Israeli-Palestinian Talks: An Update

by Norman Finkelstein, Jamie Stern-Weiner

As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry recently observed, we are at a 'critical point' in the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict. In a New Left Project interview earlier this month, Norman Finkelstein presented an in-depth analysis of where the Israeli-Palestinian talks being brokered by Kerry are heading, the gist of which was: in the absence of a revived Palestinian movement, the U.S. and Israel will successfully impose Israel's terms of settlement on an unprecedentedly weak Palestinian leadership, inflicting an in-all-likelihood decisive defeat on the Palestinians' decades-long struggle for self-determination.

As diplomacy picks up pace and an agreement draws nearer, we will publish periodic updates on the situation from Finkelstein. The following is adapted from a conversation with NLP's Jamie Stern-Weiner.


There have been, since our previous discussion, three major developments worth noting.

(1)     Israel's appetite has increased with eating

Things have been moving along more or less as Secretary of State Kerry hoped, except he has made one miscalculation.  Like myself, Kerry assumed that if he adopted the consistent positions Israel took during the 2008 Annapolis negotiations, he would have the Israelis in his back pocket. He didn't anticipate the dynamic whereby with each mouthful, Israel's hunger increases.  Seeing how weak the PA is, and how accommodating Kerry is, some Israelis now figure, why not ask for more?

So they throw in a demand for a fourth settlement bloc; they throw in Palestinian recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state”; they throw in annexation of the Jordan Valley—none of which was salient in the Annapolis negotiations.  At Annapolis, the Israeli position on the Jordan Valley was exactly what Kerry is now offering—the presence of an international force, while minor technical disputes such as control over the electromagnetic spectrum still had to be resolved.  But some Israelis are now thinking, What the hell, we've got the room, why not ask for the whole house?

What's more, they might be right. The Palestinians are politically so weak, perhaps Israel really can get a lot more.  Kerry will not accept egg on his face again after his humiliation during the Syrian chemical weapons crisis.  There will be probably be a balancing act: on the one hand, Kerry will try to incorporate a part of Israel's enlarged demands, while, on the other, the Europeans will continue to turn the screws on Israel.

(2)     Inside Israel, the politicking phase has begun

Inside Israel, different interest groups and lobbies are aligning themselves. One group that has come to the fore in recent days are what Noam Chomsky calls the “rational capitalists.” For these very wealthy business elites, “Israel” is just a pinprick on the map. They have a more grandiose vision.  They want to create something akin to a Greater Middle East Co-Prosperity Sphere, with Israel playing the role of Japan.  There has been a significant rapprochement recently between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and not a day passes without a report of Israeli officials travelling to some meeting in the Gulf.  These rational capitalists now see an opportunity to realise their regional (even global) ambitions by ending the conflict with the Palestinians.  They don’t want a stupid little thing like the Jordan Valley to stand in the way of an opening in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.

But the stake that a lot of Israelis have developed in an on-going conflict also shouldn’t be underestimated.  Defence Minister Ya'alon, who has been mouthing off about Israel retaining the Jordan Valley, is a good example.  Ya'alon is perfectly aware that the Jordan Valley has zero strategic value. But he has outsize influence in Israeli society because he's a military man in a highly militarised society.  If the vision of Israel's rational capitalists is realised and a settlement is reached, his influence will be somewhat diminished. And so he has a stake in maintaining an atmosphere of low-intensity conflict.

This touches on a broader political issue.  In my opinion, a lot of people misunderstand politics as being determined by an overriding motive.  Take the US-led attack on Iraq in 2003. The standard question back then was, What is Bush's motive? Some people said it was oil; others said it was the Israel Lobby; others pointed to the arms industry.  But in politics, I don't think it's right to look for a single, decisive motive. What you have, instead, is a confluence of interests, the preponderance of which weighs on one side or the other in the political scales.  In the case of Iraq, Karl Rove wanted an invasion for a narrow political objective: to see Bush re-elected. Politics has its own autonomy; it's not simply reducible to economic interests.  Then there were those who were in it for the oil, or who saw great opportunities in occupying (and rebuilding) Iraq.  Then, there were those who saw it as an opportunity to assert U.S. power on the world stage, or to reshape the map of the Middle East.  There was a confluence of interests, the preponderance of which favoured an attack.  It’s probably even true that a psychological element—Bush’s tortured relationship with his father—played some role in the decision to attack.  It sounds petty, but in politics, if you’ve got a lot of power, the petty can play a big role.  Palestinian President Abbas’s quest for a Nobel and exacting retrospective revenge on the late PLO chairman Yasser Arafat (who humiliated him) are probably factors in his calculation.

In Israel right now, the various interest groups are lining up on one side or the other.  So, the rational capitalists and centrist politicians like Tzipi Livni favour an agreement, while the settler stalwarts, Zionist ideologues and elements of the military establishment oppose it.  Then there are people like Prime Minister Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Lieberman, for whom it is a primarily political issue.  Netanyahu wants to remain in power and Lieberman wants to succeed him, so they have to balance the competing interest groups and also be careful not to offend Washington.

(3)     The Palestinians remain a null factor

The third factor is noteworthy by its absence: the Palestinians. The Palestinians know they're being steamrollered.  In all the coverage now, they're basically a footnote.  Arafat used to shuffle from one Arab and European capital to another whenever a crisis developed.  He clocked more air miles than Henry Kissinger.  Today, we have the desperate Palestinian leadership shuttling—but to where?  To the Al Quds Committee.  For Christ’s sake, has anyone even heard of the Al Quds Committee?  It's a claque of octogenarians who sit around all day with their tea and shisha.  Now it’s reported that Abbas is headed for Russia.  As if Putin at this moment gives a hoot about Palestine.   For the first time since its emergence a century ago, the Palestine question has been reduced to its puny geographical dimensions: a “provincial” struggle.  I hate to repeat that awful cliché, but if Arafat was a tragedy, this is farce cubed. It is very telling that Abbas's right-hand man Saeb Erekat considers the Ha'aretz journalist Jack Khoury a bigger ally than the Palestinian people.  He whispers in the ears of Ha'aretz to vent Palestinian grievances.  But to the Palestinian people? Nothing.  And from all indications, the people don't care.

The poles of the debate are now being established as, on one extreme, the Kerry proposal (in essence, the Israeli position at Annapolis), and on the other extreme, those within Israel who don't want to give up anything.  The Palestinian position has vanished from the debate.  Palestinians will protest when the steamroller runs over them, at which point everyone will say, “Are you still talking about the settlement blocs?  That was already agreed upon.”  And the Palestinians will then appear to be the spoilers.

What is the upshot of these three factors? A framework agreement will be reached shortly.  Tzipi Livni and Yitzchak Molcho wouldn't have gone to Washington otherwise—they're down to the details now.  The Palestinians are due to visit next week, when they'll be given their marching orders.

The Palestinian leadership will continue to posture, out of its usual alloy of stupidity and desperation. In Israel, the politicking will continue. As happened in South Africa during the 1980s, the rational capitalists will split off from the ideological true-believers.  Interest blocs will crystallize and there will probably be an election.  My guess is, those in favour of ending the conflict will win.

Some supporters of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) interpret the recent hysteria in Israel about the threat of an international boycott as their victory.  In Israeli politics, as discussed, the different interest groups are lining up: the settlers to retain all the settlements (not just the major settlement blocs in which 85% of the settlers reside), the rational capitalists because of regional (and global) ambitions, the defence establishment because of domestic prestige and perquisites—and no one because of BDS.  These Israeli billionaires are not worried about an American Studies Association vote. They're not even worried about an EU boycott of settlement products; their ambitions are much bigger than a can opener factory in Ariel.  They're not being browbeaten by BDS, they're using BDS to mobilize public support for their own narrow agenda.  BDS is as significant a factor as the Al Quds Committee.  


Norman Finkelstein is the author of Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel is Coming to an End (OR Books, 2012) and, with Mouin Rabbani, How to Solve the Israel-Palestine Conflict (OR Books, forthcoming).

Jamie Stern-Weiner co-edits New Left Project.

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First published: 22 January, 2014

Category: Foreign policy, International

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17 Comments on "Israeli-Palestinian Talks: An Update"

By jimmie hultman, on 22 January 2014 - 00:49 |

Palestinians should hold their people and outside terrorists accountable so that Israel would no longer have a leg to stand on in their opposition to a Palestinian state. That way if Israel continues to remain inflexible they would only be digging the hole deeper with their obvious resistance.

By jimmie hultman, on 22 January 2014 - 01:18 |

Regarding the article ..... It was very enlightening with it’s facts and it’s objective reasoning, and it was considerably thought-provoking.

By Cassandra, on 22 January 2014 - 23:42 |

Utter twaddle.  The talks are meant to drag on endlessly, collapse, shift blame, rinse, repeat.  If any agreement is reached it will once again take the form of a “roadmap” with no concrete agreements.  The Israelis aren’t “increasing their appetite”, they’re purposely making demands that cannot be meant so the whole thing collapses.  People like Finklestein will then be used to blame the left for sabotaging talks.  Good job.

By M, on 23 January 2014 - 10:47 |

So then oh wonderful and wise Norman, what is it that you propose solidarity movements should do, if not tackle the complicity of the governments and corporations in their own countries? Beyond inviting you for lots of expensive speaking tours, that is. 

By JamieSW, on 23 January 2014 - 11:06 |

What the solidarity movement should do, oh droll and witty M, is direct lame personal attacks at individuals who offer in-depth analysis of a looming catastrophe, if said analysis does not support the most currently fashionable strategy. I think that could really get us somewhere.

By Tamari, on 23 January 2014 - 18:42 |

Norman Filnkelstein is wrong. Palestinians do care that their “leadership” is ineffective. However, a new leadership has emerged. Palestinians do care and they are dying everyday for their freedom.

By lidia, on 23 January 2014 - 20:08 |

I wonder, what some progressives said back then about the BDS against aparteid SA being in vain? I am seriously interested.  I also wonder was this people words called “in-depth analysis”?



By HanzMeizer, on 24 January 2014 - 02:55 |

by the way, if anyone thinks that Germanys latest decision to further push the EU into settlement boycotts is in any way related to BDS activitys, please note that in germany, publicly promoting BDS equals disqualification from public discourse and significant stigmatisation. BDS is by design pro-settlement in germany, because you help building up the hasbara activists due to feeding them , BDS doesnt even consider how to adress this major political and economic power in the heart of europe.

On the other way around, beeing a staunch supporter of settlements and open racism against palestineans by members of the media establishment will not be given the slightest sh*t about. That is because people know nothing about the conflict, mythology if anything. And you can not educate them because universitys and activists get so effectively preassured and disturbed by pseudocommunist anti-antiwarleft sectarian that wave US and Israel flags and believe they are antifacists… its crazy.

If BDS struggles to receive partial acceptance in the US among liberal jews, then BDS is litteraly taboo in germany and austria. Im not lamenting, i just want to make it clear what international activism can expect from that country. France isnt much better apparently and they wherent even the nazis! 

By lidia, on 24 January 2014 - 08:15 |

I understand why NF and his supporters do not want to admit effect of BDS and even try to smear . But Zionists Israelis think otherwise - and businessmen, no less

“A high level delegation of Israeli businesspeople, members of the Breaking the Impasse initiative, is attending the World Economic Forum at Davos for the second consecutive year, with a call to move forward on a peace agreement with the Palestinians for the good of the Israeli economy, and to prevent the international drift towards a boycott of Israel.”

the sourse is an Israel business paper, very Zionist one. It seems that while NF and his supporters speak about business not affected by BDS, Zionist businessmen do not think so LOL

Now to HM specially about Germany and BDS


By lidia, on 24 January 2014 - 10:12 |

“BDS struggles to receive partial acceptance in the US among liberal jews” - by the way, not all in the world and even USA is about “jews”. BDS is calling for ALL people to BDS against apartied Zionism, just like it had been doing against apartied SA.

By Michael N Moore, on 25 January 2014 - 13:23 |

I like your report on the “Middle East Co-Prosperity Sphere” lead by a Nipponized Israel. Lots of analogies here with island xenophobia (geographic or political), ingrained militarism, and inflated self-importance. Recall how the Japaneses initially sought to achieve the “Co-Prosperity Sphere” by invading China and Korea. Post-WW II they met with some peaceful empire success under US guidance. However, they are now, once again, banging their head against the Great Wall of China.

By Andre, on 26 January 2014 - 16:46 |

Lidia, I wonder, why don’t you think it’s possible that the “rational capitalists” would exploit the spectre of boycotts as an excuse to get what they want (i.e. an immediate settlement)? If it’s in the interests of a particular group of wealthy investors to formally end the conflict quickly in order to move on to a new phase of Israeli economic domination of the region—as suggested, by Israel being the centre of tech, design, engineering, etc., and Gulf states acting as centres of low-cost labour in cooperation with Israeli firms—why wouldn’t they use any means available to achieve such ends?

I really doubt they’re sitting around their estates saying, “Oh, we’re not really scared of boycotts, they don’t do much to hurt us—so we should be honest and not use them as an excuse for getting richer and more powerful. That’s the right thing to do.” Do you?

By lidia, on 27 January 2014 - 18:47 |

I do not give a damn what ‘rational capitalists” say and think. I perefer hard facts. One more time
1) BDS had worked before
2) The “rationality” of capitalism is not worth careing about. Capitalism is not rational, it is just grabbing what it could, no long-term planning, unless forsed to. 3) One could imagine that all Zionists whining about BDS and fighting against it are just diabolical sly prtetnders. But Occam gave us the better tool smile
Anyway, Andre’s arguments look more like trying to defend anti-BDS position of NF than the serious analysis of reality. Why do not think that Moon is made from green chease?
Palestinians ask us for BDS. Who are me, Andre or NF to sayto them - get lost?

By lidia, on 27 January 2014 - 18:53 |

Now about “why wouldn’t they use any means available to achieve such ends?”- why aparteid SA was not? It was a pretty hi-tech as well. Because coloniali settlerism has its own logic. Without Palestine, occupied after 1967, Zionists could not go on on Palestine, occupied in 1947 (i.e Israel). So, there is NO quick solution good for Zionists - only status quo, big war or the end of Zionism. Now they clearly prefer the first, and BDS is a good tool to made it too costly to keep it - just like in SA, one more time.

By Andre, on 27 January 2014 - 22:04 |

One often hears that “Palestinians are asking for BDS” from, unsurprisingly, supporters of the BDS movement—yet, curiously, no proof of such support is ever offered. You might think that if there was indeed mass support for BDS among Palestinians, its advocates would be waving the evidence from the rooftops. But, nope… nothing. Which leads me to think that a more accurate assessment of ‘support’ for BDS might be: “Palestinian BDS organizations are asking for BDS,” which is obviously true.

That said, could anyone familiar with the “support for BDS” in the first sense please link to an opinion poll from an organization not already part of the BDS movement? Or maybe statements of support from large public organizations, unions, religious groups? In other words, could someone provide evidence of this ostensible support?

My skepticism and concern comes from wanting to be really careful about the tactics that we choose to further any cause, not just this one. And let’s be clear: BDS is a tactic, and just one tactic that could be chosen among many—so building a movement around it is a bit odd, kind of like having a ‘letter writing’ movement or a ‘police confrontation’ movement. I don’t get why a movement would, by definition, narrowly confine itself to the use of one and only one tactic.

Anyway, if we’re serious about winning, clearly there are a number of factors that have to be taken into account when we choose tactics, among which would be: What are we trying to achieve? What are the possible outcomes of this tactic in the short and long run? Who does it help? Who does it hurt? Does the help outweigh the hurt? What are the organizational implications, and implications for the participants involved, of pursuing one tactic over another? What will the public think of the tactic? Will its use grow support for and participation in the movement, or does it risk alienating the movement from the public? What will the media, state and corporate response be? And we could, and should, think of many more questions to ask—again, if we’re serious about winning.

Every major successful or semi-successful movement has struggled with such questions. And I’d bet that one of the reasons for the failure of marginal so-called ‘movements’ such as the Black Bloc, Weather Underground—or, dare I say, BDS—is that these questions aren’t seriously considered. (Notice, too, that these groups all define themselves by use of one or two tactics.) And people know it, especially the people the tactics are supposedly meant to help, because, at best, they’re either not being helped by the tactic, or at worst, they’re being hurt by it. So the movement doesn’t gain wide support, sectarianism seeps in, its tactics fail so it ups the ante and grasps at extremes, and eventually it falls apart or is crushed by the state because it’s become so weak and isolated.

Unless something changes, I think the same will happen for BDS. In the meantime, the really unfortunate side-effect of BDS advocacy is, I think, that thousands of highly committed, thoughtful, effective activists get sucked into BDS work, when their much-needed efforts would be vastly more effective in bringing about an end to the occupation when put to other means.

By lidia, on 28 January 2014 - 06:07 |

1) Palestinan mass organisations have asked. If it is not enough, too bad
Andre could google it and find for himself In fact, be BDS not popular, the Zionist doormat aka Abu Mazen would not pretend to support boyckott at least of settlements2)WU was a small group of radicals without mass support. BDS is supported by a very different groups of people and just by people - so it is not the same. 3) BDS sure have some problems, who has not? But I suppose that anti-BDS groups and people are not so interested in solving them, or Andre woudl not start with such odd questions and comparisons

In short, one more time, it seems as Andre is looking for reasons (or pretexts) for NOT supporting BDS. His right, sure, but what does it has to do with the reality of BDS and its success or lack of thereoff?
I still have not got refutations of my points (the last post by Andre is not really about refutations, but about inventing more and more pretexts - not that they are too interesting) By the way, other Zionist foes of BDS often proclaim that BDS is bad for Palestinains - from liberal colonizers to open settelment defenders. I guess to Andre and NF it is a valid argument. After all the prefice to the article Kerry is cited as if his words mean enything LOL

By lidia, on 28 January 2014 - 06:15 |

Now, I would like to ask Andre 2 question
1) What” vastly more effective” means he has? And 2- is “an end to the occupation”  his end goal? That is, is Andre a Liberal Zionist and right of return and the equal rights for all Palestinians are not his goals at all? If they are not, I see why Andre supports NF - because NF is against the right of return, as if he was appointed by Palestinians to to give away their right. A hint - NF was not.

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