The great peace blocker


A half century of failed peace talks on, the talkers remain stuck on a quartet of peace blockers:


 (1) Arab antipathy to a Jewish flag on Muslim soil

(2) Jewish settlement building  
(3) Jewish Occupation
(4) A demographic bomb called ‘Right of return of refugees’

American peace broker, John Kerry shuttled away in April 2014 empty-handed, realizing, too late, that peace talkers had welcomed him only in order to stymie him. At every turn they confounded Obama''s envoy with four blocking constants. ''Did he not foresee the peace blockers?'' pundits wanted to know. Kerry couldn''t say. He could only warn Israel about a future without peace. Not for the intrepid envoy the ecstasy of stepping from the plane and waving a piece of paper at the cameras. He returned long-faced and embittered. No reconciliation, no compromise, no coexistence. No paper to wave for posterity.


Peace broker Kerry: No paper treaty to wave at cameras 


For no reward Kerry had shuttled, from Israeli to Palestinian peace talkers, and back again. Four peace blockers confronted and confounded him at every turn. No one nodded at the elephant in the room. No one told him of a fifth, and most obdurate blocker of them all: Money. Money by the damful made the peace talks into the longest running show in town. The conflict that American leaders dream of solving had, thanks to past and prospective billions, aged into a hoary old mammoth.




The elephant in the room: Money 


What if Kerry, to engage in fantasy, had pulled a peace treaty out of the hat? Would the mammoth die with the diplomatic sideshow? How could it not live on? You don''t stop billions of cash flow, destroy a million jobs and condemn thousands of activists to obscurity just by archiving a treaty. Fat beneficiaries sup on the world’s favourite conflict, and no treaty is going to wean them off it. 


Take the kleptomaniac leaders most heavily invested in the conflict. Yasser Arafat, the icon of the Palestinian cause until he died in 2004, hit on the rich vein first. Keffiyeh clad, Arafat never missed the opportunity to say ‘No’ to making peace with israel. He said ‘No’ in the late 1960s and again in the early 1970s. In 1979 he said no again when Israel signed a peace treaty with Egypt and looked to make another with Palestinians. In May 1999 the Oslo process gave Arafat the best chance of all to build the foundations of a sovereign state at peace. Now, in the language of Intifada, he said ‘No.’ He even said ''No'' at the Camp David summit of July 2000, where Ehud Barak offered him statehood with control over some 92 percent of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with a political capital in the vicinity of Jerusalem. But Arafat preferred a payoff in perpetuity. Foresaking the peace table, he committed his people to violence and the misery of refugee-hood.


Behind the smile: Arafat preferred a payoff in perpetuity

Mahmoud Abbas continued to say ''No'' after succeeding Arafat as PLO chairman and PA president. He said ‘No’ to statehood after the Annapolis summit of November 2007; ''No'' again in June 2009, when Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu broke with Likud policy by agreeing to the establishment of a Palestinian state. And in April 2014 Abbas said a final ''No'' to peace broker Kerry. Why wouldn''t he? Search the planet for a leader who''d disturb a state of limbo if it meant no more filthy lucre. 


M Abbas saying ''No!''


Taps gushing money predispose Palestinian leaders not to sign a peace accord. Why would they? The daunting task of nation-building is worth nothing compared to basking in world-wide victimhood and the aid billions that go with it. More than twenty billion dollars of aid, with hardly a string attached, has gushed into Ramallah since 2000. And that''s only the sum from Western donors. What the Arab league splashed on Gaza is anyone’s guess.

Largesse will never incentivize people to get off their butts. Ask the World Bank. Its report in July 2012 opined that “the Palestinian economy cannot sustain statehood as long as it continues to rely heavily on foreign donations.” So on what did Palestinian rulers spend eighteen billion? Some of it went to pay 140,000 workers lucky enough to swell the Authority’s payroll. These workers are the breadwinners for a third and more of the population. Many work for the security force, which employs 58,000, or 41% on the total payroll. They are mostly Fatah members, but ‘security’ carries a meaning sufficiently broad to allow militants of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and Islamic Jihad to draw a salary. And even if they happen to be behind bars, still they receive their stipend. At this time Abbas is paying around $54 million (6% of the budget) annually to political prisoners; convicted murderers are in the queue. In the upside down scheme of things the prisoners never go short, while teachers and health workers are left waiting for their money. Another part of the $18 billion went into ‘development aid’ though what that means depends on what Mahmoud Abbas and his cronies decide it should mean. The balance of the money went down a few deep pockets.


“Chronic Kleptocracy – Corruption within the Palestinian Political Establishment” was the title given to a hearing of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs held in July 2012. Analysts testified before Congress on crony capitalism, endemic corruption, distortions of the market and other malpractices.

Mahmoud Abbas and sons Yasser and Tareq milk the Palestine Investment Fund for all its worth. The PIF was established in 2003 as an independent investment company, to strengthen the local economy through key investments, while maximizing long-run returns for the people of Palestine. Home made apple pie stuff, but off balance sheet the picture looks quite different. One of the sleaziest cases involved US loan guarantees meant for Palestinian farmers and other small to mid-sized businesses  being diverted to a mobile-phone firm backed by Mahmoud Abbas and Gulf investors. Steve Chabot testified at the hearing that Abbas, like predecessor Yasser Arafat, used his position to line his own pockets, along with favoured cohorts.


As to Gaza, foreign aid is the economy. Under the PLO much of this aid came from the US and Europe, but after Hamas gained power the Arab League was forced to step in. Iran on its own has become an important donor, funding Hamas to the tune (says Reuters) of $300 million per year. In April 2012, Hamas approved a budget of $769 million, up from $630 million in 2011. Since there can hardly be tax revenue from an economy with practically no taxpayers, $700 - $800 million per annum would be the extent of no-strings donations to Gaza. On what, and to whom, the money goes no one knows, and cares even less. Until the money tap is turned off no power on earth would impel super-rich, unaccountable leaders to smoke the peace pipe – not with a state for Jews.

And how, unless with God’s hand, would Kerry decommission a planetary system? If finally two states emerged from a solution into reality, what happens to the orbiting bodies? So many livelihoods; all those reputations and careers, such behemoth planets and moons, so much free spending, revolve around Israel and the ‘Occupation.’


One of the many fat peace blockers


Take UNWRA, for a big example. When the UN agency began in 1950 it had three quarter million Palestinian refugees to care for. Today it looks after more than five million. There are 700 UNWRA schools teaching half a million children; 122 clinics and more welfare centres provide better care than Arab host countries offer their citizens. But it doesn’t come cheap. UNWRA’s budget is close to $2 billion, in substantial part funded by the US. What if a miracle peace accord was made? How would UNWRA workers (30,000 Palestinians among them) react? A fixed belief in entitlement once led to riots in the territories on talk of cutbacks. And no one in their right mind expects Arab leaders to surrender their potent weapon against Israel: refugees. Lebanon, Syria and Jordan putting up their hands to absorb five million? It won’t happen. For 60 years Palestinian refugees have had zero rights in the Arab world, and no peace deal will change that. So, who except UNWRA will continue to look after millions of Palestinians in permanent limbo? No force known to man could help the United Nations disband the behemoth.


But other bodies, playing for bigger money, orbit the conflict. Who’d bet on the human rights economy supporting a peace deal and packing up? For the conflict drives a global sector with access to free capital, well-connected stakeholders, media channels, and a commodity – Israeli crimes, for which the world has a gluttonous hunger. If those are not conditions for big business, what are they?


And the player atop the pyramid? The United Nations trades in hardly anything but Israeli crimes. Seventy five percent of that body’s condemnations and sixty percent of its emergency sittings relate to Israel. For human rights violations in the whole world the UN keeps just one permanent item on the agenda. It keeps one other permanent item for Israel alone.

Try telling UN agencies that peace has broken out!


Then there are the foot soldiers. How would boycott campaigners receive a peace deal absolving the nation they love to hate? Would they accept an Israel that comes up smelling of roses? Limelight, book sales, career opportunities and, for the lucky few, celebrity status would wither away without a conflict to sustain them. ‘Israel-bashing is the contemporary key to acceptance,’ Professor Robert Wistrich correctly observes. Even a humble saxophone player may aspire to overnight celebrity status. ‘It is Gilad Atzmon’s blunt anti-Zionism rather than his music that has given him an international profile,’ London’s Guardian explains.

Hard luck and all to failed peace broker John Kerry. Had he overcome the peace blocker, a Nobel Prize would have been a miserly reward.