The slow-motion failure that is the revived Middle East peace process sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry is stumbling along with no sign of anything that might be considered progress by anyone’s definition. That this is so was eminently predictable, given the fact that the Palestinians are divided between Fatah and Hamas and unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, while under these circumstances the Israelis are loath to allow the West Bank become another Gaza. Indeed, just about everyone other than Kerry knew this was the case and pushing the parties back to the table at this point was bound to cause more trouble than any good that might come from it.
But the fact that his critics are being proven right seems to be angering Kerry, and he vented his spleen about this today in an interview on Israel’s Channel 2. But rather than seeking to jolt the Palestinians into a realistic view of their options or even giving a “plague on both your houses” approach in which he sought to preserve his status as an honest broker, Kerry threw caution to the winds and launched into a full-bore attack on the Israeli government and even the Israeli people for refusing to obey him by making concessions to the Palestinians.
Kerry’s main concern remains Israeli settlements, a term by which he clearly means not only Jewish towns in the West Bank but Jewish neighborhoods in parts of Jerusalem. He rejected the idea that by agreeing to come back to the negotiating table without an Israeli building freeze in these areas the Palestinians agreed to accept any incremental increase in the number of homes or Jews located there. More than that, as the Times of Israel reported, he seems to be placing all of the blame for the lack of peace on the settlements:
We do not believe the settlements are legitimate. We think they’re illegitimate. And we believe that the entire peace process would in fact be easier if these settlements were not taking place. …
“Let me ask you something. How, if you say you’re working for peace and you want peace, and a Palestine that is a whole Palestine that belongs to the people who live there, how can you say we’re planning to build in a place that will eventually be Palestine? So it sends a message that perhaps you’re not really serious.
This is significant not just because it places all the emphasis on the existence of settlements and none on the need of the Palestinians to renounce a “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees or their non-recognition of Israel as the Jewish state—moves that would signal an end to the conflict rather than merely a pause in it. It is also important because although later in the interview he said the formula for peace would involve land swaps, here he is speaking as if all of the West Bank and part of Jerusalem is, in principle, part of the putative state of Palestine. This illustrates the danger of using the 1967 lines as the starting point for negotiations since both the U.S. and the Palestinians are clearly taking any deviation from the dangerous borders that led to the Six-Day War as the given rather than a point to be negotiated. Moreover, in doing so he’s claiming that all of the areas that every peace processor has always assumed would stay within Israel will be Palestine.
In fact almost all of the building plans that he is complaining about are in Jerusalem neighborhoods and settlement blocs close to the old border where hundreds of thousands of Jews live and that no Israeli government will ever surrender. By speaking in this manner, Kerry seems to be undermining the entire idea of land swaps that peace advocates have counted on.
But Kerry is not only tilting heavily toward the Palestinian talking points; he’s also not shy about threatening Israel with Palestinian violence if they don’t do as he says.
Asking Israelis “if they wanted another intifada,” Kerry went on to claim they had no choice but to surrender:
“If we do not resolve the question of settlements,” he added, “and the question of who lives where and how and what rights they have; if we don’t end the presence of Israeli soldiers perpetually within the West Bank, then there will be an increasing feeling that if we cannot get peace with a leadership that is committed to non-violence, you may wind up with leadership that is committed to violence.”
Kerry also chided the majority of Israelis who have rightly concluded after the Palestinians rejected peace offers and responded to concessions with terror that their only option is to defend themselves and to wait for their neighbors’ culture of violence and hate to change:
“Well, I’ve got news for you,” he said, referring to the Israeli public. “Today’s status quo will not be tomorrow’s or next year’s. Because if we don’t resolve this issue, the Arab world, the Palestinians, neighbors, others, are going to begin again to push in a different way.”
Even worse than that, when Israeli reporter Udi Sagal asked him to speak to the pain and horror that Israelis feel when they see the man that he calls a non-violent peace partner embracing and honoring murderers of children, such as the terrorists that he pressured Netanyahu to release, he had no criticisms to make of Mahmoud Abbas or the Palestinians who cheer such criminals. Nor did he utter a single word of comfort for the families of Israeli victims of terror who must now see their killers honored as heroes:
“It’s very difficult. Look, I have no illusions. I know that the vast majority of people in Israel are opposed [to these releases]. I understand that. Prime Minister Netanyahu understands that. And it is a sign of his seriousness that he was willing to make this decision.
In other words, if Israelis don’t like killers of their children being acclaimed by the people who supposedly want peace, they can lump it.
Even before his latest intervention, there was a good chance the Palestinians would use the eventual collapse of these talks as an excuse for more violence. But now they more or less have Kerry’s seal of approval for such behavior. While American diplomats have made some terrible mistakes in the last 20 years in pursuit of Middle East peace, it’s hard to recall a precedent for this sort of incompetence.
Kerry’s obsessive pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian peace is based on his assumption that squaring this circle will magically solve all of America’s other problems in the region. But as we have learned in recent years, the crisis in Syria and Egypt as well as the nuclear danger from Iran—which he hopes to deal with via appeasement—have nothing to do with the complaints of the Palestinians.
Perhaps President Obama seems generally not terribly involved in these negotiations, a strategy that is probably rooted in a desire to avoid any blame for the fool’s errand that Kerry has embarked upon. But he needs to wake up and understand that what his errant secretary of state is doing is setting in place a template that is almost certain now to lead to a blowup that will not easily be contained.