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The Kerry Peace Mission: An Unbalanced Balancing Act

Like many committed to a just solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, I feel an ambivalence about the John Kerry mission. The leaked contours [1] of the “framework” agreement seem lopsided in favor of Israel, especially if Israel is allowed to keep the major settlement blocs of Ariel and Ma’ale Adumin. These settlements were designed in part to divide the West Bank into non-contiguous cantons  [2]and to cordon off Jerusalem from major Palestinian population centers—i.e., to prevent a viable Palestinian state.

Nevertheless, Abbas and the Palestinian Authority may be sufficiently worn down by the peace process to accept less than a viable state. Abbas has limited legitmacy—his party lost the last election (in 2006) it allowed to take place. But other Palestinian options are not great: they can embark on a long game, hoping that the boycott and divestment movement (BDS) against Israel continues to grow, and that an internationally isolated Israel will be compelled to negotiate on a more level field. But that’s a generation-long struggle, with no certain result. Meanwhile the degree of Palestinian suffering right now should not be underestimated; the Israeli occupation regime of checkpoints, home demolitions, imprisonment without trial, destruction of water resources, settlers destroying Palestinian crops with impunity, etc. is a constant grinding pressure on Palestinian life, and the rationale for any Palestinian leader to make a deal that could alleviate much of it is obvious. To be added, of course, are the blandishments of possible enrichment through crony capitalism: you can be sure that every member of the extended families of every key Palestinian negotiator are aware that a signed deal might put them squarely in the path of an international money stream. [3] The Palestinians long ago agreed to accept half a loaf—a state on the West Bank and Gaza and a shared Jerusalem. Will they now go for the quarter loaf—a trisected and unviable territory they can call a state, in lieu of something better?

For his troubles, Kerry has received unprecedented abuse [4] from the Israel right, a reaction which illuminates how little Israelis think of the United States as any sort of genuine ally. The composition of his negotiating team, described in some detail in a recent article [5] in the Guardian, implicitly acknowledges that his mission is based almost entirely on placating the American Israel lobby and critics on the Israeli right: not only does it lack any Arab-Americans, or Muslims of any sort, but also seems astonishingly thin on American Catholics and Protestants. As a team which “looks like America” it certainly fails, but it is likely that the key constituencies in Congress and public opinion which have to be brought on board probably don’t care that it doesn’t. Kerry needs to be able to state that his diplomacy is good for Israel, and has negotiated accordingly. Even so, it’s not clear whether he will get Israel to agree to the terms he proposes. But if he does manage to produce an agreement loaded in Israel’s favor and squeeze acquiescence to it from Abbas, it remains an open question whether it will actually resolve the conflict, or be vulnerable to campaigns to reopen the negotiations, which will seem more reasonable as recognition of the unviability of what the Palestinians have actually gained inevitably sets in.

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#1 Comment By Max Planck On February 5, 2014 @ 9:50 am

“The composition of his negotiating team, described in some detail in a recent article in the Guardian, implicitly acknowledges that his mission is based almost entirely on placating the American Israel lobby and critics on the Israeli right: not only does it lack any Arab-Americans, or Muslims of any sort, but also seems astonishingly thin on American Catholics and Protestants.”

THIS is a very odd statement. Can the author tell us what kind of input Catholic and Protestant groups should have in what are geo political negotiations?

#2 Comment By TomB On February 5, 2014 @ 10:08 am

All these U.S. peace initiatives and talks have long gotten beyond the point of farce even to that of just sheer nauseating. They are like part of an experiment designed to eventually weed out and find the most gullible moron on the planet who will be identified by their belief that the latest one has even a molecule of real chance of success.

Periodically undertaken to short-circuit or insulate Israel from some imminent consequences for its actions—this time it was a bunch of looming official European sanctions that were being considered it will be remembered—the U.S. team heads out with a Secretary of State desperate for attention and any achievement whatsoever, packed with what are effectively Israeli agents, and despite bending ever more doubled-over to appease Israel still gets kicked in its teeth for our troubles.

They are shams from the word go, right down to the U.S./Israeli maneuver of rigging who the Palestinian “leader” is to be who, despite even the present one’s doddering state and corruption is still awake enough to try to resist.

And even the biggest moron on earth can’t believe that even if they got him to sign the sort of thing being passed around that the Palestinian people would accept to live with it for five minutes.

So at “best” all that’s going to happen is that the parties are going to agree “with reservations” to some sheet of paper, meaning nothing of course, with the only party being obligated to do anything concrete is the U.S. pumping ever more money to Israel. (In this case probably giving it to the Palestinians so as to alleviate Israel from its international law obligation to provide for the people whose lands it is occupying.)

Sham sham sham sham sham.

And sellout not only of American principles but interests too, both the treasure kind and the blood.

#3 Comment By Michael N Moore On February 5, 2014 @ 12:26 pm

This reflects the growing split between the Jewish Athens in the US and the Jewish Sparta in Israel. The arrival of large numbers of Jews from countries with no history of democracy or free speech in Israel has increased a split that has been around for a long time:

“What I. F. Stone prophetically wrote about Israel back in 1967, that it was “creating a kind of moral schizophrenia in world Jewry” because of its “racial and exclusionist” ideal, is no longer beyond the pale.”

This growing split makes Israel vulnerable to Palestinian tactics that seize the moral high ground in the eyes of the Athenians, but are just seen a insects to be crushed by the Spartans.

The Northern Ireland hunger strikes, the Gandhian tactics against British imperialism and the US civil rights movement are templates that will increase this split.

[6]

#4 Comment By James Canning On February 5, 2014 @ 1:53 pm

John Kerry does have to contend with “supporters” of Israel in the US Congress who do not want a fair deal for the Palestinians, if that works against their own political interests and career.

#5 Comment By TomB On February 5, 2014 @ 3:30 pm

Michael Moore wrote:

“This reflects the growing split between the Jewish Athens in the US and the Jewish Sparta in Israel…”

*What* reflects any such alleged split?

Wanna look for such a split? Here: Start here:

The U.S. ladles billions per year over Israel and runs total diplomatic and economic interference for it. Despite this the last time he was here the Israeli Prime Minister, in front of cameras, all but wagged his finger in our President’s face he was so lecturing.

And yet … where were the Athenian splitters there condemning this?

And then, the U.S. Secretary of State launches a huge “peace initiative” effort, promising billions more of U.S. dollars at some point, caves to Israeli demands that it be recognized as a “jewish” state and be able to sit in the Jordan Valley, and numerous high Israeli officials call him “insufferable” and the Athenian splitters say what?

Nada is what they said.

And then that U.S. Secretary of State goes and observes the bloody obvious that without a peace deal Israel is facing all kinds of sanctions and delegitimization efforts and in thanks not only once again do tons of prominent Israeli officials *slam* him, but so does the Israeli Prime Minister.

And in response what do these alleged Athenian splitters do? Well, not only don’t condemn the hell out of these soaring Israeli ingrates but … Mr. Foxman of the *American* ADL sends a letter to Kerry *upbraiding* him too!

These “Athenians” have got you fooled, Mike. They use a different tone, that’s all, but it’s a mere tactic by such Israeli partisans. Look at the most prominent advertiser of being splitters which is J-Street. Against the occupation? “Oh sure,” they say. In favor of the U.S. withholding one thin dime helping to pay for same? “Oh my God what an existentially criminal thought!,” they gasp.

#6 Comment By cameyer On February 5, 2014 @ 5:54 pm

I agree. All media reports proceed from the question: “what will Israel accept.” That in itself tells you the slant of the US team. Very little coverage of Palestinian positions and views on negotiations. The issues of recognition of Israel as a ‘Jewish’ state and keeping IDF in Jordan Valley for ten years represent piling on by Netanyahu. A set-up to blame Palestinians if talks collapse. Abbas made a great counter-move with his proposal to have NATO guarantee the peace – not just in the Jordan Valley but ‘anywhere’ NATO wants to go in a future Palestine. When do you know negotiations are failing? When both sides will do or say anything to avoid being the first to walk out. The real fight may be more around international positioning – Israel’s fear of isolation, Palestine’s option to go back to UN and ICC – than anything else.

#7 Comment By AnotherBeliever On February 5, 2014 @ 7:02 pm

It’s worth a shot. And yes, pessimism is a perfectly sane response, but a few things are different this time. For one thing, the combined destabilizing influences of Islamic terrorist groups and Arab Spring factionalism has enough (really all) regional powers rattled enough to come to some kind of agreement so that they turn their focused attention on these problems. For another, I’m no expert on the country, but Israel seems on the cusp of shifting toward a more strident and unaccommodating footing, long term. This could be a last chance for leftists and moderates to influence the situation.

#8 Comment By Myron Hudson On February 5, 2014 @ 8:26 pm

Max Planck: Christians make up a not insignificant portion of the Palestinian population and are suffering along with the muslims. To the extent that we as an allegedly Christian nation might care about this, some representation might be in order.

Too, there is a sizeable evangelical population in our own country eager for Israel to fulfill some biblical prophesy by expanding to certain borders, thereby hastening the Second Coming. For better or for worse this is part of our own internal political calculus; AIPAC isn’t the only mover and shaker on Israel’s behalf.

#9 Comment By Michael N Moore On February 6, 2014 @ 9:14 am

TomB,

Yes. Despite the fact that we may not like it organized American Jewry owns the Israel issue. There can be no policy changes without people of enormous moral courage like Norman Finkelstein and Max Blumenthal and people with a little moral courage like J-Street.

You can fulminate all you want, but it’s not going to change anything.

#10 Comment By Max Planck On February 10, 2014 @ 11:05 am

“Too, there is a sizeable evangelical population in our own country eager for Israel to fulfill some biblical prophesy by expanding to certain borders, thereby hastening the Second Coming. For better or for worse this is part of our own internal political calculus;”

This is precisely the reason they should be ignored. I’m not in favor of using Biblical “prophecy” as a tool of foreign policy. But I’m just a silly boy.