Kerry’s good intentions

The US Secretary of State will soon find out who is lacking “courage and determination” for peace – not Israel but the Palestinian leadership.

By
June 25, 2013 22:47
US Secretary of State John Kerry and PA President Mahmoud Abbas meet in Istanbul, April 21, 2013.

Kerry and Abbas in Istanbul 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Evan Vucci/Pool)

US Secretary of State John Kerry will return to our part of the world this week to renew his efforts to convene direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Alas, his chances of success do not look bright, for while Israel encourages his endeavors, the Palestinians, judging by some of the statements of their leaders, are stuck in the rut of their preconditional intransigence.

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Some people may perhaps argue that the shoe is on the other foot, pointing to a recent statement (expressed in rather colorful language) by Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett – one half of the Bubchinsky- Dubchinsky duo of Israeli politics (the other half being Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid) – opposing the two-state solution.

Bennett is, of course, entitled to his views, some of which may even be logically and historically defensible – that said, however, Israel’s official policy, as enunciated by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, is supporting a de-militarized Palestinian state, with close security arrangements for Israel, the abandonment of all further claims on Israel and the recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people.

And as Bennett stated in his interview with The Washington Post’s Lally Weymouth, he “isn’t going to do anything to stop negotiations, because the government wants to progress in that direction” (incidentally contradicting Likud MK Danny Danon’s claim that the government as a whole opposed the two-state solution).

True, establishing a Palestinian state on Israel’s vulnerable borders is far from being the panacea it is often purported to be; at worst it will be another terrorist and irredentist Gaza – at best, judging by the Palestinian Authority’s record so far, another dysfunctional Middle Eastern entity. Still, it may be the “least bad” solution and there could, eventually, be different variations on the theme of Palestinian statehood. The worst is probably the one-state solution which, if implemented, would spell the end of the Zionist dream as well as creating a disconnect between Israel and the Jews abroad.

A few weeks ago, Secretary Kerry delivered a well-intentioned speech to the American Jewish Community Global Forum, but even ignoring the maxim about where the road “paved with good intentions” is leading to, one cannot but wonder at some of the speech’s assumptions and formulations, which raise the question of whether Kerry fully understood the implications of some of his own imagery? He recounts, for instance, how when his flight from a Negev air base almost took him over Egypt, he all of a sudden realized “how narrow the borders of Israel were,” adding that “there is simply no margin for error.”

How to reconcile this statement official US policy, according to which the borders between Israel and the future Palestinian state should be based on the much more vulnerable pre-’67 Green Line, close to most of Israel’s population and economic centers – which even UN Security Council Resolution 242, let alone previous American administrations, recognized as not being commensurate with the requirements of Israel’s security? Even more troubling was the implication of the sentence: “[The] best way to truly ensure Israel’s security today and for future generations is by ending once and for all the conflict with the Palestinians by summoning the courage to achieve peace,” a formulation which some people would interpret as as an exhortation to Israel, and which undoubtedly will be seen by Palestinians as grist for their mill.

Kerry then reiterated that “with the right choices and enough courage and determination there is a very different future possible for Israel,” the implication, once more, being that the burden of proof was on Israel, in spite of having accepted the 1967 partition plan, Oslo, Madrid, Wye, unilateral disengagement from Gaza – all formulas based on compromise, devised or accepted by the Zionist movement and by Israel, but not by the Palestinians, who had rejected all those proposals and initiatives, which rejection was more often than not accompanied by violence.

Unfortunately, the “dark future” the speech paints for Israel unless peace is achieved is bound to encourage the Palestinians to be even more adamant.

Kerry correctly mentions the “insidious campaign to de-legitimize Israel,” but he mistakenly attributes this campaign mainly, or even exclusively, to the state of affairs with regard to the Palestinians, disregarding that even a supposed moderate like Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refuses to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people, while many in the Arab world and, unfortunately, also in the supposedly enlightened West, deny the Jewish people’s very right to a country of their own – on either side of the Green Line.

Putting good intentions aside, what was also disturbing in the speech was what could be seen as an appeal to American Jews to distance themselves in matters concerning vital Israeli interests from the official position of the democratically elected Israeli government (the appeal made by President Obama in Jerusalem to Israelis to “push” their leaders in directions the consequences of which would only be borne by the Israelis themselves was in the same vein).

Not to be outdone by Secretary Kelly, The New York Times’s columnist Roger Cohen recently exhorted American Jewish organizations “to go further” in pushing the State of Israel with regards to the Palestinian issue.

American Jewish leaders will wisely disregard this advice. Israel’s policies and most, though not all, Israelis’ views always have been and always will be principally centered on their legitimate security concerns (certainly now in the light of the general chaos in the Middle East and the increasing Islamization of the area) – not, as Cohen claims, on a “Messianic view of the Jewish state’s destiny” (though there is nothing wrong with “Messianic” views as long as they do not completely ignore pragmatic considerations. Zionism is a good example of bridging the two).

If this is an attempt to create a chasm between Israel and Jews abroad, it won’t work. The future of the Jewish people is a joint venture of Israel and the Diaspora in parts of which Israel must take the lead, in others the Diaspora – but in matters of security it is only residents of Israel who are morally entitled to decide what policies their leaders should pursue (the only possible exceptions being Jerusalem and religious practice, those being matters which concern all Jews).

Secretary Kerry will soon find out, if he hasn’t already, who is lacking “courage and determination” for peace – not Israel but the Palestinian leadership which leaves no stone unturned in order to avoid meaningful negotiations with Israel, which would require concessions and compromises, a scenario they have successfully shirked so far, and fully intend to continue to shirk.

The author is a former ambassador to the US.


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