We have always been uncomfortable using the phrase “peace process” to refer to the actual dynamic of Palestinian-Israeli relations. The phrase in fact appropriates “peace” to refer exclusively to terms of American-Israeli imposition, and to exclude as “enemies of peace” those who insist that these terms are a recipe for continued conflict.
This “peace process” is by all accounts “in trouble.” As the analyses and testimonies in this double issue indicate, this trouble relates to readily observable facts of life on the ground. One is the increasing pauperization of much of the Palestinian population, especially in Gaza. Another is the closure of all of occupied Jerusalem to Palestinians for much of the time since the Declaration of Principles was signed. Most recent — the list could go on — is Israel’s attempted confiscation of some 134 acres in East Jerusalem for settler housing, an act of bureaucratic gangsterism that the Clinton administration sanctioned with its first UN Security Council veto.
The troubles of the “peace process,” say Washington and Tel Aviv, have nothing to do with such matters. The problem, they say, is “Islamic terrorism” as perpetrated by the likes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and supported by Iran. These organizations have certainly accounted for the most visible and outrageous manifestations of Palestinian opposition to the bogus “peace process.” It is, moreover, quite plausible that Iran has provided support for these organizations — though the US has offered no evidence along these lines.
It is complete nonsense, though, to think that the power of organizations like Hamas derives from outside aid — be it Iranian, Saudi or whatever. But scapegoating Iran for the sorry state of Palestinian-Israeli dynamics serves to distract attention from the self-serving designs and incompetencies of American, Israeli and PLO leaders.
Iranian responsibility for the failure of the “peace process” rivals Tehran’s alleged quest for nuclear weapons as the primary justification for promoting Iran as international public enemy number one. Underlying this demonization is an American and Israeli need for a “threat” sufficiently menacing to rationalize a Pentagon budget of $258 billion, military and other aid to Israel of around $5 billion each year, and US arms sales to allies and clients in the Middle East in the range of $9-11 billion per year since the Gulf war.
The unparalleled military and political hegemony of the US in the region since the end of the Cold War and the Gulf war has coincided with and prompted the construction of new regional alliances. But from Algeria to Pakistan, nearly all the regimes that make up those alliances confront serious threats of social disorder. In this environment, Washington perceives US advantage in bolstering Israel’s dominant position — an approach that corresponds with the domestic fundraising needs of Clinton’s reelection campaign.
A serious strategy to deal with Palestinian violence must also deal with Israeli violence, and in that way resolve — not merely suppress — the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But that, like a serious strategy of nuclear non-proliferation, would require a US policy that served interests very different from those it now serves, domestically and regionally.