Voices from the past, disconnected from today’s realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, have come together at a time of crisis in the negotiations to tell Secretary of State John Kerry that Israel’s key negotiating positions are unreasonable, untenable and unsupportable and to press the Obama administration to adopt their skewed views to ramp up US pressure on Israel.
This is the message of an extraordinarily tin-eared piece which appeared in Politico, penned by long-time foreign policy grandees, including Zbigniew Brzezinski, Frank Carlucci, Lee Hamilton, Carla A. Hills and Thomas Pickering – all seasoned critics of Israel and proponents of a US- Middle East policy differing from that of virtually every President and Secretary of State who has dealt with the thorny issues of the decades-long conflict.
So what wisdom does this brain trust seek to impart to Secretary Kerry and his negotiating team? That any failure of peace talks is: 1) because of Israel’s intransigence 2) because of Israel’s policies 3) because of Israel’s actions.
As for a policy prescription, it can be neatly summed up as: support Palestinian positions on borders, security and settlements; reject Israeli claims on all the above; ignore any suggestion that Israel to be recognized as a Jewish state or that Palestinian incitement to hate and violence be condemned.
Coming merely a week after the negotiations publicly imploded, this article is only one of what will likely be a cacophony of voices from a dedicated band of “usual suspects” who are ready to “blame Israel” for the current moribund state of the peace process.
Indeed, following an emergency session, the Arab League unsurprisingly declared Israel “wholly responsible for the dangerous stalemate.”
Then, headlines around the world wide characterized Secretary Kerry’s April 8th testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as pointing the finger at Israel for triggering the breakdown in talks. In fact, responding to a question from Sen. Ben Cardin, Secretary Kerry, if anything, blamed both sides, noting that the Palestinian decision to pursue joining 15 international treaty bodies and Israel’s decision to delay the fourth prisoner release and to announce additional housing tenders in East Jerusalem were not helpful. While State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki quickly clarified that “Secretary Kerry has been consistently crystal clear that both sides have taken unhelpful steps, and at no point has he engaged in a blame game,” reports and spin focused more on the alleged blame than on the clarification. And it continued, despite reports following the meeting between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lieberman that Secretary Kerry assured the Foreign Minister that the US does not blame Israel.
Of course, just as Israel must take concrete steps for peace, it must also be sensitive to the perceptions of every move it makes that touches on issues in the negotiations. Even Israeli Chief negotiator Tzipi Livni, harshly criticized Israel’s Housing Minister Uri Ariel for issuing of building tenders for an East Jerusalem housing project at a particularly sensitive time in the talks. And, Israel did indeed delay releasing the final 26 Palestinian prisoners it had agreed to last July, although there are strong indications that outstanding issues had been worked through and the release was about to be implemented before the surprise Palestinian decision to join international treaties.
There is a qualitative difference between recognizing that both sides have responsibilities and trying to suggest US policy has shifted by placing greater blame on Israel.
The problem with the naysaying and finger pointing is not only that it is wrong (there is the little matter of the Palestinian decision to join the conventions in contravention of their prior commitments, along with their public declarations throughout that they will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state), but the single-mind blaming of Israel for the breakdown of talks reinforces an atmosphere that makes moving forward toward any kind of peace or understanding more unlikely.
As we’ve seen in the past, in the face of the blame game, the Israeli public and leadership feel isolated and turn to defensive postures and away from engagement. This despite the fact that over two decades of monthly polling show broad Israeli public support for negotiations and a two state solution (albeit with great skepticism that it will succeed).
Meanwhile, with the onus placed fully on Israel, time and again, the Palestinians get the message that whatever they do, however disruptive or even destructive their behaviors and policies, they can act with impunity because they can count on support from the international foreign policy establishment and will be under no pressure to make serious concessions for peace.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators continue to meet with American facilitators in Jerusalem, and no one knows what will come next.
As this complex, sensitive and fragile process limps ahead, if there is to be any hope for a negotiated solution, responsible parties – including pundits and “off the record sources” – need to stop the blame game, and promote constructive routes to peace.