Commentary Magazine


Topic: John Kerry

Time to Rethink Basic Logic of Peace Process

The collapse of Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will be met with the usual recriminations, as supporters of both sides will blame the other for their failure. Perhaps with the process collapsed—for the time being irretrievably so—it’s time for American policymakers and especially the State Department to question some fundamental assumptions they have with regard to making peace in the Middle East. Here are some lessons that they might learn, or at least subjects which policymakers might debate before wasting any more jet fuel for Kerry’s travels or diplomatic energy when there are so many more pressing issues in the world:

  • Peace comes not from a process, but from a fundamental decision by both parties that peace is what they want. A lot of journalists, diplomats, and analysts rightly remember the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat as a great peacemaker. What they forget is that Sadat only chose peace after he tried to eradicate Israel through war. Only after he concluded that he simply could not achieve his aims through violence did he make his bold gesture to Jerusalem. The problem with Palestinian leaders today is that they have not abandoned terrorism and violence as a policy tool: They will extract what incentives they can at the table—for example, the release of child killers and other terrorists—but then walk away and seek to win through violence what they could not through diplomacy. An endless process will not change Palestinian minds. Perhaps the Palestinian leadership will only come to such a conclusion when they suffer a decisive defeat, much as Sadat once did. A responsible international community would let them suffer such a defeat. The only precondition that matters is for the Palestinian leadership in its current form or whatever grassroots leadership takes its place to come to the conclusion that the only way to achieve their goals is through diplomacy. Read More

The collapse of Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will be met with the usual recriminations, as supporters of both sides will blame the other for their failure. Perhaps with the process collapsed—for the time being irretrievably so—it’s time for American policymakers and especially the State Department to question some fundamental assumptions they have with regard to making peace in the Middle East. Here are some lessons that they might learn, or at least subjects which policymakers might debate before wasting any more jet fuel for Kerry’s travels or diplomatic energy when there are so many more pressing issues in the world:

  • Peace comes not from a process, but from a fundamental decision by both parties that peace is what they want. A lot of journalists, diplomats, and analysts rightly remember the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat as a great peacemaker. What they forget is that Sadat only chose peace after he tried to eradicate Israel through war. Only after he concluded that he simply could not achieve his aims through violence did he make his bold gesture to Jerusalem. The problem with Palestinian leaders today is that they have not abandoned terrorism and violence as a policy tool: They will extract what incentives they can at the table—for example, the release of child killers and other terrorists—but then walk away and seek to win through violence what they could not through diplomacy. An endless process will not change Palestinian minds. Perhaps the Palestinian leadership will only come to such a conclusion when they suffer a decisive defeat, much as Sadat once did. A responsible international community would let them suffer such a defeat. The only precondition that matters is for the Palestinian leadership in its current form or whatever grassroots leadership takes its place to come to the conclusion that the only way to achieve their goals is through diplomacy.
  • Aid can be a detriment to peace, rather than an enabler. The Palestinians have been, per capita, the largest recipient of foreign aid on Earth and yet the Palestinian state is a disaster. That is not because of the border fence, the blockade of Gaza, or Israel. Rather, it is because of poor Palestinian governance. Accountability matters. The problem with aid is that it erodes accountability. If Palestinian officials need not worry about schooling, clothing, or feeding their own people because they are assured of international subsidy, then why not spend money on political or military adventurism? Aid also undercuts democracy, for it supplants the job of an elected government. At the very least, it is time to rethink the notion that aid helps when there is no evidence that it has and much evidence that it has not. Indeed, perhaps it’s time to cut off aid and assistance—there are many other peoples who are in far greater need of international assistance, for example, in Guinea, Mali, South Sudan, or even Ukraine. American assistance is not an entitlement.
  • Incitement matters. It has been almost twenty years since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. Rather than prepare the Palestinian people for peace, the Palestinian media fed a new generation a steady doctrine of hatred and rejectionism. While the vast majority of Israelis favor a two-state solution, the same cannot be said about Palestinians who continue to be told that Israel is an illegitimate entity. The State Department will always ignore reality in order to continue processes. Had Congress taken a no-nonsense approach toward incitement, and demanded an immediate cessation of aid when it occurred, then perhaps the region could have avoided 20 years of poison.
  • Terrorism can’t be swept under the rug. In the course of researching my new book, Dancing With the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes, it became apparent that senior State Department officials in the 1990s had lied to Congress about Palestinian terrorism, fearing that if they acknowledged the involvement of senior Palestinian officials in terrorism, they might need to end the process. Simply put, senior Middle East peace processors—several of whom have served or now still serve in the Obama administration—had intelligence at their fingertips but purposely ignored it. There is no process that can succeed in the long term if the basis of that process is a lie.
  • Agreements don’t have an expiration date nor do changes of administration cancel them. Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo Accord in 1993. Since then, the Palestinians have, with Arafat’s death, had a change in leadership although Mahmoud Abbas is now more than five years past the end of his legal term. Israel has had seven prime ministers (counting Bibi Netanyahu twice). While pundits can quip about the he-said, she-said of Israeli and Palestinian compliance, the fact of the matter is that the Palestinian Authority exists because the Palestinian leadership agreed to recognize Israel and foreswear terrorism. That Hamas now forms part of the Palestinian government means that the Palestinian government no longer adheres to the agreement that forms the very basis of its existence. Israel would be perfectly within its right, should it so desire, to push the Palestinian Authority back out of Gaza and the West Bank and roll the clock back to before 1993. That might not be desirable, but if the Palestinians are going to absolve themselves of their contractual responsibilities, there is no reason why Israel should continue remitting payments or doing anything to facilitate the Palestinian Authority’s job or existence. If Abbas wants his partner to be Hamas, then he should pay the price for that decision.

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Sorry, Israel Doomsayers, the Conflict Can Be Managed

The last place one expects to find common sense about the Middle East conflict is Roger Cohen’s column in the New York Times. A reflexive critic of the Jewish state, Cohen has been rightly criticized for sloppy writing and threadbare clichés, and he earned lasting infamy in 2009 for a series of columns he wrote seeking to whitewash the Iranian regime of the charge of anti-Semitism. That was an endeavor so transparently false and despicable that it was rightly compared to the Times’s Walter Duranty who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for seeking to depict Josef Stalin as innocent of the crime of genocide in Ukraine. But Cohen has his occasional moments of clarity and today’s piece is one of them. In it, he rightly takes on the oft-repeated charge that the current standoff between Israel and the Palestinians is “unsustainable.”

The notion that Israel must seize any opportunity to make peace on any terms is rooted in a belief that the economic and military strength of the Jewish state is a house of cards that will, sooner or later, come tumbling down as the Palestinians and their supporters undermine both its prosperity and its political legitimacy. But as Cohen writes today, this piece of conventional wisdom that has been embraced by the president of the United States as well as the Jewish left is utter rubbish. As Cohen notes:

Behind its barriers and wall, backed by military might, certain of more or less unswerving American support, technologically innovative and democratically stable, Israel has the power to prolong indefinitely its occupation of the West Bank and its dominion over several million Palestinians. The Jewish state has grown steadily stronger in relation to the Palestinians since 1948. There is no reason to believe this trend will ever be reversed. Holding onto all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, while continuing to prosper, is feasible. This, after all, is what Israel has already done for almost a half-century. …

Throughout this year the Obama administration has pushed the unsustainability argument to make its case for peace. “Today’s status quo, absolutely to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in February. “It is not sustainable. It is illusionary. There’s a momentary prosperity, there’s a momentary peace.”…

But that “point” of unmanageability is a vanishing one. Permanent occupation is what several ministers in Netanyahu’s coalition government advocate. Backed by the evidence, they are certain it can be managed. They are right.

Cohen believes this “permanent occupation” is not desirable and the majority of Israelis probably agree with him about that. But the problem is that in the absence of a credible Palestinian peace partner, the idea of retreating from the West Bank as Israel did with Gaza in 2005 is rightly seen as an act of utter folly.

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The last place one expects to find common sense about the Middle East conflict is Roger Cohen’s column in the New York Times. A reflexive critic of the Jewish state, Cohen has been rightly criticized for sloppy writing and threadbare clichés, and he earned lasting infamy in 2009 for a series of columns he wrote seeking to whitewash the Iranian regime of the charge of anti-Semitism. That was an endeavor so transparently false and despicable that it was rightly compared to the Times’s Walter Duranty who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for seeking to depict Josef Stalin as innocent of the crime of genocide in Ukraine. But Cohen has his occasional moments of clarity and today’s piece is one of them. In it, he rightly takes on the oft-repeated charge that the current standoff between Israel and the Palestinians is “unsustainable.”

The notion that Israel must seize any opportunity to make peace on any terms is rooted in a belief that the economic and military strength of the Jewish state is a house of cards that will, sooner or later, come tumbling down as the Palestinians and their supporters undermine both its prosperity and its political legitimacy. But as Cohen writes today, this piece of conventional wisdom that has been embraced by the president of the United States as well as the Jewish left is utter rubbish. As Cohen notes:

Behind its barriers and wall, backed by military might, certain of more or less unswerving American support, technologically innovative and democratically stable, Israel has the power to prolong indefinitely its occupation of the West Bank and its dominion over several million Palestinians. The Jewish state has grown steadily stronger in relation to the Palestinians since 1948. There is no reason to believe this trend will ever be reversed. Holding onto all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, while continuing to prosper, is feasible. This, after all, is what Israel has already done for almost a half-century. …

Throughout this year the Obama administration has pushed the unsustainability argument to make its case for peace. “Today’s status quo, absolutely to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in February. “It is not sustainable. It is illusionary. There’s a momentary prosperity, there’s a momentary peace.”…

But that “point” of unmanageability is a vanishing one. Permanent occupation is what several ministers in Netanyahu’s coalition government advocate. Backed by the evidence, they are certain it can be managed. They are right.

Cohen believes this “permanent occupation” is not desirable and the majority of Israelis probably agree with him about that. But the problem is that in the absence of a credible Palestinian peace partner, the idea of retreating from the West Bank as Israel did with Gaza in 2005 is rightly seen as an act of utter folly.

Cohen and others believe Israel’s presence in the West Bank and the corrosive nature of its anomalous relationship with the Palestinians undermines its democratic ethos. But as problematic as that situation may be, as Cohen acknowledges, the vast majority of Israelis prefer to go on living with that conundrum rather than endanger their future by repeating the mistakes of Oslo and Ariel Sharon’s Gaza retreat.

Cohen concludes his largely sensible piece by foolishly claiming that Israel must embrace the new Palestinian unity coalition in which Fatah and Hamas have come together as the best path to peace. He even compares the myth that Israel can be destroyed with the idea that the Palestinian Authority “represents the Palestinian national movement” by itself. That latter point may be true, but that is exactly why it is necessary for Israel to refrain from empowering the Islamists of Hamas as it did for the nationalists of Fatah under the Oslo Accords. Given the choice of making peace with Israel or with Hamas, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas chose Hamas. The idea that Hamas or even most of Fatah is willing to accept peace with Israel is a myth that is every bit as baseless as the one about Israel’s impending doom.

But Cohen’s broader point about sustainability is one the doomsayers about Israel on the left need to come to terms with. By feeding the Palestinian fantasy about Israel running out of time to make peace, President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and their cheerleaders on the Jewish left are actually undermining the chances for peace. The notion that Israel is living on borrowed time has been a staple of Middle East commentary since its victory in 1967 and it is just as much of a fallacy today as it was then. Indeed, despite numerous problems, both domestic and foreign, Israel has become an economic and military powerhouse that cannot be wished away. While some toy with unrealistic notions about a one-state solution, most Israelis would prefer a two-state answer to their current predicament but sensibly understand that must be deferred until the Palestinians come to their senses and reject a concept of national identity that is not inextricably tied to a quest for Israel’s destruction. If and when they do, they will find that Israel is ready to deal with them. But until then, they will remain mired in their current dilemma while the Jewish state continues to wax stronger.

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Blair’s Puzzling Middle East Address

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who now serves as the Quartet’s Middle East envoy, has given a major speech to Bloomberg, urging greater Western engagement in the Middle East. Perhaps the most significant aspect of Blair’s message was his warning about the ongoing dangers of radical Islam. The speech gets a lot right, and yet some of its conclusions seemed confused–at odds with the sound premises that Blair laid out in other parts of the very same speech.

It is hard to account for this anomaly. Given the “warmonger” status that some in his own country still try to relegate him to, perhaps the former prime minister feels the need to temper his statements with some politically correct platitudes? Still, it is quite possible that Blair’s worldview is just fundamentally a confused one.

As Douglas Murray has already pointed out, Blair’s encouraging statements about the critical threat posed by radical Islam were somewhat offset by his insistence that political Islam “distorts and warps Islam’s true message.” For as Murray reminds us, Blair’s longstanding line about Islam being a “religion of peace” has not always allowed for an entirely honest discussion of the extent to which hardline Islam simply draws on existing themes within the Islamic tradition. Yet, where Blair’s speech really appeared to become confused was on the matter of Israel and the Palestinians. Here there seemed to be an almost inexplicable incongruence between Blair’s premises and his recommendations for policy.

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Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who now serves as the Quartet’s Middle East envoy, has given a major speech to Bloomberg, urging greater Western engagement in the Middle East. Perhaps the most significant aspect of Blair’s message was his warning about the ongoing dangers of radical Islam. The speech gets a lot right, and yet some of its conclusions seemed confused–at odds with the sound premises that Blair laid out in other parts of the very same speech.

It is hard to account for this anomaly. Given the “warmonger” status that some in his own country still try to relegate him to, perhaps the former prime minister feels the need to temper his statements with some politically correct platitudes? Still, it is quite possible that Blair’s worldview is just fundamentally a confused one.

As Douglas Murray has already pointed out, Blair’s encouraging statements about the critical threat posed by radical Islam were somewhat offset by his insistence that political Islam “distorts and warps Islam’s true message.” For as Murray reminds us, Blair’s longstanding line about Islam being a “religion of peace” has not always allowed for an entirely honest discussion of the extent to which hardline Islam simply draws on existing themes within the Islamic tradition. Yet, where Blair’s speech really appeared to become confused was on the matter of Israel and the Palestinians. Here there seemed to be an almost inexplicable incongruence between Blair’s premises and his recommendations for policy.

As ever, Blair’s comments about Israel were hearteningly supportive. He emphasized the importance of Israel as an ally to the West and reminded listeners that the West couldn’t be indifferent to Israel’s fate in the event that Israel should find itself in a regional conflict—a reference to Iran perhaps. Yet, when it came to the matter of the peace process, Blair’s comments turned from reassuring to puzzling. The former prime minister laid out a number of key foundational truths on this matter–truths that Western leaders could do with asserting far more often–and yet Blair still seemed to end up endorsing the same failed conclusions that have so far led Secretary of State John Kerry to such a humiliating defeat in his efforts on this front.

Most importantly, Blair reminded his audience that the Israel-Palestinian dispute is not the cause of the region’s problems, despite the widespread and mistaken thinking to contrary. Blair explained: “It remains absolutely core to the region and the world. Not because the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is the cause of our problems. But because solving it would be such a victory for the very forces we should support. Now it may be that after years of it being said that solving this question is the route to solving the regions’ problems, we’re about to enter a new phase where solving the region’s problems a critical part of solving the Israeli/Palestinian issue.”

This mention of “a victory for the forces we should support” of course relates to Blair’s wider point about supporting liberal and democratic forces in the region so as to vanquish the extremist ones. And here Blair was able to outline why all attempts to solve the Israel-Palestinian dispute thus far have failed. “The issue in which we have expended extraordinary energy and determination through US Secretary Kerry, still seems as intractable as ever” Blair conceded, “Yet the explanation for all of these apparently unresolvable contradictions is staring us in the face.” The whole point is that the emphasis on what Israel does or does not do is really immaterial when what we are really facing is an ideology of unappeasable extremism. As Blair outlined:

It is that there is a Titanic struggle going on within the region between those who want the region to embrace the modern world…and those who instead want to create a politics of religious difference and exclusivity. This is the battle. This is the distorting feature. This is what makes intervention so fraught but non-intervention equally so. This is what complicates the process of political evolution. This is what makes it so hard for democracy to take root. This is what, irrespective of the problems on the Israeli side, divides Palestinian politics and constrains their leadership.

And yet after having spoken so much sense, Blair proceeded to praise Kerry and to disagree with those who condemned the secretary of state for the wildly disproportionate amount of energy and time that he has put into forcing hopeless negotiations between the two sides. One wonders if it is only Blair’s position as Middle East envoy that compels him to parrot this pro-peace process line. It is, however, possible that while doing the former, this is Blair’s way of telling the world that there will be no meaningful peace process until extremism can be dealt with and that the last people who should be blamed or undermined are the Israelis. If not, then it is difficult to know how else to explain the confused conclusions of an otherwise praiseworthy address. 

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Why Hamas and Fatah Carry on the Charade

Progress in Hamas-Fatah unity talks may appear to be fertile ground for jokes at Secretary of State John Kerry’s expense, since it seems the one divide he hasn’t been feverishly trying to bridge is the one place where prospects for reconciliation have improved. But Kerry can rest easy on this score: whatever Kerry’s diplomatic faults (and they are many), he is not going to be outdone on the peace score by the terrorists of Hamas.

In fact, the Hamas-Fatah unity talks–a staple of those truly dedicated to wasting everyone’s time–are worth watching, but not for the reason the region’s idealists think. Instead, the Palestinian civil war and attempts to end it demonstrate, for those paying attention, why Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have so often been a fool’s errand. Even the Western media’s most excitable Palestinian boosters–Israel’s leftist daily Haaretz–can’t quite conceal the contradiction at the heart of the internecine compromise we are told is within reach. The paper reports:

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Progress in Hamas-Fatah unity talks may appear to be fertile ground for jokes at Secretary of State John Kerry’s expense, since it seems the one divide he hasn’t been feverishly trying to bridge is the one place where prospects for reconciliation have improved. But Kerry can rest easy on this score: whatever Kerry’s diplomatic faults (and they are many), he is not going to be outdone on the peace score by the terrorists of Hamas.

In fact, the Hamas-Fatah unity talks–a staple of those truly dedicated to wasting everyone’s time–are worth watching, but not for the reason the region’s idealists think. Instead, the Palestinian civil war and attempts to end it demonstrate, for those paying attention, why Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have so often been a fool’s errand. Even the Western media’s most excitable Palestinian boosters–Israel’s leftist daily Haaretz–can’t quite conceal the contradiction at the heart of the internecine compromise we are told is within reach. The paper reports:

The headlines were all referring to a meeting expected to take place Tuesday between the Fatah delegation to the reconciliation talks and the Hamas leadership, with the participation of Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy to Hamas political chief Khaled Meshal. Will reconciliation come about this time between the factions, which have been at loggerheads since 2007? Will the reconciliation agreement they signed in 2011 be implemented?

That last sentence is quite the red flag. The two sides have signed agreements in the past: not only does signing a new one concede the fact that the last agreement hasn’t been honored, but the new agreement might not even require the last agreement’s implementation. The concern by Israelis has always been that even if Mahmoud Abbas signs a peace deal with them, his successor might not honor it. But the history of Hamas-Fatah reconciliation suggests it won’t get that far: the Palestinian signatories themselves are unlikely to honor it.

Haaretz continues:

If the parties reach agreement, Israel might view this as intentional Palestinian abandonment of the negotiations with Israel, and use reconciliation as a pretext to halt the peace process. This, despite the fact that Hamas had agreed at the time to allow PA President Mahmoud Abbas to continue negotiations without Hamas committing to accept their outcome, and the fact that in 2010, Hamas made clear that it does not oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state within in the 1967 boundaries.

At the same time, Abbas can present himself as the legitimate representative of all parts of the Palestinian state and thus bolster his demand for international recognition for the state.

It is unclear from the agreements attained so far what the status will be of the accords signed between the PLO and Israel, whether the PA will be able to continue implementing them and what will happen to security cooperation with Hamas still supporting armed struggle. For Hamas, which is in deep economic trouble and in a hostile relationship with Egypt, reconciliation could be an indispensable way out. The funding sources that reach the PA could then be used to cover civil activities of government ministries that would be under Hamas control. Abbas could then ask Egypt to change its position toward Hamas and also open lines of communication for Hamas with other Arab countries.

The tone of that section is typical of the Israeli left: the Israeli government would use the talks as “pretext” to skip out on their own negotiations with a government quite different from the one they were negotiating with. How unreasonable. Additionally, even Haaretz notes that this is “despite the fact” that Hamas is allowing Abbas to continue talks with Israel “without Hamas committing to accept their outcome.” So they are meaningless.

By this logic, Israeli skepticism toward the Hamas-Fatah deal is warranted: were Abbas’s faction to strike a deal with Israel, Hamas is reserving the right not to accept it. So the Hamas-Fatah deal and the theoretical Palestinian-Israeli deal are very likely mutually exclusive. The Palestinians are playing games. Again.

Why are they playing games? Abbas knows he does not have nearly enough control over the Palestinian polity to claim to be a legitimate head of state even if he were to sign a deal with Israel. Hamas’s inclusion can potentially make him president of a failed state instead of failed president of a non-state.

The benefits to Hamas are obvious, as the Haaretz report makes clear. Those benefits are chiefly financial, since Hamas’s inclusion in the government would make them eligible to share in the PA’s revenue and perhaps ease trade and migration restrictions imposed on Gaza by Egypt. Since history shows Hamas doesn’t actually have to abide by the agreement, they can take the money and run, leaving Abbas weaker than ever while eating into his popular approval by temporarily improving the economic condition of the Gaza Strip.

It’s a great deal for Hamas. And Kerry should be glad he had nothing to do with it.

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Obama’s eBay Diplomacy in Action

“My hope is that we actually do see follow-through over the next several days,” President Obama said yesterday of the deal to ease the crisis in eastern Ukraine, “but I don’t think, given past performance, that we can count on that, and we have to be prepared to potentially respond to what continue to be efforts of interference by the Russians in eastern and southern Ukraine.” Such skepticism was warranted; as the Washington Post reports, the deal requiring pro-Russian forces to end their occupation of government buildings in Ukraine is being amended on the fly by those protesters. They’ll leave, they say–if the Ukrainian government does too:

“It is an illegal junta,” said Anatoliy Onischenko, of the leaders of the Donetsk People’s Republic, the organization that has occupied the regional parliament building. A separate group is occupying the Donetsk City Hall.

Other pro-Russian activists also said they would not leave the occupied buildings as long as pro-government protesters still were massed in Kiev’s Independence Square.

Obama seemed to anticipate this, which is a good sign. But it’s worth asking why such deals are signed in the first place, knowing that Vladimir Putin is not an honest broker and that there is really no enforcement mechanism for such agreements. As the president also said yesterday, he’s “been very clear that military options are not on the table in Ukraine because this is not a situation that would be amenable to a clear military solution.” Force isn’t needed, the president said, when Secretary of State John Kerry can simply wave a magic wand instead: “What we have to do is to create an environment in which irregular forces disarm, that the seizing of buildings cease, that a national dialogue by Ukrainians — not by Russians, not by Americans or anybody else, but by Ukrainians — takes place.”

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“My hope is that we actually do see follow-through over the next several days,” President Obama said yesterday of the deal to ease the crisis in eastern Ukraine, “but I don’t think, given past performance, that we can count on that, and we have to be prepared to potentially respond to what continue to be efforts of interference by the Russians in eastern and southern Ukraine.” Such skepticism was warranted; as the Washington Post reports, the deal requiring pro-Russian forces to end their occupation of government buildings in Ukraine is being amended on the fly by those protesters. They’ll leave, they say–if the Ukrainian government does too:

“It is an illegal junta,” said Anatoliy Onischenko, of the leaders of the Donetsk People’s Republic, the organization that has occupied the regional parliament building. A separate group is occupying the Donetsk City Hall.

Other pro-Russian activists also said they would not leave the occupied buildings as long as pro-government protesters still were massed in Kiev’s Independence Square.

Obama seemed to anticipate this, which is a good sign. But it’s worth asking why such deals are signed in the first place, knowing that Vladimir Putin is not an honest broker and that there is really no enforcement mechanism for such agreements. As the president also said yesterday, he’s “been very clear that military options are not on the table in Ukraine because this is not a situation that would be amenable to a clear military solution.” Force isn’t needed, the president said, when Secretary of State John Kerry can simply wave a magic wand instead: “What we have to do is to create an environment in which irregular forces disarm, that the seizing of buildings cease, that a national dialogue by Ukrainians — not by Russians, not by Americans or anybody else, but by Ukrainians — takes place.”

This is classic diplospeak, in that it says absolutely nothing of substance but sounds nice. And that, in many ways, is the crux of the matter: the current American diplomatic team is being routed by their Russian counterparts. Why is that? Earlier this week James Bruno, a retired Foreign Service officer, argued that the politicization of American diplomacy has reached a point at which expertise becomes a luxury. Obama has essentially been auctioning off even high-level ambassadorships, which is no surprise considering the revelations that Obama has politicized the Foreign Service to an unprecedented degree.

Bruno expanded the argument:

Three-quarters of the top policy and management positions at the State Department currently are occupied by non-diplomats, mainly Democratic Party activists or liberal think tankers. “Most are competent, but must pass an ideological test to be appointed,” a former senior official who worked with Obama’s appointees at State told me. “These positions,” she added, “are handed out based on party connections and loyalty.” In the hands of these decision-makers, all major foreign policy issues are viewed through an “ideological prism as opposed to an eye toward the long-term interests of the United States,” she said. The White House’s National Security Council staff, furthermore, has ballooned from about four dozen three decades ago to more than twice that today, a shift that has had the effect of concentrating power in the White House, and infusing key decisions with political calculations.

The answer, according to this logic, is simple: Russia takes international affairs seriously, and the Obama administration doesn’t. But the U.S. and Russia are not the only actors in this drama, and this is where managing American alliances–another glaring weakness of the Obama administration–could make up some of the difference.

Those opposed to American defense alliances complain that the U.S. props up NATO, especially former Soviet or Russian satellite states. But those states’ relationships with Russia have their own advantages. One common myth of NATO enlargement to Russia’s near abroad has held that the process is adversarial enough to prevent negotiations instead of military confrontation. This is untrue, of course. As Vincent Pouliot writes in International Security in Practice: The Politics of NATO-Russia Diplomacy, according to Polish officials, Poland’s accession to NATO was driven in large part by fear of Russian military invasion. Once in NATO for purely defensive reasons, Polish officials became “less allergic to Russia.” NATO facilitates dialogue between otherwise mutually suspicious actors.

“Among NATO’s international military personnel,” Pouliot writes, “I met a Lithuanian colonel who was a Red Army conscript in 1987; his dispositions were obviously heavily influenced by that experience.” In one meeting Pouliot was told Lithuanians can read Russians’ minds; he was then told a similar thing about officials of the Baltic states. This may not be the norm, at least with regard to officials’ past service in Russian armed forces. But it does reveal how, when negotiating with Russia, the perspective of NATO allies can be of value.

The Obama administration is perhaps less likely to agree than both his predecessors in the post-Cold War era, which is why Obama is also far less inclined to make any progress toward upgrading the alliance. But his eBay diplomacy of auctioning off ambassadorships and other foreign-policy jobs means Obama would have far more to gain by listening to our allies who take European affairs and the maintenance of the international order a bit more seriously.

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Prisoner Releases Undermine Peace Process

Those seeking to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians might conclude that adding more terrorists into the equation is unlikely to help matters. That much stands to reason for most people. Unfortunately, this simple truth seems to be lost on Secretary of State John Kerry and his assistant in the negotiations, Martin Indyk. They are currently putting pressure on the Israelis to release the next installment of prisoners being demanded by the Palestinians. Supposedly this will help advance the two sides along the path to peace. Caught up in the ludicrous process of negotiating about negotiating, Kerry and Indyk might benefit from taking a step back and asking themselves what kind of partner for peace demands the release of terrorists. Terrorists belong in prison, and no one interested in a just and secure settlement between the two sides would for a moment think otherwise. Yet Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas doesn’t simply demand the release of these murderers; once they are released these individuals and their families are rewarded with fanfare and sizable cash payments.

Astonishingly, the Israeli government has already surrendered to pressure from the Obama administration and reluctantly capitulated to these outrageous demands. As David Horovitz recently wrote, in jeopardizing its most basic obligation to uphold the safety of its citizenry, Prime Minister Netanyahu undermines the legitimacy of his government. Up until now that government had continued to support Netanyahu in his policy of American-imposed appeasement of the Palestinians. However, following the recent terrorist attack on an Israeli family visiting Hebron for the Passover holiday, many of Netanyahu’s Cabinet members have insisted they will not go along with this policy any further until Abbas issues a full public condemnation.

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Those seeking to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians might conclude that adding more terrorists into the equation is unlikely to help matters. That much stands to reason for most people. Unfortunately, this simple truth seems to be lost on Secretary of State John Kerry and his assistant in the negotiations, Martin Indyk. They are currently putting pressure on the Israelis to release the next installment of prisoners being demanded by the Palestinians. Supposedly this will help advance the two sides along the path to peace. Caught up in the ludicrous process of negotiating about negotiating, Kerry and Indyk might benefit from taking a step back and asking themselves what kind of partner for peace demands the release of terrorists. Terrorists belong in prison, and no one interested in a just and secure settlement between the two sides would for a moment think otherwise. Yet Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas doesn’t simply demand the release of these murderers; once they are released these individuals and their families are rewarded with fanfare and sizable cash payments.

Astonishingly, the Israeli government has already surrendered to pressure from the Obama administration and reluctantly capitulated to these outrageous demands. As David Horovitz recently wrote, in jeopardizing its most basic obligation to uphold the safety of its citizenry, Prime Minister Netanyahu undermines the legitimacy of his government. Up until now that government had continued to support Netanyahu in his policy of American-imposed appeasement of the Palestinians. However, following the recent terrorist attack on an Israeli family visiting Hebron for the Passover holiday, many of Netanyahu’s Cabinet members have insisted they will not go along with this policy any further until Abbas issues a full public condemnation.

No one who is both honest and informed about the Palestinians will be at all surprised to learn that Abbas has failed to supply any kind of meaningful condemnation of this murderous attack. The best that the Palestinian president could muster were some words against the attack offered behind closed doors to a group of Israeli politicians visiting Ramallah earlier in the week. Yet Abbas steadfastly refused to come outside and publicly condemn the attacks to the waiting press. The Palestinians have presented Kerry with so many moments when he should have stepped away. This disgraceful refusal to fully condemn the cold-blooded murder of a father of five in front of his family should be the moment when Kerry’s underlying sense of decency kicks in and he washes his hands of Abbas. Yet he can’t and he won’t. He can’t bring himself to walk away from what many have long suspected of being a vanity project.

The Palestinian Authority’s incitement to terror through public pageants and its media network, as well as the financial backing it awards terrorists and Abbas’s shameless refusal to publicly condemn the murder of Israeli civilians, should all be enough to convince Kerry and his team that these are not people they should be mixed-up with. Instead, it seems that American officials are joining with the Palestinian Authority in pressuring for the release of more terrorists. If the last nine months of talks had shown any sign of progress at all, that would be one thing. But all the latest round of negotiations revealed was the full extent of Palestinian intransigence and unreasonableness. If Kerry and Indyk were to be honest with themselves, could they really still maintain that they are doing all this for the good of the two parties that they claim they want to help? And is there any way that it could be argued that weakening Israel and emboldening the Palestinians is at all in America’s interests?

Abbas’s latest affront has been too much for many of Netanyahu’s coalition partners as well as for some of his own ministers. It now seems, at least for the moment, that even if he wants to Netanyahu has no way of pursuing this prisoner release further without breaking up his government just for the sake of humoring Kerry’s “peace process” misadventure. 

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Obama’s Slow-Motion Betrayal on Iran

The latest round of the P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran took place this past week with little of the fanfare that surrounded previous negotiations. Other international issues, such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the disappearance of Malaysia Flight 370, have largely superseded Iran as the top foreign-policy news story. This allowed the Obama administration and its European partners, along with the uneasy participation of Russia, to pursue an agenda of accommodation with the Islamist regime without having to answer too many questions about the direction of the talks. After two days of meetings in Vienna, the parties recessed last Wednesday with vows to meet again next month. Though they admitted there were still gaps between the two sides, everyone seemed to express confidence that an agreement would eventually be reached even if lasted longer than the July deadline for negotiations that was set in the interim agreement with Iran that was signed last November.

Interestingly, the same day as the diplomats kissed goodbye in Vienna, Iran’s supreme leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei helped celebrate National Nuclear Day. In his remarks, he vowed that the P5+1 process would not curtail Iran’s program while also expressing the usual malevolence toward the United States. But, crucially, he also indicated that he had given the green light to continuing the talks with the West. And, given Secretary of State John Kerry’s statements to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week that indicated the entire purpose of the negotiations was not to halt Iran’s nuclear program, as President Obama explicitly vowed during his 2012 reelection campaign, but to merely extend the time frame during which Tehran could “break out” to a nuclear weapon, Khamenei’s faith in the process seems justified.

If, as the New York Times noted in an editorial yesterday, there is a good chance a deal giving Western approval to an Iranian nuclear infrastructure that could build a nuclear weapon is signed by July 20 or sometime after that, will Congress or the media care enough about the fact that this will constitute a betrayal of the pledges that the president has been making about Iran since he first started running for president several years ago? Judging by the ease with which the administration seems to have fended off a congressional push for more sanctions on Iran earlier this year as well as the lack of outrage about Kerry’s comments this week, it’s hard to argue with the White House’s evident conclusion that they will get away with it without too much trouble.

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The latest round of the P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran took place this past week with little of the fanfare that surrounded previous negotiations. Other international issues, such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the disappearance of Malaysia Flight 370, have largely superseded Iran as the top foreign-policy news story. This allowed the Obama administration and its European partners, along with the uneasy participation of Russia, to pursue an agenda of accommodation with the Islamist regime without having to answer too many questions about the direction of the talks. After two days of meetings in Vienna, the parties recessed last Wednesday with vows to meet again next month. Though they admitted there were still gaps between the two sides, everyone seemed to express confidence that an agreement would eventually be reached even if lasted longer than the July deadline for negotiations that was set in the interim agreement with Iran that was signed last November.

Interestingly, the same day as the diplomats kissed goodbye in Vienna, Iran’s supreme leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei helped celebrate National Nuclear Day. In his remarks, he vowed that the P5+1 process would not curtail Iran’s program while also expressing the usual malevolence toward the United States. But, crucially, he also indicated that he had given the green light to continuing the talks with the West. And, given Secretary of State John Kerry’s statements to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week that indicated the entire purpose of the negotiations was not to halt Iran’s nuclear program, as President Obama explicitly vowed during his 2012 reelection campaign, but to merely extend the time frame during which Tehran could “break out” to a nuclear weapon, Khamenei’s faith in the process seems justified.

If, as the New York Times noted in an editorial yesterday, there is a good chance a deal giving Western approval to an Iranian nuclear infrastructure that could build a nuclear weapon is signed by July 20 or sometime after that, will Congress or the media care enough about the fact that this will constitute a betrayal of the pledges that the president has been making about Iran since he first started running for president several years ago? Judging by the ease with which the administration seems to have fended off a congressional push for more sanctions on Iran earlier this year as well as the lack of outrage about Kerry’s comments this week, it’s hard to argue with the White House’s evident conclusion that they will get away with it without too much trouble.

During the debate this past winter about a measure that would have increased sanctions on Iran if the next bout of P5+1 diplomacy failed, we were not only assured of the administration’s desire to ensure that Tehran wouldn’t get a weapon but also promised that the president would not settle for a bad deal or be snookered by the ayatollahs into endless futile talks. There was little doubt that Obama didn’t want to try to enforce a complete economic embargo on Iran, the only measure short of the use of force that might stop the nuclear threat, but he was also wary of being seen to have broken his pledges on the issue. Yet it is clear that during the secret talks that led to last year’s weak interim agreement with Iran, Kerry concluded that the way out of this dilemma was a diplomatic “solution” that would allow Obama and the West to pretend that they had done something to stop the Islamist regime from going nuclear without, in fact, doing much to prevent them from doing so. The only question was whether the Iranians were smart enough to take them up on the offer. Ayatollah Khamenei seems to have answered that it in the affirmative.

Critics of this betrayal are accused of sounding the alarm about Iran while also seeking to hamper a diplomatic solution to the threat. But the problem is that the approach that the administration has embraced is no solution at all. The consequences of the “success” of this diplomatic track are incalculable both for the future of the Middle East as well as the security of the West. There should be no doubt about the fact that if the West agrees to a situation whereby Iran’s nuclear infrastructure including its refinement of uranium, plutonium nuclear plant, nuclear military research, and ballistic missile programs are left in place, it is only a matter of time before Tehran will have its weapon. Stretching out the breakout period will, in fact, lessen the likelihood that the West would or could react in time to stop them because once an agreement is signed the administration will have a vested interest in pretending that Iran is not embarrassing them. The end of sanctions that will accompany such an agreement will also make it impossible to reassert the economic leverage that Kerry threw away last year. While defenders of this policy claim that insisting on dismantling Iran’s program is “unrealistic,” what they fail to mention is that the administration’s clear preference for appeasing Tehran is what has made tough diplomacy unthinkable.

The president’s betrayal of his Iran promises has been conducted in slow motion over the course of the last two years. There is still plenty of time for Iran to revert to its past practice of teasing the West by seeming to be ready to sign an agreement only to revoke their approval at the last minute or for President Obama and Kerry to wise up to this scam or to realize that what they are doing is making an Iranian nuclear weapon more rather than less likely. Though a wise person should never bet against the former, only a fool would count on the latter. 

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A Tale of Two Letters: Why the Peace Process Went Poof

Last week Zbigniew Brzezinski, joined by five other foreign-policy experts from the past, issued an open letter entitled “Stand Firm, John Kerry,” calling for “clarity” on “the critical moral and political issues” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The letter castigated Israeli settlements and proposed “halting the diplomatic process” to “help stop this activity.” At “Pressure Points,” Elliott Abrams dismantled the letter, noting that, among other things, it ignored history.  

As it happens, tomorrow is the 10th anniversary of one of the more important items of history the Brzezinski group ignored: the April 14, 2004 letter from President George W. Bush to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. In Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Abrams recounts how the letter went through “many drafts, as words, phrases, and paragraphs came in and out,” ending with a “headline” that was clear: “There would be no return to 1967 and Israel could keep the major settlement blocks.” In her  own memoir, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recounted spending three hours on the letter with Sharon the night before it was issued, and described the agreement to apply a “Google Earth test” for settlements: no new ones, no expanding the boundaries of them, but allowing building within existing settlements, since that would not reduce the land available for a Palestinian state. In his recent biography of Sharon, David Landau writes:

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Last week Zbigniew Brzezinski, joined by five other foreign-policy experts from the past, issued an open letter entitled “Stand Firm, John Kerry,” calling for “clarity” on “the critical moral and political issues” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The letter castigated Israeli settlements and proposed “halting the diplomatic process” to “help stop this activity.” At “Pressure Points,” Elliott Abrams dismantled the letter, noting that, among other things, it ignored history.  

As it happens, tomorrow is the 10th anniversary of one of the more important items of history the Brzezinski group ignored: the April 14, 2004 letter from President George W. Bush to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. In Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Abrams recounts how the letter went through “many drafts, as words, phrases, and paragraphs came in and out,” ending with a “headline” that was clear: “There would be no return to 1967 and Israel could keep the major settlement blocks.” In her  own memoir, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recounted spending three hours on the letter with Sharon the night before it was issued, and described the agreement to apply a “Google Earth test” for settlements: no new ones, no expanding the boundaries of them, but allowing building within existing settlements, since that would not reduce the land available for a Palestinian state. In his recent biography of Sharon, David Landau writes:

The American-Israeli diplomacy culminated in a hugely significant exchange of letters between Bush and Sharon in April 2004. In his letter, Sharon committed to carry out the [Gaza] disengagement. In his response, President Bush committed to back Israel on two vital issues: the Palestinian refugees would not return en masse to the State of Israel; and – by clear implication – the large settlement blocs on the West Bank, close to the 1967 line, would remain part of Israel in a final status agreement. Sharon regarded the exchange of letters as his most salient achievement as prime minister. He was probably right.

Last year, as Secretary Kerry was in Israel seeking to restart peace negotiations, an Israeli reporter asked him about “a guarantee from the past”–“telling that blocs of settlements can stay.” His question was straightforward: “does [the guarantee] exist?” Kerry responded: “I remember that commitment very well because I was running for president then, and I personally have supported the notion that the situation on the ground has changed.” Indeed, four days after the Bush letter was issued, Kerry was asked directly about it on Meet the Press:

MR. RUSSERT: On Thursday, President Bush … said that Israel can keep part of the land seized in the 1967 Middle East War and asserted the Palestinian refugees cannot go back to their particular homes. Do you support President Bush?

SEN. KERRY: Yes.

MR. RUSSERT: Completely?

SEN. KERRY: Yes.

The 2004 Bush letter was not simply a statement of policy; it was a negotiated deal, on which Israel relied in carrying out the Gaza disengagement, dismantling every settlement there and four others in the disputed territories as well. Sharon made the Bush letter part of the formal disengagement plan submitted to the Knesset for its approval. The U.S. Congress also endorsed the letter, in joint resolutions by the Senate (95-3) and House (407-9). The letter was endorsed in unambiguous terms by the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, who in 2013 as secretary of state correctly called it a “commitment.”

The Obama administration, when it took office in 2009, repeatedly refused to answer whether it was bound by the Bush letter. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denied there were any “enforceable” understandings with Israel. The day before Palestinian President Abbas met with President Obama, Clinton told the press Obama had been “very clear” with Prime Minister Netanyahu that he “wants to see a stop to settlements – not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions”–and that this had been “communicated very clearly, not only to the Israelis but to the Palestinians and others.” The same day, Abbas told the Washington Post he would do nothing but watch the Obama administration pressure Netanyahu. The administration eventually got a ten-month construction freeze, which both Clinton and Obama envoy George Mitchell called “unprecedented.” It produced nothing from the Palestinians other than a demand in the tenth month that it be continued.

Now flash forward five years, to Secretary of State Kerry’s April 8, 2014 Senate Foreign Relations Committee testimony, in which he said “both sides … wound up in positions where things happened that were unhelpful,” but that “when they were about to maybe [resume negotiations], 700 settlement units were announced in Jerusalem, and poof, that was sort of the moment.” Kerry knew the 700 “settlement units” [sic] were in a longstanding Jewish area in the capital of the Jewish state; that the area will be retained by Israel in any conceivable peace agreement; that Israel had made no commitment to Kerry to stop any construction there; and that Israel was working on an expanded prisoner release when the Palestinians went to the UN.

The peace process went “poof” not because of 700 units in Jerusalem, but because–for the third time in three years–the Palestinians violated the foundational agreement of the process, which obligates them not to take “any step” outside bilateral negotiations to change the status of the disputed territories. For the third time, the Palestinians went to the UN; for the third time, there was no American response; for the third time, there was no penalty for the violation; and on April 8, there was not even an honest assessment of the situation by the secretary of state.

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Hillary’s Best Defense: She’s Not John Kerry

Yesterday the Morning Joe crew supplied a moment of unintentional comedy when they tried to name Hillary Clinton’s major accomplishment as secretary of state. As noted over at Ace of Spades, “It’s funny watching the question of Hillary’s greatest accomplishment asked and laughingly rejected as ridiculous at first, then having it slowly dawn on the panel that none of them has an answer.”

One answer offered by the panel was that this great accomplishment shall be revealed by Clinton herself upon publication of her memoir. Her greatness is difficult for mere mortals to comprehend, but the former diplomat will try her best to help Americans understand what a privilege it has been to be served by Mrs. Clinton. Just because you didn’t see any accomplishments doesn’t mean they weren’t there; the Clintons work in mysterious ways.

But in fact we may have a preview of that revelation, provided by Byron York at the Washington Examiner. York writes that Clinton was on a panel last week moderated by Tom Friedman and was asked this very question. What was her great accomplishment? York quotes Hillary’s response:

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Yesterday the Morning Joe crew supplied a moment of unintentional comedy when they tried to name Hillary Clinton’s major accomplishment as secretary of state. As noted over at Ace of Spades, “It’s funny watching the question of Hillary’s greatest accomplishment asked and laughingly rejected as ridiculous at first, then having it slowly dawn on the panel that none of them has an answer.”

One answer offered by the panel was that this great accomplishment shall be revealed by Clinton herself upon publication of her memoir. Her greatness is difficult for mere mortals to comprehend, but the former diplomat will try her best to help Americans understand what a privilege it has been to be served by Mrs. Clinton. Just because you didn’t see any accomplishments doesn’t mean they weren’t there; the Clintons work in mysterious ways.

But in fact we may have a preview of that revelation, provided by Byron York at the Washington Examiner. York writes that Clinton was on a panel last week moderated by Tom Friedman and was asked this very question. What was her great accomplishment? York quotes Hillary’s response:

“We had the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, we had two wars, we had continuing threats from all kinds of corners around the world,” Clinton said. Obama told her his top priority had to be dealing with the economic crisis, so he asked her to “represent us around the world.”

Clinton’s job was to “make it clear to the rest of the world that we were going to get our house in order.” But what did “in order” mean? Clinton described it this way: “We were going to stimulate and grow and get back to positive growth and work with our friends and partners.”

On the basis of that “stimulate and grow” policy, Clinton continued, the United States returned to strength and can now deal with foreign crises like the Ukraine without having to worry about a world economic collapse. “I think we really restored American leadership in the best sense,” she said. “That, you know, once again, people began to rely on us, to look at us as, you know, setting the values, setting the standards.”

Clinton, then, has no idea what she accomplished at State. But the answer offers an important clue as to how Clinton must manage the perception that she didn’t really do anything as secretary of state. In many ways, this was by design. Clinton knew she was considering a run for the presidency, and so didn’t want to take any risks at Foggy Bottom. She wasn’t there to accomplish big things; she was there to pad her resume and bide her time.

For this reason, you’ll recall, she lobbied against Susan Rice’s nomination as her successor in favor of the current secretary of state, John Kerry. Clinton’s caution as the nation’s chief diplomat meant she couldn’t afford to be followed by someone with competence and clear vision. She needed to be followed by someone like Kerry.

And the strategy is beginning to pay dividends. Not every secretary of state has to be Dean Acheson, and there’s something unfair about expecting greatness–and something dangerous in promoting it–in every secretary of state. Had Clinton not experienced major failures, such as the “reset” with Russia and collapse of security in Libya following her administration’s “leading from behind” intervention, she wouldn’t need any major accomplishments to justify her time there. It’s just that she could really use a better resume to at least offset the damage she did.

Kerry, however, doesn’t believe in diplomatic pacing or modesty; he wants to be present at the creation–of something. Hence his disastrous stream of diplomatic crises, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Iran to Syria to Russia. Kerry’s approach to American diplomacy is best understood as the Foggy Bottom version of the broken windows theory of economics. He will stimulate a demand for American diplomacy, whatever it takes. If there isn’t a four-alarm diplomatic fire–well, Kerry happens to have a box of matches on him.

It would be more helpful to Clinton if she could run against Kerry’s record as a contrast to her own. That’s tricky, but she’ll probably have to do so in some form. She might cast herself as more cynical toward Russia’s intentions, skeptical of Iranian “reform,” and supportive of Israel, for example, in a subtle but intentional way of responding to questions about her success by hinting that, at least, she did not set any raging fires. It’s not particularly compelling, but it’s the best she’s got.

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Iran’s Gas Exports Rise 258 Percent

In the year prior to the start of the Obama administration’s preliminary talks with Iran, the Iranian Statistics Agency had reported that the Iranian economy had contracted 5.4 percent. Iranian authorities were desperate for cash in order to be able to make payroll; had they not, public protests might have made the 2009 protests look like a stroll in the park.

Providing $7 billion in sanctions relief to get Iran to the table largely fulfilled the Iranian government’s objectives before negotiations really even began: It was the diplomatic equivalent of giving a five-year-old dessert first and then expecting him to come and eat his spinach.

While Obama administration officials say that they can restore the sanctions regime should Iran not comply with its commitments, such a statement is doubtful given the windfall which the Iranian government is currently reaping. Take the latest Iranian report on its gas industry:

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In the year prior to the start of the Obama administration’s preliminary talks with Iran, the Iranian Statistics Agency had reported that the Iranian economy had contracted 5.4 percent. Iranian authorities were desperate for cash in order to be able to make payroll; had they not, public protests might have made the 2009 protests look like a stroll in the park.

Providing $7 billion in sanctions relief to get Iran to the table largely fulfilled the Iranian government’s objectives before negotiations really even began: It was the diplomatic equivalent of giving a five-year-old dessert first and then expecting him to come and eat his spinach.

While Obama administration officials say that they can restore the sanctions regime should Iran not comply with its commitments, such a statement is doubtful given the windfall which the Iranian government is currently reaping. Take the latest Iranian report on its gas industry:

Iran’s gas exports reached 195.000 barrels daily over the first 8 months of the last Iranian calender year (started from March 20-November 20). It then climbed to 504.000 barrels daily in the last four months of the year. Iran’s gas exports rose by 258 percent after signing the deal with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany in November.  Iran’s gas exports earnings totaled $10.295 billion in 2013, raising by 15.93 percent

Let’s put this in perspective: If the official budget of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is around $5 billion per year, then Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have effectively bought that terrorist group two years for free. To be fair, the IRGC makes more money off-books through its smuggling activities and shell corporations, but so many of those are actually involved in the energy sector, so the problem might be even worse.

Albert Einstein quipped that insanity was taking the same action repeatedly, but expecting different results each time. Between 2000 and 2005, the European Union more than doubled trade with Iran in order to encourage reform; what it received was about 70 percent of that hard currency windfall interjected directly into Iran’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs. Alas, rather than cripple and curtail Iran’s nuclear program and breakout capability, Obama’s policies might actually accelerate them should the Iranian regime feign grievance and walk away from the talks.

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Why Netanyahu Won’t “Go Big”

It turns out the Middle East peace process isn’t quite dead yet. According to the State Department, the “gaps are narrowing” in the talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that are still taking place despite the fact that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas formally scuttled the negotiations last week by restarting his futile efforts to gain recognition for Palestinian statehood via the United Nations. Combined with a statement made by Abbas to an Arabic newspaper that he would be willing to keep talking after the expiration of the April deadline provided they were conducted according to his dictates, Secretary of State John Kerry’s brave talk about his initiative still having a chance of success looks a little less silly today.

Nevertheless, given that the Palestinians haven’t really budged an inch on any substantive issue since the talks re-started last year and that Kerry blamed Israel for what happened last week in a statement as bizarre (“poof”) as it was mendacious, it’s hard to see why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be inclined to play along with this farce any longer. Having already demonstrated that they are only interested in forcing Israel to pay for their presence at the table with concessions like the release of terrorist murderers or building freezes in the West Bank or even Jerusalem, it’s clear that Israel has little to gain from more such negotiations. But if the Palestinians do keep talking after April, there’s no doubt that the Israelis will be there too, even if it means bribing Abbas by freeing more murderers. The reason for this will not be because Netanyahu is weak or that the process has an actual chance of success. It will be due to the fact that the prime minister understands that Israel must never walk away from negotiations no matter how futile they are. Moreover, the futility of these efforts is precisely why he knows that his government must not, despite Kerry’s smears, be the one that breaks up the party.

Some Israeli right-wingers fear that Netanyahu will soon break under American pressure and embrace territorial withdrawals while perhaps not even getting a symbolic promise that this means the end of the conflict from Abbas. They’re not the only ones. Faithful Obama administration cheerleader Jeffrey Goldberg writes today in his latest column that the only reason Kerry is persisting in his efforts is because he thinks Netanyahu will do just that and, like Ariel Sharon before him, blow up his Likud Party and transform Israeli politics to get peace. But the problem with this scenario is the one point that even Goldberg concedes is the weak point in Kerry’s efforts: Abbas. The Palestinian has no intention of signing a peace deal under any circumstances.

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It turns out the Middle East peace process isn’t quite dead yet. According to the State Department, the “gaps are narrowing” in the talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that are still taking place despite the fact that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas formally scuttled the negotiations last week by restarting his futile efforts to gain recognition for Palestinian statehood via the United Nations. Combined with a statement made by Abbas to an Arabic newspaper that he would be willing to keep talking after the expiration of the April deadline provided they were conducted according to his dictates, Secretary of State John Kerry’s brave talk about his initiative still having a chance of success looks a little less silly today.

Nevertheless, given that the Palestinians haven’t really budged an inch on any substantive issue since the talks re-started last year and that Kerry blamed Israel for what happened last week in a statement as bizarre (“poof”) as it was mendacious, it’s hard to see why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be inclined to play along with this farce any longer. Having already demonstrated that they are only interested in forcing Israel to pay for their presence at the table with concessions like the release of terrorist murderers or building freezes in the West Bank or even Jerusalem, it’s clear that Israel has little to gain from more such negotiations. But if the Palestinians do keep talking after April, there’s no doubt that the Israelis will be there too, even if it means bribing Abbas by freeing more murderers. The reason for this will not be because Netanyahu is weak or that the process has an actual chance of success. It will be due to the fact that the prime minister understands that Israel must never walk away from negotiations no matter how futile they are. Moreover, the futility of these efforts is precisely why he knows that his government must not, despite Kerry’s smears, be the one that breaks up the party.

Some Israeli right-wingers fear that Netanyahu will soon break under American pressure and embrace territorial withdrawals while perhaps not even getting a symbolic promise that this means the end of the conflict from Abbas. They’re not the only ones. Faithful Obama administration cheerleader Jeffrey Goldberg writes today in his latest column that the only reason Kerry is persisting in his efforts is because he thinks Netanyahu will do just that and, like Ariel Sharon before him, blow up his Likud Party and transform Israeli politics to get peace. But the problem with this scenario is the one point that even Goldberg concedes is the weak point in Kerry’s efforts: Abbas. The Palestinian has no intention of signing a peace deal under any circumstances.

If Netanyahu is, despite everything, going to keep showing up every time the Americans beckon, it isn’t because he is now suddenly willing to “go big” and make peace happen. Though his offer was not quite as generous (or should we say foolhardy) as the ones authored by his predecessors Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, he has still put a two-state solution offering Abbas almost all of the West Bank for an independent state. But the notion that peace depends on the person whom Goldberg derides as “this man of inaction” to “risk his political career for a final deal” is laughable. Indeed, by writing these words, Goldberg has more or less forfeited his status as an expert on the Middle East in favor of the title of faithful court stenographer to Kerry.

Before these talks started, wiser heads than Kerry warned the secretary that with the Palestinians divided between the Fatah-run West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza, Abbas was in no position to make peace. Everything that has happened since then has only confirmed that obvious fact as Abbas has stonewalled during the talks and seized on the first available pretext to flee them.

No prisoner release or settlement freeze will entice Abbas to say the two little words—“Jewish state”—that would indicate he was willing to end rather than pause the conflict with Israel. Nor is there anything that Netanyahu can conceivably do or say that would cause this aging, petty tyrant to risk his life merely to create a Palestinian state. Even nailing himself to the cross of settlement destruction—to use the inapt metaphor that Goldberg says is preferred by Vice President Biden—won’t get Abbas to make peace, and Netanyahu knows it. Though President Obama and Kerry laud Abbas as a man of peace, his unwillingness to speak of an end of the conflict indicates that he is no more willing to compromise and accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn than Arafat was.

That leaves Netanyahu with the unpleasant task of managing a conflict that can’t be solved by peace or war. That means showing up for peace talks but having no illusions about it being a fool’s errand. In doing so he may appear to Kerry and his friend Goldberg as a mere “mayor of Israel.” Netanyahu may be a prickly customer who inspires animus in most of his American interlocutors, but he is not stupid. Destroying the Likud to impress Kerry may sound like vision to Goldberg but Netanyahu remembers what happened when Ariel Sharon tried the same thing less than a decade ago before his Gaza withdrawal fiasco. The prime minister has no intention of sacrificing himself just to give Abbas one more chance to prove he can’t or won’t make peace. Anyone, in Israel or the United States, who thinks he will is underestimating both his intelligence and his political acumen.

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Israel Has Few Options With Palestinians

The Palestinian Authority has thumbed its nose at both Israel and the peace talks sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry. By making it clear that it won’t back a U.S. framework for continued negotiations or to agree to any of the mainly symbolic measures that would indicate they are willing to end the conflict with Israel, it’s clear PA leader Mahmoud Abbas seized on the first flimsy pretext for walking out on the talks that came along. The fact that he has been rewarded for this intransigence with a mendacious statement from Kerry to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that turned the truth on its head and placed the blame for the collapse of his initiative on Israel will only make it even less likely that Abbas will be more amenable in the future. That leaves both the U.S. and the parties with the dilemma of what to do next.

Abbas is happily returning to the Palestinians’ pointless campaign for more recognition from the United Nations and its constituent organizations. That won’t do a thing for the Palestinian people either in terms of their desire for independence or their crying need for a better government both in the Fatah-run West Bank and in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Kerry is pondering how to find an excuse for a continuation of his fool’s errand in the Middle East.  Common sense as well as the interests of the Obama administration would indicate that putting the entire enterprise on hold is both the better part of valor and an opportunity to devote his department to more important foreign policy problems.

But it is Israel that is in the most delicate position of the three parts to this love/hate triangle. They would like to put pressure on the Palestinians to get back to the table and to do something to make it clear to Kerry that he won’t get away with scapegoating the Jewish state. But options for doing either of those things are neither palatable nor in the country’s best interests.

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The Palestinian Authority has thumbed its nose at both Israel and the peace talks sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry. By making it clear that it won’t back a U.S. framework for continued negotiations or to agree to any of the mainly symbolic measures that would indicate they are willing to end the conflict with Israel, it’s clear PA leader Mahmoud Abbas seized on the first flimsy pretext for walking out on the talks that came along. The fact that he has been rewarded for this intransigence with a mendacious statement from Kerry to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that turned the truth on its head and placed the blame for the collapse of his initiative on Israel will only make it even less likely that Abbas will be more amenable in the future. That leaves both the U.S. and the parties with the dilemma of what to do next.

Abbas is happily returning to the Palestinians’ pointless campaign for more recognition from the United Nations and its constituent organizations. That won’t do a thing for the Palestinian people either in terms of their desire for independence or their crying need for a better government both in the Fatah-run West Bank and in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Kerry is pondering how to find an excuse for a continuation of his fool’s errand in the Middle East.  Common sense as well as the interests of the Obama administration would indicate that putting the entire enterprise on hold is both the better part of valor and an opportunity to devote his department to more important foreign policy problems.

But it is Israel that is in the most delicate position of the three parts to this love/hate triangle. They would like to put pressure on the Palestinians to get back to the table and to do something to make it clear to Kerry that he won’t get away with scapegoating the Jewish state. But options for doing either of those things are neither palatable nor in the country’s best interests.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government are rightly outraged by Kerry’s offhand swipe at them yesterday when he claimed that the announcement of a housing project in a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem was the reason the talks collapsed. Not only did that have nothing to do with the Palestinian decision to bug out of the process, it was also false to claim that Israel had ever promised not to build in its capital, let alone in established areas that no one questions would stay in the Jewish state even in the event of a peace treaty. But there is little the Israelis can do to make their displeasure with the Americans felt that would not harm an alliance that is essential to its security. While Netanyahu has proved in the past that attacks on his policy of defending the unity of the capital only serve to strengthen him, venting anger at Kerry won’t accomplish anything. As with past insults delivered by President Obama, Netanyahu knows all too well that keeping his powder dry is the best, indeed, only option.

But Israel does have substantial leverage over the Palestinians. The PA depends on Israel for all sorts of revenue as well as on cooperation to keep their ramshackle government and the shoddy services it provides its people from collapse. Even more important, cooperation between the Israeli military and intelligence apparatus does more than deter terrorism against the Jewish state. It also ensures the personal survival of Abbas and his Fatah faction against potential trouble from Hamas and Islamic Jihad. If Israel really pulled the plug on the PA — rather than just taking symbolic steps such as Netanyahu’s order to end meetings between Israeli officials and their Palestinian counterparts, the Fatah apparatus would collapse.

While that sounds good to Israelis who dream of formal annexation of the West Bank in a one state solution that would exclude any Palestinian self-government, that is the last thing Netanyahu wants. The PA foments terrorism and incites hatred of Jews and Israel in its official media. People who have made it clear they won’t make peace with Israel under virtually any circumstances — as Abbas proved in 2008 when he fled talks with Ehud Olmert rather than accept independence — run it. But at this point it is also a necessary evil that Netanyahu understands that he must tolerate.

Without the PA, the task of maintaining Israel’s security would be even tougher. Nor is anyone in Jerusalem seriously interested in returning to the pre-Oslo status quo where the Israelis directly administered the West Bank. Netanyahu can make his displeasure with the PA felt for its UN gambit. But there are limits to how far he can go in punishing them that have nothing to do with American pressure.

Netanyahu would be foolish to go on releasing terrorist murderers to bribe Abbas to come back to the negotiations. Nor should he be asked to make any other unilateral concessions merely for the sake of talks that Abbas does not wish to advance no matter what he was offered. But this is perhaps the moment for him to return to a theme he has sounded in the past about helping make the West Bank more livable via economic development. Now that he has rid himself of the reform-minded Salam Fayyad as his prime minister, Abbas no longer has to pretend he cares much about good government. But it is on this point that he is most vulnerable. Managing the conflict rather than solving it remains the only short-term solution to either side. If Kerry wanted to do something constructive rather than promote a process that is fueled more by his ego than any reasonable prospects of success, that’s what he’d be emphasizing. But in the absence of such a change of heart, Israel has little choice but to sit tight and await the next move by both Kerry and Abbas.

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The Fierce Urgency of the Next Five Years

In his prepared testimony yesterday, Secretary of State Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “this is a world where American engagement is absolutely critical,” because “no other nation can give people the confidence to come together and confront the most difficult challenges the way the United States can and must.” He related that he hears this particularly about the Middle East peace process — “where I have yet to meet anyone who has argued to me that it’s going to be any easier next week, next year, five years from now.”  

I wish I could meet Secretary Kerry, so he would have to amend that last statement. 

Or perhaps he should just schedule a meeting with Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who last Sunday on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS said he is not only “skeptical” that the situation is “ripe for peace,” but believes it has occupied too much of Secretary Kerry’s time:

I think what we have to admit is that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, while it’s of importance to Israelis and Palestinians, it’s become a local dispute. It won’t affect the dynamics of the Middle East. It’s not going to affect the trajectory of the civil war in Syria or what’s going on in Egypt between the government and the Muslim Brotherhood or what’s happening elsewhere. This has become a local dispute, that, quite honestly, is not worthy of the time and attention the secretary of state and the United States are giving.

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process is irrelevant to the situation in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, North Korea, the South China Sea — all of which present challenges more serious and direct to American foreign policy than a peace process in which the Palestinians cannot even bring themselves to endorse “two states for two peoples.”

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In his prepared testimony yesterday, Secretary of State Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “this is a world where American engagement is absolutely critical,” because “no other nation can give people the confidence to come together and confront the most difficult challenges the way the United States can and must.” He related that he hears this particularly about the Middle East peace process — “where I have yet to meet anyone who has argued to me that it’s going to be any easier next week, next year, five years from now.”  

I wish I could meet Secretary Kerry, so he would have to amend that last statement. 

Or perhaps he should just schedule a meeting with Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who last Sunday on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS said he is not only “skeptical” that the situation is “ripe for peace,” but believes it has occupied too much of Secretary Kerry’s time:

I think what we have to admit is that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, while it’s of importance to Israelis and Palestinians, it’s become a local dispute. It won’t affect the dynamics of the Middle East. It’s not going to affect the trajectory of the civil war in Syria or what’s going on in Egypt between the government and the Muslim Brotherhood or what’s happening elsewhere. This has become a local dispute, that, quite honestly, is not worthy of the time and attention the secretary of state and the United States are giving.

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process is irrelevant to the situation in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, North Korea, the South China Sea — all of which present challenges more serious and direct to American foreign policy than a peace process in which the Palestinians cannot even bring themselves to endorse “two states for two peoples.”

 

Not next week — and probably not next year either — but maybe five years from now, the Palestinians will have an elected president, not someone more than five years past the end of his term. Perhaps they will have a president who can travel in both halves of their putative state. Perhaps they will have a president who condemns the morality of suicide bombers and groups that fire rockets at civilians, instead of simply asserting the methods are not prudent. Perhaps they will have a president who dismantles those terrorist groups, as he once promised, instead of dedicating public space to terrorist “heroes.” Perhaps the Palestinian president will endorse a Jewish state, instead of constantly re-iterating he never will, even in a “peace agreement.” Perhaps he will give a Bir Zeit speech to match the Israeli prime minister’s Bar-Ilan one. Perhaps he will give Israelis confidence that, when the Palestinians sign an agreement not to take “any step” outside bilateral negotiations with Israel, the Palestinians will actually adhere to their agreement, instead of repeatedly violate it and then ask for pre-negotiation concessions for their agreement to observe it for a few more months.

And I suspect there are more people out there, besides Richard Haass and me, who believe there are urgent foreign policy problems the U.S. is currently ignoring in its messianic quest for a Middle East peace agreement — problems that require leadership from the front, rather than self-congratulation for an asserted ability to “give people the confidence to come together.”

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Kerry Seems to Be Aiming for Bad Iran Deal

Listening to members of the administration talk about Iran’s nuclear program, it’s often difficult to tell quite what kind of timescale they think we’re on. At the beginning of his first term, President Obama gave the impression of having all the time in the world, and he has certainly used enough of it; during the course of which Iran has only lurched increasingly closer to having weapons capabilities. Understandably, countries in the region that are easily within range of a nuclear Iran—particularly Israel and the Sunni Gulf states—are a little more nervous. What is indeed concerning is the way that the administration’s estimates for when Iran could reach breakout capabilities keep on changing, and not for the better.

Secretary of State John Kerry is now saying that the U.S. believes Iran to be two months away from having breakout levels of enriched uranium. Yet, much less than a year ago the administration was claiming that we were at least a year or more away from that point. So either the administration’s estimates are inaccurate and unreliable or in the period since sanctions were partially lifted and negotiations began Iran has massively advanced in its program. Neither possibility will fill America’s allies–or anyone else for that matter–with any confidence about Obama and Kerry’s handling of the Iran threat, which may soon become the Iran crisis.

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Listening to members of the administration talk about Iran’s nuclear program, it’s often difficult to tell quite what kind of timescale they think we’re on. At the beginning of his first term, President Obama gave the impression of having all the time in the world, and he has certainly used enough of it; during the course of which Iran has only lurched increasingly closer to having weapons capabilities. Understandably, countries in the region that are easily within range of a nuclear Iran—particularly Israel and the Sunni Gulf states—are a little more nervous. What is indeed concerning is the way that the administration’s estimates for when Iran could reach breakout capabilities keep on changing, and not for the better.

Secretary of State John Kerry is now saying that the U.S. believes Iran to be two months away from having breakout levels of enriched uranium. Yet, much less than a year ago the administration was claiming that we were at least a year or more away from that point. So either the administration’s estimates are inaccurate and unreliable or in the period since sanctions were partially lifted and negotiations began Iran has massively advanced in its program. Neither possibility will fill America’s allies–or anyone else for that matter–with any confidence about Obama and Kerry’s handling of the Iran threat, which may soon become the Iran crisis.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Secretary Kerry reported the time-period for what he described as “so-called breakout” is “about two months.” Contrast this with the fact that back in October, shortly before the announcement of November’s interim agreement between Iran and the P5+1 countries, Obama claimed that that same breakout point was at least a year or more away. The interim agreement awards Iran partial relief from sanctions in return for Iran agreeing to reduce its enrichment activities and its cooperation with both inspections and negotiations that are supposed to move us towards a final agreement with Iran. So are we to assume that, as had been feared by many, the interim period has allowed Iran a window in which to speed ahead with enrichment? There are only two other alternatives. One is that the administration’s own ability to assess Iran’s progress is dangerously limited, the other is that for political reasons Obama was intentionally underestimating Iran’s progress; most likely to undermine public and Congressional support for tougher action against Iran.

If all of that wasn’t alarming enough, then Kerry’s apparent lack of clarity about his objectives with Iran are all the more so. Obama has already been dropping hints about being “realistic” as far as a final deal is concerned; the implication being that it will be some kind of trade off that won’t definitively end Iran’s nuclear capacities. Time and time again Kerry has claimed that he would prefer no deal to a bad deal, yet speaking before the Senate committee it sounded a lot like a bad deal is precisely what is in the making.

When asked whether a breakout window of up to a year was now the goal of negotiations, the Secretary faltered, as if he had let something slip that he shouldn’t have. “So six months to 12 months is – I’m not saying that’s what we’d settle for, but even that is significantly more,” Kerry responded to the question. It seems that the administration thinks we should be grateful if they manage to drag Iran back to the six month point, half what they claimed we were looking at back in the fall. Kerry makes no commitment as to whether they would settle for that or not, but simply assures us that this is much better than what we have right now. The problem is that with the administration’s margin for error apparently so wide when it comes to these predictions, and with the period of time in play being so narrow, it seems plausible that Iran could cross the threshold to full breakout capabilities before anyone has time to sound the alarm and figure out what to do.

Amidst this latest round of negotiations to end Iran’s illegal nuclear program, this time taking place back in Vienna, Iran celebrated a rather curious national holiday; National Day of Nuclear Technology. During the festivities Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared that Iran’s “nuclear achievements are unstoppable.” We live in disconcerting times when the words of Iran’s grand ayatollah are more convincing than those of the secretary of state.   

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Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

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?

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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. 

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“Solving” Israel to Solve the Conflict

With the Israeli-Palestinian talks at an impasse, now would be the time for some fresh thinking on how to move forward. Two pieces have appeared in recent days offering advice on what could be done to make progress. Both are written in a highly skeptical tone about the probability of success, yet both essentially offer the same suggested remedy. Although they come at it from slightly different angles, when it comes down to it what they both propose is a pretty simple formula: more pressure on Israel. And while these writers may temper their arguments with a certain pessimism toward the process, they still tap into a more commonly held notion about Israeli concessions being the gateway to harmony in the region.

Writing for the Nation, Bob Dreyfuss argues that the United States must first posit its own detailed outline of what a final agreement should look like. Then what will be needed is an almighty amount of pressure to be brought against rejectionist Israel and, in all probability, the bringing down of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “ultra-right” coalition. The other piece that comes to mind here is one by Aaron David Miller that appeared in the New Republic under the title Five Lessons That Could Save John Kerry’s Peace-Process Efforts. Miller served as an advisor to Secretary of State James Baker, and so perhaps unsurprisingly Miller recommends applying Baker’s approach. If it were possible to summarize the Baker doctrine on peace in the Middle East, it might be: the application of unrelenting and non-negotiable pressure on Israel. Miller paints this strategy as having been some unprecedented example of how to operate with success. While U.S.-Israel relations became more strained during that period than they have ever been under Obama, it is not clear what Baker and Miller actually achieved for all their trouble.

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With the Israeli-Palestinian talks at an impasse, now would be the time for some fresh thinking on how to move forward. Two pieces have appeared in recent days offering advice on what could be done to make progress. Both are written in a highly skeptical tone about the probability of success, yet both essentially offer the same suggested remedy. Although they come at it from slightly different angles, when it comes down to it what they both propose is a pretty simple formula: more pressure on Israel. And while these writers may temper their arguments with a certain pessimism toward the process, they still tap into a more commonly held notion about Israeli concessions being the gateway to harmony in the region.

Writing for the Nation, Bob Dreyfuss argues that the United States must first posit its own detailed outline of what a final agreement should look like. Then what will be needed is an almighty amount of pressure to be brought against rejectionist Israel and, in all probability, the bringing down of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “ultra-right” coalition. The other piece that comes to mind here is one by Aaron David Miller that appeared in the New Republic under the title Five Lessons That Could Save John Kerry’s Peace-Process Efforts. Miller served as an advisor to Secretary of State James Baker, and so perhaps unsurprisingly Miller recommends applying Baker’s approach. If it were possible to summarize the Baker doctrine on peace in the Middle East, it might be: the application of unrelenting and non-negotiable pressure on Israel. Miller paints this strategy as having been some unprecedented example of how to operate with success. While U.S.-Israel relations became more strained during that period than they have ever been under Obama, it is not clear what Baker and Miller actually achieved for all their trouble.

Both of these pieces are only able to pursue their line of argument by refusing to acknowledge the full reality of recent events. The line that Israel is impossibly intransigent has simply become enshrined as a doctrine unalterable by real events. Dreyfuss’s recounting of the collapse of the latest talks is an all but unrecognizable version of reality. He protests that Netanyahu breached his commitments by expanding settlements and refused to release the last group of prisoners. But settlements were never subject to the concessions the Palestinians were bribed with before they would consent to their participation in talks. In any case, the last round of prisoners would have been released like all the others had the Palestinians not announced that they were about to leave talks regardless of how many additional terrorists Israel offered to let lose.  

In Dreufuss’s view pressure on the Israeli side is warranted because Palestinian leader Abbas is essentially powerless. Yet if that’s true then it might legitimately be asked whether Abbas really has the ability to give Israelis any reliable assurances of peace in return for concessions that greatly weaken Israel’s security if those assurances aren’t guaranteed. Indeed, in both the case of Miller and Dreyfuss’s article, one wonders why, if the deal on offer is really evenhanded and promises an end to the conflict, would the Israelis need so much pressuring?

Miller’s piece acknowledges that under present circumstances there is little to be gained from pressuring either side. Yet Miller seems convinced that in the event that there was an opening for peace, it would be the Israelis that would need to be forced into it and he expresses his concern that this administration hasn’t got what it takes to get tough with Israel. Not like in the good old days of Baker when the U.S. would withhold loan guarantees needed to help absorb Jews from the former Soviet Union as punishment for Prime Minister Shamir not agreeing to the additional demand of freezing construction in Jerusalem as well as the West Bank. All that any of this achieved was the spectacle of the Madrid conference, which pandered to Arab demands for an international conference from which to condemn Zionism.

Perhaps it would be claimed that Madrid somehow opened the way toward the Oslo accords, but since neither side considers that to have been an overwhelming success, it’s not clear why we should celebrate Baker’s conference. Indeed, a more concrete result of the Baker diplomacy was the move to frame Israel as the problem and thus assault its underlying legitimacy. This is the assumption that both of these pieces rest on; that to solve the conflict you must first solve Israel.

Dreyfuss has a couple of telling things to say about such a solution. As well as claiming that everyone knows what that solution will look like he also claims that “Israel holds all the high cards.” The arguments put forward by Dreyfuss and Miller are really the logical conclusion of believing that this is a territorial conflict, in which case by holding the territory Israel does hold all the high cards, and so, Israel is the problem for blocking peace by retaining territory. As such, Israel will remain vilified until it can make the case that this conflict has never been about two states, but rather the destruction of one state: the Jewish state.  

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Hagel and Dempsey vs. the Straw Men

The Wall Street Journal has a story today on the division in the administration over greater intervention in Syria. The internal divide, we are told, pits Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Ambassador Samantha Power, who want to do more to train and arm the Syrian opposition and possibly support them with air strikes, against Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who argue, in essence, for inaction.

The most significant sentence in the article? “It isn’t clear where Mr. Obama stands.” That, in fact, is the nub of the problem. The fact that the Pentagon is opposed to intervention isn’t terribly surprising–the Pentagon has either been opposed to, or skeptical of, just about every foreign military intervention since Vietnam with the exception of Afghanistan and Iraq post-9/11. And sometimes more caution has been warranted–something, alas, that Pentagon leaders, both civilian and military, lost sight of during the planning for the Iraq invasion. But at other times–e.g., the interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s–the Pentagon has been overly cautious and civilian leaders were right to override military objections.

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The Wall Street Journal has a story today on the division in the administration over greater intervention in Syria. The internal divide, we are told, pits Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Ambassador Samantha Power, who want to do more to train and arm the Syrian opposition and possibly support them with air strikes, against Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who argue, in essence, for inaction.

The most significant sentence in the article? “It isn’t clear where Mr. Obama stands.” That, in fact, is the nub of the problem. The fact that the Pentagon is opposed to intervention isn’t terribly surprising–the Pentagon has either been opposed to, or skeptical of, just about every foreign military intervention since Vietnam with the exception of Afghanistan and Iraq post-9/11. And sometimes more caution has been warranted–something, alas, that Pentagon leaders, both civilian and military, lost sight of during the planning for the Iraq invasion. But at other times–e.g., the interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s–the Pentagon has been overly cautious and civilian leaders were right to override military objections.

But that’s only possible when you have leadership from the president. In this case you don’t. Which is why the Defense Department has been able to get away with shoddy arguments such as this one: “If it weren’t for the chairman, you would be right back in Iraq or Afghanistan,” a senior defense official told the Journal. Huh? Is anyone–anyone–proposing sending 100,000-plus ground troops to Syria? Or any ground troops at all? Not that I’ve heard. This is a totally bogus argument but one that no doubt resonates with a president who won office in no small part on the strength of his opposition to the conflict in Iraq.

What the cautious leadership of the Pentagon is losing sight of is a point that has been made to me by a number of active-duty military officers: namely, that there is not only danger but a great opportunity in Syria. We have the potential to do great damage Hezbollah, the Quds Force, and al-Qaeda in Iraq and Syria, three of the most potent anti-American terrorist organizations in the world. The Free Syrian Army is eager to fight all three groups if we would only provide them the arms and training to do so. If the U.S. were to use its airpower, that would truly provide an opportunity to wreak havoc among our enemies while running scant risks ourselves: Syrian air defense could be quickly disabled and as long as we don’t put troops on the ground (aside from a few Special Operators and intelligence operatives) we would be unlikely to suffer any casualties.

But that is a course of action that would require more boldness and decisiveness than we have seen from the Oval Office at any time since the Osama bin Laden raid nearly three years ago.

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What Is Standing in Putin’s Way in Eastern Ukraine?

Uh oh. Here we go again. Fresh off swallowing Crimea, Vladimir Putin may well be yearning not for peace but for another piece of Ukraine. At least that’s the concern raised by carefully orchestrated pro-Russian demonstrations in Donetsk and other cities in the eastern part of Ukraine where, before Russian TV cameras, the Russian minority is demanding Anschluss with the Motherland. 

John Kerry was quick to note, no doubt accurately, that these events are hardly spontaneous given the recent arrest of Russian intelligence agents in Ukraine. It is not hard to imagine a scenario unfolding whereby, once again repeating his favorite excuse for aggression–protecting Russian minority rights–Putin will send the Russian army rolling across the frontier. It would certainly not be a difficult military operation to carry out, given that the Russian forces are already mobilized ostensibly to carry out “exercises” and given the lack of military capacity in the Ukrainian army to oppose such an incursion.

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Uh oh. Here we go again. Fresh off swallowing Crimea, Vladimir Putin may well be yearning not for peace but for another piece of Ukraine. At least that’s the concern raised by carefully orchestrated pro-Russian demonstrations in Donetsk and other cities in the eastern part of Ukraine where, before Russian TV cameras, the Russian minority is demanding Anschluss with the Motherland. 

John Kerry was quick to note, no doubt accurately, that these events are hardly spontaneous given the recent arrest of Russian intelligence agents in Ukraine. It is not hard to imagine a scenario unfolding whereby, once again repeating his favorite excuse for aggression–protecting Russian minority rights–Putin will send the Russian army rolling across the frontier. It would certainly not be a difficult military operation to carry out, given that the Russian forces are already mobilized ostensibly to carry out “exercises” and given the lack of military capacity in the Ukrainian army to oppose such an incursion.

What, one wonders, is standing in the way of another semi-covert invasion followed by outright annexation? The only real obstacle would seem to be any concerns Putin might have about the consequences of such aggression. Kerry, after all, has warned the Russian president he will face “further costs” for such a move. But given the fact that the costs to Russia of annexing Crimea have been minimal–and given the complete loss of American credibility post-Syria when it comes to drawing “red lines” for dictators–one must conclude that it is only Putin’s self-restraint that is preventing a further expansion of the Russian Empire. And given Putin’s track record, both at home and abroad, of grabbing as much power as possible for himself, betting on his goodwill is not a very good guarantee of Ukraine’s continued territorial integrity.

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Abbas Bets on Kerry’s Desperation

The Palestinians have had a fairly willing enabler in John Kerry so far, but if today’s New York Times report is right, they may have finally overplayed their hand. According to the Times, both sides have asked Martin Indyk to extend the talks, which were on the verge of disintegration after the Palestinians walked away. But the Palestinians are now saying they can be lured back to the table … for a price.

Apparently the Palestinians will resume negotiations on the principle that the negotiations never actually ended as long as the Israelis are made to act as though the talks crumbled and the resumption is actually a new round starting from scratch. Here’s the logic, such as it is:

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The Palestinians have had a fairly willing enabler in John Kerry so far, but if today’s New York Times report is right, they may have finally overplayed their hand. According to the Times, both sides have asked Martin Indyk to extend the talks, which were on the verge of disintegration after the Palestinians walked away. But the Palestinians are now saying they can be lured back to the table … for a price.

Apparently the Palestinians will resume negotiations on the principle that the negotiations never actually ended as long as the Israelis are made to act as though the talks crumbled and the resumption is actually a new round starting from scratch. Here’s the logic, such as it is:

Mr. Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israel would take its own “unilateral steps” in response to the Palestinians’ move last week to join 15 international treaties and conventions and reiterated that a Palestinian state could be created “only through direct negotiations, not through empty statements and not by unilateral moves.”

The Palestinians said they took the contentious step only because Israel reneged on a promise to release a group of long-serving prisoners by the end of March, breaking its own commitment as part of the negotiations.

So that’s step one: the pretext. The Palestinians say they took their unilateral steps because Israel didn’t release all the murderers it was supposed to. Those unilateral steps consisted of pushing applications to join various international conventions. According to this logic, if Israel releases the rest of those terrorists, the talks should resume. Except:

Muhammad Shtayyeh, a senior Palestinian official who resigned as a negotiator in the midst of the current talks, said on Monday that Mr. Abbas’s application to join the international entities was “irreversible” and represented a “paradigm shift” in which Palestinians would pursue other options in parallel with bilateral negotiations. But he, too, suggested that there could yet be a way out of the crisis.

“We are keeping the door open for any serious talks,” he said at a briefing in Ramallah. “We have time between today and the 29th of April. If the Israeli side is serious, we are ready for that.”

So there’s no going back. But there is a way to salvage the talks, according to the Palestinians. More concessions from Israel, with no concurrent Palestinian concessions, will bring them back to the table:

Mr. Shtayyeh rejected Israel’s demand that the applications to the entities be withdrawn and said Palestinians want to separate the issues of the release of the promised fourth batch of prisoners from that of extending the timetable for the talks. He said extending negotiations would require either a freeze on construction in West Bank settlements or the Israeli presentation of a map outlining the future borders of the promised two states.

So the two sides are to treat the negotiations as if they are beginning anew, not continuing the previous round of talks? Not exactly:

“The release of prisoners is part of an agreement, and no compromise can be accepted,” Yasser Abed Rabbo, a close aide to Mr. Abbas and an officer of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, said Sunday on the Voice of Palestine radio station.

Even if you are sympathetic to the Palestinian side in this argument, this is plainly transparent. If the Palestinians believe Israel must release the rest of the terrorists for talks to continue, then that should theoretically be the only requirement for Abbas to pretend to negotiate again. It would be appropriate for Abbas to then take back the unilateral action he claims he took in response to Israel’s action (or perceived inaction, as it were), since even he associates the two.

He doesn’t want to do that. He wants to exact a price for this delay. If you’re still with him so far, he gets the original prisoner release in order to return to negotiations plus a penalty of sorts against Israel for the delay by applying to join the international agencies and conventions. That should be it, right? Nope–Abbas wants another precondition, such as a settlement freeze, as though the process were starting from the beginning or Israel wouldn’t release the rest of the terrorists, when in fact he acts as though both were true.

What’s the argument in favor of a round of concessions as preconditions in addition to releasing the terrorists? Abbas is playing Kerry. He assumes that Kerry is sufficiently desperate for negotiations that he’ll lean on Netanyahu to give Abbas whatever he wants. In all likelihood, the Israeli Cabinet (except for Tzipi Livni) will get tired of this game, which suits Abbas just fine, since he doesn’t seem to want an actual peace deal but rather a disaster he can blame on the Israelis. The question is whether Kerry–or any representative of the Obama administration–can ever get tired of scapegoating Netanyahu.

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Reality Check? Kerry’s Is Long Overdue

Secretary of State John Kerry’s reaction to the collapse of his Middle East peace initiative was entirely predictable. Eschewing any responsibility for having personally stage-managed this fiasco, he told the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority in a statement that they needed to understand that he had better things to do if they weren’t willing to play ball. As the New York Times reported:

“There are limits to the amount of time and effort that the United States can spend if the parties themselves are unwilling to take constructive steps in order to be able to move forward,” said Mr. Kerry, who added it was “reality check time.”

He’s right about that, but if there is anyone involved with this mess that needs a reality check, it’s Kerry.

The secretary ignored the advice of wiser foreign-policy analysts who cautioned that there was no reason to believe there was a chance of forging a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. He then plunged head first into the process convinced that he could succeed where all others had failed, all the while warning the Israelis that they would face violence and boycotts if they didn’t do as he asked. But while both Kerry and President Obama continued to praise PA leader Mahmoud Abbas as a peacemaker, it was he who always had his eye on the exit sign from the talks.

Abbas seized on the first pretext he could find to flee the negotiations and now Kerry is left looking foolish. But the problem here is not whether Kerry might be better employed dealing with more urgent U.S. foreign-policy issues like the Russian attack on the Ukraine, the Iran nuclear talks, or even the human-rights catastrophe in Syria than in wasting more time trying to coax the Palestinians back to the table. It’s whether Kerry’s grasp of reality is so tenuous that rather than backing away from a no-win situation, he decides to double down and try to shove a U.S. peace plan down Israel’s throat.

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Secretary of State John Kerry’s reaction to the collapse of his Middle East peace initiative was entirely predictable. Eschewing any responsibility for having personally stage-managed this fiasco, he told the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority in a statement that they needed to understand that he had better things to do if they weren’t willing to play ball. As the New York Times reported:

“There are limits to the amount of time and effort that the United States can spend if the parties themselves are unwilling to take constructive steps in order to be able to move forward,” said Mr. Kerry, who added it was “reality check time.”

He’s right about that, but if there is anyone involved with this mess that needs a reality check, it’s Kerry.

The secretary ignored the advice of wiser foreign-policy analysts who cautioned that there was no reason to believe there was a chance of forging a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. He then plunged head first into the process convinced that he could succeed where all others had failed, all the while warning the Israelis that they would face violence and boycotts if they didn’t do as he asked. But while both Kerry and President Obama continued to praise PA leader Mahmoud Abbas as a peacemaker, it was he who always had his eye on the exit sign from the talks.

Abbas seized on the first pretext he could find to flee the negotiations and now Kerry is left looking foolish. But the problem here is not whether Kerry might be better employed dealing with more urgent U.S. foreign-policy issues like the Russian attack on the Ukraine, the Iran nuclear talks, or even the human-rights catastrophe in Syria than in wasting more time trying to coax the Palestinians back to the table. It’s whether Kerry’s grasp of reality is so tenuous that rather than backing away from a no-win situation, he decides to double down and try to shove a U.S. peace plan down Israel’s throat.

Kerry knows that throughout this process, it has been Israel who has been forced to pay for the talks with concessions. That was true before the talks began when it was pressured into promising to release more than 100 terrorist murderers to bribe Abbas to come back to the table. It was also true during the negotiations when Israel showed itself again to be willing to withdraw from almost all of the West Bank to create an independent Palestinian state while the Palestinians stonewalled.

It’s hard to believe Kerry is truly offended that the Israelis have been unwilling to release the last batch of murderers without some assurance from the Palestinians that they will keep talking after April or that he views this sensible decision as being somehow comparable to Abbas’s walkout and decision to go back to his quixotic effort to gain more recognition for his non-state from the United Nations. Abbas’s refusal to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state—a measure that indicates he is willing to end the conflict rather than merely pause it—as Kerry asked should have alerted the secretary to the fact that the Palestinians simply aren’t interested in an agreement.

This is the moment for a reality check in which Kerry finally grasps that the division between Abbas’s Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza is too great to allow the former to sign a peace treaty that will recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. But instead of pulling back from the process and realizing that all he has done is to take a stable, if unsatisfactory situation and increased the chances that it could blow up, there is now a very real possibility that he will make things even worse by trying to impose an American plan on the parties.

Such a plan would almost certainly involve territorial concessions for the Jewish state that go beyond previous offers including a more drastic (and unworkable) partition of Jerusalem. It may also leave out some of the elements that Kerry included in the peace framework that the Israelis accepted and the Palestinians rejected. These include security guarantees and the symbolic though important provisions that would commit the Palestinians to ending the conflict. But Kerry needs to realize that no matter what a U.S. plan says, Abbas hasn’t the will or the ability to sign a peace agreement.

The secretary has two choices. He can pull back from the talks and instead seek to manage the conflict and give the Palestinians incentives to work on developing better governance, infrastructure, and a free-market economy—things that former PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad tried and failed to create thanks to lack of support from Abbas and Fatah. Or he can dive even deeper into the abyss and make another explosion of violence even more likely by setting up an even bigger diplomatic failure with a U.S. plan that is certain to crash and burn.

If he doesn’t understand that the first of those two is the only rational alternative for the U.S. at this point, then perhaps it is President Obama who needs to impose a “reality check” on the State Department.

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