John Kerry and the Middle East peace process

Secretary of State John François Kerry believes that he can broker a real peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians:

John Kerry defies the odds with intense drive for Middle East peace
By Tim Lister, CNN | updated 10:53 AM EST, Tue January 7, 2014

John Kerry had made 10 trips to the Middle East in the past year to try to win an elusive Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. (CN)

(CNN) — No-one can fault U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for lack of effort. He has just wrapped up his 10th visit to the Middle East in pursuit of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority — the most elusive prize in international diplomacy.

Kerry has a vision, according to U.S. diplomats — to climb the mountain with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and to peer down from the summit on the valley of peace to see what a two-state solution would look like.

It is a poetic metaphor, but more than half-way into the nine-month timetable for reaching a framework agreement, Kerry’s partners are still bickering in the foothills. The more pessimistic observers — with history on their side — say both the Israelis and Palestinians are positioning themselves to be able to blame the other for failure.

Kerry’s aim is to gather together all the issues — “borders, security, refugees, Jerusalem, mutual recognition, and the end of conflict and of all claims” — in this framework agreement, which would in his words “lay out the end-game,” the parameters for a final peace settlement. The U..S and its partners would then help the two parties hammer out the details.

More at the link. But I’ll use CNN’s own story highlights:

  • Through intensive diplomacy the U.S. Secretary of State is trying to build momentum in Middle East peace talks
  • Borders and Jewish settlements are likely to be the most difficult piece of Kerry’s puzzle
  • Some within Israel’s coalition government want to annex Jewish settlements in the fertile Jordan Valley

The Secretary of State, like his boss, President Obama, and like every President and Secretary of State over the past two generations, is focusing on the details, focusing on how to structure some sort of agreement that can get both parties to sign a peace treaty. How can they tweak this detail, how can they adjust that provision, how can they finesse a particular part of the language, so that both sides can say that they’ve gotten what they want without having given up too much to the other, to put it all together and pull it all together in just the right way so that both sides will accept it?

Of course, we actually had that deal, in late 2000, brokered by President Clinton, between Palestinian President Yassir Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, a deal that Mr Clinton said was the best the Palestinians could ever hope to get,1 and which was simply rejected by Mr Arafat, after Mr Barak had accepted it on behalf of Israel.2

But we’ve known the basic framework for an agreement ever since 1967. It has been easy for us, safe and secure in the civilized West, to figure out a plausible and logical way to split the differences, ways that make perfect sense to us. The pages of Foreign Affairs are full of articles by diplomats and learned scholars and even heads of state, all telling us the same things, differing only in the minor details about how the Israelis and the Palestinians get from where they are now to this oh-so-noble peace plan. Secretary Kerry is simply following that familiar, old pattern of trying to put together the same jigsaw puzzle that others have put together before him.3

Well, sorry to say, but the Secretary is just wasting time, money and jet fuel. The problem of peace is not a matter of how the jigsaw puzzle is put together, but the fact that the Palestinians and the Israelis hate each other, and don’t trust each other. If an agreement is reached, and signed by President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, the terrorist group which controls the Gaza Strip, will denounce it and keep shooting rockets at Israel.

Hamas Stresses it Views Negotiations, Abbas as Illegitimate
Hamas stresses that it does not recognize negotiations of any kind with Israel, claims Abbas ‘unreliable’ for agreeing to peace talks.
By Dalit Halevi, Tova Dvorin | First Published: 12/29/2013, 5:20 PM

Hamas declared Sunday, on the 5th anniversary of Operation Cast Lead, that it would continue to “fight the Israeli occupation” and “advance national goals,” no matter what the outcome of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) might be.

“Our nation (the Palestinians) did not authorize a single person to negotiate with the Occupation,” the group declared in a statement, slamming Abbas and the PA.

“All of the possible outcomes the negotiations may have do not represent the will of the Palestinian people, but only represent the negotiators themselves,” Hamas claimed.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is set to return to the region this week, to advance the negotiation process between the two countries. Rumor has it that he will “force” a deal between Israel and the PA – even though both sides have rejected the US’s security plans for an interim deal.

The news also follows heightened tensions between the PA and Hamas, after PLO officials called on the terrorist group to withdraw its associations with the Muslim Brotherhood on Saturday.

More at the link.

The problem is much simpler than civilized Westerners want to admit; the problem is that the Israelis have not decisively defeated the Palestinians, to the extent that they wounded or killed most of their fighting aged men, and put such a fear into the survivors that it drove all thought of continued fighting out of their minds. Oh, Israel has won several wars with the Arabs, in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, and 1982, but none of them ended with Israel utterly destroying their enemies, as the Allies did to the Axis powers in World War II, with the Arabs compelled to accept Israel. Rather, they ended in various cease-fires, which destroyed a lot of equipment, but left a population of young Arab males alive, to grow and fester in their hate. In a “war” which has been going on for two-thirds of a century now, none of the fighting aged Arab men today has even been defeated in a war by the Israelis.

The simple fact is that Israel has already given to the Palestinians part of what they said they wanted; Israel, in August of 2005, pulled out of Gaza, forcibly expelling Jewish settlers there. In effect, Israel just gave Gaza to the Palestinians to do with as they wished. And what they wished was to use Gaza as a safe base from which to continue to launch rockets into Israel. The Israeli Air Force located Hamas terrorists in Gaza, preparing to shoot rockets at Israel.

That is how you deal with terrorists!

Gaza has relatively few natural resources, and the Palestinians living there decided to trash the facilities that the Israelis left them, facilities which could have improved the lives and economy of the people of Gaza. Gaza does have some beautiful beaches, which ought to be a major attraction for Europeans with money to spend; the Palestinians could develop a tourist industry there, but apparently prefer bomb craters to beaches.

Of course, no population is monolithic, and there are certainly Palestinians who want peace, Palestinians who harbor no vain hopes of pushing the Jews back into the sea, Palestinians who are just plain tired of war. And they may even be a majority. But the hot heads, the irredentists, the men who want to fight and fight, and who seek victory, not peace, exist in sufficient numbers, and with plentiful enough weapons, to keep even a peaceful majority so cowed and so dominated that peace is not an achievable thing.

The problem isn’t the form of a peace treaty; the real problem is that the wars between the Israelis and the Arabs were never finished, never fought to a conclusion and a decisive victory. In the 47 years since the 1967 war, in the 66 years since Israel’s war of independence, there has been enough ink spilled on books and articles on this problem that virtually every conceivable option has been intellectually explored. But in that time, there was not enough blood spilled for either side to claim a decisive victory, to force its enemies to surrender. That’s a pretty cruel, pretty nasty thing to say, but the truth is not always pretty. And until we admit the truth to ourselves, despite the fact that it just plain offends civilized Western sensibilities, we will never understand the problems.

  1. Bill Clinton: My Life (New York: Alfred A Knopf) © 2004, p. 944
  2. Prime Minister Barak was more than ready to deal; he was facing an election in just a couple of months, an election he was expected to lose. The working assumption was that, had he concluded a peace treaty successfully, he’d be returned to office.
  3. See my review of Jimmy Carter’s book, We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work.

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