Where Did the Peace Process Go?
Check your newspaper, Twitter feed, or CNN. You will find the Malaysian airplane, Ukraine, the mudslide in Washington State, and in Washington, D.C. the terrible story of a missing 8-year-old girl. There is the occasional story about the Syrian civil war, the Central African Republic, or the declining U.S. defense budget. You are unlikely to learn much about the meeting between Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and President Obama, or about the current state of Secretary of State Kerry’s “American Framework” for Israel-Palestinian peace.
The reason is that Secretary Kerry and the president have managed to alienate both sides at the same time, so they don’t want to talk about it. This takes some doing, so it is worth considering how they managed.
From Israel’s side, requirements for a peace deal with the Palestinians include a few points:
- End of conflict; end of claims
- The promises of U.N. Resolution 242
- Israel’s capital in Jerusalem
End of Conflict; End of Claims is shorthand for “This is the last time we will have a negotiation over land, recognition, refugees or anything else. Whatever we give here and whatever you get here is the last thing.” It includes, inter alia, accepting the language of U.N. Resolution 181, which calls for the establishment of a Jewish State and an Arab State in Palestine. The Arab states voted against Res. 181 in 1947, and Israel has been waiting 67 years for them to correct the vote. This is part of why Israel wants the Arabs to accept Israel as the “Jewish State” – because the U.N. called it that.
So when Kerry says it’s counterproductive to insist, he is denying Israel’s requirement for legitimacy and the promise of “respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area." If that language sounds familiar, it is because it comes straight from U.N. Resolution 242.
The State Department spokesperson said it was unnecessary for the U.S. to insist, because “[t]he American position is clear[:] Israel is a Jewish state[.] … [W]e do not see a need that both sides recognize this position as part of the final agreement.”
So, if the U.S. does it, the Arabs don’t have to. That eviscerates the other important protection given to Israel by the U.N. (one of the few times a resolution worked in Israel’s favor).
U.N. Resolution 242: At the end of the 1967 war, the Arab states were handed the obligation to provide Israel with “secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force,” and "termination of all claims or states of belligerency.”
Secretary Kerry took the requirement off the table, just as he did Arab recognition of Israel as a Jewish State, telling an audience at the White House, "One of the lynchpins of the current peace process is the separation of Israel's security assurances from the general negotiations.” Security for Israel would be guaranteed in a "separate agreement" with the U.S., he said.
Under Kerry's new formulation, two principles emerge. Kerry assumes that first, there will be a continued state of war between Israel and its neighbors, negating the idea of a “peace process” entirely, and that second, Israel's sovereign legitimacy and secure boundaries do not have to be recognized by the Arab states, the Palestinians, or anyone else – just determined, accepted, and guaranteed by the United States.
The Israeli government vociferously objects to both principles.
OK, so the Israelis are unhappy, but if Israel’s primary requirements are on the chopping block, why are the Palestinians angry? President Obama, promising Mahmoud Abbas a country, did, in fact, ask for four concessions:
- Recognize Israel as a Jewish State.
- Agree that Palestinian refugees will be settled in the new State of Palestine, not in Israel (or accept compensation).
- Agree that Israel can maintain at least a short-term security presence in the Jordan Valley.
- Agree to “a presence” in Jerusalem, but not all of it.
That Abbas rejected them all should have been expected. Abbas, too, has a bottom line, which does not include peace with Israel or the establishment of a Palestinian State. His sole priority is not to do what will get him killed by unhappy Palestinians or deposed by the Arab League. This includes:
No recognition of Jewish patrimony anywhere in Palestine (Israel, Gaza, the West Bank, and Jordan). The Arab League reiterated that position last week. Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said the PA would not interfere with how Israelis “want to define themselves,” but “Israelis cannot deny that I have my own narrative, I have my religion, I have my story. [They are] asking me to change my narrative.” It should be noted that his “narrative” includes the claim that Palestinians are descended from non-Arab, non-Muslim Canaanites, just to make the point that Palestinians were there first.
Not to give up the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to live in places within pre-1967 Israel to which they claim roots, no matter how many generations ago. Abbas reiterated just this week: “No-one can give up the right of return.”
No settlements, no Jews, no IDF. Erekat announced that “[n]o settler will be allowed to stay in the Palestinian state, not even a single one, because settlements are illegal and the presence of the settlers on the occupied lands is illegal.” If you think he was drawing a distinction between “settlers” and “Jews,” he was not. “Settlers” are simply Jews living where Erekat and Abbas and Kerry don’t want them. Abbas told The New York Times that the Palestinian state wouldn’t have an army, but that NATO and American troops should be responsible for the security in the West Bank.
Full control of East Jerusalem as the Capital of Palestine. Jewish patrimony in East Jerusalem is constantly being undermined by the PA, and its minister of religious affairs and the former chief justice of its Religious Court both recently declared that the PA's Islamic belief and political position is that Jews are prohibited from praying at the Western Wall of the Temple Mount.
So Abbas said no to all and returned to the West Bank a hero. “I am a hero. I said no to Obama,” he said at a carefully scripted rally back in Ramallah in which he called the American proposals “immature.”
Perhaps, but only in the very short term, and in a very narrow sphere of influence.