Today in testimony before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry performed a post-mortem on the recent collapse of the Middle East peace talks. According to Kerry, the Palestinian refusal to keep negotiating past April and their decision to flout their treaty commitments by returning to efforts to gain recognition for their non-existent state from the United Nations was all the fault of one decision made by Israel. As the New York Times reports:
Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that Israel’s announcement of 700 new apartments for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem precipitated the bitter impasse in peace negotiations last week between Israel and the Palestinians.
While Mr. Kerry said both sides bore responsibility for “unhelpful” actions, he noted that the publication of tenders for housing units came four days after a deadline passed for Israel to release Palestinian prisoners and complicated Israel’s own deliberations over whether to extend the talks.
“Poof, that was the moment,” Mr. Kerry said in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Poof? To say that this evaluation of the situation is disingenuous would be the understatement of the century. 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. The division between the Fatah-run West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza has created a dynamic which makes it almost impossible for Abbas to negotiate a deal that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn even if he wanted to.
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.
Telling the truth about the Palestinians might make Kerry look foolish for devoting so much time and effort to a process that never had a chance. But it might lay the groundwork for future success in the event that the sea change in Palestinian opinion that might make peace possible were to occur. Falsely blaming Israel won’t bring that moment any closer.