University of Notre Dame
Kroc Institutde for International Peace Studies

Atalia Omer

Some commentators suggest that the new series of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, orchestrated by Secretary of State John Kerry, represents a last effort to save the so-called two-state solution from its demise. Kerry remains focused on attaining a framework for an interim accord by April of this year. He aspires to follow this with further substantive talks and an eventual peace agreement that will establish a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel.

The Kerry chapter in the long and tumultuous history of the “peace process” is, however, received with skepticism born out of disillusionment with the failed and deeply flawed Oslo Accords. In the 20 years that have passed since the handshake between Palestinian and Israeli leaders at the Rose Garden of the White House, the number of illegal settlers in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem increased from approximately 193,000 to 600,000. This increase is indicative of the enduring legacy of the late Ariel Sharon, whose policy of creating “facts on the ground” gave him one of his many controversial accolades as the conceptual engineer of the settlement movement in the territories Israel occupied in 1967.


Yet Sharon is also remembered for his alleged “late in life change of heart” about the settlements, demonstrated by the much-marketed “unilateral disengagement” from the Gaza Strip in 2005. In actuality, this disengagement illustrates yet another dimension of the failed Oslo framework. Gaza has been an open-air prison, suffering a deepening humanitarian crisis and left with no hope for territorial contiguity with the West Bank and minimal prospects for self-sufficiency.

As the American rabbi Lynn Gottlieb told me in an interview recently, “the world (and definitely Israel) is simply willing to let Gazans die.” The increased number of settlers and the enduring siege on Gaza constitute some of the lasting legacies of Oslo’s stated aspiration to create conditions for the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state next to a similarly sovereign and secured Israeli state. The “language of peace” conceals complicity with economic, cultural, and political violence, resulting in more settlement construction, greater economic hardship, more bypass roads, and therefore continued blindness to underlying injustices.


There are no indications that Kerry’s envisioned framework will address the many oversights of Oslo, including the predicament of Palestinian citizens of Israel and redressing the Nakba (the Palestinian disaster of 1948 associated with the creation of the first massive wave of refugees). In fact, the Israeli demands for the renewed framework not only postpone dealing with “final status” questions, as Oslo had done, but seek explicitly to constrain the scope of the talks to align with a particular ideological worldview and hegemonic agendas.

A cornerstone of Israeli preconditions is the demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Another is the non-negotiability of the status of Jerusalem. This is not just a hard bargain. It is no bargain at all.

After decades of occupation, Israeli leaders project ever-increasing cynicism concerning the peace process. This led Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon to characterize Secretary Kerry, in an interview with an Israeli newspaper, as “messianic.” He expressed the wish that Kerry would “just win the Nobel Peace Prize and leave us alone,” asserting that Kerry’s agenda for peace was “not worth the paper it was written on.”[1]

This public insult, on the eve of Kerry’s arrival to Israel and Palestine with the intention to launch the talks, resulted in a sharp rebuke from the U.S. State Department. American love for Israel and Kerry’s commitment to overcoming the prolonged stalemate will not collapse over this diplomatic gaffe, but Yaalon’s unfiltered remarks signal that Israel is losing in the arena of public relations. Israel may be physically secure, even with the sense of existential threat that is ingrained and authentic to the Israeli and Jewish experiences, but its narrative of victimization no longer accords with its practices.


Twenty years after Oslo, and with many “facts on the ground” that have worked against any possibility for establishing a sovereign and territorially contiguous Palestinian state, more and more people around the world hear and respond to Palestinian civil society’s call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel (BDS).

The BDS call was issued on July 9, 2005, by Palestinian actors who realized that the struggle for Palestinian rights can only come to fruition through mobilizing people globally to raise awareness and expose the silencing of Palestinian voices. This battle is gaining momentum. Even in the U.S., we now hear about the intention of professional academic associations such as the American Studies Association to engage in various levels of academic boycott.

The Israeli leadership and its various lobbies abroad have recognized the changing tide and have engaged in aggressive rebranding, trying to appeal to various progressive actors through “pink-washing” (branding Israel as friendly to the LGBT community) or “green-washing” (branding Israel as eco-friendly). These and other forms of marketing do not change the realities of the occupation that have become ever more entrenched under the Oslo facade.

In this context of “peace” that does not address justice, and with the increased relevance of analogies from the case of South Africa, the two-state framework is losing traction, giving way to a new paradigm: one person, one vote. If Kerry’s efforts indeed represent the last attempt to save the two-state solution, Israel too needs to listen to the call of Palestinian civil society and hear its reasons.

Atalia Omer is assistant professor of religion, conflict and peace studies at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. She is the author of When Peace Is Not Enough: How the Israeli Peace Camp Thinks about Religion, Nationalism, and Justice.

[1] Shimon Shiffer, “Ya’alon: Kerry Should Win his Nobel and Leave Us Alone” Ynet (1/14/14),7340,L-4476582,00.html