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Phyllis Bennis: Kerry’s offer may appeal to Palestinian elite but will not alter the basic demands of the Palestinian people
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. And welcome to this week’s edition of The Bennis Report with Phyllis Bennis, who now joins us from Washington.
Phyllis is a fellow and the director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington. She’s the author of many books, including Before and After: U.S. Foreign Policy and the War on Terrorism and Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer.
Thanks for joining us again, Phyllis.
PHYLLIS BENNIS, FELLOW, INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: Always great to be with you, Paul.
JAY: So I guess you’ve been following Kerry’s back-and-forths to the Middle East.
BENNIS: I have, and it’s a very funny thing, because one of the things that we can’t quite figure out is why is he suddenly going back now and announcing with great fanfare that there’s going to be new talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians when there’s absolutely zero indication that either side is prepared to go back to talks. The U.S. is not coming in with any new proposals.
What Kerry has talked about, interestingly, has been reopening the old Arab peace initiative, which was first launched in 2002 and had a certain amount of fanfare at the time, but the Israelis had put the kibosh on it immediately, although what it leads to, the only part that Kerry has been willing to talk about this time around, is that it would end with normalization of relations between Israel and all the Arab states.
What he doesn’t talk about is that the fundamental core of the Arab peace initiative was that it was based on full withdrawal of Israel from all of the occupied territories–Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank. Israel has no intention of doing that. And now they’re adding this language that the U.S. loves so much–swaps, we’re going to swap territory, something that has been an absolute nonstarter for the Palestinians for the simple reason that there is no serious swap here that is possible to make a viable, realistic, lasting, comprehensive solution based on a seriously independent Palestinian state.
The Israeli position is still, we’re going to continue settlements, we’re going to continue controlling the Palestinian territory, we are not going to allow Palestinians to be independent, they will not be allowed to have an army, they will not control their own borders, they will not control who goes in and out of their own country. We’ll give them passports and postage stamps and call it a state. This has no more optimistic view than any of the earlier ones.
And what’s a little bit unclear is: why is Kerry moving on this right now? There are some indications that it could have something to do with the diminishing influence the U.S. has in the region overall, concerns in Washington about the Israeli attacks on Syria, that that could be getting worse and could threaten an even broader expansion of the Syrian civil war throughout the region. And perhaps if there were peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, the thinking would go, that’s one way to tamp down those Israeli actions. Similarly, on Iran, if Israel were engaged in serious negotiations with the Palestinians under U.S. control, that they would be less likely to be threatening direct assaults on Iran. The problem is there’s no indication, as I said, that these talks are anything close to going forward. I’m not sure what Secretary Kerry thinks he’s going to do.
JAY: Now, the Israelis floated an idea of having temporary borders on this new Palestinian state, not trying to resolve all issues, and begin the discussions there. But Abbas, the Palestinian prime minister, has already said, forget it.
BENNIS: Yeah, this is going back, really, to the Oslo agreement about temporary arrangements and temporary this and temporary that. There’s been temporary arrangements now for 21 years, and it hasn’t gotten anything for the Palestinians except more theft of land and water, more settlements being built, more refugees denied their right to return, a greater siege in Gaza. None of these things have changed, and there’s no indication that they’re going to change any time soon. So the idea that establishing temporary borders, it might be interesting to see what borders Israel would ultimately come up with.
One of the big challenges, of course, is that Israel is a state recognized around the world–and the only state–that has never declared its borders. There is no border. You could look at the old maps of the pre-state Zionist movement that included all of what is now Jordan, half of what is now Lebanon, and a big chunk of a few other countries as well. You could look at what is included in the old Mandate Palestine under the British Mandate, which is all of Israel, all of the West Bank, all of Gaza, all of East Jerusalem, and say, maybe that’s the Israeli border. Or you could say that maybe Israel intends the route of the apartheid wall that snakes through the West Bank, excludes about 15 percent of it on the Israeli side, ensuring that all the water, of course, all the water resources are on the Israeli side as well, and they would essentially give up Gaza and give up a few small enclaves, which would be separated from each other, and it would be Israel that would have the contiguous territory, not the Palestinians. That might be what they would plan. But we have no idea if this was a serious offer or not. I think the Israelis must have known that this would be unacceptable to the Palestinians, so they could afford to make the offer and try and convince the Americans that this looks like they’re being magnanimous.
JAY: So what do you make of this? This must have some connection to the repositioning of Qatar in this whole process. Hamas moved their headquarters to Doha in Qatar. Qatar has been playing–offering investments and playing heavily in the West Bank. On the other hand, Qatar is America’s probably closest ally of these Gulf states. CENTCOM is in Qatar.
BENNIS: Well, there are some real differences between the U.S. and the role that Qatar is playing in the region, particularly in Syria, where Qatar is supporting directly and arming the most extremist elements within the Syrian opposition, using, of course, U.S. weapons that they’ve purchased over the years.
Qatar is almost certainly behind the new Kerry announcement that he was going to propose a new economic initiative that would involve $4 billion of investment to Palestine, on the theory that that would somehow make it okay that Palestine remains occupied territory. This didn’t work when they tried it ten years ago. It’s not about to work now. It’s a lot of money for sure.
And what’s known among Palestinians as the so-called Ramallah bubble, which is essentially the small enclave of very wealthy Palestinians who have gone back to live in the West Bank under Israeli occupation but with enormous access to money, building incredibly elaborate houses, shopping malls, a huge sort of amount of money in a tiny, tiny enclave within the occupied territories that has virtually no impact on the lives of the vast majority of Palestinians, that may be their theory, that they think if we just flood enough money to these wealthy people, they’ll be able to keep the poor people in line, they’ll keep them from demanding a state, because after all, they’ll be wealthy. I don’t think it worked last time. I don’t think it’s going to work this time.
JAY: Alright. Thanks for joining us, Phyllis.
BENNIS: Always a pleasure, Paul.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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