I have written before about the world’s obsessive attitude towards the Israel-Palestinian peace process, and especially the near-pathological disproportionate aversion to Israeli settlements, and the futility of the peace process.
Now even the New York Times has seen fit to remark on the incongruity of John Kerry’s incessant and hyperactive “search for peace” in the Middle East, cajoling and wheedling to get Netanyahu and Abbas to sit down together and talk while the Middle East burns. As usual pressure is imposed on one side only – Israel – to make concessions, and as usual no one seems to consider that if it didn’t work the first time around, or the second, or the third, there is no reason to think it will work this time.
In Damascus, the Syrian government’s forces are digging in against rebels in a bloody civil war that is swiftly approaching the grim milestone of 100,000 dead. In Cairo, an angry tide of protesters again threatens an Egyptian president.
At the same time, in tranquil Tel Aviv, Secretary of State John Kerry wrapped up a busy round of shuttle diplomacy, laboring to revive a three-decade-old attempt at peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. He insisted on Sunday that he had made “real progress.”
The new secretary of state’s exertions — reminiscent of predecessors like Henry A. Kissinger and James A. Baker III — have been met with the usual mix of hope and skepticism. But with so much of the Middle East still convulsing from the effects of the Arab Spring, Mr. Kerry’s efforts raise questions about the Obama administration’s priorities at a time of renewed regional unrest.
Administration officials no longer argue, as they did early in President Obama’s first term, that ending the Israeli occupation and creating a Palestinian state is the key to improving the standing of the United States in the Middle East. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is now just one headache among a multitude.
And yet Mr. Kerry, backed by Mr. Obama, still believes that tackling the problem is worth the effort: five visits to the region in the last three months.
Former administration officials defend that conviction. Mr. Kerry’s focus, they say, makes sense precisely because of the chaos elsewhere. With little leverage over Egypt and deep reluctance about intervening in Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one place that the United States can still exert influence, and perhaps even produce a breakthrough.
“You don’t have instability between the Israelis and Palestinians right now,” said Dennis B. Ross, a former senior adviser to Mr. Obama on the Middle East. “But if you don’t act, there’s a risk that the Palestinian Authority will collapse, leaving a vacuum. And if we know one thing about vacuums in the Middle East, they are never filled with good things.”
“I think both sides look at what’s happening in the region right now and think, ‘Maybe we’re better off putting ourselves in a more stable situation with each other,’ ” said a senior Western diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of his involvement in what Mr. Kerry has demanded be confidential discussions.
But several Israeli analysts said the reverse was true: the unrest has made Israel more concerned about security than about taking risks to advance the peace process. Sallai Meridor, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States, said most Israelis would rank Syria, Iran, Egypt and Jordan above the Palestinians in terms of “importance and urgency.”
While resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the magic bullet for the region that some once thought, it still resonates widely, whether among the crowds in Tahrir Square or the militants of Hezbollah, who cite Israel in rallying around President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
A recent survey of 20,000 people in 14 countries by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in Doha found that Israel and the United States were seen as the top security threats.
The fact that the NYT can cite absurd statements such as “Israel and the US are top security threats” with a straight face is symptomatic of all that’s wrong with the peace process. It has put process above peace and enables the Arab world to focus on an outside enemy instead of dealing with their domestic problems.
“It’s good that Kerry is focusing on the peace process,” said Brian Katulis, an expert on Egypt at the Center for American Progress, “but the biggest thing they haven’t done is pursue a strategic review on Egypt.”
In this vein, Prof. Barry Rubin declares that it is time to tell the truth about the peace process.
It’s time for the absurd paradigm governing the Israel-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflict — as well as the “peace process” — to be abandoned or challenged. This narrative has become increasingly ridiculous. The following is close to being the official version:
The Palestinians desperately want an independent state and are ready to compromise to obtain that goal. They will then live peacefully alongside Israel in a two-state solution. Unfortunately, this is blocked either by a) misunderstanding on both sides, or b), per the recent words of the Huffington Post, “the hard-line opponents who dominate Israel’s ruling coalition.” Israel is behaving foolishly, not seeing that — as former President Bill Clinton recently said — Israel needs peace in order to survive. One reason, perhaps a leading one, why Israel desperately needs peace is because of Arab demographic growth. Also, the main barrier to peace is the Jewish settlements.
This interpretation has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with reality. People on both sides know this, even if they rarely say so publicly.
For the Palestinian side, the pretense of peacemaking — which every Palestinian leader knows — obtains them money, diplomatic support, popular sympathy, and brings pressure on Israel. Here’s the dirty trick involved: if anyone in Israel raises concern about whether a “peace process” can actually bring peace, or raises concern about how it would be implemented, or raises concern about the documented experience of Palestinian behavior in the past, the response is that “Israel doesn’t want peace.”
The actual arguments and evidence about these problems are censored out of Western mass media and distorted in terms of political stances.
The vast majority of Palestinian leaders favor establishing no Palestinian state unless it can continue the work of trying to wipe Israel off the map. They are in no hurry. They do not want to negotiate seriously. And of course, in the case of Hamas, which controls or has the support of about one-half of the Palestinians, this violent and genocidal intention is completely in the open. You can’t negotiate seriously with those who are not — to recall the old PLO slogan — the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. I say this with deep regret, but it is the truth.
On the Israeli side, the pretense is kept up because there is already enough Western hatred or real and potential hostility to what is required for its own self-defense. Israel offered deep concessions and took great risks continually through the 1990s. …
Now, every few days Abbas comes up with a new trick. The latest one is that he really desperately wants to meet with Netanyahu, but the Israeli prime minister must first meet his latest preconditions — which keep changing.
Every time Israel starts closing in on matching one of his demands, he just changes them.
Kerry gives Israel no credit for that on the peace issue, though it does help U.S.-Israel relations in other ways. For example, Israel will be the first country allowed to deploy the new F-35 warplane, and is getting advanced munitions that could be used to hit Iranian nuclear installations. The only condition on these weapons is — of course — that they not be used to hit Iranian nuclear installations. Still, they might be handy some day. And that is precisely the reason Israelis play along and pretend that Kerry might have a better chance at making peace than he actually does have, which is about a zero chance.
Meanwhile, it is common knowledge that there is a freeze on government permits for construction on settlements, but Abbas doesn’t care.
Speaking of Iran, it contributes to a regional situation that ensures anyone on the Israeli, Palestinian, or other Arab side would have to be crazy to make compromises or concessions for peace right now. At a time when Iran is proclaimed suddenly moderate, and when the genocidally intended Muslim Brotherhood is now a U.S. ally, and when even the Taliban is being declared acceptable, why is it that Israel is being portrayed by many of the same people as intransigent and the source of problems?
Even if the Palestinian Authority wanted to have a different policy, it knows that the hegemony of anti-peace Islamists makes such a move suicidal. Just turn on your radio or pick up a Palestinian newspaper and you can find the hatred, incitement, and rejection of Israel’s existence, the indoctrination of young people to carry on the conflict for decades, the celebration of terrorists and especially suicide bombers.
There are two phony arguments raised by those who believe Israel obstructs the peace it desperately needs: settlements, and demography. It should take only a moment to dispel this nonsense. These arguments must be pushed out of the mainstream debate by ridicule and insult.
Can settlements be blocking a successful peace process? Of course not. If the Palestinians were so discomfited by construction of settlements they would logically want to accelerate the peacemaking process…
Then we have the bogus demographic issue. The Gaza Strip and West Bank are not part of Israel. Nobody today seeks annexation. Palestinians — except those who live in Israel’s borders — are never going to be citizens of Israel. Ironically, let’s remember, it is the Palestinians who demand that they, through the fictional “right of return,” get to be Israelis.
Bill Clinton recently said, with total ignorance:
Is it really okay with you if Israel has a majority of its people living within your territory that are not now, and never will be, allowed to vote?
They do not live within Israel’s territory. Therefore, the question does not arise and it will never arise.
Moreover, what would happen the day after a successfully negotiated two-state solution? If cross-border terror attacks began, would the United States act decisively to condemn the Palestinian regime? Could it “fix” the problem of a Palestinian state that did not live up to its commitments?
What about a state that was taken over by a Hamas coup or even a Hamas electoral victory, which happened in the last Palestinian election? Suddenly, Israel would be ringed by a Hamas-ruled Palestinian state that rejected peace; a Muslim-Brotherhood ruled Egypt and perhaps Syria; and a Hizballah-ruled Lebanon.
Do you think that two-state solution or even peace would long endure?
The real blockage to peace comes from the Palestinian leadership (including Hamas and their open preference of massacring all Israelis) and the realities of the strategic situation.
Is this a right-wing position? No, it is just a recognition of reality. As I noted above, everyone knows it, and if they don’t there are three possible reasons:
1. They want to bash Israel and subvert Israel’s relations with the West and they know what they are doing.
2. They are ignorant about the region or at least very much out of date. And this goes for those ruled by wishful thinking.
3. They think that by pretending peace is possible they can make the Arabs feel that the United States is trying to help the Palestinians, and that therefore most Arabs and Muslims will think better of them and radical Islamists will like America.
[...] an Israel that was striving for a two-state solution gave peace a chance. The effort proved to Israelis that the Palestinian leadership wasn’t ready to make peace. The effort made the rest of the world think that the Palestinians were victims, desperate for peace. Committing terrorism must have been a cry for help.
Arafat rejected peace; Israel was falsely blamed for rejecting peace even though the facts were well-known to people like Bill Clinton ,who even said so in early 2000.
Fixing this political disaster is not a matter of politics, but of starting the difficult task of correcting the narrative.
Barry Rubin always hits the nail on the head regarding the Middle East and its peace processors but he has surely outdone himself this time. But is anyone outside our own circles listening?
A final proof, if any were needed, of the futility of the peace process, Elliott Abrams, another straight-talker, asks what would happen if Israel and the Palestinians actually got to the table?
Not much in his opinion, and there is plenty of danger too:
Because neither the Israelis or Palestinians want to get blamed by Kerry or the United States for blocking talks, Kerry may well “succeed:” That is, he may get talks started. This may not happen at the top level of Abbas and Netanyahu, but serious talks can be held a level or two down.
I put quotation marks around “succeed” because the goal, after all, is not getting them to the table; it is getting an agreement. Some good is done by getting a negotiation started, of course. It may calm the situation in the West Bank for a while — if, and only if, it is accompanied by moves that make life easier there. Here the Kerry efforts on the economic side are a very good adjunct to his diplomatic activities. If talks continue for several months, we may get through the U.N. General Assembly this fall without a huge Palestinian diplomatic effort against Israel at the U.N. and other international bodies — especially in U.N. agencies whose admission of “Palestine” to membership would trigger a freeze on American payments (as has happened in UNESCO).
On the down side, a collapse of talks could create additional tensions. Presumably both sides, and Kerry, know this and would seek to avoid a sudden collapse if talks began.
But what has been and remains mysterious to me is why Kerry thinks progress will be made on final status issues if and when he manages to get talks started. What’s new here that would lead to such optimism? All that is new in the region — from tensions between Hamas and Fatah that make concessions tougher for Abbas to troubles inside Likud that pressure Netanyahu against concessions, to the situations in Lebanon and Jordan, the amazing levels of violence in Syria and the current instability in Egypt — suggests that making peace will be harder, not easier, than in the past when attempts all ultimately failed.
There is a viewpoint that the two sides are “an inch apart” and just a bit of serious negotiating will bridge the gap, but that has always seemed like nonsense to me (and I discuss this in detail in my recent book, “Tested By Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict”). An inch apart on the many Israeli security demands, such as control of the Palestinian air space and electromagnetic spectrum and of the Jordan Valley? An inch apart on Jerusalem itself, which great numbers of Israelis do not wish to see divided ever again but which most Palestinians demand at least significant parts of as their capital? An inch apart on the “refugee” issue — when Palestinian leaders have never told their own people that there will be no “right of return” and that Palestinian “refugees” will never go to Israel? To the extent that “everyone knows what an agreement would look like,” both Israeli and Palestinian leaders and populations have for decades rejected those terms.
It’s beyond high time that Israel and its supporters broadcast this message loud and clear. There is no point in engaging in a peace process which is bound to fail due to all the reasons raised above, and it is foolish to raise expectations on the Palestinian side which, when unfulfilled, will inevitably be translated into renewed violence against Israel.