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Barring a miracle, Kerry's breakthrough is bad news

If Netanyahu doesn’t agree to negotiate on the basis of the 1967 border, the Palestinians’ consent to negotiate with him will amount to surrender – which, until he proves differently, is what Bibi wants.  

The consensus seems to be that any Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are better than none, so Kerry is being congratulated for getting the two sides to agree to meet in Washington to see if they can then agree on a starting point for negotiations. A big step in the right direction, goes the mainstream view. And it will be just that – if Netanyahu agrees to the Palestinian Authority’s demand that their state be truly sovereign and independent, with a border based on the pre-Six Day War lines, which, of course, also run through Jerusalem. If Netanyahu agrees to that, the Palestinians, as they’ve said for the last four years, will negotiate with him willingly. But if Netanyahu doesn’t agree to this demand – which, barring a miracle, is what I expect to happen – then any negotiations with this Israeli government will amount to a Palestinian surrender. The occupation will be fortified and become that much harder to ever dismantle.

And since I don’t believe in miracles, Kerry’s announcement doesn’t make me hopeful, it makes me very worried.

The reason the Palestinians have insisted that Netanyahu agree to the ’67 borders with land swaps, which effectively means agreeing to the principle that the occupied territories rightfully belong to them, is because they know he doesn’t accept this principle - and he wants the Palestinians to abandon it by agreeing to negotiate with him anyway. That is Netanyahu’s goal – Palestinian surrender of their right to the occupied territories, after which he can whittle them down to accepting a piece of land here, a piece there, with the Israeli army surrounding them and controlling their borders, coast and airspace, and without their having any part of Jerusalem for a capital, nor the right to field an army or sign treaties with foreign countries. In return, Netanyahu would probably be willing to evacuate a few small settlements. This is the import of everything he’s been saying since his 2009 Bar Ilan speech, and he would love nothing more than to be able to negotiate toward that goal. This he will be able to do if the Palestinians give up demanding that he announce that it’s no longer his goal, and that he has accepted the basic, non-negotiable principle that the Palestinians have the same rights on the post-’67 side of the Green Line that Israel has on the pre-’67 side.

It must be remembered that the PA had previously agreed to talk with Barak and Olmert without any preconditions – because it had reason to believe, on the basis of their clearly stated diplomatic direction, that those two prime ministers did not want Israel to rule the Palestinians forever, so maybe there was a chance for an agreement on an equitable two-state solution (with an emphasis on the word equitable). With Netanyahu, it’s the opposite – everything he has said and done throughout his career tells the Palestinians he is quite comfortable with Israel ruling them indefinitely. Until this prime minister makes it clear that he has changed – by acknowledging that the post-’67 side of the Green Line belongs to the Palestinians, which would nullify his claim to “united Jerusalem,” just for starters – then the PA would be committing national suicide by agreeing to negotiate with him.

I’ve seen right-wing Israeli leaders change. Sharon changed, and proved it in Gaza. Olmert changed, and proved it in Gaza and Annapolis. From every appearance, Netanyahu hasn’t changed – and if he has, let him prove it by, as Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat put it, “saying the number ‘1967.’”

At the same time, however, Kerry’s pressure on the Palestinians has very weighty practical, day-to-day implications for them – the promised release of possibly hundreds of prisoners, the offer of a tremendous amount of money, and, no doubt, the threat of financial and political punishment if the PA refuses. Reportedly, Kerry has been working on a “formula” that would include the US declaring at the outset that a goal of the talks is a Palestinian state based on the pre-’67 border – but that Israel would have the right to reject that goal, and negotiations would still go forward. In other words, Netanyahu would not have to accept the Palestinians’ right to the occupied territories, yet the Palestinians would have to negotiate with him. If that’s the formula, it would, as I said, amount to the Palestinians’ surrender, which – until he proves otherwise – is what Netanyahu wants.

And what worries me is that Kerry is going to try to deliver it to him, using his huge political and financial power over the PA to do it. I’m obviously in no position to say that the Palestinians should allow hundreds of prisoners to remain in jail, or that they should choose deepened impoverishment over economic advancement. But I do say that everyone who believes in the goal of an equitable two-state solution – which includes a tremendous number of Palestinians and others, including quite a few Israelis – should beware of this “breakthrough.”  

Related:
The cost of Kerry’s ‘breakthrough,’ part 2
Endgame: Conditions for the success and failure of the peace process

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Richard Witty

      Much too pessimistic. There is no ending of negotiations until an agreement is proposed and then ratified by legislatures and populace.

      Recently, other likud officials and members of his coalition have spoken of replacing Netanyahu as the head of likud, and threats to abandon the coalition (from all sides).

      That might free up Netanyahu to a little more latitude, potentially force new elections, to a different coalition, IF the progressive and liberal left gets back on the horse and actively campaigns (unlike the last election, from what I’ve read).

      Splitting the old city of Jerusalem is now impossible. There is no confident non-Israeli potential jurisdiction that Israel will accept.

      If you believe that the green line (or close) is the best solution, you have to argue for it.

      Fairness
      Consent
      Law (civil and international)
      Security (a maze is more difficult to govern than a contiguous bound)
      Religion (in Joshua’s time, land was admissably taken by force, not since – even David bore consequences for force)

      Reply to Comment
      • rsgengland

        I have said often that I think the ‘green line’ and ‘settlement’ demands are red herrings.
        No Palestinian/Arab leader can make any form form of agreement with Israel without addressing the’refugee issue’.
        The Palestinian demand on refugees is “the right of return” and is their non negotiable item.
        And whatever anyone says, that means Israels destruction, which I believe is still the Palestinian/Arab intention.
        And there is also the issue of a million plus Jews Ethnically Cleansed from the Arab/Muslim lands by the wave of Antisemitism that swept the Middle East/North Africa before and after 1948.
        Solve the refugee issue and everything else becomes less fraught and more easily solvable.

        Reply to Comment
        • aristeides

          Good idea! Solve the refugee problem. Let them return home.

          Reply to Comment
    2. sh

      I think most are aware that this is far from a breakthrough and that much has to happen to transform it into one. But should one pan the prospect of talks before they’ve begun or offer cautious encouragement?

      So much has to happen before anything can be signed that would stick – like unity that might require elections on both sides and consequently different leaders first – that I don’t even think it’s realistic to worry at the moment.

      Reply to Comment
    3. aristeides

      Dead-on analysis. A Palestinian surrender of their rights has been the only goal of the “peace process” since its inception.

      As for the prisoners, by now we know that Netanyahu will only release them one day and rearrest them the next.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Engelbert Luitsz

      Kerry was welcomed with the approval of 1071 new homes in the West Bank and the Prawer Plan. Doesn’t give you much hope, no.

      Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        Neither of which bothered Kerry enough to mention them, apparently.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Mareli

      I’m not so pessimistic. In view of the EU’s action last week, maybe Netanyahu will be more reasonable about the 1967 borders with land swaps issue.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Someone

      Sharon and Olmert misled everybody, including the writer of this article.
      Sharon evacuated Gaza (which was pretty easy – we are talking about 8000 people that the state of Israel spent a fortune to protect them and it was not an area with religious meaning to the Jewish people), the assumption that he would have continued to do so with the west bank is nothing but a speculation, a wrong one, in my view. Now, regarding Olmert, Olmert has negotiated for two years offering nothing to the Palestinians, when he was caught for corruption, with a very shaky coalition and a brief of a second before going to elections, he came up with this generous offer to the Palestinians, this was not a leader’s move towards peace, it was a BS move from a declining politician.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Giora Me'ir

      No settlement freeze, no going to the international community for nearly a year, and no commitment on borders. Just to sit down with someone who will never agree to a just settlement. What a farce.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Philos

      Spot on Larry. One knows they should be suspicious when American Zionist hawks are in favour of this process. I tell them that the process will fail and lead to bloodshed. What’s their answer? “Good, that way Israel will have covered its ass diplomatically.” These people don’t care about anyone here other than “winning” their stupid ideological game of battleships. John Kerry is playing with fire

      Reply to Comment
    9. Michael W,

      Shouldn’t they call it the 1949 borders?

      Reply to Comment
    10. Laurent Szyster

      Peace ? God forbids ! Larry hates Bibi more than he loves every body else …

      Reply to Comment
    11. “…accepting a piece of land here, a piece there, with the Israeli army surrounding them and controlling their borders, coast and airspace…”–which limits the second “State” to a bantu. Once there were joint Israeli/Palestinian patrols, which stopped in the second intifada when a Palestinian killed his Israeli partner. That seems like the last gasp of real Statehood. I dearly hope there is a miracle, but I see nothing coming but Greater Israel with bantus.

      Reply to Comment
    12. XYZ

      Interesting how a unconstitutional head of state like Abbas agrees to speak for the Palestinian people against what his own party has stated, against what the HAMAS regime in Gaza has stated and without any backing from any other powerful Arab state like Egypt or Syria. Apparently, Obama threatened to cut the aid to the PA. This “agreement” by the sides is just like that Clinton did at Camp David…he made a “final proposal” that both sides “accepted with reservations” which actually meant no agreement and the outbreak of a bloody suicide bomber war. Each time there are ‘peace negotiations’ they break down and they lead to yet another war. Why the leaders allow this sick situation to occur is beyond me. Obviously, Obama is going to offer “Israeli withdrawal to the pre-67 lines and the Palestinians giving up the “right of return of the refugees” which is TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE to the Palestinians, as they keep saying over and over and over, no matter what people like Richard Witty seem to think. This offer was made TWICE in the past…by Barak and by Olmert and it was turned down. Don’t people learn anything?

      Reply to Comment
    13. Richard Witty

      Give them the chance to determine what they wish for themselves.

      It take a proposal being hammered out, then put to a legislative and popular vote. (As has been demanded in both communities.)

      Setting the bar high, puts the onus on the negotiators to articulate a compelling package, rather than an opportunistic one.

      Bernard Avishai articulated a format for limited right of return based on clear objective criteria, that many Palestinians have responded positively towards, if not directly advocated for.

      Reply to Comment
      • XYZ

        What individual Palestinian refugees may or may not want is irrelevant. The “extremists” set the tone….they will find an Islamic religious scholar who will say that any Palestinian refugee who gives up the demand for actual return and accepts money instead will get eternal damnation and will be considered a traitor by his people. Such a thing will work wonders with public opinion.
        Also Bernard Avishai is, like you, a reasonable “progressive” person who believes that deep down, every person in the world, except for Orthodox Jews and fundamentalist Christians, but most certainly includes virtually all Muslims, wants want he wants and will accept what he views as being “reasonable”. Again, all I say is listen to what the FATAH and HAMAS leaders are saying. That is what is important, not some anecdotal Palestinian-off-the-street who you may encounter.

        Reply to Comment
    14. Kolumn9

      What is this obsession with 1967 lines? If we get an outcome where there are two states and both the Israelis and the Palestinians can move on with their lives, what difference does it make whether the Palestinians get 90% or 99% of the West Bank?

      Reply to Comment
      • Would you agree to Israel getting less than 100% of the land on the pre-67 side of the Green Line?

        Reply to Comment
        • Laurent Szyster

          Yet another brilliant idea from the “equitable peace” department.

          Let’s demand Israel to move half a million citizens over that green line, because that will certainly make peace a lot more easier to implement!

          Continue to hide behind “equitable peace” to refuse any possible peace, it is a brilliant strategy.

          As demonstrated since 1947 by Palestinians’ successes …

          Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          If it allowed me to set up an independent state? Sure. Was that meant to be a hypothetical question?

          Reply to Comment
          • Unless you’re on the negotiating, I guess it’s hypothetical.

            Reply to Comment
    15. XYZ

      Kolumn9-
      The reason for the obsession with the pre-67 lines for “progressives” like those here at 972 is that the people here are interested in far more than “peace”, but they have a very strong emotional identification with the Palestinians and other supposedly “oppressed” Third-World people. Peace it not enough, but they feel that white people must repent for their colonialist past (and this, oddly enough, includes Israel in their eyes) and since they view the Palestinians as pathetic, weaklings who are nothing more than victims, they must take them under their wing and look out for all their interests. One thing I note about “progressives” is that they are very worried about stronger countries “dominating” weaker ones which they view as being terrible. Of course, even a Palestinian state filling in the entire West Bank would still be unviable and weak and would still be dominated. That is why the Palestinians are not interested in a peace agreement along those lines. That is why I have seen suggestions that Israel would also have to disarm itself so that it wouldn’t be able to “dominate” the Palestinians.
      Again, this is an emotional identification wit the Palestinians that far transcends a mere desire for peace.

      Reply to Comment
      • You are misrepresenting 972 overall by far. Larry, no disrespect, is a Two Stater: he believes anything else will eventually lead to more conflict which could disrupt Israel internally. Several 972 journalists seem either One Staters in outcome, not advocating such but seeing no other viable path; or are agnostic, seeing “Two States” as, so far, a false screen for settler advancement. The 67 line is touted in response to settler advance. Once the High Court said settlers must be protected whether illegal or not, coupled with the State’s overall refusal to remove them, political discourse has entered a fantasy land (as you keep telling us).

        If One State arrives as outcome, do your really want a Bank Palestinian populace agitating for equal status AND the return of the descendents of the dispossessed? You’re better off with Two States now, trying to shunt most ROR into the new State. But I don’t think a Palestinian STATE is possible now, only a bantu or, at best, a federated enclave, the latter perhaps fused into Israel later. By winning, you are losing.

        Reply to Comment
      • XYZ, this is a perfect example of everything that’s wrong with right-wing Zionism, everything that grotesque about it. Identifying with the oppressed and hating their oppressors, which you identify with “progressives,” is the best thing about Jews and something Jews have always rightly proud of. Right-wing gentile nationalists always hated them for it – but right-wing gentile nationalists now love Israel because it’s become such a right-wing nationalist project, while Jewish right-wing nationalists hate Jewish liberals – and all other progressives – just like their gentile allies do. Israel has been taken over by the Jewish version of the gentiles who traditionally hated and were hated by the Jews. Congratulations.

        Reply to Comment
        • XYZ

          I am quite willing to grant the Palestinians all the respect and honor they grant to us Israelis and Jews.

          Reply to Comment
        • Laurent Szyster

          Larry, you don’t identify yourself to the oppressed against the oppressors.

          You’re taking side.

          You’re taking side with corrupt Palestinian leaders who for a very long time have hidden themselves behind the demand for an “equitable peace” in order to avoid any peace at all.

          You’re taking side against all people, Jews and Arabs, that know the world cannot be perfect and yet want to do something real about it.

          The only people you identify yourself with are Gentiles who hold Jews to the moral standard they themselves failed so consistently.

          Hence your moronic hope that help could come from the hypocrite indecisive dullards of Europe …

          Reply to Comment
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