Anyone who thought the Obama administration is concentrating so much on its push for détente with Iran that it can’t simultaneously launch a new push for Israeli concessions to the Palestinians was wrong. As the New York Times reports this afternoon, a former U.S. commander in Afghanistan that is currently serving as an advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry is heading to the Middle East to brief the Israelis on a detailed plan for the West Bank that the U.S. envisages will be implemented in the wake of a peace agreement. Though President Obama has repeatedly pledged that he would not seek to impose a U.S. plan on the parties, the Times’s friendly sources at the State Department say retired Marine General John Allen will be bringing with him a specific scheme for the future of the West Bank.
The sources say it won’t be presented to the Israelis as a take-it-or-leave-it proposal. But there’s little question that the general’s arrival must be seen as part of an effort to strong arm the Israelis into abandoning the West Bank and specifically giving up most of its demands that a future Palestinian state be prevented from posing a military or terrorist threat to its Jewish neighbor. More to the point, it may be part of an effort to impose an international military presence in the region that would replace Israeli forces.
It’s possible that Israel will agree to some of the elements of the American plan even though they are loath to put themselves at the mercy of Western powers that will, as with other peacekeeping forces, be more interested in preserving the status quo than in preventing terror. But the real obstacle to the administration’s hubristic push for an agreement will come from the Palestinians. The same article that spoke of Allen’s mission discussed the remarks of chief Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat at a dinner last week in Jerusalem in honor of the United Nations’ annual “day of solidarity” with the Palestinians. Erekat’s remarks in front of a friendly audience made it clear that if President Obama is serious about achieving Middle East peace, he needs to be concentrating on pressuring the Palestinians to see reason rather than expending so much effort on trying to strong arm the Netanyahu government.
While lamenting his lack of military leverage over Israel, Erekat stated again that despite even the Obama administration’s acceptance of the idea of territorial swaps that would accommodate Israeli settlement blocks, the PA’s idea of a two-state solution remained the “1967 border.” But aside from inflexibility on territory rooted in a desire to ethnically cleanse the West Bank and much of Jerusalem of hundreds of thousands of Jews and refusing to disavow the “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees, Erekat also signaled that any peace deal would not end the conflict:
Mr. Erekat told the diplomats that the Palestinians could never accede to Israel’s demand that they recognize it as the nation-state of the Jewish people. “I cannot change my narrative,” he said. “The essence of peace is not to convert each other’s stories.”
Why is Erekat’s stance so crucial?
Palestinian apologists dismiss Israeli demands that the Palestinians simply accept that whatever territory is left to the Jews after a theoretical deal is a Jewish state as irrelevant to a deal. What difference, we are asked, does it make whether the Palestinians accept Israel as the Jewish state so long as they accept the concept of peace and take what is offered them? But it does matter so long as the Palestinian leadership continues enable a political culture that is rooted in rejection of Israel’s legitimacy.
If Israel is to accede to U.S. demands that it give up the bulk of the West Bank, let alone compromise on Jerusalem, it cannot be on any terms but on those that conclusively end the conflict. And that can only happen once the Palestinians give up the dream of eradicating the Jewish state, either immediately or in stages. A peace deal that only sets the stage for future violence on more advantageous strategic terms for the Palestinians is not a rational option for Israel no matter what the United States says now or what guarantees it makes. Right now, the Palestinian “story” is one that is based on the idea that Israel’s existence, not its policies or post-1967 borders, is a crime. Until that changes, there is no way to argue that peace is possible.
That’s why all the U.S. pressure on Israel is utterly misplaced. Even if Israel bowed to Obama’s dictates, the negotiations into which Secretary Kerry has invested so much effort will inevitably run aground on the shoals of Palestinian intransigence. PA leaders know that so long as the culture of intolerance they have promoted is in place and so long as its Islamist Hamas rivals run Gaza, they cannot sign off on a peace deal that recognizes Israel’s legitimacy and ends the conflict. Like Kerry’s talks, Allen’s mission is a fool’s errand. If President Obama wants an outcome that differs from every other attempt to make peace with the Palestinians he will have to something different. A place to start means telling the Palestinians that they must do exactly what Erekat says they will never do.