Kerry’s Last-Ditch Effort As Quixotic As Ever

On the eve of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s fifth trip of the year to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, little has changed. Despite Kerry’s entreaties not only to both parties but also to Jewish-Americans to come into his “Tent of the Peace Process,” every indication on the ground is, at best, more of the same. The only changes have made it more obvious than ever that the two-state solution, as previously conceived, is dead.

In advance of delaying this trip in order to consult with the rest of the administration’s leadership on increasing military aid to the Syrian rebels, Kerry spoke to the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) annual meeting in early June. He entreated the audience to speak out in a voice that the Israeli leadership could hear in support of the moribund two-state solution.

Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, widely regarded as the government’s “fig leaf” whose role is to mask the rejectionism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, echoed Kerry’s call. And the AJC, along with other Jewish-American organizations, got an immediate chance to respond. Yet that very opportunity demonstrated the futility of Kerry’s and Livni’s efforts.

First, Netanyahu’s Deputy Defense Minister, Danny Danon, of Netanyahu’s own Likud Coalition, declared that “…if there will be a move to promote a two-state solution, you will see forces blocking it within the [Likud] party and the government.” Danon accurately pointed out that “…the majority of Likud ministers, along with the Jewish Home [party], will be against it.” Indeed, Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, an outspoken opponent of a Palestinian state who advocates Israeli annexation of more than 60% of the West Bank, followed up Danon’s remarks by saying that the two-state solution is dead and “We need to build, build, build.”

Netanyahu tried to distance himself from the comments, but most understood that Danon and Bennett were simply being straightforward about the Israeli government’s makeup and direction. Indeed, it was telling that, just a few days before Kerry was due to arrive for his latest visit, Netanyahu attended the dedication of a school named after his father in the West Bank settlement of Barkan. While his aides insisted that Netanyahu did not mean to make a political statement with his appearance, his words at the school say otherwise. “The most important thing is to deepen our roots, because all the rest grows from there,” Netanyahu said. “We are here today to deepen our roots.”

The Palestinian Authority has responded to all of this by pointing out that Israel is acting against the two-state solution. “Every time Kerry comes, [Netanyahu] does something to undermine the possibility of a Palestinian state,” said Palestinian lead negotiator, Saeb Erekat. “It’s more than provocative, it’s devastating. This government’s policies are disastrous for Palestinians, Israelis and the region. I don’t know what purpose it serves to undermine the two-state solution.”

Yet the Palestinians continue to be divided, and not just between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. Rockets launched from Gaza Sunday night are believed to have been fired by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza. The act was reported to have been undertaken to spite Hamas, which had killed an Islamic Jihad operative while ostensibly arresting him.

The continuing divisions, especially the constantly sputtering reunification process between Hamas and Fatah is yet another reason why the two-state solution as previously conceived is, in fact, inconceivable now, no matter how much wishful thinking Kerry engages in. While indications remain that both Israelis and Palestinians support the creation of a Palestinian state, the positive answers to that abstract question may not even reflect the scope of public opinion.

In December 2012, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research asked Palestinians about the two-state solution. The majority supporting the proposal was still there, though it was down to only 52%. But when asked about a demilitarized state, only 28% supported that idea, while a robust 71% opposed it. This can hardly be surprising. After all, a Palestinian state would not only be neighboring the country that has occupied it for 46 years, but there is also the flux in which the neighboring countries — Syria, Jordan, Egypt — find themselves today. If a threat did materialize against a fledgling Palestinian state, it is hard to imagine that Israel would put its soldiers in jeopardy to defend the neighbors they regard as untrustworthy and frankly, distasteful.

But such a state is a sine qua non for Israel, and not only for reluctant “peacemakers” like Netanyahu. A demilitarized Palestinian state was clearly the vision of Netanyahu’s predecessors, to the extent they would agree to a Palestinian state at all. And, in Israeli political discourse, the so-called peace camp — including such parties as Labor, Yesh Atid, Kadima and even the most left-wing Zionist party, Meretz — is unanimous in calling for a demilitarized state.

It is said that this is Kerry’s last-ditch effort. If the Israelis and Palestinians move no closer on this trip, Kerry is prepared to abandon his shuttle diplomacy to focus his efforts on issues that may prove more malleable. The Israelis would certainly like to see negotiations resume, as this takes pressure off of Israel in the international arena, especially with Europe. This explains why Naftali Bennett, who is so hostile to peace with the Palestinians, states that he would not “veto” talks.

But political realities dictate something very different. Bennett, and indeed Netanyahu, may want to see talks resume, but they do not want them concluded with a Palestinian state. The Palestinians themselves cannot present a united front; the Palestinian Authority does not represent all of the population nor do its positions align with any but a small minority of the Palestinian people. And the United States is not prepared to insist on results. That is why so many say the two-state solution is dead. Kerry should learn the obvious lesson and either re-think his policy approach or, as he is threatening, turn his attention elsewhere.

The Need to Read the Palestine Papers With a Critical Eye

The Palestine Papers are certainly explosive, and very important. But this article in The Guardian (UK) also points up the need for some critical examination of the coverage of the Papers. There is a pretty important distortion in the article that really needs to be addressed.

Guardian writers Ian Black (who really should know better) and Seamus Milne write the following: Continue reading

PA Panicked by Palestine Papers

The PLO’s spokesman, Saeb Erekat, released a statement today in response to Al Jazeera’s publication of The Palestine Papers. The release is pasted below.

The statement would seem, at least at this early stage, to reflect genuine panic on Erekat’s part. The standard denial of something having been “taken out of context,” which is often very valid, plays very badly when the full contents of the minutes of meetings and entire documents are what he is addressing.

Saeb Erekat seems to know he's in a very bad position because of the Palestine Papers

His statement that the PA position has maintained the traditional Palestinian stances — “…to establish a sovereign and independent Palestinian State along the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital and to reach a just solution to the refugee issue based on their international legal rights, including those set out in UNGA 194…”– is clearly contradicted by the contents of the Papers.

Even more, the assertion that the PA made today, that Al Jazeera was essentially acting as a tool of the Qatar government, which is relatively friendly toward Hamas, has no foundation. It’s similar to the Israeli tactic regarding the Goldstone Report, which was to try to attack the source’s credibility rather than deal with the substance, which was largely unassailable.

Also today, a mob of Abbas supporters attacked the Al Jazeera headquarters in Ramallah on the West Bank. They did some damage an no one, apparently, was injured. The crowd was said to number around 250 people. Was that staged? Who can say, though I have my suspicions. But if a lot of Palestinians really bought Erekat’s response, that number would surely have been much higher; Ramallah is a pretty packed city.

Even if the PA, with its current Fatah leadership, somehow manages to stay in power after this, the PLO’s legitimacy as the “sole representative of the Palestinian people” is hopelessly compromised.  Continue reading

The “Palestine Papers”: What Do They Mean?

Al Jazeera unloaded a bombshell on the US-brokered Israel-Palestine diplomacy today when they released the first wave of what they are calling “The Palestine Papers.”

These papers consist of some 1,600 internal documents (e-mails, minutes of classified meetings, maps and strategy papers) from negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis from 1999-2010. The revelations are staggering, largely in that they confirm what most serious analysts have been saying for the past decade: that these negotiations have been futile from the beginning owing to the severe imbalance of power between Israel and the Palestinians and the US’ failure to act as an honest broker.

Lead PLO Negotiator, Saeb Erekat

The revelations in the initial release include these:

  • The Palestinian Authority (PA) was willing to give over to Israel all the existing territory on which Israel has established settlements in East Jerusalem except for Har Homa (Jabal Abu Ghneim). This was something Yasir Arafat had specifically refused to do in 2000
  • The PA was also willing to settle for only a token number of refugees returning to Israel and would agree to a 1:1 land swap of 1.9% of West Bank Territory in exchange for an equal quantity of Israeli territory
  • That Israel rejected these offers out of hand, while insisting that it was the Palestinians who were being intransigent
  • That the US told the Palestinians that they must cede the areas of the settlements of Ariel and Ma’ale Adumim or the Palestinians “won’t have a state,” fully adopting the Israeli position

The US, frequently said to have acted as Israel’s lawyer, simply was not even trying to balance the power scales in these negotiations, but only adding the weight of the world’s only superpower behind that of the regional power, Israel.

Israel, for its part, is convincingly revealed as not being interested in reaching a deal with the Palestinians without a complete Palestinian surrender; there was no hint here of compromise, even with the allegedly more moderate Kadima government. Tzipi Livni, indeed, seems assured that the Palestinians would eventually have to agree with her, since the alternative would be dealing with Benjamin Netanyahu.

Let’s look at what these, and many other, revelations mean for each of the parties and for the peace process more broadly. Continue reading