(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The clinching of a deal, together with Russia, that forces Syria to dismantle
and destroy its chemical weapons provided US Secretary of State John Kerry with
a much-needed hiatus. Kerry was finally free to redirect his energies. On
Sunday, he paid a lightning visit to Israel and made it clear that he had not
lost sight of the Israeli-Palestinian talks.
“The road ahead is not
easy,” he said as part of a 10- minute statement he delivered after a three-hour
meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that including a briefing on
Syria. “If it were easy, peace would have been achieved a long time ago. What is
clearer than ever today is that this is a road worth traveling.”
days after marking the 20th anniversary of the Oslo Accords, it is impossible to
escape the impression that Kerry might be repeating some of the mistakes of Oslo
and other peace initiatives that have followed since.
Perhaps the most
central mistake has been the insistence among American diplomats – representing
both Republican and Democratic US governments – on focusing principally on the
“peace process” instead of concentrating on real progress on the
This was a lesson Elliott Abrams – one of the most incisive
observers of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – learned, as he notes in his
latest book, Tested By Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian
Abrams, who supervised US policy in the Middle East under
president George W. Bush, admits that one of the errors the Bush administration
made was to direct all its influence “toward the Annapolis process rather than
to helping [former Palestinian Authority prime minister] Salam Fayyad make
progress in the West Bank.” Abrams relates how everyone in Washington thought
Fayyad’s state-building efforts were “terrific,” but unfortunately these efforts
never became the focus of policy. “They were marginal, supplemental and never
In contrast, there was an emphasis on negotiations, and the
success accorded to them was very often exaggerated.
“The peace process
can in this sense become the enemy of progress or even of peace,” warns
SIMILARLY, KERRY seems to be devoting too much of his effort to
talks and not enough to changing realities on the ground. And this is
unfortunate, since the simple truth is that PA President Mahmoud Abbas and other
PA leaders lack the will and/or the ability to negotiate a final-status peace
agreement with Israel.
Instead, much more American energy must be
invested in the more modest goal of building a viable Palestinian state that is
capable of living in peace alongside Israel.
That means insisting that
PA-sponsored media and schools put an end to incitement against
It also means improving Palestinians’ day-to-day living
conditions. The building of Rawabi, the first new Palestinian city, should be
seen as a positive development.
The very raison d’etre of the city is to
improve Palestinians’ lives by providing them with comfortable middleclass
housing and quality municipal services.
Yet the PA, despite being one of
the world’s top recipients of international aid per capita, has done precious
little during the 19 years of its existence to make Palestinians’ lives more
pleasant. Even the smallest steps toward normalization of relations between
Israel and the Palestinians should be seen as positive. For instance, The
Jerusalem Post’s Sharon Udasin reported in Monday’s paper that the Israeli and
Palestinian agriculture ministries agreed to revive some of the joint committees
that were formed in the 1990s under the Oslo Accords but frozen 13 years ago
with the onset of the second intifada.
Another focus of attention should
be the PA’s use of brutality to stifle critics, whether they be journalists,
writers, political opponents or university students.
THE VERY existence
of a negotiation track can help reduce Arab and European attacks on Israel and
provide useful cover for the more substantive work of helping the PA build the
basic institutions and infrastructure for a viable state.
But it would be
unrealistic and potentially dangerous to raise expectations regarding the
prospects for solving major issues such as borders, the refugee problem and
Jerusalem any time in the near future. Unfortunately that is precisely what
Kerry seems to be doing.