US Secretary of State John Kerry is wrong on two counts. First, when he echoed
Palestinian threats of violence unless Israel bent to Palestinian demands (an
American friend explained to me that this had been an inadvertent off-the-cuff
remark), and second, because his words on Israel’s Channel 2 and Palestinian TV
seemed to indicate he is unaware of many of the cogent aspects of the
Kerry extensively dwelt on the matter of
“settlements,” which he deems “illegitimate,” but it is not realistic or logical
to expect Israel not to go on building in areas, including Jerusalem, which by
most accounts and under any eventual arrangement will remain part of the State
of Israel. The Palestinian leadership, of course, will feel encouraged to
continue using this issue as a red herring to torpedo the talks.
made a major and praiseworthy effort in getting the two sides back to the table
– and according to conventional wisdom, probably shared by him, there supposedly
already is agreement on all the main ingredients of a potential peace deal,
along the Clinton parameters or something similar, and “all that is needed is
the courage to implement them.”
However, contrary to this view, nothing
is actually agreed with regard to the so-called “core issues” – borders,
security, refugees, Jerusalem – or Israel’s legitimacy as the state of the
Jewish people. The only item on which there is a measure of agreement in
principle is eventual separation between the two sides, though the Palestinians
are adamantly insisting that the future border should adhere strictly to the
1949 armistice line ─ and US statements supporting this stance only reinforce
their reluctance to compromise.
There is the supposedly magic wand of
land swaps, but not only is there no agreement on the very principle, let alone
the details of swaps, the idea also goes counter to United Nations Security
Council Resolution 242, which envisaged Israeli withdrawals from areas it
occupied as a result of the aggression against it in 1967 – only in the context
of secure borders, which the former armistice line obviously is not.
Israel’s point of view, the security aspect is an imperative in determining the
future border – but the Palestinian and apparently also the American concept of
security differs in more than one respect from that held by Israel.
the unsettled situation of the broader Middle East, security on a geopolitical
scale means a great deal more than policing the areas under Palestinian control.
There are also other aspects; not only the demographic changes recognized by the
US, but for Jews, also the question of giving up land which historically and
morally is part of the Land of Israel.
Zionism and Israel have been
willing to give up parts of the land for pragmatic reasons, peace being the
first among them – but not putting in question the justice and legitimacy of the
Jewish people’s claim to its historic homeland.
diplomatic language, is pliable and adaptable to different, often conflicting,
So we have, for example, both Palestinian Authority President
Mahmoud Abbas and the Israeli extreme Right venting their opposition to partial
or provisional agreements – but while the Palestinians want to avoid compromise,
even if temporary, on any of the pertinent issues – the Israeli extreme Right,
because it opposes the very idea of Palestinian statehood as a matter of faith –
holds the status quo to be the best option at this time.
majority of Israelis remember Sharon’s misbegotten disengagement from Gaza – and
In other words, while Abbas fears interim agreements
will delay, or perhaps entirely eliminate Palestinian statehood, opponents of
the twostate solution in Israel fear the opposite, i.e. that once there is
agreement on any formula for Palestinian statehood – the process will be
Similarly, on the Israeli side, there is the controversy
about the onestate solution – as opposed to the two-state concept. Both
extremes, Left and Right, support the former – albeit for contradictory reasons:
the first because they oppose the Zionist ideal altogether, the second because
they oppose in principle giving up any part of the country – while many
Palestinians, including not a few in Abbas’s own camp, support one-statism
because they believe that it would spell the end of a Jewish
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has more than once stated that
Israel doesn’t want to rule over another people and that he is prepared to make
difficult decisions in order to achieve an “end of conflict” resolution – but as
things look, and this should be clear to our American friends, the prospects for
this are almost non-existent – especially if one thinks in terms of nineor
six-month time spans.
THE BASIC Palestinian strategy of steering clear of
meaningful negotiations in which both sides, not just Israel, would have to make
concessions, has not changed for decades.
This was their response to the
1978 autonomy framework – and just as Yasser Arafat, correctly expecting the
unofficial contacts which later led to the Oslo agreement to bring him greater
benefits, instructed the Palestinian delegation to the official post-Madrid
talks to tread water, today’s Palestinian leadership aims the present talks to
fail in order to get matters back to the UN and other international bodies – or
even to unleash another wave of violence.
Contrary to rumors in Israel,
Kerry has stated the US is not planning to present a peace plan of its own,
adding that the US cannot force an agreement on the two sides – as indeed it
One also often hears the line that “no one can want peace more
than the parties themselves” – which, unfortunately underscores the reality that
the Palestinians do not want peace – except on their ultimative
There are some predictions that the US might soon submit bridging
proposals, but though one can bridge a river, one can’t bridge an
No US or other proposals, even made with the best intentions, will
be acceptable to either side if they ignore the respective basic
This does not preclude some compromise – but not on the larger
What Israel’s most prescient statesman, Moshe Dayan, said 35
years ago still holds true, viz. that no final document that will satisfy the
Palestinians can be acceptable to Israel – and vice versa.
Thus, a final
“end-of-conflict” agreement is not to be expected any time soon, but on the
other hand, to declare total failure would not be advantageous either –
including to America which, as Aaron Miller put it, “by pressing the Israelis
and the Palestinians back towards the table, has assumed responsibility for
producing an agreement.”
Hence, in spite of the declared opposition of
all the three parties – Israel, the Palestinians and the US – to partial,
interim or provisional agreements, one cannot entirely rule out the possibility
that at the end of the nine months allocated by the US for the present talks,
what might emerge will after all be some formula of de facto peaceful
co-existence, comprising economic steps like those already initiated by the US
and Israel, additional mutual security arrangements, expanded Palestinian
self-government, perhaps even a slight expansion of Area A into Area C – with
the US declaring that progress has been made, creating a basis for talks on
permanent status in the future.
The author is a former Ambassador to the US.