Once again, the Obama administration hangs Abbas and the Palestinian Authority out to dry.
Halfway through the scheduled nine-month Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, there’s been a break in the action, or rather the inaction: the Obama administration, once again, has sought to end the deadlock by backing Netanyahu’s illegitimate demands and hanging the Palestinians out to dry. Last Friday the Americans presented a “security plan” (“security” in the American lexicon means security for Israelis, not Palestinians) that calls for Israeli troops to remain in the Jordan Valley – in the West Bank, in a future Palestine, on the Palestinian side of their border with Jordan – as part of the peace treaty.
The time period in which an Israeli military presence along the Jordan River will remain is long,” a senior Israeli official told Haaretz. “More than three to four years.”
The plan also calls on a future Palestinian state to be denied the right to military weaponry beyond the needs of a police and anti-terror force, and gives control of a future Palestine’s borders to a joint Israeli-Palestinian team, possibly with Americans also involved, according to Haaretz.
This is ridiculous. This is a security plan that comes at the cost of Palestinian independence and sovereignty. A country required to tolerate former enemy troops on its soil and at its border crossings, and that’s barred from having an army, is not an independent, sovereign state. Certainly not when it stands next door to the regional military superpower that’s been subjugating it for a half-century. Imagine what Israel would say to a security plan that left it without an army, with Palestinian troops sharing authority with the IDF at the border crossings into Israel, and with Palestinian troops on the Israeli side of the Israeli-Jordanian border.
That’s what U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry just proposed to the Palestinians – Kerry, that true believer in the “two-state solution.”
The security plan is what Netanyahu has been waiting for. Since the talks with the Palestinians started in August, there has been no movement at all; the Palestinians, whose position remains where it left off in the abortive 2007-2008 Annapolis talks, are waiting for Netanyahu to present his “map” of where Israel should end and Palestine begin, which he hasn’t done, insisting all along that he needs security guarantees first. And now the Americans have appeased him.
Kerry did the exact same sort of thing to get the talks started in April: the Palestinians were demanding Israel’s commitment to negotiate on the basis of the ’67 borders, as well as a settlement freeze for the duration of the talks, before agreeing to negotiate. Netanyahu balked, and the talks looked like they’d never get started, and then at the last minute Kerry threw his weight behind Bibi’s position. This left the Palestinians to either enter the talks with Israel remaining free to occupy and settle forever, or stay out and lose U.S. and possibly European funding while catching the blame for torpedoing the process. And so the Palestinians agreed. And in exchange for their consent to negotiate, they retained U.S. and European aid, and gained the release of a few dozen long-term Palestinian prisoners.
But they were also left to bear the ongoing humiliation of sitting at the negotiating table with Israel while Israel has set out on further, massive settlement expansion, maintained the occupation in full force, including the killing of unarmed Palestinians, and offered the Palestinians no land, settlement evacuation or sovereignty whatsoever. And now, with this U.S. security plan, the Palestinians are being asked to sign away their independence and sovereignty in a final agreement.
I don’t think there’s any possibility PA President Mahmoud Abbas will agree to this plan. But he doesn’t want to walk away from the negotiations and pay the consequences; he wants to stay at the table until the nine-month deadline is up in April, and after that he would be free, albeit in the face of U.S. opposition, to challenge the occupation further via the United Nations, possibly by taking Israel to The Hague. Abbas shouldn’t have too much trouble parrying the security plan; he can tell Kerry he’s not going to meet Netanyahu’s demands before Netanyahu meets any of his, which is an unimpeachable position, and Netanyahu, of course, has no intention of meeting Abbas’ demands. So the Palestinians should be able to ride out these talks for another four months until they end. And then we’ll see.
But the hope I had that Kerry would ultimately put most of the blame for the negotiations’ failure on Israel, a hope that was born with his startling TV interview last month (“Does Israel want a third intifada?”), is finished. Kerry can’t blame Netanyahu as the rejectionist after Kerry’s own plan was first rejected, or at least not accepted, by Abbas. Supposedly the Obama administration is putting together a full-blown peace proposal, including all the elements, to present to both sides next month. But with this security plan being part of it, Abbas will not be able to accept any such overall peace proposal, and since Abbas won’t accept it, Netanyahu will be under no compulsion to do so, either.
So when these negotiations finally end in failure, Kerry will do what American statesmen before him have done: either blame both sides equally or blame the Palestinians a little more. And the status quo, the occupation, will be nine months older and several thousand planned settlement homes stronger.
This new U.S. security plan is another decisive cave-in to Netanyahu by the Obama administration. It follows the one in April on the ’67 borders and settlement freeze, which followed Obama’s repeated opposition to Palestinian statehood in the United Nations, which followed his abandonment of the settlement freeze demand early in his first term. I hope the settlers name one of their new neighborhoods “Ramat Obama” and another one “Givat Kerry”; with a little bit of nudging from Israel’s friends in Washington, I’m sure these two American idealists can be persuaded to fly in for the cornerstone-laying ceremonies and smile as they dig the first shovelfuls of dirt.