After I got a graduate degree in Middle East history, I taught and lectured for awhile. Eventually, I decided my skin was thick enough that I could speak publicly about the Israeli Palestinian conflict. If you do this, self-appointed experts and watchdogs will ask you about your “bias.” I learned that laughing off the question or rolling your eyes indicates bias. It’s a question you can’t answer, which is always followed by the next question, “what do you think will happen with the peace talks?” That’s a question I could answer, but didn’t.
Here’s my answer: nothing will happen. No one really wants peace.
Neither the Israel government, the Obama Administration, nor the Palestinian Authority stand to benefit from peace. Peace doesn’t pay. Put that on a t-shirt. Yes, you were in an inter-religious dialogue group/knit hat appreciation society in college and it seemed like if everyone focused on the Arab and Jewish fondness for falafel, things would be fine. You were duped. All I am saying: peace has no chance.
Sure, Israeli civilians would be better off if there were peace. Palestinian civilians would be better off. But if the 21st century has taught us nothing else so far, it’s that nobody really cares about civilians in the Middle East. Worse, the Palestinians are Arab civilians. Yes, we like to talk about what would be best for them, write big think pieces about their suffering, and show graphic images of their victimhood on the news. But when push comes to shove, we want to ignore the history of how they got into the situation they’re in and be glad they’re not near us. Arab civilians: they are to the world what young black men are to America.
The fact that none of the three parties will benefit from peace isn’t the same as saying that they won’t benefit from peace negotiations. Take the case of the Palestinian Authority (PA), an organization invented in previous negotiations so Israel could negotiate with something. The leadership of the PA will be yanked out of office by their ears if they negotiate peace and find themselves with a state. The lefties will want them out of office because they’re ineffective and comically corrupt, like Arab Blagojeviches. The hardliners will attack them with accusations that they were duped by Israel and the US. A Palestinian state means no more PA. If you were leading the PA, your best strategy would be to enter negotiations just to keep that sweet, sweet embezzleable aid money from the US and Israel coming. Meanwhile, you would look on the side for other other options, like pursuing Israel in international courts, getting your friend the UN involved, or playing off that whole black teenager thing to get foreign companies to turn the screws on Israel.
Which brings us to Israel. Imagine that you are the PA and you ordered a half pepperoni/half sausage pizza with Israel (in the Middle East, everyone secretly loves pork). It arrives, and you have to decide how to split it up. Pie cut or square cut? 50/50 or some other way? You can’t agree. John Kerry comes in to discuss with both of you. While you’re making your case, you notice something: Israel is already eating the pizza. Now imagine that instead of pizza, we’re talking about a wedge of desert with Mumbo-Jumbo Bible sauce and a topping of swarthy people. Israel’s eating that pie about as fast as it can.
Why wouldn’t they? No one said they couldn’t eat the pizza while figuring out what to do with the rest of it. If they just handed a bunch of pieces over to the Palestinians, they’d be attacked by their right wing for giving away their very special pizza with Mumbo Jumbo Bible sauce. The best strategy is clearly to talk as long as possible while enjoying the holy Jesus out of that pizza. Anything else would result in a net loss of pizza. Plus, as long as you’re talking with the Mumbo-Jumbo Bible sauce trickling down your chin, America will give you diplomatic cover and lots of money so you can keep eating the pizza.
This might sound as if the US is a chump. A boring, pedantic, overly-chinned chump named John Kerry. But it’s not. We have to do this. We’re America, and we have to convince the world that we’re committed to peace. Then we can convince the world that unicorns are real, and finally create a market for our huge surplus of dwarf horses and toilet paper tubes. As long as there are photo-ops of giant Americans bringing the two sides together, the US can keep our other friends happy and enter pointless negotiations to end the war in Syria (see Arab civilians, lack of concern for, above).
The only problem would be if the US actually had to bring about a stable long-lasting peace. Back to the pizza. Peace means Israel would have to give up some of the pizza it loves so much. Lots of people in the US really, really, want Israel to keep on enjoying that pizza. Especially people who are fans of Mumbo Jumbo Bible sauce, like most Republicans and many Democrats in Congress. But not just them. There are people who think Israel is an important ally, find it an enjoyable vacation spot, or would simply rather side with Israel than with the young black men of the world. There are also people who think that Israel earned a free pizza with a coupon they found at the bottom of a box of Genocide. Whichever it is, If the Obama Administration looked like it was about to take take the pizza away from Israel, make it give some back, or close the box, Congress and the press would go nuts.
Clearly, the best strategy for everyone is to negotiate as long as possible with no intention of a resolution. How long can this go on? Forever. Here’s the secret: you don’t come to a negotiation about how the pizza is shared prepared to talk about pizza. First, you have to create a framework agreement to negotiate how you’ll negotiate over the pizza.
Confused? We have a disagreement about sharing pizza. The US says “we’re going to talk about pizza, ok? But just about the toppings and the crust. We’ll talk about the cheese, condiments and napkins later.” The Palestinians say “No. We want to talk about the pizza entirely. Right now.” The Israelis say, “Fine. We’ll talk about pizza. But first, we must agree we will never give up the delicious corner pieces, and you can’t have napkins.” The US responds with “Ok. Let’s come back to corner pieces and napkins later. Palestinians, you must agree you won’t throw a fit and spit on it or something. Israel, for CHRIST’S SAKE HOW CAN YOU FIT THAT MUCH PIZZA IN YOUR MOUTH?” And so on.
This sounds may sound insane. It’s not. Consider: the current negotiations over framework talks are an attempt to move forward from the direct talks in Washington and Sharm al Sheikh in 2010. They’re a second attempt to relaunch talks held in Annapolis in 2007, which were a do-over of the Sharm al Sheikh conference in 2005. Those were based on the Road Map to Peace in 2003, which was an attempt to resuscitate talks in Taba in January, 2001, held to try and salvage the Camp David summit in 2000. Those followed negotiations at the Wye River Plantation in 1998, the Oslo II Agreement in 1995, and Oslo I in 1993, in which everyone agreed to a framework agreement in which this would all be worked out by May, 1999. Of course, Oslo was begun in secret after the failed Madrid talks in 1991 which were originally supposed to be part of the Camp David Accords in 1979. Those were a result of the separation of forces agreements negotiated after the October 1973 War, which was largely a result of failed negotiations following the June 1967 War.
Got that? Peace talks are a stalling tactic. The Palestinians hope that international pressure will come through. I don’t know what the Israelis are hoping for, but probably a combination of the Palestinians screwing up, and a new US administration to come and ignore them for a few years. Both things happen with alarming regularity. And the Obama administration just wants to get to January, 2017 looking like it tried.
As for real, lasting peace, we’ll be taping paper tubes to little horses’ heads and sending them out to deliver pizzas before anything that looks like peace happens.