By Rami G. Khouri
The contrast is startling between the slow pace of attempts to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority
headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, on the one hand, and the relentless
Israeli drive on many fronts to dominate and try effectively to destroy
the concept of a distinct and sovereign Palestinian people in the
historic land of Palestine, on the other.
Israeli actions in recent weeks clarify the futility of trying to negotiate peace with an Israeli state that wages war on the idea that
Palestinians have national rights in the same land that Israel claims
as its exclusive patrimony.
Recent Israeli actions include driving Palestinians out of their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah district of East Jerusalem and replacing
them with Zionist settlers, assassinating a Hamas leader in Dubai,
attacking targets in Gaza and maintaining the siege there, continuing
to expand settlements in the occupied West Bank and, most more
recently, declaring two sites in occupied Hebron and Bethlehem as part
of Israel’s eternal national heritage.
The two sites are the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron that is thought to be the burial place of Abraham (and that Israelis call the Cave of the
Patriarchs) and the shrine in Bethlehem called Rachel’s Tomb.
The Israeli declaration does not change anything on the ground for the moment, because the Israeli army is in full control of the sites.
Its significance is in the signal it sends to Palestinians that if the
Arab-Israeli conflict will be resolved through negotiations, this will
only happen according to rules dictated by Israel that give priority to
The Israeli decision prompted young Palestinians instinctively to clash with Israeli troops in Hebron, and chief Palestinian negotiator
Saeb Erekat to say Monday: “The unilateral decision to make Palestinian
sites in Hebron and Bethlehem part of Israel shows there is no genuine
partner for peace, but an occupying power intent on consolidating
The Israeli move is so provocative that it even sparked some life in the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace
process, Robert H. Serry, who said: “These sites are in occupied
Palestinian territory and are of historical and religious significance
not only to Judaism, but also to Islam, and to Christianity as well. I
urge Israel not to take any steps on the ground which undermine trust
or could prejudice negotiations.”
The startling aspect of all this is that it occurs while both sides look to the United States to continue its efforts to rekindle the
stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
There is no possible way that the United States or anyone else could realistically reconcile the two parallel dynamics that are under way -
engaging in negotiations that seek to achieve the legitimate and equal
rights of both parties, and a process of Zionist colonisation and
ethnic cleansing of Palestinians that has been going on for a century
or so. No wonder the chief Palestinian negotiator called the Israeli
decision Monday to keep control of archaeological and tourist sites
“part of the continuing Israeli settlement enterprise”.
The Palestinians see Israeli actions in this light, as part of a long process of evicting them from their ancestral lands and making
room for Zionist Jews to come from abroad and reclaim what they
consider to be their ancestral land. Valiant attempts to negotiate a
resolution to this conflict have failed, and will continue to fail if
the negotiating process largely reflects the same imbalance on the
ground that is manifested in the unilateral Israeli actions we witness
these days on continuous basis.
That imbalance sees Israel maintain the status quo through its superior military power, its ability to control the movement of people
in and out of the country, and its reliance on unilateral actions that
respond only to its own priorities, rather than to the dictates of
peace making through negotiations that affirm the validity of parallel
Israeli and Palestinian national narratives.
The futility of negotiating peace in these conditions is obvious to any but the most politically blind.
The two most important players dealing with the Palestinians - Israel and the United States - refuse to address the single most
important issue and refuse to negotiate with the most significant
actors. They remain unwilling to come to terms with the single most
important issue for the Arabs, which is the continuing ethnic cleansing
and refugeehood of the Palestinians, and they refuse to deal seriously
with pivotal actors like Hamas in Palestine and Hizbollah in Lebanon.
Such distortions in the negotiating context are depressing enough for anyone who seeks a peaceful resolution of this conflict; they are
infinitely more troubling when we realise that they are coupled with
continued Israeli predatory and unilateral moves on the ground, and an
apparent American penchant for acquiescence rather than transformation
in dealing with this situation.