Two weeks have passed since President Obama spoke to an audience of Israeli students and urged them to pressure their government to make peace with the Palestinians. To further that aim, Secretary of State John Kerry is expected back in the country this week to push for a renewal of peace talks. Kerry will busy himself with shuttling between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. But while Kerry talks, the deteriorating cease-fire between Israel and Hamas along the Gaza border is illustrating the futile nature of his mission.
Palestinians fired rockets again into southern Israel from Gaza this week, showing that the cease-fire Hamas agreed to after Israel’s November counter-offensive to stop such outrages may be collapsing. This shows that despite Washington’s focus on propping up Abbas as a credible partner for peace, the independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza still has the ability to veto any hopes for an end to the conflict. But it also puts the entire enterprise of peacemaking in a different perspective. As much as the president seemed to place the onus for negotiating a deal on Israel, the armed terrorist camp in Gaza serves to not only maintain the level of violence on a low if persistent flame, but also keeps the pressure on Abbas to find more excuses to not talk to an Israeli government that has already said it will negotiate without preconditions. The reality of Palestinian politics has an unfortunate way of outstripping American diplomatic initiatives, something Obama should have taken into consideration before sending Kerry out on this latest fool’s errand.
Abbas has already demonstrated repeatedly that he is in no position to seriously negotiate peace with Israel, let alone sign such an agreement. But that isn’t stopping Kerry from diving into a new round of shuttle diplomacy any more than the reality of Hamas’s hegemony in Gaza is causing him to ponder the fact that a divided Palestinian leadership makes a deal impossible.
According to numerous reports, the current sticking point for getting Abbas back to the negotiating table is his demand that Israel release long-term security prisoners as a “goodwill gesture,” an issue that’s been prioritized because of sympathy generated by the death of a 64-year-old Palestinian in Israeli custody. But this is just one more of a long list of excuses that Abbas has trumped up in order to avoid talks rather than a genuine obstacle to peace.
The issue of the prisoners is often represented in the international press as one of concern for the fate of Palestinian protesters who have been unjustly jailed by Israelis in order to suppress dissent. But the prisoner who just died is a perfect illustration of just how misleading that assumption can be. The late prisoner was incarcerated for his role in sending a suicide bomber to blow up an Israeli café, not for conducting a peaceful protest or even throwing a rock.
As Kerry ought to know, the real obstacle to peace isn’t Israeli settlements or building in Jerusalem. It is the hate for Jews and Israel that is fueling the rocket fire from Gaza. But instead of trying to mollify Abbas’s bogus concerns about prisoners, the secretary would probably do more to advance the cause of peace were he to address the ongoing fomenting of hatred by the official PA media.
As Palestinian Media Watch reports, this month a children’s program on official Palestinian Authority television showed a child reciting a poem that referred to both Zionists and the “sons of pigs”—a traditional Muslim reference for Jews. The poem, which was received with applause, spoke of Jews killing children, raping women in the streets and defiling the Koran and Jerusalem, while urging Muslims to rise up and defeat them. So long as such expressions are not only considered mainstream enough for general Palestinian discourse but are part of the PA’s education agenda, peace isn’t difficult; it’s impossible.
This shows once again that the gaps between the two sides in the Middle East conflict are not about borders but about a willingness to live in peace. PA propaganda isn’t just outrageous; it directly contradicts President Obama’s endorsement of the right of Jews to live in peace in their historic homeland. Until that changes, Kerry’s shuttle diplomacy will be just a waste of time.