Savir's corner: John Kerry’s diplomacy

While the peace is not American, the diplomacy to get there is, both the negotiation diplomacy and the public diplomacy – Kerry style.

Netanyahu, Obama, Abbas 300 (photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed )
Netanyahu, Obama, Abbas 300
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed )
A choir of skeptics followed John Kerry throughout his Middle East peace shuttles, advising him to let go of the hot potato – “It’s hopeless with Bibi and Abu Mazen”; “Everyone failed before you”; “It’s not good in view of the congressional elections” echoed the voices of experience, cynicism and pessimism.
Yet Kerry followed his intuition, understanding the necessity to make the ultimate effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He replied to the skeptics with both strategic and moral considerations.
He believes that without a real, courageous peace effort, the region as a whole could fall into the hands of extremists, fundamentalists and terrorists; that the very security and identity of Israel is at stake, as is the opportunity for the Palestinians to develop into a democratic state; that not only Israeli and Palestinian interests are at stake, but also, regional American strategic interests; and that the alternative to the status quo is violent conflict with Iran in the background.
At the same time, Kerry seems profoundly convinced that finally bringing peace to the Holy Land is the moral thing to do; that Israel in peace can finally find real security while being recognized by the Arab world for what it is – the one homeland of the Jewish people – that the Palestinians finally will find their deserved place under the sun, free from occupation, in charge of their own destiny. In this, Kerry proved to be both a realpolitiker and a man of liberal and humanitarian values. In a way, a Henry Kissinger and a Bill Clinton rolled into one.
That is true also for his modus operandi: relentless, almost obsessive, diplomacy, never taking “no” for an answer and leaving little doubt as to who the superpower is; a skillful negotiator, alternating carrot and stick, empathetic and forceful, an American who knows how to listen but also how to respond. He knows the creative art of negotiation and the value of secrecy. Most important, he does not give up when the parties use all of their creativity to come up with the traditional excuses. Kerry’s success in the prenegotiations is important for the American mediation efforts in the permanent-status negotiations.
Beyond his style and ambition, there were important reasons for the regional and international nature for his success – the Middle East in the aftermath of the Arab Spring is split between moderates and fundamentalists, between pragmatists and those determined to enforce religion in their societies. An eruption of violence at the core of the region would strengthen the hand of the extremists and possibly weaken the region to all-out war. This argument falls on fertile ground among the pragmatic leaders of the Arab League, fearful of Islamist parties. This is also well understood in Jerusalem.
In other words, America is involved not because of opportunity, but because of danger. Internationally we live in an era where a country’s well-being is highly dependent on the global scene; as a result of globalization, economies are interconnected and interdependent.
If before, domestic considerations affected foreign policy, today international considerations affect domestic policies. Greece and Ireland are cases in point. In our region, without a real peace process, Israel will be isolated in the world, bearing the cost of an economic “price tag,” such as the EU resolution to boycott the settlements, the Palestinians will not be able to count on the necessary international aid and definitely not the new economic package of $4 billion promised by Kerry. This is not about economic pressure; it is about a new global economic reality.
Besides regional and international reasons for the Kerry breakthrough, there are also American reasons.
The secretary of state introduced, for the first time in many years, not just American diplomacy into the peace-making efforts, but more important American policy. He made the US policies clear to both parties on several key issues: Border negotiations should be based on the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed land swaps; Israeli settlements are illegal and must not be expanded; Israel must be recognized by the Palestinians as the homeland of the Jewish people; Arabs states, with progress on peace, must normalize relations with Israel.
The US will assist Israel with its security needs; the US will assist the Palestinians with their economic needs; permanent-status negotiations should be on core issues, beginning with security and borders; the aim is a permanent agreement, not an interim one.
The United States sees these interests and position in harmony with the interests of Israel and the Palestinians. In this shift in American diplomacy – the introduction of American policy and active mediation – Kerry is fully coordinated with President Obama and will be as long as the secretary can prove there’s a reasonable chance of progress.
In parallel, both Obama and Kerry are turning to the Israeli and Arab constituencies by voicing the convincing and empathetic messages on necessary and possible peace, while also using new media.
They believe that there is a latent consensus for peace in the region, despite mutual suspicion.
All in all, with new motivating factors, innovative diplomacy and the introduction of American policies and an active public diplomacy, John Kerry has in relatively short time introduced a new proactive American diplomacy for the Middle East.
It is now up to the region to follow for its own good. For Israel, a two-state solution means the return, not only to new borders, but also to its democratic and Jewish nature. It will rid us of a cancerous danger – the occupation of another people against its will, an unbearable moral plague. Peace with independent Palestine will mean, as we must insist, a new relationship with the region as a whole, with diplomatic, economic and security cooperation.
Israel will then regain its respected place among nations, reaping the fruits of globalization. We will find out that while security challenges will remain, they can be confronted better with new regional and international legitimacy. Ultimately peace is security. It also means economic growth, and even greater democracy, not a state of messianic settlers, but a liberal, more secular democracy.
For the Palestinians, peace with Israel means finally the creation of an independent state, with hopefully modern and democratic state institutions and a population free of Israeli dictates. It too must alter its attitude to its next-door neighbor, recognizing that in cooperating with Israel, the Palestinians have only to gain, mainly in social and economic spheres.
They should recognize Israel for what it is, the homeland of the Jewish people, and thereby ridding themselves of their cancerous danger: rejection of another legitimate people. Then both sides will finally enjoy the fundamental right of self-determination.
The new Palestine will have an opportunity to develop possibly the first Arab democracy and a free market economy and become a model state in the region. They will be, for the first time, self-reliant, while enjoying a good relationship with a world willing to assist their nation-building process.
The outcome of the negotiations is not only about precisely where the line of the border will be, or the depth of security arrangements, but about what kind of states will emerge, in identity and strength, and what relationship they will enjoy.
The alternative to reaching these goals through the upcoming negotiations is violent confrontation and for each side to sacrifice its national identity and place among the nations.
This dichotomy has to be on the mind of the leaders and negotiators of the two parties with the launch of negotiations. The contours of the eventual agreement are more or less clear to all, they are reflected in the realities on the ground, expressed in various peace plans – the Clinton plan, the Saudi plan (the Arab Peace Initiative), the Geneva Initiative, the Obama vision of 2011 and, most important, in the policy outlines that John Kerry shared with Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas.
Israelis and Palestinians should understand that these American policies, as outlined, are today a global consensus. The United States is not only a friend to the parties, but a global leader seeking peace and stability.
This is not just a fact of life, but these American guidelines suit the aspirations of both sides.
Middle Eastern negotiators have a tendency to prefer dealing with futility, rather than with the essence.
The new Kerry diplomacy would be well served to cut through the bureaucratic red tape of insignificant details on the methodology of negotiations. If agreement is to be reached within a reasonable time, the negotiations must focus rather early on the core differences in each of the main topics – beginning by dealing precisely and concretely with security arrangements and the border.
Such negotiations on the core issues of the conflict cannot succeed without active American involvement – not by imposing an agreement, but by offering bridging proposals, based on American policies and on the US’s future role in the implementation of the agreements. In this, the new Kerry diplomacy is of utmost importance, backed by the leadership of President Obama and Secretary Kerry, possibly with the skillful Martin Indyk on his side, and should focus on listening to the parties, not giving up in the face of countless crises and breakdowns that are bound to happen, and guiding the parties to constructive policy proposals and proposing American support on security and economy.
Above all, this means courage; the courage of all three parties – to quote Netanyahu “in the Middle East it takes three to tango” – to confront the most difficult decisions. It is better late than never, but it should not be too late.
The outcome will not be a Pax Americana; Israel and Palestine have to agree with each other. This has become possible today, as when the two societies are faced with the real choices in front of them, rather than with the traditional blame game, more than 60 percent of Israelis and Palestinians support the right choice.
While the peace is not American, the diplomacy to get there is, both the negotiation diplomacy and the public diplomacy – Kerry style.The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.
Barbara Hurwitz edited this column.