solution is a change of heart and mind on the part of the Palestinians and a willingness on the part of Israel to propose a reasonable solution. Nevertheless, to blame the U.S. as the problem may have some truth to it, but not discussing all the facts and circumstances renders this article misleading.

Robert Lewis
3 weeks 1 day ago

:...I think the status quo is deplorable. However, the real issue is Israel's future security..."

As if the "security" of the Palestinian people didn't matter a jot. Historically, the Palestinians have a right to fear for their "security" at the hands of the ilk of such as the "settlers"; ever heard of Irgun or the Stern Gang, or of what they did? Do you know what was the fate of Count Bernadotte, when he almost reached a settlement regarding control of the city of Jerusalem?

What you fail to mention is that the Palestinian Authority HAS recognized the right of Israel "to exist" under the protocols of international law--simply by negotiating with it several times. What the Palestinians WILL NOT recognize, ever, is the "right" of Israel to exist "as a Jewish State"--and nor should they, because that would be to formally acknowledge that the Palestinian Arabs are second-class citizens of a non-pluralist, non-democratic and theocratic state. There are several such in the world, such as Sri Lanka, and you should ask the Sri Lankan Tamils what THAT has led to.

The actual solution to this conflict, however, is for the Palestinians to give up the campaign for a separate, wholly contiguous state, which is now an impossibility, because, realistically speaking, no Israeli government is going to dispossess the settlers of their illegal acquisitions. The Palestinians should ask to be annexed into a democratic, pluralist and non-theocratic state, with equal property rights for everyone, and a limited "right of return." They should militantly but non-violently campaign for this through a policy of massive, non-violent resistance and civil disobedience, in order to attract the attention of Europeans, "righteous Jews" (of which there are many, united in their opposition to Zionist revanchism and exceptionalism) and those. Americans who aren't brainwashed by Protestant fundamentalist "dispensationalism".

Michael Barberi
3 weeks 1 day ago

Robert,

Of course the Palestinian people have a right to their 'security'. However, Hamas and Fatah both continue to use extermination rhetoric when it comes to Israel and it's Jews who they call Zionists. Thus, my point about 'security' as a major issue in the negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.

As you know in 1947 the U.N. General Assembly said that an Arab and Jewish state may exist within what was called Palestine. The Jews as a people formed a government and a nation state called Israel. However, let's get real here. The Arabs went to war with Israel in 1948 and in 1967 and today many Palestinian Authority leaders and their controlling factions call for the destruction of Israel and the killing of Jews to achieve their goal of an Arab state.

Don't misunderstand what I am saying. The Palestinians deserve to live in an Arab state within the borders of Israel today. However, there are many causes of this problem and no easy solutions that are acceptable to both sides.

My point of this article is that it falsely accuses the U.S. as "the problem". As such, I found this article one-sided, incomplete and misleading.

Clayton Miller
3 weeks 2 days ago

WOW. It would be difficult to find anything remotely accurate in this unintentionally-hilarious, Orwellian rewriting of history masquerading as an editorial pillorying Israel at every turn, but I will restrict myself to the following point:

Contrary to the author's delusional claims, under international law, Jews are entitled to live anywhere in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. There is no such thing as Palestinian land and never was. The West Bank and Gaza never belonged to any sovereign ruler after the British withdrew from Mandatory Palestine; before that it was part of the Ottoman empire.

The author would be interested to learn that Israel actually acquired the West Bank from "Trans-Jordan" in a defensive war in 1967. Under international law, Israel is not required to transfer the land to a third-party.

Robert Lewis
3 weeks 1 day ago

There is no such thing as "right of conquest." A war of conquest--even one that starts out defensively--is against international law, and the United Nations has stated, many times, that Israel must give back the West Bank of the Jordan River to the Palestinians. The argument that there is "no such thing as Palestinian land" is a vicious legalism that callously ignores the existence of an indigenous people; it's like saying "there was never any such thing as Navajo land" or "there was never any such thing as Cherokee land"--when, in fact, there was. And, in the case of the Palestinians, there has been, ever since the U.N. declared the occupation illegal.

Stuart Meisenzahl
3 weeks 1 day ago

Mr Lewis
International Law only exists to the extent a nation recognizes and agrees to it AND there is a method of enforcing such laws. While you reference The United Nations, it is well to keep in mind that it's Charter creates a Security Council with permanent members who are by definition "more equal than the others" and each of whom holds a veto power! This "veto power" effectively means these 5 permanent members are "above the law". .....an oxymoron but a fact! The UN has no method of enforcing any of its edicts,laws, or determinations. No law can exist without a method of dealing with enforcement.
You are postulating as a predicate for your argument/position an international law ideal that has never in fact existed ; whereas "The right of Conquest" is an historically proven fact. Now this may be lamentable but it does not change that fact. In short if the unwinding of the right of conquest were carried out globally, it would result in a return to a world of City States .......We both know that isn't going to happen!
Your reference to "indigenous peoples of the Americas " as a basis for claimingthe concept of ongoing"Palestinian Land" is undermined by the intertribal warfare in the Americas which resulted in constant shifts in tribal ownership and control of vast sections of land (See the Encyclopedia of the Great Plains). Similarly the lands of Central America pre Spanish Conquest were controlled by successive "indigenous peoples"...Olmec, then Toltec, then Aztec. If you were to role back the Spanish Conquest , just what indigenous period would you propose to stop at? The mess you see in the land called Palestine is the result of the British attempt to role back time to a preconquest date.......

Robert Lewis
3 weeks 1 day ago

I did not mean to suggest a "roll back" to pre-World War II statutes of international law. However, at the Nuremberg Trials German Nazis were sentenced to death, in part, for conducting "wars of conquest," and thereafter, under international law, "wars of conquest" are, indeed, sanctioned against. What just happened in the Hague to Mladic is evidence of this. But I think you already know it; pro-Zionists are constantly misapplying the so-called "lessons of history" to justify what Israel is doing to the Palestinians. We don't live in the era of the conquistadors or the Olmecs anymore, thank God!

Stuart Meisenzahl
3 weeks 1 day ago

Mr Lewis
I meant to challenge your assertion that there is no Right of Conquest. The Nuremberg Trials,cited by you, prove my point. Those trials were conducted by THE VICTORS IN A WAR!
Mr Mladic was also a loser in a war. Mr Mladic's conviction has already been denounced by Russia as illegitimate and Russia previously vetoed UN condemnation of the Serbian genocide campaign.
In both of your cited cases you are dealing with the laws established by the conquerors!
We still live in an era where the conquerors make the rules and the laws. For you to think otherwise is naive.....for you to suggest that there will be any final peace in the Middle East without recognition that the winners in war will make the rules is utterly unrealistic. While the losers in every war call the victors "occupiers", it does not change the fact that someone else won and they lost! ......
By the way , I don't subscribe to the Zionist underlying claim of Biblical Land grants either. Even in the Old Testament the land of Israel promised by God still had to be occupied by Joshua bringing down the walls of Jericho!

Robert Lewis
3 weeks 1 day ago

Some of us hope for a better future for the inhabitants of this planet. Some of us do not want to live with such complaisance as cynics do. The trials at Nurmeberg were NOT "victor's justice"; they would have been had the Soviets prevailed, but they didn't and every effort was made to prove to posterity the legitimacy of the judgments. Again, I think you know this, and seek to distort the historical record, in order to justify the policies of the Zionist aggressors, which amount to ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population, from off their ancestors' land. The great historical irony is that the plans of the original Zionists, the liberal Jews of Europe, to live in peace with the indigenous Arab population, were hijacked by ruthless nationalist terrorists, such as the assassins of Bernadotte (who included a future prime minister of the Israel, Yitzak Shamir) and the murderers who made up Irgun and the Stern Gang.

Stuart Meisenzahl
3 weeks 1 day ago

Mr Lewis
Please...OF course there would have been no Nuremberg trials if our Soviet allies had their way....just executions. But still there were trials, and they were conducted by the victors and the result was still executions! Such a nice patina for a result that was assured in advance!
The Israeli terrorists during the British Mandate were the victors and the UN endorsed that victory....mirabile dictu they are patriots! The Palestinian terrorists have not prevailed, and the Israelis have remained the victors in all subsequent clashes..should the Palestinians ever win they will become "the patriots"
Your complaint that Palestinians were the ousted/occupied indigenous population is nothing more than the usual consequence of losing a war. I really don't need and I am not trying to distort any historic National record. The fact remains the Israelii's are the victors and will set the terms of any final settlement. You simply refuse to accept that fact and as a consequence are reduced to crying "foul". I am not trying to justify anything , just trying to recognize what the current fact situation actually is! Were I trying to justify the situation I would point to Arafat's rejection of the proposed Clinton Accords but it is irrelevant to my point.

Robert Lewis
3 weeks 1 day ago

Gandhi and Martin Luther King were the VICTORS in a non-violent struggle of resistance through massive civil disobedience, and THAT is the way forward for the Palestinians and for any other modern movement seeking to prevail COMPLETELY in a struggle for justice and human rights. It is weird that anything other than that should be advocated on the comment threads of an organ of the Catholic Christian Church whose Founder PRESCRIBED the only way of "conquest" that prevails in short-circuiting violence and evil: turning the other cheek. "Turning the other cheek" is actually a WINNING formula, as the "great physicians" of Christianity and Buddhism both preached. The old way of conquest and occupation has only short-term results and leaves a permanent legacy of violence for the survivors and their descendants. I MOST CERTAINLY DO NOT advocate that the Palestinians imitate the murderous terrorists who high-jacked the Zionist project for a Jewish home in the Middle East, because I think that that form of nationalist struggle is eventually doomed. Yes, you read that correctly: I believe that Israel, if she persists on the present path, will one day be strangled by the Arab demographic. Her entire future depends upon making peace with her population of Arab captives and her Arab neighbor-states. The United States of America, like the "perfidious Albion" which was her parent country, will ultimately betray her, for "filthy lucre" and commercial advantage.

Stuart Meisenzahl
3 weeks 1 day ago

Mr Lewis
Neither the Israeliis nor the Palestinians are Christian , none the less Catholic. The Catholic position is meaningless to both parties.
I am not advocating anything but reflecting what is the current state of facts in the Middle East, which I believe was the topic of the article to which these comments are attached. These facts are grounded in an historical precedent which you rightly abhor but that abhorrence will not change the current facts or the precedent.
While it would be wonderful if they did, so far the Palistinians have not resorted to Gandhi like measures. Nor have the Israeliis engaged in Martin Luther King like responses. The Israelis seem to be fully cognizant of the threat of the Arab demographic as I believe is fully reflected in their determination not to permit a "right of return". So far Israel has engaged in peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan and it appears mutual interest will propel at least detente with Saudi Arabia. The Palestinians, Hamas, Hezbollah etc etc are the holdouts.

Clayton Miller
3 weeks 1 day ago

Israel is a shining star of freedom in a region, sadly, largely devoid of it.

In truth, Israel is a veritable social justice Shangri-La compared to the rest of the Arab Middle East.

Emmett Burke
3 weeks 1 day ago

Finally an essay that tells it like it is. The Israelis do not want peace. They have been taken over by the likes of Adelson who also plays a major role in US politics through his funding of Trump and many in Congress and the Senate.
Thank you for willing to speak the truth.

Clayton Miller
3 weeks 1 day ago

The myth of Arab Muslim victimhood is cheap propaganda stemming from the failed Arab attempts to destroy Israel, and drive its Jewish population "into the sea."

The anti-Israel left continues to pander to the irrational, bigoted demands of the Middle East's Arab Muslim majority to suppress the region's only non-Muslim state, in favor of yet another Arab Muslim country. That blatant disregard for the rights of anyone who is not an Arab Muslim is precisely the reason why the Jews of Israel had to fight for national independence.

The mere existence of Israel proclaims the national rights of the Jewish INDIGENOUS population of Israel; a country and a people that predate Arab colonialism, and will outlive it as well.

Robert Lewis
3 weeks 1 day ago

Rubbish: the Israelis and the Arabs are both Semitic peoples, and they BOTH are conquering interlopers, historically. Even the Jewish Bible says that the Canaanites were the original population, and the Canaanites are largely the ancestors of BOTH populations.

Stuart Meisenzahl
3 weeks ago

Mr Lewis
Here we both agree!!

Madeleine De Larrain Ross
2 weeks 6 days ago

I am stunned at your twisting of History. Gaza is a "hell-hole," now, thanks to the Palestinians. When the Israelis, gave it to them, it was a functioning area, with flower-producing businesses etc. The Israelis, ONLY, took their dead with them. The "poorpeacefulpalestinians" burned everything down and their corrupt Leaders keep the money which comes into the place. There are very wealthy people in Gaza also. Your hatred of the Jews and of Israel, borders on the pathological! Israel provides Gaza with food, water, fuel etc and attends Palestinians in Israeli Hospitals. As Almighty God, Himself, said - "Israel, a Light unto Nations!"

Stuart Meisenzahl
2 weeks 6 days ago

Ms Patterson
You reach a lot of conclusions based on a "play" and a speech /interview with Ms Ashrawi who has been an official of the PLO since before the First Intifada.
It would have been splendid if you could have taken the time to have asked her why Yessar Arafat turned down the 2000 Clinton Peace Proposal which Ehud Barak had agreed to? Especially since it gave the PLO over 90% of its land demands.
Further you might have asked her how as a member of the PLO governing body, she could explain Arafat's remarkable ability to accumulate a personal fortune of well over $200 million while governing an "impoverished land " of "oppressed peoples".(The CIA estimated he had parked over$6Billion in foreign accounts , but let's not quibble).
To the extent It provided massive $ funds for social welfare to the PLO , it would seem that at least by way of Mr Arafat's perfidy the United States may indeed have been a reason the stalemate continued.....
Mr Arafat needed continuing hostilities to remain relevant and wealthy! Turns out the Intifadas were/are horrible on the people but quite remunerative for the leaders!

Robert Lewis
2 weeks 6 days ago

I hold no briefs for Yassar Arafat and consider him to be a betrayer of his own people. However, NOWHERE in American reportage of the 2000 Clinton Peace Proposal is there EVER a correct account of the explanation he himself gave to Bill Clinton. He told the American President that, if he went back to Palestine after having surrendered control of the city of Jerusalem and its Muslim holy places to the Israelis, he'd be assassinated. This sheds light on what Israelis and American "liberals" do not want the American people to understand: that this struggle is, in very many ways, intractable because it's a religious struggle.

Stuart Meisenzahl
2 weeks 5 days ago

Mr Lewis
The Israeliis proclaim a"Jewish State" ....the Hamas charter states that its purpose is to establish a "Muslim State" ......Hezbullah gets cute and sounding pluralistic in its latest iteration but still requires "Sharia Law" to be paramount!
This will never be "fixed" without a clear winner and a clear loser!

Robert Lewis
2 weeks 5 days ago

Sorry, but I do not believe in "might makes right," "raison d'etat" politics. In this situation, as in all others resolved in a civilized way, there must be TWO "clear losers" in order to have a win-win outcome. That's called "compromise," and, if it's necessary to enforce a "compromise" in order to defuse this extremely dangerous stand-off, then I'm in favour of a solution that is IMPOSED by the current "great powers." Folks who haven't lived in the Middle East, as I have, do not understand how quickly this essentially religious conflict could quickly unravel into something like the set of circumstances that precipitated World War I. The Arabs and the non-European Jews have no control over their emotions whenever "saving face" becomes an issue; they don't know how to "back down." Believe me, I know these people; in crisis situations, they do not act rationally, and all they remember is religion, tribal conflicts of the past and THEIR version of ancient history. Up -to-date evidence: in the aftermath of the most recent Sinai bombing, all the cruel dictator of Egypt, who practises state terrorism, can think of to say is "we'll get revenge." Not a word about the atrocities visited upon the people of the Sinai by the country's armed forces, no consideration whatsoever of the fact that, because of the alienation of that population, the ISIS terrorists are readily able to blend back into the population--just sabre-rattling and talk of "revenge." That is just like the behavior of the Palestinian jihadists, just like the behavior of the Israeli "settlers," who call Arabs "dogs." It's in those people's DNA, and for the sake of world peace they must be either disarmed or isolated from the rest of the world. Or else we'll have Armageddon a lot sooner than even the Cold War militaries of the last century expected it!

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Homeless people are seen in Washington June 22. Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla., chair of the U.S. bishops' domestic policy committee, released a statement Nov. 17 proclaiming that the House of Representatives "ignored impacts to the poor and families" in passing the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act the previous day. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
The United States is thwarting the advancement of millions of its citizens, a UN rapporteur says.
Kevin ClarkeDecember 16, 2017
Why not tax individuals for what they take out of society instead of what they contribute?
Paul D. McNelis, S.J.December 15, 2017
Pope Francis will renew the mandate of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors for another three years, informed sources told America this week.
Gerard O’ConnellDecember 15, 2017
Worshippers recite the Lord's Prayer during Mass at Corpus Christi Church in Mineola, N.Y., on Oct. 13. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic)
Making ancient Scripture sensible in contemporary languages will always prove a hazard-heavy challenge.
Kevin ClarkeDecember 15, 2017