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Admitting there is no peace process is the best thing Kerry can do for peace

Two notes on the Secretary of State’s mission to Israel/Palestine.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at their Meeting in Jerusalem (photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO)

1. Some time during the month of June, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to announce whether he will be able to reach a breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process. Two (out of three) months have passed since President’s Obama trip to Israel and Ramallah, and Kerry’s mission seems to have met a brick wall. Meaningful negotiations are nowhere nearer than they were last year or the year before. In fact, if there is one thing both Israelis and Palestinians agree about, it is the unlikelihood of a breakthrough.

Kerry just concluded another trip to the region, and due to the lack of progress he won’t be coming back in the next couple of weeks. His current visit was conducted under the shadow of the Israeli decision to recognize four new Jewish outposts in the occupied territories – a decision that strayed farther than any previous government from Israel’s commitment to the Bush administration to remove all new outposts and refrain from recognizing new settlements.

On Friday, Kerry held a press conference at Ben Gurion International Airport, in which he refused to provide a deadline for his efforts or go into any specifics vis-a-vis the positions of both parties (the full transcription of the press conference can be found here). Kerry also praised both parties for their desire for peace and warned against giving in to cynicism. He promised to continue his efforts, no matter what hurdles he will encounter.

Many people believe that there is a need to project such “optimism,” and nobody likes to be the bearer of bad news. However, what this moment calls for, more than anything else, is some honesty. Kerry would have done his own cause justice if he simply stated that there is no peace process, nor has there been one in recent times, and that the current trends on the ground are likely to continue in the foreseeable future.

Such statement would have forced the Israeli public – or at least parts of it – to seriously asses the long-term implications of its government’s policies. Furthermore, it would have saved what is left of the administrations credibility as a broker in this conflict, and it would have forced other states and agencies to reevaluate their relations and level of cooperation with what has become a permanent occupation. Donors to the Palestinian Authority would have to decide whether they want to continue financing what is now an arm of the Israeli administration. Moreover, companies would have to answer for their profits from the status quo. All of the above would become an enormous incentive for change.

Instead, what Kerry is doing – and with him, all those who support his mission or at least pay lip service to it – is providing everyone involved with an alibi for inaction. He is now a part of the problem he is complaining about.

2. At the Ben Gurion Airport press conference, Kerry was twice asked about the four outposts Israel decided to recognize retroactively. He gave the same response the Obama administration has been giving ever since it was “humbled” (as Peter Beinart calls it in his book) by the pro-Israeli lobby’s attack on the president in 2010:

… our position on settlements and outposts and on the legalization is that we are opposed to it. We believe that that is not appropriate, and, in fact, is not constructive in the context of our efforts to move forward. But it should not be something, as I just said, that prevents us from being able to get to negotiations.

And elsewhere:

As I’ve said, we are trying to get to talks without pre-conditions. We do not want to get stuck in a place where we are arguing about a particular substantive issue that is actually part of a final settlement, and that argument takes you so long that you never get to the negotiations that bring about the final settlement.

A word about the notion of “no pre-conditions”: when an American or an Israeli official uses this phrase, what he/she actually means is “no pre-conditions for Israel,” since both Israel and the administration pose many pre-conditions for the Palestinians. The most basic ones are to abandon armed struggle (both in action and as a formal policy) and to recognize Israel. This is, after all, the reason Hamas is kept out of the political process. At the same time, Israel was never asked to formally recognize the Palestinians’ right to this land, nor has its government ever voted in favor of the two-state solution nor demanded that a settlement freeze last more than a brief moment.

The Palestinians have agreed to all the Israeli/American pre-conditions. In exchange, their only demand is that talks be meaningful – in other words, that certain territorial principles be established – otherwise the entire thing is a waste of both time and political capital (even this simple principle has been abandoned by the U.S.). Under such circumstances, even if Kerry is able to force Abbas into talks, no serious process can take place.

Secretary of State John Kerry: 12-18 months before two-state solution is ‘over’
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    1. Kolumn9

      Whether Kerry declares that the peace process does not exist or not has basically no relevance and none of the things you list would be impacted even a single iota from such a statement. The Europeans would still be ‘reconsidering’ their aid to the PA. The Israelis still wouldn’t give two figs about the absence of a peace process and the Palestinians would still be either considering or weighing or threatening the usual empty threats that they like to roll out every several months. Oh no. They will go to the ICC. Oh no. They will try to get recognition as a state on the United Nations Committee on Terrible Jokes (which I am sure would condemn this one).

      In the absence of such a statement having any positive impact, the best thing to do is to not make it and simply to proceed with attempts to revive peace talks. This makes it appear that the US is actually doing something rather than running around the region like a chicken with its head chopped off which is my general impression of the administration’s other ME policies. And when the US secretary of state travels to Saudi, rather than disclosing the actual purpose of coordinating action against another Muslim country (Iran, Syria,..) , they will announce that Kerry was trying to restart the peace process or whatever. And one day when the talks actually restart the US can take credit and demonstrate to the countries in the region how indispensable of a country it is in restraining those evil Israelis or pushing them into peace talks. It is an extremely useful device all around.

      The Palestinian demand is to pre-determine the end-point of negotiations before they even start. That is one hell of a precondition and to pretend that it is minor take quite a bit of chutzpah. “Certain territorial principles” would be that the Palestinians are assured that they will control sufficient territory to declare a state. For example, declaring that the Palestinian state will have transportation contiguity and that 99% of Palestinians will be under a Palestinian state is also a commitment to “certain territorial principles”. It doesn’t approach in its formulation what the Palestinians actually demand and that is that Israel commit up-front to withdraw from the entirety of the land that the Palestinian negotiators lay claim to in negotiations. If the Palestinians claim that the Israelis are devouring a disputed pizza whose disposition is under negotiation, then the Palestinians are demanding that the Israelis accept that entire pizza is Palestinian before negotiations even start. What kind of an idiot would accept such a precondition for negotiations?

      “Certain territorial principles”.. Yeah. Okay.

      Reply to Comment
      • Johnboy

        “The Palestinian demand is to pre-determine the end-point of negotiations before they even start.”

        Err, no, not at all.

        The Palestinian demand is that everyone sign off on what it is that the negotiations will be about.

        As in, there be agreement about the point of these negotiations.

        Absent that, you have Seinfeld negotiations i.e. negotiations for the sake of negotiations, because they will be negotiations about nothing.

        Netanyahu would loooooove that, but why would Abbas be interested in that sitcom?

        Reply to Comment
    2. aristeides

      The article answers its own question. As long as the Lobby has a stranglehold on US policy, nothing will change.

      Reply to Comment
    3. greg nichols

      The president has the state dept and the military under his control, right? In my Israeli/Palestinian peace dream, the U.S. military goes over to the region, escorts Israelis out of their settlements back to Israel, escorts Israelis from the Golan Heights back to Israel, dismantles all the Israeli checkpoints in Palestine, and arranges things so that Palestinians could travel between the West Bank and Gaza easily, like over a freeway or other road. Money is given to the Palestinians to assist them in developing a great economy. So, other than the political situation (AIPAC) is there really anything stopping this from happening? I think the American people would understand about the treatment of Palestinians by Israel if they were really educated. By that I mean, if they were not continually being fed shit-ripened Israeli propaganda. How am I wrong about all this?

      Reply to Comment
      • XYZ

        You mean that the US will force Israel out of the territories, and the Palestinians will develop a “great economy” along the lines of Egypt or Syria, in others, build yet another failed state in the Middle East, which will then be wracked by a bloody civil war like Syria, Lebanon, Algeria, Iraq or Libya which will then spill over into attacks against Israel which will force Israel to respond and reoccupy the territories your American dream friends are going to force Israel out of in the first place?

        Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        So, your “peace dream” is to have the US go fight a war against Israel? Talk about 1984.

        Reply to Comment
    4. aristeides

      “I have a dream!”

      Reply to Comment
    5. Richard Witty

      There is a peace process. One with obstacles, in Israel and outside of Israel, so much so that the forward movement is stopped.

      “There is no peace process”. That’s up there with “there is no air, I can’t see it”.

      If the US were to conclude that there is no peace process, presently or potentially, then the US would join Israel in support of the right’s annexation of area C then all of the West Bank.

      The question will then ONLY be which side are you on, and it will not be for the abstract construction of support of Palestinian rights if they boycott pursuit of reconciliation.

      You are not “observing”, but shifting to advocacy in this regard, a victory that thankfully cannot be won, and thankfully would be repugnant in the process of “winning”.

      It is an irony to me that you would advocate for rejecting the political process (as choice of forum and topic), while ever considering doubting the social movement for being a-political (as choice of forum and topic).

      Reply to Comment
    6. Richard Witty

      There is a shared assumption between the far left and the Israeli right.

      That is that peace is not necessary, that it is optional, that there is another view and another potential strategy that is satisfying.

      I don’t share that perspective.

      I don’t believe that peace is optional, that the past history of obstacles and failures and even deceptions is only a prelude and not a conclusion.

      Peace should be hunted, like one will grow very uncomfortable even starve if not successful. ANY that argue that the hunters should starve rather than eat are the inhumane regressive cynics, not John Kerry or Mahmoud Abbas, Salaam Fayyad or Shimon Peres.

      Those that cynically conclude to give up on peace-seeking are more similar to the chicken-hawk armchair soldier neo-conservatives than they are different from them.

      Peace is possible, is constructed only (no magical juxtaposition of conditions).

      The boycott of the peace process, is the boycott of the TOTAL of the population of the region, as uncomfortable as that is. The only risk is one’s vanity to have “I told you so” if some combination of external circumstances and failure to change hearts and minds occurs.

      Worth the risk. You can go through your whole life having sincerely pursued that, and die with integrity.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Richard Witty

      I just finished a bicycle ride.

      I was rolling, when I came to an intersection that I had to stop at, for a long time.

      I even got off my bicycle. That much stopped.

      But, I got back on and eventually made it all the way home.

      Reply to Comment
      • Piotr Berman

        I can take you for a ride in my neighborhood and I can bring you to a fork on the road. In one direction you have a road that is on the map but you cannot pass through it without spending ours cutting bushes — and we have no tools. In the other you take unmarked jeep trail and you connect to other paths that eventually lead to the destination.

        Peace process as conceived now is a bike excursion where you take wrong turns. Again and again. Without acknowledgement what went wrong at the previous attempts the new attempt is doomed. In a forest, the thinking from street riding will not do.

        Reply to Comment
        • directrob

          I somehow think “peace process” is totally the wrong word. How can one be at war with the country you totally occupy.

          The problem is more one of justice, rights and rule of law. Once Israel fully recognizes Palestinian rights the rest is relatively easy.

          Reply to Comment