IT’S TIME TO SOUND AN ALARM
Is the struggle for justice in Palestine nearing a crossroads?
It’s possible (but still far from certain) that US Secretary of State John Kerry will inflict a historic defeat on the Palestinians. Yet, as disaster looms, Palestinian negotiators praise Kerry as an honest broker and pray for his success, while the Palestine solidarity movement proclaims one victory after another in its campaign to isolate Israel. What’s going on? How did it come to pass that we now stand at such a perplexing juncture?
The Kerry juggernaut was impossible to predict a year ago. In hindsight, however, it makes perfect sense.
Kerry is not the first high-ranking American official who has sought to broker a deal. President Bill Clinton endeavoured to remove from his legacy the stain of the Monica Lewinsky affair by solving the Israel-Palestine conflict at Camp David in 2000. He ultimately failed, but it’s well to remember how close he came. It was only Yasir Arafat’s refusal to capitulate, despite enormous pressure, that blocked an agreement. It’s also well to remember that Arafat paid a steep price for his principled recalcitrance. Although he was promised beforehand that blame would not be pinned on him if talks proved abortive, Clinton reneged on his word and Arafat was scapegoated, while the Palestinian cause suffered a major setback in international public opinion.
Tainted by association with George W. Bush’s disastrous foreign policy, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tried her hand at solving the conflict at Annapolis in 2008. These talks did not produce an agreement, but did leave behind a rich and illuminating documentary record that was leaked to Al Jazeera and became known as the Palestine Papers. The minutes of negotiations and accompanying maps clarified Israel’s bottom-line demands (more on which presently), which have been consistent since at least Camp David in 2000.
It accordingly should not surprise if Secretary of State Kerry, strapped with the shared legacy of President Barack Obama’s ridiculed foreign policy record, would want to compensate for ever-mounting policy failures, as well as cap his own political career with a Nobel Peace Prize, and possibly make another run for the presidency, by settling the conflict.
The irony is, if Kerry has invested a huge quantum of time and energy, and if Obama has joined Kerry in this undertaking, and if these efforts are crowned with success, it will not be because a critical American interest was at stake. In all the commentary on the Kerry process, one question has been studiously avoided: Why has Kerry embarked on this mission now, and why has Obama lent his prestige to it? The Israel-Palestine conflict is hardly a pressing concern: a surfeit of other crises has sidelined it on the international agenda, while Obama and Kerry already have their hands full with Iran and Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, China and Russia, and the fallout from the Snowden leaks and drone strikes. Neither Israel nor the Palestinians (not that they count) beseeched Washington to intervene. Except for the clinical diagnosis of Israel’s defence minister (“misplaced obsession and messianic fervour”), the only plausible explanation for the US administration’s interest is the mundane one of legacy. The principal impetus behind the US initiative—embarrassing as it might be to the President and his Secretary of State, and deflating as it might be to everyone else—is personal vanity. Like Clinton and Rice before them, Obama and Kerry seek historical vindication. When harnessed to the machinery of a powerful state, vainglory can prove to be an irresistible force, and has often been the root of incalculable human misery. If Obama and Kerry do not strike gold, however, it also means that, once their terms of office expire, the pressure coming from Washington will vanish, until and unless a genuine crisis arises.
It is no secret what the Kerry plan will look like. If he is to have any chance of success, Kerry cannot fight a war on two fronts. Israel constitutes a “strategic asset” of the US and can count on the clout of a powerful domestic lobby. It is consequently in a far stronger position than Palestinians to resist Washington’s orders. Judging by both official and insider statements, the Secretary of State has therefore appropriated Israel’s minimal demands as his own; the “Kerry process” refers to his efforts to foist these on the Palestinians. Kerry’s proposal will see Israel annex some 10 percent of the West Bank, including the critical water resources and some of the most arable land. The new border, which will run along the path of the Wall that Israel has been constructing, will incorporate the major Jewish settlement blocs, put municipal East Jerusalem on the Israeli side (except for some 100,000 Arab Jerusalemites who, along with the neighbourhoods in which they reside, will be excluded), and effectively trisect the West Bank. A makeshift arrangement will be worked out enabling the Palestinians (together with the Kingdom of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, or the Organization of Islamic Cooperation) to serve as custodian of the Muslim holy sites in the Old City, while Israel preserves overall sovereignty.
In the 2008 Annapolis negotiations, the Palestinian delegation presented a generous map that would have enabled Israel to keep 60 percent of its settlers in place as part of a two percent land swap, while also maintaining the West Bank’s territorial contiguity. The Israeli delegation rejected the map, not, however, on topographical grounds but because it was deemed politically infeasible—as then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni insisted, no Israeli leader could accept it and still survive in office.
Stripped of natural resources, tourist revenues from Jerusalem, and territorial contiguity, the so-called Palestinian state envisaged by the Kerry plan will at some point—there’s already talk of it—be forced to confederate with the Kingdom of Jordan. The “Jordanian option” dates back to the Peel Commission recommendations in the 1930s; was realized from 1948 to 1967 when Jordan annexed the West Bank, and was supported by Israel’s Labour Party after the 1967 war. But, although shelved after the first intifada and the Palestinian declaration of statehood in 1988, it appears to have been given a new lease on life: Not just in effect but also in fact, Palestine will disappear from the map.
As for the refugee question, a bare minimum precondition and departure point for righting the wrong is Israel’s acknowledgment of its responsibility for creating the problem by ethnically cleansing Palestine in 1948. However, Israel has persistently rejected any historical, legal or moral responsibility for the refugees, so its culpability will not appear anywhere in the final document. The Palestinian “chief negotiator” has himself effectively conceded Israel’s right to deny responsibility. Adopting post-modern lingo, Saeb Erekat speaks of each side having its own, and not being obliged to adopt the other’s, “narrative” of the past. As it happens, in the official Israeli “narrative,” Palestinians left of their own volition in 1948; indeed, Palestinians only arrived in Palestine after Zionist settlers “made the desert bloom.” Erekat has managed to undercut not only the rights of Palestinians but also their genealogy.
If Kerry’s plan reinvents Israel’s bottom-line demands as a just solution, why do some Israelis appear to oppose him?
Like the US, Israel does not currently have an urgent stake in ending the conflict. Israel negotiated an agreement with Egypt at Camp David in 1977 because it had suffered a major military setback in the 1973 war, and feared the outcome of a second round. It negotiated the Oslo agreement with the Palestinians in 1993 because it suffered a major public relations debacle during the first intifada, and worried about the army’s fighting ability if it got bogged down in policing the occupied territories. Even when compelling motives do exist, moreover, agreements don’t necessarily follow. Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin drove the U.S. delegation to distraction at Camp David, while Arafat did the same during the various stages of the Oslo negotiations. The treaties only look inevitable in hindsight; politics is a delicate business, and in any such complex undertaking, with so many moving parts, negotiations can easily fly apart. In any event, today there is no motive of equivalent magnitude driving Israel to the negotiating table with Palestinians. The occupation neither figures on the international agenda nor impinges significantly on Israel’s daily life. If Israel decides to end the conflict, it will be because of an “on-balance” weighing up of the pros and cons.
On the pro side of the ledger, an agreement will free Israel once and for all of the albatross of the occupation, while enabling it to keep almost everything it wants, and ridding it of what it doesn’t (i.e., the Palestinian people); it will normalize relations with the Arab world, opening up new vistas for regional trade, investment and military cooperation; it will enable Israel’s fuller integration with the EU, its largest trading partner; and it will further entrench the US-Israeli “special relationship” by placating the Washington establishment, much of which has also grown weary of the occupation. If a treaty is signed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be the toast of the town in Tel Aviv, Washington, Paris, London, and Berlin, and bag a Nobel Peace Prize into the bargain. If, on the other hand, he refuses to play ball, Netanyahu will incur the wrath of the US and EU. For a person of Netanyahu’s outsized ego, the potency of these incentives shouldn’t be underestimated.
Since Kerry launched his initiative, Netanyahu has tacked a pair of new demands to Israel’s bottom-line position: an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley, and recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. If commentary on the Kerry initiative has homed in on these demands, that’s because the core issues—Israeli retention of the major settlement blocs, nullification of Palestinian refugee rights—are already a done deal.
The Jordan Valley possesses zero strategic value. If Netanyahu now demands it, it might be so that he can later pretend to be making a “gut-wrenching concession for peace” by ceding it, or he might be calculating that Israel can keep significantly more arable land than it originally envisaged because Palestinians are now so politically enfeebled. Still, in any scenario, Israel will maintain some (perhaps joint) military presence on the Jordanian border, the modalities of which have already been pretty much resolved.
You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.
has anyone ever written about how raiders of the lost ark is a noir with a literal deus ex machina? they must have, right? it’s basically kiss me deadly with a protagonist less fascistic than mike hammer