Gwynne Dyer: The Middle East peace process is dead

“This parrot is no more,” rants former Monty Python member John Cleese in the English-speaking world’s best-loved TV sketch. “It has ceased to be,” he tells fellow Python Michael Palin, playing a pet-shop owner who insists that the obviously dead bird is still alive. “It's expired and gone to meet its maker. This is a late parrot. It's a stiff. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. It's rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-parrot."

Same with the “Middle East peace process”, another old joke that is getting a bit creaky in the joints. The U.S. State Department, like the pet-shop owner, insists that the obviously dead process is still alive. “There, it moved,” as Palin says in the sketch. “No, it didn’t. That was you pushing the cage,” replies the outraged Cleese. But the State Department still gets away with it.

It’s a necessary fiction. Nobody in authority will publicly admit that no Israeli government will take on the Jewish settlers in the West Bank and force through a “land for peace” deal, or that there is no unified government for Israelis to talk to on the Palestinian side anyway—that there is, in fact, no prospect of an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement in this generation. But that is the reality; the rest is the theatre of the absurd.

"I welcome this American decision. It is good for Israel. It is good for peace," said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on December 13. Yet the U.S. had just abandoned all hope of getting Israel to freeze new building in the Jewish settlements in the occupied territories (which already control 40 percent of the West Bank’s land) long enough to keep direct peace talks with the Palestinians going.

Netanyahu had agreed to a 10-month freeze in new construction as a condition for entering into direct talks with Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, but the ten months expired just after the talks opened, and he refused to extend the freeze. The U.S. even tried bribing him with a multi-billion dollar pledge to give Israel new F-35 fighters, but to no avail.

Why so obdurate? “If someone says that he agrees to 10 months of freezing,” said former prime minister Ehud Olmert last month, “and the president of the mightiest nation on Earth and the friendliest nation to Israel comes to you and says 'Please give me two more months, only two months,' I would say 'President, why two? Why not three? Take three'.”

Did Netanyahu refuse to grant Barack Obama the extra time because he was afraid that otherwise the settler lobby, which has powerful backers in his cabinet, would bring his coalition government down? Or just because he has always secretly opposed a land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians anyway. Probably both, but we’ll have to wait on WikiLeaks to know for sure.

As for Mahmoud Abbas, he only controls the West Bank and must guard his flank against the more radical Hamas Organization, which rules in the Gaza Strip and rejects peace with Israel. Abbas had gone as far as he safely could in agreeing to direct talks while building in the Jewish settlements was frozen.

Netanyahu knew that refusing to extend the freeze would force Abbas to end direct talks, but he was under great pressure from Washington to extend it. To divert that pressure, he introduced a new Israeli precondition for talks. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) long ago accepted Israel as a legitimate state; now, if it wanted the freeze to continue, it must recognize Israel specifically as a Jewish state.

That’s a lot to ask of people whose parents or grand-parents lost their homes and became refugees as a direct result of the creation of Israel, so that ended the risk of returning even to talks about talks. As Yasser Abed Rabbo of the PLO’s executive committee said, “The policy and efforts of the U.S. administration failed because of the blow it received from the Israeli government.”

Meeting in Cairo on December 15, the foreign ministers of the Arab League declared that "resuming the negotiations will be conditioned on receiving a serious offer that guarantees an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict." By a “serious offer”, they mean a U.S.-backed proposal for a comprehensive peace settlement.

No U.S. administration would dare make such a proposal: it would be torn to shreds in days by the Israeli lobby in the United States and its allies in Congress. So there really is no peace process. Most Israelis want a peace settlement in principle, but there is just no consensus in Israel on the territorial compromises that would be needed to bring it about.

Increasingly, there is no consensus on the Palestinian side either, with many people losing faith in the very idea of a “two-state solution”. The only reason that a fake “peace process” continues is because the United States needs it to reconcile its huge emotional investment in Israel with its concrete financial and strategic interests in the Arab countries.

Is this an unsustainable situation? Not at all; it has lasted more than a decade already. It could last for several more, with occasional interruptions by further Israeli punishment attacks on south Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. It cannot go on forever, of course, but forever is a long, long time.



glen p robbins

Dec 21, 2010 at 2:01pm

It's a necessary fiction is likely how the very few in the public/Canada/much of United States - if they could be convinced to pay attention------- would see this process.

Even the most minute accommodation is seen as a zero sum outcome---by either side.


Dec 21, 2010 at 6:59pm

Although it is always nice to have it acknowledged with reputable media this is not news for anyone who has been even loosely following events about the region. The closest peace ever came to that region was with Rabin and we all know how he was taken care of by the more "tribal" in Isreal.
As long as the the US government is owned by the zionist lobby in the US and the general population there remain clueless to that fact nothing will change.


Dec 23, 2010 at 7:04pm

The Palestinians are wasting their efforts in dealing with the Israelis and the US. They need to align themselves solely with the EU and the Chinese.
The Israelis can manipulate the US all they want but they have zero influence over with China. It would help if Canada would take a neutral stance in this dispute as well, but with Quisling in power that isn't going to happen until he is voted out.

Mike Boileau

Dec 28, 2010 at 9:36am

This is "Insane"! The Americans, and any other nation providing the Israelis with money and weapons must STOP! No more support for Israel that is not also given to the Palestinians, that includes all of the land that was Plestinian before the 1967 War. Further, all Israeli nukes must be confiscated so there can be no nuclear threat to the EU and the Middle East. If you try that proposal, there shall be peace in one week.

Jinho Choi

Dec 29, 2010 at 2:11am

The answer is clear. Disarm the Zionist entity and the occupation of Palestine will end.

It is necessary to remember that the United States government broke its own laws more than forty years ago to arm the Zionist entity with nuclear weapons for use against legitimate Arab nations, and has been paying for their maintenance with US tax dollars.

With this in mind, the claim of successive US administrations of being honest brokers in the Middle East peace process is laughable.

The Reverand

Dec 31, 2010 at 6:58pm

Actually - as Mr Dyer himself has pointed out - it was France, not America, which supported Israel's fledgeling nuclear ambitions and got them started in that particular technological area (before their own shift in policy).

Jinho Choi

Jan 3, 2011 at 6:57pm


Do you seriously entertain the suggestion that France armed the Zionist entity with nuclear weapons through its own initiative?

France acted as a proxy of the United States through front companies. I refer you to the money trail leading from the US DoD to Misrad HaBitahon.