No devotee of Yes Minister, yesteryear’s BBC’s classic, can forget St. Edward’s Hospital – that spanking new cutting edge facility that had no patients or medical personnel. Nonetheless, St. Edward’s hustled and bustled, a veritable hive of activity and creative energy. For 15-months since its much-ballyhooed inauguration, an administrative staff of 500 bureaucrats filled the hospital’s offices, pushed papers and generated red tape.
Sounds exaggerated? A bit over-the-top for real life? Not really. John Kerry’s peace project, for example, replicates the parody’s blueprints with mind-blowing precision. It is for diplomacy what St. Edward’s was for health care – an incredible lot of much-ado about absolutely nothing.
The biggest snag in Kerry’s persistent peace offensive is that it lacks the commonsense basic essentials to even begin to achieve what it was promoted to do. It couldn’t possibly live up to the hype. St Edward’s couldn’t heal the sick because none had been admitted. No doctors or nurses were on hand either. It was a hospital in name only.
Kerry’s peace process is a process in name only. It featured no negotiations between seekers of peace. Indeed there was no one who wanted what Kerry tried to ram through, just as no one got treatment at the hospital with no patients. Kerry and his crew engaged in frenetic shuttles just as the hospital’s ancillary staffers busied themselves self-importantly.
In both cases no good came of it and no good could come of it. The prodigious hum and buzz benefited no one. There was no reality behind the façade.
Kerry’s peacemaking affectation depended on there being actual peacemakers. But the last thing any Palestinian honcho could afford was to strike any sort of a deal. If Arafat couldn’t do it at Camp David back in 2000 (despite Ehud Barak’s unprecedented concessions), surely Mahmoud Abbas couldn’t do it now. Abbas’s last-minute dodge is no different from Arafat’s hasty skedaddle from the talks that America’s then-President Bill Clinton fervently fostered.
Like Arafat, who was immeasurably more powerful, Abbas doesn’t want to end the conflict and be saddled with a puny Palestinian state. His aim is to discredit, delegitimize, destabilize and eventually destroy the Jewish state (which he significantly refuses to recognize).
That’s why he disdainfully rebuffed Ehud Olmert’s egregious largesse at Annapolis in 2007. No Israeli concession – no matter how generous – can ever be good enough when compromise isn’t the real Palestinian endgame but the barely disguised means to achieve the reverse of insincere pledges.
The in-your-face extortion practiced by Abbas didn’t simply attest to an insatiable appetite. It was an effort to stymie Kerry’s entire undertaking, to put up obstacles so outrageous that no one could possibly surmount them. To Abbas’s shock and dismay, however, his Israeli interlocutors proved to be softer soft-touches than he conceivably imagined.
Abbas could never have anticipated that Kerry would so stanchly side with the Palestinian Authority and essentially function as its accomplice in squeezing and duping Israel. The American Secretary of State repeatedly threatened Israel with petrifying BDS (Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions) punishment. He also offered one shriveled carrot – belatedly freeing Jonathan Pollard, who’s anyway soon up for parole and who by any criteria should have been liberated long ago.
The idea of exchanging Pollard for sadistic mass-murders isn’t just morally repugnant. It also substantiates suspicion that Pollard is kept behind bars as a bargaining chip. Erstwhile American Special Envoy to the Middle East, Dennis Ross, owned up that he had recommended using Pollard as a quasi-hostage to be held for ransom. Simple justice was evidently out of the equation in this case.
In his 2004 book The Missing Peace, Ross quotes himself as telling Clinton at the 1998 Wye Summit (p.438) that “I was in favor of his [Pollard’s] release, believing that he had received a harsher sentence than others who had committed comparable crimes. I preferred not tying his release to any agreement, but if that was what we were going to do, then I favored saving it for permanent status.”
Get it? Pollard, as an asset of statecraft, should not be squandered on any interim arrangement but reserved for the bigger barter transaction – official Washington’s variation on the human-trafficking theme.
Clearly, then, the notion of trading Pollard isn’t new. This leads us, on the eve of Passover to ponder one more Seder-like “how-is-this-different” question. How is this recent Pollard sweetener different from the sweetener dangled under Netanyahu’s nose 16 years ago?
Actually it’s not very different. In both cases American higher-ups considered it fine and dandy for the Land of the Free to use a trapped human being as leverage in diplomatic haggling.
If any scintilla of dissimilarity does present itself, it’s that Clinton did take Ross’s advice and wasn’t ready to let go of his valuable pawn for a partial solution. Kerry, in contrast, is less slick than Clinton but far more cynical and desperate. In his pushy officious way, Kerry was gung-ho to go for broke merely to prolong talks about talks – nothing more. The aim was to prop-up the frail façade. It was clear that no real talks will materialize and that the non-talks won’t produce results.
All this surely bedeviled Abbas.
Kerry intimidated and enticed the Israeli side far beyond anything that Abbas could foresee and, worse yet from Abbas’s vantage point, the Israelis kept giving in. No matter how preposterous the demands he pressed, the malleable Israelis kept yielding bit by painful bit. It must have been maddeningly frustrating for Abbas as he sought pretexts to back out.
Finally, having apparently had enough, Abbas decided to just blindside everyone and bail out from Kerry’s version of the empty St. Edward’s. His escape hatch consisted of a televised spectacle in which he signed applications for state-like membership in 15 international organizations, at least a dozen of them affiliated with the UN.
These applications were then ceremoniously delivered to Robert Serry, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Paul Garnier, the permanent representative of Switzerland to the United Nations.
Abbas’s part of the initial bargain last year was to refrain from unilateral moves to win international recognition during the course of the peace talks. It wasn’t anything irreversible and was likely to be reneged upon as soon as Israel stopped forking over shakedown payments or as soon as the duration of the current chinwag was over.
It was a sham concession eminently fitting a sham peace process.
In a sense, Israel never paid to keep the talks going but to keep Abbas from going to the UN. That, predictably, was a fool’s choice – the postponement of the inevitable. Sooner or later Abbas was sure to do just what he temporarily desisted from doing and what Israel attempted to dissuade him from doing for a little negligible while longer.
It’s hard to figure what could in the long run be gained from putting things off. Odds are that absolutely nothing. Indisputably, Israel’s gain from releasing convicted mass-murderers was a sham gain – eminently fitting a sham peace process.
As in St. Edward’s, nothing is what it seems.
And thus, fantastically, Kerry tried to save face by insisting – with a barefaced disregard for the truth – that the outfits the PA applied to join weren’t associated with the UN and that therefore it hadn’t technically broken its commitments.
“Let me make it absolutely clear,” he declared at a Brussels press conference, “None of the agencies that President Abbas signed involve the UN. None of them… And President Abbas has given his word to me that he will keep his agreement and that he intends to negotiate through the end of the month of April.”
It was a sham assertion, eminently fitting a sham peace process.
Kerry’s bogus deadpan pedantry rang as true as that of the fictional Sir Humphrey Appleby, the Permanent Secretary for the Department for Administrative Affairs. When his minister, Jim Hacker, demanded that St. Edward’s be closed, Humphrey was downright flabbergasted: "Why should we close a hospital just because it has no patients? We don't disband the Army just because there isn't a war."
Humphrey was indignant at the very assumption that “the staff have nothing to do, simply because there are no patients there.” And to prove his point he promptly rattled off all of the hospital’s ongoing operations: “Contingency Planning Department, Data and Research Department, Finance, Purchasing Department, Technical Department, Building Department, Maintenance, Catering, Personnel, Administration.” It was a mere unfortunate hitch that due to “government cutbacks at that time, there was no money left for the medical services.”
Another sham vindication of a sham, as eminently befits sham priorities.
Still, every downside has an upside. St. Edward’s was judged “one of the best-run hospitals in the country.” It was a candidate for "the Florence Nightingale award” which is “given to the most hygienic hospital in the region.” All of which upheld the contention that leaving patients out of a hospital can be a “very good thing in some ways. Prolongs its life. Cuts down running costs.”
The same can be said about a peace process with no prospects. It’s easier to dicker than to preserve a peace that one prime participant (Abbas) patently does not want. If we listen carefully, we could almost hear Sir Humphrey making the case for pointless palaver.
The longevity of the process, he would be sure to point out, is almost limitless especially since the other prime participant (Netanyahu) positively dreads the collapse of the non-negotiations.
Suckers may convince themselves that they’re actually being sensible and that their accommodating spirit will score them PR brownie points. It won’t. Cold hard evidence, though, won’t keep incorrigible suckers from paying through the nose to keep the sham going.
In our circumstances this foremost means sustaining the sham that a peace partner at all exists, that Kerry is an honest broker and that the international community appreciates the sucker’s self-sacrifice.
But all isn’t doom and gloom. There’s a bright side to futility. In the words of Sir Humphrey (with which Kerry would doubtless heartily concur), “we don't measure our success by results but by activity.”
Debunking the Bull, Sarah Honig’s book, was recently published by Gefen.