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Beware, J Street: The Kerry deal looks rigged against the Palestinians

Well-intentioned American Jewish liberals backing this latest U.S.-led peace process appear to be riding for a fall.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, and Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat address reporters on the Middle East Peace Process Talks at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on July 30, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, and Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat address reporters on the Middle East Peace Process Talks at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on July 30, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

What is J Street going to say if, after urging American Jews to support the Kerry peace mission, that mission wins the support of the right-wing Netanyahu government – but not that of the Palestinians, who view it as the terms of their surrender? And what will J Street say if Western liberal opinion, and even much of Israeli liberal opinion, decides that the Palestinians are right?

This is a question that J Street and all American Jewish liberals supporting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts should ask themselves now, because all indications are that within a few weeks, Kerry is going to present a “framework agreement” for a peace treaty that the Israeli government would be crazy to reject and the Palestinian Authority crazy to accept.

Last week, Israel’s Channel 10 news ran a report saying “the emerging framework document is so unthreatening even to Israeli hardliners that it is unlikely to prompt any kind of coalition crisis.” At the same time, the report, citing sources close to the negotiations, said “Kerry would now face an even greater challenge to persuade the Palestinians to accept it.”

To anybody who’s been following the news of the peace talks, the story made perfect sense. Kerry reportedly has given in to Netanyahu’s demands to the point that the framework agreement is shaping up to be not only more “pro-Israel” than the 2001 Clinton parameters, but even more so than Ehud Barak’s offer to the Palestinians at the 2001 Taba talks or Ehud Olmert’s at the 2008 Annapolis talks.

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There has been nothing but expressions of demoralization coming from the Palestinian side. Even one of the most moderate Palestinian figures, Yasser Abed Rabbo, was reported in Haaretz as saying, “no Palestinian leadership can accept Kerry’s formula for a framework deal, which [Abed Rabbo] says is vague when it comes to issues important to Palestinians and detailed regarding Israeli concerns.”

Reports are that the agreement includes a Palestinian capital somewhere in “metropolitan Jerusalem,” which is a very far cry from a capital in all of Arab East Jerusalem, as the Clinton parameters (and the world consensus) call for.

Also, Kerry’s plan reportedly includes no Palestinian refugees whatsoever returning to Israel proper; Olmert offered to repatriate at least 5,000 of them, and Barak had a team of advisers at Camp David negotiating the issue with the Palestinians.

Furthermore, Kerry is said to back Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people,” which the Palestinians rightly say would be a slap in the face to the 20 percent of Israel’s citizens who are Arab.

In addition, there’s a strong likelihood Kerry will endorse a long-term Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley – on the territory of a Palestinian state – which Olmert recently noted was not one of his demands during the Annapolis talks.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu says he intends to keep not only the large settlement blocs near the Green Line, but also Hebron and Beit El, which would cut deep into the heart of a Palestinian state. We’ll see if Kerry goes along with this, too.

Since Israel conquered the Palestinians in the Six Day War, nobody – not Clinton, nor Barak, nor Olmert – has ever offered them a state in the commonly understood meaning of the word “state”: an independent, sovereign territory. No one has ever offered the Palestinians a piece of land where they, like Israel and every other state, would have the right to raise a military and control their own borders, air space and sea coast. Israel always insisted on keeping those powers to itself, and the United States has always backed Israel up. Denying independence and sovereignty to a Palestinian “state” is by now a hardened Israeli-American position, and Kerry has certainly not challenged it.

What he has done, though, is retreat from former American and even certain Israeli offers to the Palestinians on Jerusalem and refugees, added the demand that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state, as well as the likely demand that they accept the presence of Israeli soldiers in the Jordan Valley, and the possible demand that they allow their state to have a big Israeli wedge cut out of its core by the permanent presence of the Hebron and Beit El settlements.

In all, the U.S. framework agreement is shaping up to be easily the worst deal the Palestinians have ever been offered in negotiations with Israel. Yet this is what J Street and all sorts of other American Jewish liberals are going to bat for.

They’re making a huge mistake. If Kerry’s deal turns out to be as Bibi-friendly as expected, it would place the Palestinians in the position of either having to reject it and get blamed in America for “torpedoing” the chance for peace, or going ahead with the talks under suicidal terms while forgoing other avenues, such as the United Nations, to gain their land and freedom from Israel.

Either way, no good would come of it; the Palestinians would never sign a final peace treaty based on such terms. But whether the Palestinians walked away or, alternatively, gritted their teeth and went on negotiating, it would be a great diplomatic victory for the right-wing Netanyahu government and the settler movement – and a costly diplomatic defeat for West Bank leader Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinians.

Above all, it would be a triumph for the status quo – the 47-year occupation – and yet another devastating blow to the chance of ending it.

J Street and other American Jewish liberals who genuinely want to see the occupation end have put all their chips on President Barack Obama and his administration. It turns out to have been a terrible bet. After an early attempt to win Netanyahu over with “tough love,” Obama has done nothing but cave in to him and the Israel lobby on everything having to do with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. And from all the evidence, Kerry’s framework agreement is going to be more of the same, except that it will be more damaging that the previous capitulations.

But then, who knows? Maybe these reports will be proven wrong. Maybe Kerry will surprise and bring in a deal that offers the promise of a real Palestinian state taking its place alongside Israel. In that case, it will be incumbent on me and a lot of other pessimists to change course and join J Street and its allies in urging Israel (and the Palestinians) to say yes.

But if expectations are borne out and Kerry’s framework agreement lands as an unprecedented American gift to Israeli hardliners and a bear trap for Palestinian moderates, then J Street and Obama’s other Jewish supporters are going to be in an embarrassing position. They will suddenly find themselves in the same camp with some very illiberal people gloating over how Bibi has won again, and how the Palestinians are again proving they “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

This article was published originally in the Forward on February 16, 2014.

The ever-shrinking Kerry peace process
The world’s blatant double standard – in Israel’s favor

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    1. mcohen

      The lessons learnt in 2006 are the results achieved in 2013

      Reply to Comment
    2. Haifawi

      It is just ludicrous to expect that there can ever be a ‘divorce’ here. The economy and infrastructure is too entwined. The best thing we can have is limited autonomy for BOTH Israel and Palestine, and a federal/confederal government that deals with ‘common-ground’ issues like monetary policy, national defense, and internal insurrection.

      Reply to Comment
      • It seems to me that without Palestinian development violence will recur, and Israel is the gravitational focus for that. So the entwining you note needs to grow. That is why I too think a confederation is the best hope. I would have a third party issue business development grants that cross the Israel/Palestine Border and try to find a way to develop neutral economic courts for disputes.

        There are haters of Israel, and to reduce their influence/activation you need development as well as real Palestinian autonomy. I don’t think a peace agreement without real development clauses will work.

        Reply to Comment
    3. shachalnur

      How short of memory everybody is,while recent and current events only cause cognitive dissonance?

      In June 2012 the US was ready to attack Iran(carriers in the Persian Gulf),NATO was ready to invade Turkey (through Turkey and Jordan),and Israel was ready to face Hezbollah.

      Everything was going according to plan(“7 countries in 5 years” Wesley Clark).

      Then Israel found out the US was going to backstab Israel by not attacking Iran and leave Israel facing Iran,Syria and Hezbollah alone.

      Israel went berzerk,leading to Nethanyahu’s Wile I Coyote act in the UN,and the failed regime change in the US during the US Presidential elections.

      Later ,6-7 Sept 2013 ,the roll out for war was ready,the Rose Garden waiting for Obama to declare the bombers were on their way to Syria,because of a chemical false flag attack in Syria ,perpetrated by who knows.

      This scenario was going to blow up the Middle East and involve Russia.

      Plot Twist.

      No attack,and within days he US started “peace negotiations” with Syria,Iran,and between Israel and PA.

      All these negotiations are controlled by the US, going nowhere and will not lead to anything that will solve any conflict,and that’s by design.

      Where do we stand now?

      Iran is not impressed, doing bussiness with the whole world,including NATO- Turkey,Syria is stuck in a bloody war between Assad(supported by Russia,Iran and Hezbollah)and imported Al-Qaida(supported by NATO-US/Europe),and the alleged Israel -Palestinian deal is unacceptable for the Palestinians ,and the settlers.

      In the last half year the US/Europe lost control over Iraq,Iran,Syria,Lebanon,Egypt,Saudi Arabia,Turkey AND Israel.

      What we see unfolding in front of our eyes is the classical Straussian Chaos Theory,(permitting to) arm both sides to the teeth,creating the right conditions(usually through false flag attacks) and let them go for one another,in order to pick up the profit after they blow each other up.

      The US made it very clear they are not going to get militarily involved in any of the these conflicts ,while pouring more gasoline on the fire.

      The US/Europe are trying to set up a clash between Israel and Iran(nuclear,chemical,biological),Sunni and Shia(Syria,Iraq and the wider ME,along religious and ethnic lines)) and Israel and the Palestinians,hoping for an Israel against the rest and a Sunni against Shia scenario.

      All parties involved are aware of this,and are doing everything in their power to prevent this scenario.

      Except the US/Europe ofcourse.

      J Street, “Liberal Zionists”,settlers and other “uselfull idiots”would do better to shut up,because they are being used to help blow up the Middle East.

      The real war is invisible,the visible war is an illusion.

      Reply to Comment
      • shachalnur

        Correction;”…NATO was ready to invade Syria…”(not “invade Turkey”)

        Reply to Comment
    4. Giora Me'ir

      The Palestinians would have no one but themselves to blame for constantly letting a biased U.S. be the only third party in the room.

      Reply to Comment
    5. David

      The political climate changes over time, just like the stock market. The best peace deal on offer today to the Palestinians is what the political market dictates. They have had many better offers in the past that they have declined. If they refuse again then there is no saying what may appear on the table in the future.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Mickey

      Well, so far it’s all speculations, so what’s the point of challenging J street now?

      If Kerry plan is based on 67 borders with 1-1 land swap. If the refugees are compensated, and some can return to the swapped areas, (and Jewish refugees compensated too, which will likely boost support among Israeli public), I think we are on to something.

      The Jordan Valley main problem is the settlements, and if they are all gone, some kind of agreement on which forces stay where and for how long is not going to be a real problem either.

      Recognizing Israel as the Jewish state may be a smaller problem than people tend to think, since it is in the text of UN resolution 181. If both side reaffirm commitment to this resolution we are almost there.

      On the other hand, if Kerry plans to leave massive settlements like Hebron (Kiryat Arba) Beit El etc. I don’t see how land swap is possible at all and that’s really mean continued occupation. However there is no indication of that, and what Bibi said got him in trouble with the right more of anything else.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Average American is now banned from commenting on my channel because of his blatant anti-Semitism.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Bar

      I’m confused, Larry.

      The Palestinians have recently announced that they reject every aspect of a deal. Why blame Kerry or the US or J Street or Netanyahu?

      They’ve received three offers so far, each better than the last, and none have made them budge on their positions. Why would anybody give them another improved position? If anything, it’s time to try offering less. They’re obviously not afraid because they think time is on their side and their UN and BDS moves are going gangbusters. They have no incentive to make peace, so they don’t.

      You need to give them an incentive and giving them more than what Olmert offered is the wrong incentive. They have to feel they have something to lose, just like Israel does and is therefore coming back with offer after stupid offer.

      Reply to Comment
    9. John

      I don’t understand this “slap in the face to 20%” nonsense. By asking to be the ‘Jewish’ state, Israel is not saying every single person in the country is Jewish.

      What they want is for the world to accept that it is a Jewish state (like the Islamic Republic of Fill in the Blank), run according to Jewish law, and a homeland for the Jewish people.

      In conclusion, to claim Israel doesn’t have the right to be considered the ‘Jewish’ state because 20% are Arabs is disingenuous. Also, the desire stems from the catastrophic experience Jews had throughout the 19th century by trying to assimilate in Europe (going so far in France as to renounce their ‘Jewishness’ in return for full citizen rights. This, of course, didn’t happen.)

      This argument is petty, infantile, and unbecoming of serious discussion.

      Reply to Comment