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The ever-shrinking Kerry peace process

Once again, Prime Minister Netanyahu is allowed to avoid Israel’s moment of truth.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. (State Dept. Photo)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. (State Dept. Photo)

When the new round of direct talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators began, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced a solid framework for the process: nine months of dialogue, by the end of which the parties will need to sign a final status agreement — or at least a framework for one. Since the Israeli government refused to accept the terms of reference agreed upon in previous rounds of negotiations, the time limit was necessary in order to prevent “talks for the sake of talks,” i.e., a process that drags on forever without concrete results on the ground.

Roughly halfway through the nine-month process, it was made clear that without those terms of reference there would be no agreement. The maximum Prime Minister Netanyahu was willing to offer the Palestinians did not amount to a sovereign state and didn’t come close to something even Mahmoud Abbas could accept, let alone one Palestinians outside the West Bank could agree to.

Read +972’s full coverage of the Kerry peace process

Around this time, the idea of an American proposal for a final status agreement was first made public. In his speech at the J Street Conference in Washington last September, American envoy Martin Indyk told the crowd: “by the time you convene again in Washington next year, the leaders will have had to decide whether they are going to go for a final peace deal or not.”

Or would they? In an interview with The Washington Post’s David Ignatius this weekend, Secretary of State Kerry said that in order to suit the political needs of both leaders, Netanyahu and Abbas will be allowed to submit their reservations to the American proposal – accepting it, but not really. This, explained Kerry, will be “the only way for them to politically be able to keep the negotiations moving.” Judging from Kerry’s words, we have come very close to the “negotiations for the sake of negotiations” phase.

The terms Secretary Kerry’s teams is using to discuss the talks – as well as the American and Israeli media – are misleading. The “sides” are not equal, and not just because Israel is much more powerful than the Palestinians, or because the American mediators are way more sensitive to the needs of the Israeli side than to the Palestinians’.

The talks themselves are unequal because Israel’s leadership gains legitimacy merely by talking – Netanyahu is rising in the polls and some of the international pressure on him is being relieved. The Palestinian leadership, on the other hand, is losing credibility by continuing to talk while the occupation and colonization of the Palestinian territory persist. The Palestinian leadership, or the Palestinian people for that matter, can only gain something when Israel actually starts withdrawing from the West Bank, something that even by most optimistic accounts can only take place long after an agreement is signed – hence the Israeli tendency to continue negotiating on and on without actually delivering.

In fact, the entire dynamic around the occupation is unequal for the simple reason that it takes an Israeli decision, not a Palestinian one, to end the occupation. No matter what the Palestinians do or don’t do, no matter what international actors do or don’t do, Jerusalem will need to reach a decision in order for the occupation to end. This, by the way, is true even outside the framework of the talks; in the case of another Palestinian uprising or due to mounting international pressure – eventually, it is Israel that needs to end the occupation.

The simple, undeniable fact is that Israel has been refusing to end the occupation for almost half a century. It has not lifted martial law nor has it withdrawn from the territory.

The object of the process needs to be making Israel reach this decision. Everybody knows that.

With this in mind, I am not sure that we have taken a single step forward since the launching of the Kerry process. Every crossroads has ended up being about postponing the decision: first by allowing Netanyahu to avoid the terms of reference from previous rounds of talks, then by keeping only vague references to territorial issues, and now by providing him with a way to continue negotiating without committing.

Just like Israel “accepted” the Clinton parameters and the Road Map (while submitting reservations), it can “accept” the Kerry plan and not come any closer to its moment of truth. Clearly, this is Netanyahu’s goal.

Related:
The only two-state solution that might work
Is the Obama administration cooking up ‘Oslo 3’?
Two state vs. one state debate is a waste of time, political energy

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    COMMENTS

    1. Rehmat

      One doesn’t need a Ph.D to guess which side Kerry’s team is supposed to be working.

      John Kerry (an Israel First) + Tzipi Livni, a ‘war criminal’ declared by a British court + Netanyahu’s special envoy Isaac Molho + Martin Indyk former AIPAC employee + Kerry’s special adviser, Frank Lowenstein. In other words; FIVE Zionists against Abbas’s two henchmen, Saeb Erekat and Mohammed Shtayyeh.

      You understand what I mean….

      http://rehmat1.com/2013/07/31/kerrys-palestinian-iftar-for-jews-and-muslims/

      Reply to Comment
      • Vadim

        Wow, you actually have a site where you post your nonsense.

        I especially loved the term Crypto-Jew, but the ones you post are not the real thing. Now Adi Shamir, Eli Biham and Bruce Schneier are real Crypto-Jews.

        Better watch out.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Richard Witty

      Don’t give up.

      The key to change is still electoral.

      With no electoral efforts, there is no mass movement for change in policy, not inner circle movement for change in policy.

      With a five-ten vote knesset swing to the center, there is a coalition committed to peace.

      Reply to Comment
      • Philos

        Don’t be so naive! That would require a political alliance with the “Arab” parties, which I don’t see Livni, Lapid or Herzog doing in a million years. Besides, in any society the political center is where bold political moves go to die. Initiatives either come from the Left or the Right but never from the center

        Reply to Comment
        • Richard Witty

          It is FAR closer than a single state, or even BDS achieving the level of change that most 972 writers suggest.

          5-10 knesset votes splits likud (between its risk averse and expansionist themes), removes Israel home from the coalition, and starts negotiations where Olmert left, rather than at square 1.

          Reply to Comment
          • Philos

            Ok, so explain how. I don’t see where you’re going to get these 5 – 10 Knesset seats from. Meretz grew thanks to Left-wing disenchantment with Labour. The only place that seats could be appropriated from are Kadima (2) and Yesh Atid (16) both of whose electorates are hardly voting along lines of the peace process

            Reply to Comment
          • richard witty

            They come from crafting proposal for a viable peace, explaining the reasoning to the electorate respectfully and without polemic.

            And, framed in a center left social program.

            It takes networking, educating, campaigning, even if its already been tried and failed.

            Bds has been tried for 80 years.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Liz Silman

      In the past when Israel has “accepted” but done nothing it has largely been left alone by the international community to extend the occupation. It may well – if it chooses to test it – find that this tactic for maintaining the status quo no longer works. Bibi’s double-speak and delaying tactics are no longer accepted by the international community as emanating from a leader who wants a viable two-state solution. They are seen for what they are; the actions of a man who does not. The idea that Israel should be pressurised into change through the imposition of economic and diplomatic sanctions is gradually moving to centre-stage within the international community. South Africa finally caved into this pressure; I doubt that most Israelis will permit the settlers to destroy their living standards and the country’s economy.

      Reply to Comment
    4. David

      Bottome line:

      In 20-25 years, three billion Muslims worldwide; 600 million Arabs, including 10 million Palestinians between the River and the Sea, and 150 million Iranians.

      Can there be any doubt where America’s real and long term interests lie? Certainly not with Israel, a rogue/pariah state, a well documented serial violator of hard won international humanitarian law, and in reality, America’s number one geopolitical liability, a millstone around its neck.

      No where are these facts more understood than in Washington’s real corridors of power.

      The handwriting is on the wall. Unfortunately, Israel refuses to read it.

      Reply to Comment