Ten years on from the Camp David talks, not only is the Israel/Palestine conflict no closer to being resolved, it is in fact entering a profoundly dangerous phase marked first and foremost by the rise of extremism and intransigence in both Prime Minister Netanyahu’s cabinet and the Knesset.
Many commentators and observers, particularly those who had high hopes that US President Barack Obama’s undeniable dynamism and energy would breathe new life into a comatose peace process, were greatly dismayed by Tel Aviv’s extraordinary defiance of his modest May 2009 appeal for a freeze on all settlement construction. Indeed within six months, the US Administration was forced into a humiliating backdown, and instead agreed to a unilateral ten-month moratorium, the details of which were cobbled together in the Israeli Prime Minister’s office.
In announcing the “freeze” Netanyahu made it clear the measure would not apply to already “existing construction” or “public buildings essential for normal life in the settlements”. Nor would it have any bearing on the rapid growth of illegal Jewish colonies in East Jerusalem. “We do not put any restrictions on building in our sovereign capital,” was the Prime Minister’s reasoning. In other words, the moratorium was meaningless, and was no doubt designed that way.
Since then the world has borne witness to the continuing demolition of homes in East Jerusalem, especially in the neighbourhoods of Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah; the now infamous announcement that 1,600 homes would be built in the Ramat Shlomo settlement, made during a visit to Israel by US Vice-President Joe Biden; and the aggressive public championing of settlement growth by Jerusalem’s Mayor Nir Barkat. These developments have combined to make a complete mockery of both US Middle East Envoy George Mitchell’s on-again, off-again attempts to restart direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and Tel Aviv’s willingness to negotiate in good faith should such talks ever take place.
Meanwhile, the ongoing siege of Gaza, which has left 10 per cent of Gazan children malnourished and 15 per cent stunted in their growth - and these are just the two most shocking of many statistics one could cite as irrefutable evidence of the catastrophic humanitarian impact of Israel’s illegal blockade - does not in any way, to say the least, contribute to the restarting of peace talks.
In fact, the September 2007 decision by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s security cabinet to declare the Gaza Strip an “enemy entity”, and the blockade of food, fuel, water, medicine and other essential supplies that flowed from that decision have ironically harmed Israel’s own interests. Blind Freddy can see that if you deliberately humiliate, starve, massacre, and generally attempt to beat into submission an “enemy entity”, in this case the occupied civilian population of Gaza, then the most determined and committed leaders of the resistance to such belligerence will increasingly be held in high esteem by the helpless men and women suffering from its effects.
In other words, the more brutality inflicted by the Israeli Army on the embattled coastal strip, the more Hamas and the regional forces it is aligned with will grow in popularity and strength throughout the Arab world.
The burning question on the lips of every honest observer of the conflict is, even assuming Mitchell is successful in his efforts to initiate direct talks between Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, how could such talks possibly produce a positive outcome given Israel’s long history of intransigence, and its current Prime Minister’s demonstrable unwillingness to carry out negotiations without all manner of wholly unreasonable preconditions?
Making matters even worse is Netanyahu’s proven track record of reneging on agreements ostensibly signed off in good faith by both sides. Devotees of the mainstream media could be forgiven for not having heard anything about it given the paucity of coverage it received in the Australian press, but there is a video of Netanyahu addressing a private audience of West Bank settlers filmed in 2001 that is, as young technophiles are wont to say, going “viral” across the internet. Netanyahu’s rambling conversation with the Jewish colonists is full of bombast and self-congratulation, but there are two comments in particular which have received a lot of media attention overseas. He categorically states that the United States can be easily swayed:
"I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction. They won't get in the way."
Later in the conversation Netanyahu speaks of having taken advantage, during his first term of office in the late 1990s, of ambiguities in the text of the Oslo agreements in relation to the process of exactly how Israeli-controlled military zones inside the West Bank would be defined and decided upon. By manipulating this significant oversight, Netanyahu boasts, “I actually stopped the Oslo Accord.”
How can a leader who prides himself on the art of deception possibly be trusted by any future Palestinian negotiating team? The answer is he can’t be. That is why it is so imperative that international pressure be brought to bear on the Zionist State to force it to the negotiating table in such a way that were Netanyahu to choose once again to renege on signed agreements and manipulate any loopholes in the text of those agreements, the political costs of doing so would be so great that they would spell the end of his political career as well as lead to the total isolation of Israel from the family of nations.