HAIFA, Israel — Pondering this newest round of negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, I wonder if there really is any point.

The international news media have anxiously grabbed hold of the recent Hamas shooting of four settlers near Hebron (interestingly, a city whose situation is so controversial that Israeli citizens are not allowed in parts of it) as the turning point from the “potential” to the “unlikely” success of the talks.

Don’t be fooled by this. It definitely won’t help – a permanent settlement freeze is at the crux of the negotiations – but it won’t change the outcome. The talks were doomed from the start.

Abbas wasn’t actually elected in the last election cycle and unilaterally appointed himself his own successor. He is supposed to represent Palestinians and the Palestine Liberation Organization, the self-proclaimed “sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people” and the umbrella organization for its 10 member parties.

In reality, he represents primarily his own interests and those of Fatah, his party. The division between Hamas and Fatah is only one of many within Palestinian Authority politics, and this still ignores the complicated situation of Palestinian citizens of Israel (or Israeli Arabs, or Arab citizens of Israel).

These Palestinian-Israelis do not live in what would be part of a future Palestinian state in today’s view of a two-state solution – occupied West Bank and Gaza – but are still affected by Israeli policies and the outcome of any negotiations.

Netanyahu’s administration – led by Foreign Minster Avigdor Lieberman – is building up an impressive reputation for discrimination and abuses against Israeli Arabs and Palestinians under occupation. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, “spiritual leader” of the Shas party, has adopted the rhetoric commonly associated with Hezbollah and Ayatollah Khomeini.

Bedouin villages are razed and razed and razed again. Activists who speak out in support of democracy, justice and equality risk finding themselves in Israeli prisons without access to attorney for 21 days under the special security provisions of Israeli law. Illegal settlements continue to be built and rebuilt despite an official yet mostly unenforced moratorium that expires on Sept. 26.

These talks serve only to pay lip service to the United States, the United Nations and those who still manage to convince themselves that 50 years of talking is going to achieve something. No one is interested in talking anymore.

Whether out of apathy or realism, no one here in Israel is talking about the meetings. There is tacit acknowledgment that they aren’t worth our breath, our thought, our time. Except to lampoon their potential, Israeli and Arab media are paying them no attention.

These “negotiations” are happening only to appease and pacify the international community, a community that should recognize by now the futility of the endeavor. The world needs to further recognize that these men are essentially powerless when faced with entire societies at ideological odds with themselves and each other. It’s just a big joke.

And yet they persevere. Netanyahu could better spend his time working toward peace by disbanding and ceasing settlements entirely. Abbas could cede power and open elections within the West Bank, maybe even Gaza.

All sides – and believe you me, this issue has more than two sides – could work towards legitimate democracy for all citizens, taking down the wall, de-settling settlements and abandoning the idea of a theocracy once and for all.

We need fair and equal resource distribution, access to education and jobs, unbiased curricula in schools and political accountability. Freedom of speech, opinion, assembly, thought, press and religion. Open borders between the Occupied Territories and Israel proper.

Yet, I feel like these are pipe dreams. Peace doesn’t begin when three or four or five or a hundred old men sit down for tea and cakes in a high-ceilinged office on the other side of the world.

Peace begins when all citizens and residents have the opportunities inherent in true freedom and equality, when they aren’t living under occupation, when human rights are something you have without fighting for, when hearing bombs on the nearby Lebanese border isn’t a regular occurrence, and when fighter jets aren’t constantly flying overhead as they are today.


– Special to The Press Herald