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The Crucial Question for John Kerry

Secretary of State John Kerry is currently in the Mideast to try to rescue faltering Israeli-Palestinian talks. But he would do better to take a break from his shuttle diplomacy and ponder the question Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posed in a television interview this week: If the Palestinians “can’t even stand behind the agreements that we had, that we release prisoners but we continue building, then how can I see that they will actually stand by the larger issues that will require them far greater confrontation with received opinion and fixed positions in their society?”

Earlier this week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas threatened that unless Israel halts construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, it “is likely to bring about the termination of the talks, without results” and “the situation is likely to explode.” The PA also threatened to seek action against Israel in international forums on account of this construction. But as Netanyahu correctly pointed out, Israel never promised a construction freeze as part of the deal Kerry brokered to relaunch the talks–something Kerry himself has confirmed. What Israel did promise was to free 104 Palestinian murderers in four installments, which have so far occurred on schedule.

Yet now, having pocketed that concession, the Palestinians are threatening to renege on their part of the deal–nine months of talks, plus refraining from action against Israel in international forums–on account of Israeli actions that the deal itself allowed. So what confidence can Israel have that the same wouldn’t happen with a full-fledged peace deal? What confidence can it have that after it withdraws from additional territory, the Palestinians will honor their commitments to fight terrorism, end their international sanctions campaign against Israel, stop agitating for a “right of return,” combat anti-Israel incitement, and so forth? And why should Israel take the risk of territorial withdrawals if it can’t be reasonably confident of this?

The question is doubly important because of the Palestinians’ consistent track record of not honoring previous deals. For instance, they pledged to fight terror in no fewer than five signed agreements (1993, 1994, 1995, 1997, and 1999). Yet instead, these deals resulted in terror of unprecedented dimensions: Over the past 20 years, Palestinian terrorists have killed some 1,200 Israelis, roughly double the figure in the 45 years before the 1993 Oslo Accord.

Moreover, these agreements explicitly state that “Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.” Yet that didn’t stop Abbas from unilaterally seeking UN recognition of these territories as a Palestinian state last year.

But rather than address this problem, Kerry has been actively encouraging the Palestinians’ bad faith. On his current trip, for instance, he publicly and repeatedly denounced Israeli construction as “illegitimate” and “disturbing,” even though it doesn’t violate any Israeli commitments–including those five signed agreements, not one of which mandated a construction freeze. Yet he hasn’t said a word about PA actions that explicitly violate previous commitments, such as its ongoing campaign of incitement (barred by all its signed agreements) and push for international boycotts and sanctions against Israel. And Europe, needless to say, has been even worse.

The result is that Palestinians have concluded they can violate any agreement with impunity. And Israelis wonder why, in that case, they should ever bother signing one.



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