From Palestine Chronicle
No, it was not just "another Middle East peace conference," as a columnist in Israeli "Jerusalem Post" attempted to depict the Paris Peace Conference held on January 15, with top official representations from 70 countries attending. If it was, indeed, just "another peace conference," representatives from the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority (PA) would have attended as well.
Instead, it was a defining moment that we are likely to remember: as the one that has officially ended the peace process charade after 25 years.
In fact, if the Madrid Conference of October 1991 was the vibrant official start of peace talks between Israel and its Arab -- including Palestinian -- neighbors, the Paris talks of January 2016 was the sad termination of it.
As soon as the Madrid talks began, the positive energy and expectations that accompanied them began to fade. Even before the talks began, Israel had set political traps and erected obstacles. For example, refusing to deal directly with the Palestinian negotiations team led by the late Haidar Abdul-Shafi (since, as far as Israel was concerned, Palestinians did not exist), and even protested that negotiator, Saeb Erekat, was wearing the traditional Palestinian headscarf (kufiyah).
It has been 25 years since that initial meeting. Since then, several of the original Palestinian delegation members have passed away; others have aged while talking about peace, but with no peace in sight. The then young Erekat became the "chief negotiator" of the PA, again, yet with nothing to talk about.
What is really left to be negotiated, when Israel has doubled its illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem? When the number of Jewish settlers have grown from a negligible 250,000 (in 1993) to over 600,000; when the rate of Palestinian loss of land has accelerated like never before, since the war and occupation of 1967; when Gaza has been under lock and key for over 10 years, suffering from war, polluted water and malnourishment?
Yet, the Americans have persisted. They needed the peace process. It is an American investment, first and foremost, because American reputation and leadership depended on it.
"We are joined at the hip with Israel," said Professor John Mearsheimer, co-author of the 'Israeli Lobby' in a recent interview. "What Israel does and how Israel evolves matters greatly for America's reputation.
"This is why President Obama -- and President George W. Bush before him, and President Clinton before him -- went to great lengths to get a two-state solution."
Precisely. They persisted and failed, and they failed again and again until the two-state solution (which was never a serious endeavor, to begin with) became a distant and, eventually, an impossible quest.
As Israel's political center moved sharply to the right under the leadership of Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the US maintained its position, as if oblivious to the fact that "facts on the ground" have altered the political landscape beyond recognition.
Former President Barack Obama began his career in what some saw as an earnest push for renewed talks, which were halted or stalled during the administration of George W. Bush. He dispatched Senator George Mitchell, whose negotiation skills in 2010 to 2011 could not move Israel from its obstinate position on settlement expansion and, again, dispatched his Secretary of State, John Kerry, who tried unsuccessfully to revitalize talks between 2013 and 2014.
Obama must have, at one point, realized that the efforts were futile. For a start, Netanyahu seemed to have a greater influence on the US Congress than the President himself. This is not an exaggeration. When Netanyahu clashed with Obama over the Iran nuclear deal, he snubbed the US President and gave a talk to a joint Congress in March 2015, in which he chastised Obama and the "bad deal" with Iran. Obama appeared forlorn and irrelevant, as the representatives of the American people gave numerous standing ovations to a foreign leader, who boasted, yelled, assigned blame and praise.
Kerry's nostalgic last speech in late December was an indication of that epic failure, the gist of his plea being that it was all over. However, both Kerry and Obama have no one to blame but themselves. Their administration had the political clout and the popular mandate to push Israel, and exact concessions that could have served as the basis of something substantial. They chose not to.
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