Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
7 - 13 September 2000
Issue No. 498
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

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Tune in next week

By Hani Shukrallah

Hani Shukrallah The Arab-Israeli peace process will end with neither a bang nor even a whimper. Like a day-time soap, it will play itself out over and over, ad nauseam. Ratings (or, in this case, media and world leaders' attention) will no doubt decline. But again, just like a day-time soap, the downward curve is likely to be punctuated by especially exciting episodes that recapture interest momentarily and raise the process's popularity on the global airwaves. One day it will simply blink off. But by then, none but the most fervent of fans will have noticed.

Which is a pity, really. For I must admit there is something rather seductive about an end, one way or the other, to a peace process, that -- depending on how you look at it -- is already nine (Madrid), 22 (Camp David I), 26 (Geneva, and Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy), or 33 (UN Resolution 242) years old. And this is not merely out of sheer boredom -- exactly how many White House lawn signing ceremonies are we supposed to get excited about? (A journalist's lot is particularly onerous in this respect; you can't afford to just shut the whole business out; words like deadlock, stall and breakthrough begin to give you nervous jitters; there is always the uneasy feeling that you're writing or editing essentially the same story over and over again, not to speak of trying to find a headline that will at least be slightly different from dozens others before it.)

It is not just a matter of diminishing returns, however. But neither is this secret wish to see the back of the process based on any supposition that the conclusion (if successful) will signal the inauguration of "peace in our time," nor that it will (in the event of failure) trigger the kind of violent upheavals we are constantly warned against. A final settlement will not see Israelis and Arabs dancing together in the streets, nor will a collapse of the negotiations unleash waves of crazed violence and counter-violence, drowning the region in blood. In either event, we'll get essentially more of the same -- cold peace (whether in treaty form or not); continuing Israeli oppression and increasing dispossession of the Palestinian people; the odd sordid little suicide operation by Hamas and its ilk; and occasional massive Israeli retaliation in which the old maxim of a hundred (or more) Arab lives for one Jewish life is put into effect with typical brutality.

The real reason I, for one, sometimes wish the whole thing was over with is that I believe we know perfectly well what lies at the end of the road. A Palestinian Bantustan was all we were destined to get through the US-driven and -led peace process, inherently rigged from the start at the expense of the Palestinians' fundamental rights. Take the "sensitive" question of Jerusalem, for instance. The haggling over the extent and forms of the Palestinian state's sovereignty over East Jerusalem, or parts thereof, both over or under the ground, begs the question of the kind of sovereignty that state will come to enjoy as a whole. In East Jerusalem, as in the rest of the non-contiguous territories of putative Palestine, that state, ultimately, will enjoy as much authority as Israel gives it in politics, both domestic and foreign, in the economic and social spheres, not to speak of the military field -- all of which, moreover, is contingent on its "good behaviour" (defined as jealously guarding Israeli "security" and suppressing any dissent or resistance to its continuing enslavement, dispossession and effective disenfranchisement of the Palestinian people).

Knowing what lies at the end, one occasionally feels like telling the protagonists to just get on with it, for maybe then we can get on with the desperately needed task of elaborating, conceptually and in practice, a new agenda for the development and genuine emancipation of the Palestinian and Arab peoples.

We may witness another "historic" signing at the White House within the coming few weeks. Then again, we may not. In all events, neither national treason nor great days for peace and brotherhood are at stake. And for those of us who wish the whole damned business done, no such luck. If they do sign, it will be yet another "framework" agreement, one that will require other, more detailed, agreements, and agreements to implement the detailed agreements, more deadlines, more breakdowns and hiccups, more accusations and counter-accusations of violating the letter and/or spirit of signed agreements.

And if we don't? Maybe an Arab summit, and maybe not -- after all, we must take great care not to weaken the doves in Israel, whether in government (so that they won't fall), or ahead of elections (in the hope that they win). We could also witness the inevitable foreign ministerial meeting or two; a lull while everyone waits on the results of the American, and then the Israeli, elections; continuing reassertion of the strategic commitment to peace, while secret and other channels of negotiation are maintained... Finally, after a few months, the process will lurch into motion once more.

In other words, then: either way, we're in for more of the same.

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