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.”  

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