Do not underestimate the magnitude of Secretary of State John Kerry’s undertaking. Succeed or fail, he pounced on a monumental task: to corner Israel and the Palestinians into doing something they dread, something they perfected into an art of not doing – making decisions.
Of all the Abus and “Abu who?” that decorated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and peace processes throughout the decades, the one Abu Israel and the Palestinians have in common is Abulia, defined as the “abnormal lack of ability to act or to make decisions.”
When courageous, historic, game-changing, future-defining and yes, risky decisions needed to be made, both resorted to fundamental inaction and entrenched themselves in a righteous “zero-sum justice” position: Any recognition of the other side’s narrative, justice and grievances means an erosion of our side’s. Any compromise means giving in to the other side.
Primarily, this is the Palestinians’ fault. Had the Palestinians accepted the [Sir Robert] Peel Commission’s recommendation, in 1937, that Mandatory Palestine should be partitioned into two states, or UN Resolution 181 in 1947 regarding partition, or Bill Clinton’s parameters, published in January 2001 based on the Camp David summit of July 2000, or the Olmert-Abbas understandings of 2008, there would be a Palestinian state today.
Prosperous or failed, peaceful or belligerent, the Palestinians would not be stateless in 2014. But they are and are in danger of remaining that way for the next few years at least.
The Palestinians are bitterly experiencing the consequences and burdens of their own decisions, or indecisions: many years worth of all types and forms of rejection, intransigence, no recognition of Israel, failure to seize opportunities, maximalist approaches, failure to understand the idea of compromise, rampant use of terrorism and a chronic lack of statesmanship.
It is almost tempting to say: Tough luck, live with the history you recklessly shaped and we’re sorry for the inconvenience, but it is your doing, irrespective of our mistakes or miscalculations.
Even the post-1967 occupation of Gaza (until 2005) and the West Bank is not the reason the Palestinians are stateless.
A Palestinian state could have been established as a result of the 1993 Oslo process or the 2000 Camp David summit. But those opportunities were royally missed. It may be tempting and many on the right wing may gloat, but it would be myopic, destructive and counterproductive to do so. The fate of the Palestinians and the viability of the two-states solution is a matter of prime Israeli interest.
The notion that the Palestinians made bad choices and thus the status quo is sustainable for a long time is threatening Israel. The idea that Israel can ignore 3.5 million Palestinians 40 kilometers from Tel Aviv is sheer idiocy, and this has nothing to do with who is right, what are the risks and what the desired policy should be. At this moment in time, Israel is effectively not engaged in any effort to reach an agreement.
Nor are the Palestinians, but they stand to lose much less in the event that nothing happens.
Enter John Kerry. At a time when the US is visibly revisiting and redefining its Middle East interests and is in the process of gradually disengaging from a region it has increasingly fewer interests in, Kerry is accelerating his involvement and intermediation.
In 10 days, when Prime Minister Netanyahu will meet with President Obama, US involvement will be enhanced by virtue of the president’s involvement.
Netanyahu will express legitimate and valid reservations and add caveats and conditions but will have to accept the Kerry plan.
This is where the process gets really murky and unstable: Both sides will “accept” the Kerry principles as a framework to continue negotiations based on adopting a platform of “American ideas and principles,” rather than actually endorsing them. But if both sides think they can fool Kerry all of the time on all of the issues, they are risking something far worse than his anger, disappointment or wrath: they are flirting with him disengaging altogether.
Kerry is essentially saying: Face it, left to their own devices, Israel and the Palestinians cannot, will not and probably do not want to reach a durable settlement, if one is really attainable. That is why the US remains involved, and that is why Kerry seems so confident this is worth his efforts and time.
A rejection of Kerry’s plan, framework, contours, principles or whatever the paper will be called, has broad and far reaching implications. It means that no secretary of state in the foreseeable future will venture into the waters that swept Kerry.
John Kerry may very well be the last secretary of state that invests so much US time, energy, power, prestige and political capital in the Israel- Palestinian issue.
And if there are Israelis and Palestinians who think it is in fact a good thing that he’s the last one, time, sweat, blood and tears may prove them tragically wrong.
The writer was consul-general in New York and adviser to four foreign ministers. He is currently a fellow at the Israel Policy Forum.