Kerry's Destructive Deadlines
A magazine article and a television interview provide insights into what Israel and any would-be peacemakers need to know about Hamas-Fatah and the United Nations.
In the July 20 issue of The New Republic, Ben Birnbaum and Amir Tibon offer their take on “The Explosive, Inside Story of How John Kerry Built an Israel-Palestine Peace Plan -- and Watched It Crumble.” Their John Kerry is “convinced that the parties didn’t have much longer to craft a two-state solution,” observing at a House hearing in April 2013: “I think we have some period of time -- in one to one-and-a-half to two years -- or it’s over.”
Kerry is quoted as telling President Obama that Fatah-PLO head Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is “the best peace partner Israel could hope for.” The writers depict Kerry as open to Abbas’s insistence that talks be based on the 1967 borders. According to them, Kerry wanted Netanyahu to release 104 Palestinian prisoners requested by Abbas. Netanyahu was reluctant to do this all at once, but agreed to do so in phases, in order to ensure results to the negotiations. Kerry also wanted Netanyahu to freeze settlements, but the latter claimed that he needed to approve some 2,000-odd units to keep his coalition in tact.
According to Birnbaum and Tibon, Kerry obsessed on the deadlines he had set for the process, and adjusted the conditions as those dates approached. Thus, well before April 29, 2014,* he felt he had to pull out a “framework of negotiations” based on the principles of the 2003 Geneva Initiative -- “a demilitarized Palestinian state, borders based on the 1967 lines, a shared Jerusalem, and no mass return of Palestinian refugees to Israel.” We are told that most of Israel’s security brass liked the package, and that Netanyahu even agreed in time “to a mechanism whereby Israel -- at its sole discretion -- would admit some refugees on a humanitarian basis.” At Kerry’s request, President Obama was even willing to release Jonathan Pollard.
The writers imply that Israel forfeited the opportunity to reach some kind of deal with the Palestinians because Netanyahu wanted to delay the fourth and final release (26 prisoners) until Abbas extended the talks beyond the March 29 date that Kerry had promised to deliver those last prisoners. When that didn’t happen by high noon on deadline day, Abbas and Company decided to make their bid for some kind of United Nations recognition, knowing that that would torpedo any further negotiations with Israel, and this despite Susan Rice’s admonition to Abbas in a White House corridor, “You Palestinians can never see the…[f-ing] big picture.”
Though Birnbaum and Tibon may not have intended this, they revealed a major flaw in Kerry’s approach -- a “deadline” mentality. They also point to a major impediment in the peace talks -- the United Nations itself, which should have some kind of policy against accepting national status applications from parties involved in local negotiations.
Whenever United States administrations have pushed for deadlines in Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, the results have been disastrous. (President Bill Clinton’s sincere efforts to pressure the parties into peace at the end of his administration is the classic case in point.) This has served to reinforce Palestinian hopes that time is on their side, and that Israel is a foreign element that will not last in the Middle East.
In an excellent July 28 interview by PBS’s Charlie Rose of Hamas “political” chief Khaled Meshaal, safe in Qatar, the latter stated his appreciation of Kerry’s (deadline?) efforts. When Rose asked whether Meshaal agrees with oft-stated concerns that the opportunity for a two state solution is slipping away, the latter responded that if this is so, then it is the leaders of Israel who will lose. He (inadvertently?) revealed his hope -- and strategy -- when he said that the rest of the world will pressure Israel to withdraw and that Palestinians will continue to resist the 6,000,000 Israeli settlers (that is, the State itself) in one form or another for as long as the occupying Jewish state lasts.
Rose urged Meshaal to at least revise his rhetoric from “We can’t eradicate Israel” to “We don’t want to eradicate Israel.” By ignoring that suggestion, Meshaal was really saying, “We can’t eradicate Israel yet.” Any negotiations conducted with emphasis on a “small window of opportunity” only feeds into such a world view.
Clearly, Meshaal believes that he has all the time in the world and that he can perfect a mechanism of provocation of Israel and manipulation of world opinion so that the world community, including the United States, will rein in Israel until they tire of that job. This was a constant theme in his replies to Rose’s questions. He characterized Israel as a fragile state precisely because, as he sees it, the State is a land grab which “services the West” -- a West that can be re-educated. Similar statements have, of course, been made by PLO/Fatah leaders throughout the years.
The weapons found in three United Nations schools are further evidence of the ineptitude or worse that discredits the UN as any kind of mediating force, whether politically or in social services, especially after rockets had been turned back to Hamas, and after UN officials had joined in the Hamas rhetoric that the rockets may have belonged to “other terrorist groups” (a rhetoric echoed, by the way, by PLO spokesperson Dr. Hanan Ashrawi during a CNN interview on July 30). At the end of July three Israeli soldiers were killed in a booby-trapped UN clinic, a tactic obviously planned well in advance.
In the Charlie Rose interview, Meshaal may have unintentionally provided the rationale for a good alternative to the United Nations. He said that he rejected the Egyptian cease-fire proposal because that country “did not consult with factions in Gaza” and that he is upset with Israel for spending money on the settlements that they could have spent in Gaza!
It’s time for Egypt and Jordan to have a presence in a demilitarized Gaza, with social services and utilities services (for which Israel has been assuming much of the cost) in order to get to know their Palestinian neighbors and to show them that there are nations who have accepted the reality of a long-term Israeli presence to the extent of signing treaties with Israel. That would certainly be better than Mr. Kerry’s “deadlines.”
Rabbi Gertel, a retired pulpit rabbi, has been a columnist for the “National Jewish Post and Opinion” (Indianapolis) for 35 years.