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Kerry’s Diplomacy and a Just Israeli-Palestinian Peace
January 28, 2014, 7:24 am

There is much speculation these days about US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent proactive diplomacy to produce a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

A Palestinian activist wearing a mask of President Barack Obama, holds a Rosa Parks’ mug shot, in the West Bank town of Hebron, on March 20, 2013 [AP]

A Palestinian activist wearing a mask of President Barack Obama, holds a Rosa Parks’ mug shot, in the West Bank town of Hebron, on March 20, 2013 [AP]

After much effort, Kerry was some time ago able to persuade the two sides to agree to resume direct talks by warning that this was their last chance to achieve a negotiated peace which would finally create an independent sovereign state for the Palestinians and secure peace for the Israelis.

He also reminded the Israelis that “the demographic dynamic will make it impossible for Israel to preserve its future as a democratic Jewish state,” coupling such an opinion with his view that the talks will only succeed if both sides make painful concessions.

At the present time, given the inability of negotiations to make substantive progress, the main diplomatic push is to have the two heads of state – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas – accept a formal vision of peace by signing what is being described as ‘a framework agreement.’

There is a wide range of reaction to this renewed search for an agreement that is being treated as a high foreign policy priority by the Obama administration.

There is also a sense that Kerry might be correct in stating that this is diplomacy’s last chance. By realizing how close they are to a point of no return, both the Israelis and Palestinians could be convinced that they face a lose/lose proposition to allow the conflict to linger any further.

Such upbeat logic may explain why the small Palestinian stock market jumped 8 per cent in the last several days, evidently also in reaction to a doubling of investments from Gulf countries.

In opposition to this positive spin, Palestinian activists in the West Bank have staged angry demonstrations urging the Palestinian Authority to abandon this ‘peace process’ because it is a bridge to nowhere.

They say the process is just one more delaying tactic which enables the continuing expansion of Israeli settlements, the further Judaisation of Jerusalem, and the adopting of a territorial approach to the conflict that abandons the 6-7 million Palestinian refugees and the Palestinian minority of 1.5 million living in Israel.

There are also the various signs of discontent with Kerry’s diplomacy on the Israeli side. The Israeli Secretary of Defense tells the world (before issuing half an apology) that Kerry is naïve about Israel’s security needs in the Jordan Valley, thereby dismissing the American contention that high tech fortifications are an adequate substitute for the presence of Israeli troops on the ground.

Settlements: Non-negotiable

Israel's prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu (second left) at a cabinet meeting on Sunday [AP]

Israel’s prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu (second left) at a cabinet meeting on Sunday [AP]

In late January, Netanyahu compounded an impression of Israeli skepticism about the talks leading anywhere when he told a press conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos that he does not intend to uproot a single Israeli settler for the sake of a peace agreement.

This means, in effect, that settlements – all of them – are non-negotiable from the perspective of the Israeli government.

Add to this the Netanyahu insistence that for negotiations to go forward the Palestine Authority must recognize Israel as ‘a Jewish state’ and accept a unified Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Such demands are significant as they mean that the Palestinian diaspora’s insistence on a right of return for those Palestinians who were coerced to leave their places of residence in 1948 is not subject even to compromise.

Netanyahu’s statement also totally disregards the human rights of the Palestinian minority that stayed behind when the state of Israel was established.

This stressed diplomacy seems conceptually too one-sided to be able to provide a setting conducive to a fair outcome.

For the United States to position itself both as the unshakeable partisan of Israeli interests and as the third-party mediator puts the Palestinians at an enormous disadvantage that highlights their weakness.

Could one ever imagine Israel ever considering Iran, Pakistan, or even Russia as a potential intermediary?

To pose the question is to answer it.

The negotiating context was made even more awkwardly skewed when President Barack Obama chose Martin Indyk, an individual associated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and pro-Israeli think tanks in Washington, as his Special Envoy to preside over the peace process.

Only a combination of the strength of the Israeli lobby in the United States and the weakness of the Palestinian Authority can explain the Obama administration’s willingness to put the rights of the Palestinian people under such adverse auspices.

Betraying Palestinian aspirations

Abbas (center) chairs a session of the Palestinian Cabinet in the West Bank city of Ramallah [AP]

File photo of Abbas (center) chairing a session of the Palestinian Cabinet in the West Bank city of Ramallah [AP]

In effect, any framework agreement that emerges, if accepted by both sides, will confirm these disparities of situation and demands.

The present Israeli government shows no disposition to conclude a fair agreement, but rather seems to hope that the Palestinian Authority might swallow some arrangement by which they give up their claims to a state based on 1967 borders.

They perhaps also hope that the Palestinians will forgo a resolution of the refugee issue (which accords with international law) in exchange for a mini-state in the West Bank that would have the trappings of sovereignty but lack viability and political independence – perhaps coupled with some kind of joint security confederation that included Jordan in the arrangements.

To call such an outcome ‘peace’ would be tantamount to the grossest betrayal of Palestinian legitimate aspirations.

At the same time, the Palestinian Authority seems to lack the stature to represent the Palestinian people as a whole.

It lacks the capacity to represent the people of Gaza who have been governed for the last several years by Hamas. Beyond this, the Palestinian Authority seems to focus on ending the occupation while being willing to accept all of the unlawful encroachments on Palestinian rights that have taken place since the 1967 War, especially the settlements, separation wall, and ethnic transformation of East Jerusalem.

Against such a background, the clarifying move would be to admit that there exists no basis at the present time for inter-governmental diplomacy of the sort being championed by Kerry.

The parties are too far apart.

The Palestinian Authority does not seem intent on protecting Palestinian rights under international law or capable of exerting enough pressure to obtain Israeli withdrawal to the green line, which was long ago accepted by the world community as the unconditional obligation of Israel given authoritative status by a unanimous Security Council, and embedded in Security Council Resolution 242.

A framework agreement that projected a vision of future peace would under such present circumstances be one more snare and delusion for the Palestinians with its main tangible effect being to allow Israel more time to proceed with settlement expansion, Judaisation, and the completion of the settlement wall being unlawfully constructed deep in occupied Palestine.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the publisher's editorial policy.