Post mortem, perhaps a bit early
John Kerry’s peace process is dying. Or it was born dead, despite having parents who praised its prospects. The fault is not Israel’s, nor Palestine’s, but John Kerry’s. Or maybe Barack Obama’s, due to his appointing a visionary for a job that is supposed to be serious.
Kerry’s various ideas join the collection amassed since the 1930s, resembling the jumble of the Jewish graveyard of Prague, with stones leaning one on the other and hardly room to set foot among them. An item in the Washington Post called the process a fool’s errand.
Israeli skeptics doubted Kerry’s chances from the beginning. Their numbers have grown. In recent days only the most die-hard leftists and optimists have spoken of what Israel could do to bring about an agreement.
Given Jewish history, it should be no surprise that skepticism is part of Israel’s national culture. Cynicism is a close cousin of skepticism, and the shallowness of Kerry and his American colleagues have provided ample reasons for disrespect, bordering on ridicule. Moshe Ya’alon is not the only Israeli to have described the U.S. Secretary of State as messianic.
Among the faults of the Obama-Kerry team is investing a great deal of political capital in Israel-Palestine when other pressing issue seemed more capable of responding to American influence. Among them are soothing the ruffled feathers of Saudi Arabia, and getting back on track with Egypt. The Americans have also failed to lessen the carnage in Syria, or prevent continued bloodshed in Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan. They have done little more than bluster with respect to Russia and the Ukraine, and do not seem likely to lessen the nuclear threats associated with Iran or North Korea.
Kerry has not only failed with respect to Israel and Palestine. He has made things worse. After years of relative quiet and economic development in the West Bank, there has been an upsurge in violence. Rather than applause, Kerry and Obama will deserve condemnation for whatever Israeli and Palestinian deaths come from this.
At its heart, the failure reflects mutual distrust, derived principally from the lack of resolve among Palestinians to deal with Israel. It is not new, and has allowed a creeping spread of settlements that makes a Palestinian resolve to take what they can get even less likely.
Not too far in the background are the severe conflicts among Muslims, which—perhaps provoked by a visionary and naive American president—have erupted to new heights of casualties. What has come from Arab Spring make Israelis even more wary of helping to create another Muslim state, especially one that declares that it wants no Israeli residents.
The latest Palestinian demands do not make them more attractive. The list now includes a state with the borders of 1967, a capital in Jerusalem, no mention of giving up the rights of refugees, recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, or agreeing to end the conflict if those demands are accepted.
Abbas’ demands recall the comment of Chaim Herzog when he was ambassador to the UN, and on the table was the resolution that Zionism is racism. Let is pass, Herzog advised at a certain point. It would be better to have something so extreme as to make it easy to ridicule and oppose.
The next step, according to what we hear from ranking Palestinians, will be accusations of war crimes.
Naftali Bennet has already announced, in response, that he has begun to prepare a counter case against Abbas for sponsoring terror.
Initial sanctions have already been announced, against a cell phone company owned by Abbas’ son.
Israel will no longer allow the erection of antennae for the company.
How’s that for targeting the soft underbelly of Palestinian corruption, where concessions go to those well connected?
There is a lot more that Israel can do, given its control over Palestine’s borders.
Neither Kerry nor the principal Israeli or Palestinian negotiators have formally called an end to the process. Israeli commentators continue to ponder what can happen to bring them back to the table, at least till the end of the month, the end of the year, or the end of the Obama presidency. However, none see anything like an agreement that an Israeli government or Palestinian leadership would accept. The New York Times correspondent in Israel concludes that all sides have an interest in keeping the process going, even though none see it as going anywhere.
Tsipi Livni is betting her political career on yet another effort to restart the negotiations. She is demanding that the Palestinians retract their applications to join UN affiliated organizations, and accept the deal that Israel was about to offer. She criticized the Minister of Housing and Construction for announcing a new building project that triggered the Palestinians breaking off the negotiations and turning to the UN. However, that project is in the neighborhood of Gilo, which has been part of Jerusalem for nearly half a century. With Livni seeming to accept the Palestinian (and American) conception that neighborhoods of Jerusalem should be labeled “settlements,” she is not strengthening her position among other members of the Israeli government.
It is not clear if Pollard remains on the table, or if Israel would agree to release Israeli Arabs in the list of prisoners that Abbas demands.
Among the charges against John Kerry is that he failed to make clear to the Palestinians that Israel had not agreed to release Israeli Arab prisoners. The issue is important to members of the government, who see it as defining a crucial line between Palestinian aspirations and Israeli sovereignty.
Kerry has said that he remains committed to the process, but that he will consider with the President whether the United States should continue with its heavy role in the Middle East.
Kerry’s career may depend on keeping this going, and neither Israeli nor Palestinians want to offend Uncle.
The most likely prospect is that Americans and others will have to tolerate the anomaly of a stateless people. Those in the West Bank live as well or better than the average throughout the Middle East. They invest, receive investments from the Palestinian diaspora, improve their living standards and travel internationally. Those of Gaza have less reason to be happy, reflecting the greater extremism of their leadership.
Humanitarians will screech at us, but their day may have passed.
Israel is not alone as a developed country that must cope with troublesome neighbors.
Various European countries are getting tougher with illegal migrants. Australia tows them to unpleasant quarters on distant islands. The US is buffering its border with Mexico.
America’s internal problems are well known. Drugs, crime, violence, and guns for protection against all of that, with the world’s highest incidence of incarcerated people. Americans may criticize Israel for its failure to make peace with the Palestinians, but Americans have not had any better results with their own citizens.
Ira Sharkansky is a professor (Emeritus) of the Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem