New Round of Middle East Peace Talks Greeted with Skepticism and Concern

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Posted Aug. 7, 2013

Interview with Ofer Neiman, an Israeli peace and justice activist, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has coaxed Palestinian and Israeli diplomats back to the negotiating table, three years after talks broke down due to Israel's refusal to put a settlement ban in place in the West Bank. This time around, the Palestinians have agreed to talks despite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's refusal again to freeze the construction of new settlements. And although Netanyahu has declared an informal halt to settlement building for the time being, his government has taken other actions that bolster settlers already living there – which some assert demonstrates bad faith.

Meanwhile, critics in the U.S., the West Bank, and in Israel point out that the U.S. is hardly an "honest broker," since Washington has for so long supported Israeli policies and provided billions of dollars of aid and weapons. Others observers express concern that the lead negotiator appointed by Secretary of State Kerry – Martin Indyk – is a former U.S. Ambassador to Israel who has worked for pro-Israel lobby groups in the U.S. such as AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Ofer Neiman, an Israeli peace and justice activist who's involved in the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, campaign, to pressure Israel to end the occupation of the West Bank. Here he shares his view of the new round of peace negotiations, an outlook very different from the majority of Israelis.

OFER NEIMAN: I would go with the words of an Israeli journalist and blogger, a very smart guy, named Noam Sheizaf, one or two sentences. He's posting from July 23: "Don't cheer these peace talks." And he adds, "To register their recent success, Kerry and the Obama administration destroyed whatever was achieved in the last two decades. For the first time since the 1991 Madrid Conference, the starting point for the negotiations are the positions of the Israeli right." And I definitely subscribe to Noam's point of view. So what we're going to see right now is pretty much negotiations from scratch in which the Likud government, with very extreme views, will try to use its force to dictate some Palestinian acceptance of the facts on the ground, namely checkpoints and settlements, so I don't think we should be cheering those peace talks.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Does most of the Israeli public say they support a two-state solution?

OFER NEIMAN: It seems that most Israelis have become quite apathetic about the situation because they can go on with their lives in Tel Aviv and other places without any thoughts toward the occupation. Matter of fact, when we had suicide bombings in Israel, people were more concerned; in a way they had to think about the occupation. Now when things are more quiet, most Israelis don't care, and I also think that for most Israelis, the status quo is the best option. No one wants to discuss two states or one state. People just prefer the status quo because there are huge obstacles and problems involved in both these scenarios, so people just stick to the present, and of course this means that the overwhelming majority of the Israeli public is practically giving the settlers carte blanche – and Likud of course, and the generals, Israel's ruling elite – they're giving them carte blanche to go on with their colonial project, especially the settlements. People are paying lip service to the two-state slogan. They say, I support a two-state solution; I want to have peace, but nothing beyond that for most Israelis.

BETWEEN THE LINES: There was an interesting article in the New York Times recently quoting many top officials in the Likud government saying they want a one-state solution, but by that they meant a solution in which Israel would take over all of the West Bank and incorporate it into Israel proper. Do you think there's much support for a one-state solution in which Israelis and Palestinians would live as equals in a nation that encompasses Israel and the West Bank?

OFER NEIMAN: Well, we can see active support only in some so-called radical circles. Again, the overwhelmingly majority of the public, they don't want a one-state solution because many of them stand to lose their privileges and there are huge issues involved – Palestinian refugees, Palestinians being able to live inside Israel's current borders, many other issues. Of course, this ridiculous single-state solution supported by various Likud (word unclear), it's not a democratic solution. Basically, most Israelis support the current. In fact, what we have now is pretty much a one-state solution – a one-state apartheid solution and most Israelis support that; they don't want to change things too drastically.

BETWEEN THE LINES: As an Israeli activist who's been working for many years for a just solution to this situation, do you see any ray of hope?

OFER NEIMAN: I do see a ray of hope in the global mobilization of activists and NGOs against Israel's apartheid policies. One relative term is, of course, the BDS campaign, so maybe we can call it global civil society. Another problem we have is that some of the more established peace groups – I can name Peace Now and Americans for Peace Now and J Street – I think they are responsible for this very false celebration of the so-called resumption of the peace talks, marketing it as some big achievement, without addressing the core issues, for example, the imbalance of power between the Palestinians and Israel and without countering apartheid – without naming it, without doing too much against Israeli actions on the ground, and that's another element of the problem, that some parts of what should have been a peace camp, a serious opposition, basically are acting as cheerleaders for John Kerry and the U.S. administration.

For more progressive views on the situation in Israel/Palestine, visit the Israeli blog, 972mag.com.

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