Washington Watch: Public diplomacy, not threats, needed

Getting the Israelis and Palestinians to the peace table wasn’t easy, and keeping them there is proving a challenge for a very determined Secretary of State John Kerry.

By DOUGLAS M. BLOOMFIELD
August 28, 2013 21:34
Secretary of State John Kerry hold press conference with Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat, July 30, 2013.

Kerry, Livni, Erekat press conference 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

 
X

Dear Reader,
As you can imagine, more people are reading The Jerusalem Post than ever before. Nevertheless, traditional business models are no longer sustainable and high-quality publications, like ours, are being forced to look for new ways to keep going. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall. We want to keep our journalism open and accessible and be able to keep providing you with news and analyses from the frontlines of Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World.

As one of our loyal readers, we ask you to be our partner.

For $5 a month you will receive access to the following:

  • A user uxperience almost completely free of ads
  • Access to our Premium Section and our monthly magazine to learn Hebrew, Ivrit
  • Content from the award-winning Jerusalem Repor
  • A brand new ePaper featuring the daily newspaper as it appears in print in Israel

Help us grow and continue telling Israel’s story to the world.

Thank you,

Ronit Hasin-Hochman, CEO, Jerusalem Post Group
Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief

UPGRADE YOUR JPOST EXPERIENCE FOR 5$ PER MONTH Show me later Don't show it again

Getting the Israelis and Palestinians to the peace table wasn’t easy, and keeping them there is proving a challenge for a very determined Secretary of State John Kerry. His greatest worry has to be that both sides may be looking for a blame-avoiding excuse to take a walk.

That may have been part of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to announce he was calling off the fourth session of secret talks, which was to have been held Monday in Jericho. His excuse was the violent clash in the Kalandiya refugee camp near Ramallah earlier that day that left three Palestinians dead and several wounded when a large crowd attacked Israeli soldiers who had gone in to arrest a suspected terrorist.

Be the first to know - Join our Facebook page.


But Abbas may have had something else in mind.

Instead of saying such encounters emphasize the need for a peace agreement he went in the opposite direction, focusing instead on escalating his threats against Israel and using the incident to press his demand for direct American intervention in the talks.

His spokesman repeated old threats to file charges of war crimes, ethnic cleansing, genocide and other offenses in the World Court and various other international agencies in response to the Kalandiya incident and continued settlement construction. That doesn’t sound like a confidence-building measure by one who says he wants a peaceful end to the conflict.

Abbas has to decide whether he wants to poison the well or make peace. He can’t have it both ways. Similarly Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s expanded settlement construction is also well poison in the eyes of many.

In Palestinian-Israeli negotiations it has become irritatingly common for each side to declare its purity of heart and genuine desire for peace while questioning the other’s intentions and integrity.



It would appear that the last thing the Palestinians want is to be alone in the room with the Israelis.

And the last thing Netanyahu wants is to have the Americans at the table, where he fears he could be outnumbered.

The Palestinian leadership is accusing the US of not taking the talks seriously enough and demanding Washington “immediately intervene and block a complete collapse of the peace process.”

What Abbas really wants is for the US to be his negotiator.

In fact, he’d like to internationalize the talks, bringing in not only the Americans but the Europeans, the United Nations and the Russians as well.

That’s not only because he is confident that America’s vision of what a final agreement should look like is much closer to his than Netanyahu’s, but also because to make peace he knows he will have to make some difficult compromises and he’d rather make any needed concessions to the Americans than to the Israelis. That would also be much easier to sell at home.

What he chooses to ignore is that all of Israel’s historic breakthroughs with the Arabs – peace with Egypt and Jordan and the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians – were achieved through direct negotiations between the parties themselves, free of any US involvement. Washington was only brought in as the closer, and that’s the way it should be.

Also this week, Abbas broke Kerry’s gag rule on the talks by complaining to visitors that no progress had been made in the first three sessions because of Israeli foot-dragging.

Kerry has insisted – and until now successfully – that what happens in the room stays in the room. He was to be the only one authorized to speak publicly; in his view the less that leaked out the better the chances to avoid pressure from the varied interests outside the room and the greater the chances for success.

Abbas’ leak may be part of his strategy to raise the pressure on Washington and Jerusalem. It came in a meeting last week with leftist Knesset members in which he complained that the Israelis are stalling. If it were up to him they’d be meeting every day or two instead of every week or 10 days, he said.

His interview also serves a worthy purpose that Netanyahu could do well to emulate: Public diplomacy.

Abbas began with a group of Israeli lawmakers, mostly from the Meretz party, and ministers who support the two-state approach, and he is expected to expand that this week by inviting members of Knesset’s Caucus on Ending the Israeli-Arab Conflict to Ramallah to toast Rosh Hashanah.

In July, a group of Palestinian parliamentarians were hosted at Knesset and their flag flew over the Israeli parliament.

Remember it was Sadat’s public diplomacy in November 1977 that changed the Middle East; there may be no Sadats today, but even lesser men like Netanyahu and Abbas can reach out across borders and speak directly to the people.

Abbas spoke to his Israeli visitors about border adjustments, an end to the conflict, a demilitarized state, no more territorial claims to Jaffa, Acre, Safed and Haifa or other places inside Israel – which sounded like dropping the right of return demand for refugees. It was all reported in the Israeli media, which many Palestinians see, but they need to hear these things directly so they know it is not just for foreign consumption.

He has said he is willing to meet with Netanyahu.

Rather than another photo-op, the cause of peace would be better served by each inviting the other to his capital to speak of his vision for peace.

Netanyahu needs to engage in greater public diplomacy, not with speeches on Capitol Hill, lectures in European capitals or cartoons at the UN but right in his own back yard.

He spoke passionately to the Israeli people about the difficult decision he made “for the good of the country” in releasing 104 Palestinian prisoners, many with Jewish blood on their hands, because he felt it served a higher purpose.

It is time for both leaders to speak frankly to their own people and to their neighbors about the compromises ahead, and how neither can have everything they want – or have been promised. There will be compromises on borders, refugees, security and Jerusalem. It makes no sense to persist with maximalist demands unless you’re making a case against peace. It’s time to stop making threats and questioning the other’s side’s motives. Leadership means leading, not kvetching.

©2013 Douglas M. Bloomfield
Doug Bloomfield
dmbloomfield@comcast.net

Related Content

 President Donald Trump, near an Israeli flag at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem
July 19, 2018
Lakeside diplomacy

By DAVID BRINN