Not only the Palestinians know how to lie. It turns out that our “honest broker”, Hizzoner John F. Kerry, is an accomplished liar too.
As Israel feared all along, Kerry put the blame for the breakdown in the “peace” talks between Israel and the Palestinians firmly on Israel, using the well-worn excuse of “settlement-building” for the failure rather than the Palestinians’ blatant violation of the terms of these negotiations, not to mention the Oslo Accords (RIP) by applying to 15 UN organizations.
It wasn’t what US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday, but how he said it, that generated headlines from Jerusalem to New York blaming Israel for exploding a deal to extend the peace talks.
‘Poof, that was sort of the moment,’ he said.
It was a narrative exclamation, and pause, strong enough to be heard round the world.
It fell, like a slow drumbeat, on one of the most sensitive issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – Jewish building over the pre-1967 lines, in Jerusalem and in West Bank settlements.
A well-crafted message from the State Department holding both Israelis and Palestinians culpable for the crisis in the peace process did little to mitigate the impact.
On the surface of it, Kerry said all the politically correct things as he testified before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington.
[…]But it was his description for the lawmakers of how events in the last week unraveled that drew everyone’s attention.
For Israel the latest drama began when Palestinians stopped participating in direct negotiations sometime after the December release of a third round of prisoners. Freeing Palestinians involved in past terror attacks had been a strategy designed to ensure the continuity of face-to-face talks over nine months.
When direct talks broke down temporarily, well in advance of the April 29 deadline, it made Israel hesitate to go through with the fourth and final release of 26 prisoners scheduled for March 29 until it knew it would be worth the price. Israel asked the Palestinians to extend the talks by another nine months.
For the Palestinians the price for the scheduled March 29 release had already been paid over the past months of negotiations.
When Israel hesitated to free the prisoners without a guarantee for another nine months of talks, Palestinians saw it as a breaking point in a process that already seemed fruitless, given Israel’s continued settlement building over the months of negotiations.
They took unilateral steps to ratify 15 international treaties and conventions as a protest move.
For Israel those 15 applications crossed a redline, and it canceled the fourth release of prisoners, thereby creating a point of no return for the Palestinians.
But while Kerry said the 15 applications were not helpful, he didn’t pause in that part of the narrative, nor did he state that this was the point of no return.
He described matter-of-factly what happened after the March 29 release was delayed, as both sides tried to conclude a deal to keep the talks going for another nine months.
“Unfortunately, the prisoners weren’t released on Saturday, when they were suppose to be released,” Kerry said.
“A day went by. Day two went by. Day three went by,” Kerry said. He moved his arms to underscore his words.
“And then in the afternoon, when they were about to maybe get there, 700 settlement units were announced in Jerusalem and, poof,” Kerry said, as he spread his arms wide and paused. It was a move that accentuated the drama.
Kerry then finished his sentence: “That was sort of the moment,” he said, as he brought his hands down.
He might have paused and placed weight on the moment, as any good storyteller would, just because factually that is what happened. He believed the two sides were closing in on a deal, and then Israel announced the publication of 700 tenders for the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo over the Green Line. And then the talks broke off. Or, he could have meant to subtly point a finger at Israel.
No matter what his intent, his words hit a nerve, because he spoke of “settlement” building and then the break down of talks.
The Israeli Right, in turn, and its supporters abroad heard what in their view is an aspersion that they reject – that settlement building is a stumbling block to peace. To them, it was an aspersion made worse, in this instance, because the “settlement” Kerry spoke of is Gilo, a Jerusalem neighborhood, which most Israelis who support a two-state solution already see as an integral part of the state.
The absence of a two-state solution affects core issues of the conflict such as borders, Jerusalem, refugees and security.
Kerry was quick to point out Tuesday that the gaps on these core issues have narrowed, and that those gaps did not cause last week’s crisis in the negotiations.
The argument that created the crisis, he said, was all about process, not about the core issues. But then he himself in his testimony, in one simple line, made settlement building the core problem.
Arlene Kushner adds several salient points to the argument:
First, Israel had not committed to freezing building under the terms of the current negotiations, nor is there anything in the Oslo Accords that would prohibit this. Israel was in the process of offering a partial freeze when things fell apart, but had already clarified that the partial freeze would not include Jerusalem.
Gilo is over the ‘67 line, but it stands on what had been Jewishly owned property even prior to 1967.
The Arabs refer to it as being in “East” Jerusalem, but in point of fact it is in Jerusalem’s south (or more accurately south west).
Sometimes Gilo is referred to as a “settlement” – which is what Kerry just did: it’s more dramatic than talking about a part of Jerusalem. Gilo, however, is solidly within the municipal borders of Jerusalem. It is a Jewish neighborhood with over 40,000 residents that no one believes would ever become part of a Palestinian state even if one were – Heaven forbid – to be established.
The furor over this is nothing but posturing.
Indeed, an unnamed official from the Prime Minister’s office confirms that Israel never agreed to a construction freeze as a precondition for the talks:
However, the PMO official insisted that in the preconditions for peace talks, “Israel did not commit to any limitation on construction. Therefore, the Palestinian claim that building in Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, was a violation of the understandings is contrary to the facts,” he said. “Both the American negotiating team and the Palestinians know full well that Israel made no such commitment.”
In contrast, by turning to the international agencies, the Palestinians “violated their fundamental commitments,” he maintained.
Arlene Kushner also refers to Jonathan Tobin’s column in Commentary Magazine where he asks “why did Kerry lie about Israeli blame?“:
… Kerry knows very well that the negotiations were doomed once the Palestinians refused to sign on to the framework for future talks he suggested even though it centered them on the 1967 lines that they demand as the basis for borders. Why? Because Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas wouldn’t say the two little words —“Jewish state”—that would make it clear he intended to end the conflict. Since the talks began last year after Abbas insisted on the release of terrorist murderers in order to get them back to the table, the Palestinians haven’t budged an inch on a single issue.
Thus, to blame the collapse on the decision to build apartments in Gilo—a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem that would not change hands even in the event a peace treaty were ever signed and where Israel has never promised to stop building—is, to put it mildly, a mendacious effort to shift blame away from the side that seized the first pretext to flee talks onto the one that has made concessions in order to get the Palestinians to sit at the table. But why would Kerry utter such a blatant falsehood about the process he has championed?
The answer is simple. Kerry doesn’t want to blame the Palestinians for walking out because to do so would be a tacit admission that his critics were right when they suggested last year that he was embarking on a fool’s errand.
Since Kerry hopes to entice the Palestinians back to the talks at some point, blaming Israel also gives him leverage to demand more concessions from the Jewish state to bribe Abbas to negotiate. Being honest about the Palestinian stance would not only undermine the basis for the talks but also make it harder to justify the administration’s continued insistence on pressuring the Israelis rather than seek to force Abbas to alter his intransigent positions.
Seen in that light, Kerry probably thinks no harm can come from blaming the Israelis who have always been the convenient whipping boys of the peace process no matter what the circumstances. But he’s wrong about that too. Just as the Clinton administration did inestimable damage to the credibility of the peace process and set the stage for another round of violence by whitewashing Yasir Arafat’s support for terrorism and incitement to hatred in the 1990s, so, too, do Kerry’s efforts to portray Abbas as the victim rather than the author of this fiasco undermine his efforts for peace.
So long as the Palestinians pay no price for their refusal to give up unrealistic demands for a Jewish retreat from Jerusalem as well as the “right of return” for the 1948 refugees and their descendants and a refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and end the conflict, peace is impossible no matter what the Netanyahu government does. Appeasing them with lies about Israel, like the efforts of some to absolve Arafat and Abbas for saying no to peace in 2000, 2001, and 2008, only makes it easier for the PA to go on saying no. Whether they are doing so in the hope of extorting more concessions from Israel or because, as is more likely, they have no intention of making peace on any terms, the result is the same.
Happily for Israel, Netanyahu seems to have discovered some backbone, and in the wake of the Palestinian rejectionism and violation of the terms of the peace talks, he has suspended all state contact with the PA:
“In response to the Palestinian violation of their commitments under peace talks… Israel government ministers have been told to refrain from meeting their Palestinian counterparts,” an official told AFP, requesting anonymity.
The order did not ban contact between the Defense Ministry and the PA, which would have hampered security cooperation in the West Bank, according to Israel news site Ynet on Wednesday. Peace negotiations are also unaffected, the site reported.
Low-level cooperation in the field will also continue, a senior Israeli official said, according to the Haaretz daily.
Cutting off ministerial contact is one of a series of low-level sanctions Israel is reportedly pursuing against the PA in response to the crisis in peace talks, according to press reports. Other measures being considered include canceling permits for the Palestinian telecommunications company al-Watanya and withholding tax revenues.
On Sunday, Netanyahu said that unilateral moves would be met with the same, alluding to Abbas’s decision last week to apply for membership to 15 international treaty organizations, some of which are tied to the United Nations.
Adopting a different tactic, Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday to annex portions of the West Bank.
In a letter to Netanyahu, Bennett requested “to have a session as soon as possible on an alternative plan (Plan B) to begin the process of applying Israeli sovereignty on areas in Judea and Samaria that are under Israeli control.”
Responding to Kerry’s statements that construction in East Jerusalem led to the current impasse Tuesday, Bennett said “Israel will never apologize for building in Jerusalem.”
“For many years people have tried to prevent us from living in the eternal capital of the Jewish people. This won’t happen. Building in Jerusalem is not a ‘puff’ [sic], building in Jerusalem is Zionism,” he said in a statement posted to Facebook.