Secretary of State John Kerry was back in Israel today with a three-part task. One was to reassure the Israeli government that the weak nuclear deal the administration cut with Iran is not threat to the Jewish state’s security. The second was, as I wrote on Wednesday, to present the Israelis with a detailed plan about the future of the West Bank after a peace deal with the Palestinians is achieved. The third was to convince the Palestinian Authority to play along and to accept the scheme that theoretically guarantees Israel’s security by the stationing of U.S. or other foreign troops along the Jordan River.
Kerry may be still riding the rush he got from succeeding in persuading the Iranians to sign a deal that he has tried to represent as a diplomatic triumph, but he’s likely to strike out on all three counts in the Middle East–and for reasons that are not unrelated to his diplomatic coup. The Israelis now have even less reason to trust Kerry and the U.S. than they did before. And having watched how the Iranians were, despite the enormous economic and military leverage the U.S. had over them, able to hold out and retain all of their nuclear infrastructure and stockpile, there is absolutely no reason for the Palestinians not to be just as patient with Kerry, confident that they need never give up their demands for territory, Jerusalem, lack of security guarantees for Israel, and even right of return for refugees. Though he can pretend that he has made the world safer with his Iran deal and contend that the peace negotiations he has promoted will also solve the region’s problems, the parties involved no longer believe a word he says.
Leaving aside the obvious shortcomings of the Iran deal from the point of view of those who believe that it does nothing to prevent the Islamist regime from gaining a nuke in the long term, there is tremendous irony in Kerry arriving in Israel to ask the Netanyahu government for more concessions on the heels of the Geneva signing. For years the Israelis had been told that if they were more accommodating to the Palestinians, it would convince the West to do its best on the Iranian nuclear threat. Though the logic of such linkage was faulty, it was at least a coherent argument. But after having trashed years of American pronouncements (including President Obama’s campaign promise to force the Iranians to give up their nuclear program) by legitimizing Iran’s nuclear program and right to enrich uranium, Kerry has effectively destroyed that argument. Having embarked on what appears to be a misguided attempt to achieve détente with a hate-spewing, terrorist-sponsoring nuclear scofflaw state, the U.S. assurances about having Israel’s back ring hollow. While there is no alternative to the U.S. alliance, the Netanyahu government knows that it is on its own with respect to security issues in a way that it may not have felt in decades. As much as Israel has always been dubious about putting its safety in the hands of anyone, this is hardly the moment to be selling it on the notion that it can rely on Washington.
By the same token, the Palestinians have also been paying attention to the Iran talks. And the evidence for this came almost as soon as Kerry arrived when it was reported that the Palestinians rejected the security measures that the U.S. envisions out of hand. Palestinian sources told the Times of Israel that the plan, which was predicated on the notion of a complete Israeli withdrawal from strategic areas of the West Bank along the 1967 lines and a new partition of Jerusalem, was unacceptable because it would prolong “the occupation.” That should alert the Americans to the fact that the Palestinians have little interest in peace talks since in this context “occupation” seems to be referring to pre-1967 Israel and not to West Bank settlements. Nor, as I wrote earlier this week, are the Palestinians budging from their refusal to recognize the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state, something that would signal the end of the conflict rather than merely a pause in it.
If the Palestinians’ genuine goal is a two-state solution and peace, their rejectionist attitude is as crazy as their previous three refusals of statehood. But even if we were to believe despite abundant proof to the contrary that they do want a two-state solution, with Kerry on the other side of the table, why should the Palestinians be any less tough in these talks than the Iranians were in theirs?
Kerry’s ego may have been stroked by the Iranian deal, but his already shaky credibility is shot. There is no reason for Israel to believe American assurances and even less reason for the Palestinians not to think that they have more to gain from saying no than yes. But the consequences of this diplomatic farce are more far-reaching than the souring of relations between Israel and the United States. By setting the Middle East up for certain diplomatic failure, Kerry has set the stage for a third intifada and threatened the Israelis with it himself. He may think he can blame Israel with the violence that may come after the negotiations blow up but, like the almost inevitable Iranian betrayal of the nuclear talks, what follows will be largely on his head.