Events of the past few days have put an exclamation point on what should be blindingly obvious: There is no meaningful diplomatic framework for peacemaking between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's litany of demands for the Palestinian leadership were rapturously received by the US Congress yesterday. But the distant thud you may have heard was the demise of any hopes for renewed bilateral peace efforts in the Holy Land. Palestinians were furious, and appalled by the four-square support for Mr. Netanyahu's agenda from both sides of the aisle in Congress. In Ramallah, plans to seek UN recognition of a Palestinian state are being accelerated.
Netanyahu's speech "contained many errors and distortions and was a long way from the peace process," Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said. He vowed to seek UN recognition for a Palestinian state in September if "progress" isn't made between now and then.
"We said in the past and we still say that our choice is negotiation, negotiation and nothing but negotiation. But if nothing happens by September we will go [to the UN]," Mr. Abbas said.
If Abbas is a man of his word, then off to the UN he will go, which will be the formal death of a "process" that's been moribund for years.
Recognizing that the "peace process" doesn't really exist is a far cry from saying peace is impossible. In fact, moving away from a "process" that exists in name only might be the best thing that could happen for the prospects for "actual" peace, since it might allow conversations and rhetoric to focus more on the real world rather than an imaginary factory where elves feed grievances into a complicated machine that, eventually, will emit rainbows from the other end.
In the real world, the prospects for peace have been regressing in recent years and Palestinian and Israeli distrust has been soaring. The tired old "peace process" has only really served as a surrogate issue, an aid for both Palestinians and Israelis to avoid talking about making real, difficult compromises.
Israelis and Palestinians have not sat down and discussed peace in any meaningful way for three years now, and Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech to Congress amounted to an admission that they won't sit down again any time soon. From the Palestinian side, perhaps most stunning of all was Netanyahu's rejection of the borders that prevailed before Israel seized the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967 as a starting point for negotiations.
It begs the question – where else would talks on the occupied territory start? His demand for a permanent Israeli military occupation of the Jordan valley, in the heart of a theoretically independent Palestine, is also a nonstarter from the Palestinian point of view. Mr. Netanyahu knows all this. So what was his speech really about?
It was about framing the Palestinians as the "obstructionist" side, anyway. Abbas, of course, is now painting Netanyahu's government as the obstructionists, and that's a case his diplomats are making in European capitals as they drum up support for UN recognition of Palestine.
Essentially, Palestinians have ditched the peace process and are pursuing a different means of ending the conflict – one that Israel can't obstruct.