Give left-wing author Peter Beinart some credit. He’s paying enough attention to the negotiations going on between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to understand that there’s almost no chance that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas will sign a peace deal. But whom does he blame for this in his latest cri de coeur about the peace process in Haaretz? Secretary of State John Kerry.
Of course, Beinart thinks Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is also at fault for insisting that Palestinians acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, which is to say that they renounce their dreams of destroying it. He also slams Netanyahu for asking for serious security guarantees in the event that an agreement is concluded as well as demanding that the U.S. make good on the promises made to Israel prior to the Gaza withdrawal about the major settlement blocs in the West Bank being retained. In carping about Netanyahu he’s essentially blaming the people of Israel for rejecting the policies of the left after the collapse of Oslo and the Gaza disaster. To his way of thinking, democracy is all well and good but since liberal intellectuals like himself know what’s best for the country, the results of the last two Knesset elections should be set aside in order to allow American pressure to dictate peace terms with the Palestinians. Most of all he refuses to give the Palestinians any agency in their decision to turn down peace again.
This is familiar territory for Beinart. But now that Kerry is in the midst of an all-out effort to get Israel and the PA to agree to a new framework to allow for further talks with the Israelis set to say yes and the Palestinians almost certain to say no again, he’s been forced to come up with a new set of justifications for the left’s perennial argument that the lack of peace is Israel’s fault. His answer is that the true villain of the moment is Kerry and the liberal Jews who have been cheering the secretary on in his efforts to pressure Israel into accepting the framework. Why? Because, according to Beinart, Kerry’s terms are too favorable to Israel.
This is, of course, the same secretary of state that pressured the Israelis to release over 100 terrorist murderers to bribe the PA to come back to the negotiating table after boycotting talks for years. And he’s the same guy who threatened Israel with a new intifada and with expanded boycotts and economic warfare if they didn’t agree to his framework, setting the stage for more violence and delegitimization of the Jewish state after his efforts failed.
But Beinart has a beef with Kerry because in coming up with his framework, he’s incorporated some of Israel’s key demands and left other elements up to negotiations between the two parties. According to Beinart, Kerry has deviated from the plans offered to the Palestinians by Ehud Barak in 2000 and 2001 and the one proposed by Ehud Olmert in 2008. The differences between those schemes and the one in Kerry’s framework are small but significant.
The first problem is that Kerry agrees with the Israelis that the Palestinians should swallow hard and say the two little words—“Jewish state”—that signify they are ending the conflict for all time rather than pausing it in order to resume it later under more favorable circumstances.
The second is agreeing to a phased transition in which Israeli troops would remain in the Jordan Valley for perhaps as long as 10 or 15 years. Beinart agrees with the Palestinians that that kind of a security guarantee, made all the more necessary in recent years because of the rise of Hamas and Islamic Jihad as well as the threats to Jordan from Iran and Syria, is unacceptable.
What else? Beinart is unhappy about Kerry’s terms for the division of Jerusalem. Kerry is leaving the details of how to partition it to the parties and said one of the Arab neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city could serve as the Palestinian capital. Beinart agrees with Abbas and wants all Arab neighborhoods in the city to be constituted as the new capital of Palestine.
Beinart is also in a huff about the fact that Kerry’s framework doesn’t pay even lip service to the Palestinian demand for a “right of return” that would allow them to flood Israel with the descendants of the 1948 refugees. While Olmert foolishly offered the Palestinians the right to bring as many as 15,000 into Israel, Kerry has wisely turned them down flat on this question.
These differences from the plans of 2000, 2001, and 2008 don’t change the fact that if the Palestinians are smart enough to say yes to the framework, they would get their independent state including almost all of the West Bank, a share of Jerusalem and be compensated for the settlement blocs with equal amounts of Israeli territory. But in order to get it they have to agree to the legitimacy of a Jewish state alongside their nation and they have to agree not to use their state to restart the conflict once Israel withdraws. Since its inception, Palestinian nationalism has been solely focused on denying Zionism’s legitimacy rather than on building a nation. That’s why Abbas is no more capable of agreeing to peace now than he was in 2008 when he fled from Olmert’s offer or Yasir Arafat was when he said no twice to Ehud Barak.
But Beinart prefers to ignore the truth about Abbas and the political culture of rejection to which he is both enabler and hostage. Instead, he blames Israel and Kerry for not giving even more.
Interestingly, Beinart’s plan of action to deal with the problem doesn’t involve efforts to beg the Palestinians not to say no to peace and independence for the fourth time since the summer of 2000. Instead, he wants his friends at J Street and other liberal Jewish backers of the Obama administration to turn their wrath on the secretary of state. He wants the left to “raise a stink” against Kerry and the administration in order to get them to change the framework to make it more acceptable to the Palestinians, including deleting references to the Jewish state and giving the green light for the refugees.
Such an effort on the part of J Street is as unlikely as it would be absurd. J Street is more pro-Obama than it is pro-peace or pro-Israel. It will never launch a campaign against Kerry’s efforts to broker a deal in order to tilt the playing field even more toward the Palestinians than the secretary has already done.
This difference between Beinart and Kerry illustrates, if nothing else, the secretary’s sincerity. Kerry’s chances of success were always near zero and his willingness to undertake this mission despite the very real chances that attempting it would cause more harm than good by encouraging terrorism and boycotts after the inevitable Palestinian refusal testifies both to his poor judgment and his hubris. But Kerry also understands that after the collapse of Oslo, the withdrawal from Gaza and the three Palestinian “no’s” to peace offers, Israelis need to be persuaded that this peace is genuine and will guarantee the Jewish state’s survival. And that is why Abbas will never sign any deal with anything like reasonable terms.
Beinart understands that this decision will, like the many Palestinian decisions to repeatedly reject peace throughout the last century, undermine his thesis about Israel being to blame. So in order to preserve his dubious narrative of the conflict, he must start setting up Kerry as the fall guy for Palestinian rejectionism. Reading Beinart’s piece, I almost felt sorry for Kerry. Almost.