Good news – Israel publicly trashes Kerry’s peace mission

In remarks to Haaretz today, ‘senior Israeli official’ shows Netanyahu to be the rejectionist, making it easier for Abbas to take ‘unilateral’ steps soon.  

Well, that was quick. No sooner does John Kerry wind up his first trip to Israel-Palestine to restart the peace process than the Netanyahu government publicly trashes his plans. Haaretz diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid reported today that a “senior Israeli official” said Kerry asked Netanyahu to free prisoners, transfer weapons to the Palestinian Authority and give up control of certain parts of the West Bank for the sake of Palestinian economic projects. Netanyahu, however, won’t consider any of these “confidence-building measures” until after peace talks get underway, said the official.

The Catch-22 here is that Netanyahu’s conditions for starting negotiations ensure that they won’t start. Kerry, reasonably enough, wanted Israel and the Palestinians to try to solve their long list of disputes in stages, and to start with borders and security arrangements. That would require Netanyahu to delineate for the first time where he thinks the borders of a Palestinian state should lie, something PA President Mahmoud Abbas, reasonably enough, is asking for. Netanyahu, though, doesn’t want to give the Palestinians anything, certainly not a state, so he’s insisting that the peace talks address all the most contentious issues at once. Haaretz:

Israel demands that if negotiations are to be resumed they will need to address, in parallel, all core issues of the final settlement – including the issue of recognition of Israel as a Jewish state , and a solution to the refugee problem. “If the discussion commences with talks about borders and security, Israel will only give, and will get almost nothing in return,” the senior official said. “When we get to the issues where the Palestinians will need to give something up – like the right of return – we won’t have any bargaining chips left.”

This is the argument of someone who has no intention of reaching an agreement, who only wants to structure the negotiations so the other guy says “no” before he does and thereby gets the blame for the talks’ failure. The truth is that in any good-faith negotiation, the more issues on which you reach agreement, the more incentive you have to compromise on the ones that remain. If the Palestinians got an acceptable deal from Israel on the borders of its state, they would have that much more motivation to give ground later on refugees, which is indeed necessary if they and Israel are ultimately to sign a peace treaty. Netanyahu, however, knows that if he divulges the borders he has in mind for this so-called Palestinian state, as well as the security arrangements he would demand of it, neither Abbas nor Kerry nor anyone else outside of Israel and the Republican Party would take him seriously as a partner for peace negotiations, and he would be blamed for torpedoing them at the start. Better, from Bibi’s point of view, to kick off the talks with demands that Abbas can’t fairly be expected to meet – like renouncing the right of return and recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. That way he gets the blame.

These are the mechanics of Israel’s rejectionist strategy, as spelled out by a typically blinkered senior Israeli official in today’s Haaretz. It seems, then, that the speech Obama gave in Jerusalem three weeks ago didn’t really change the world.

The ball is now in Kerry’s court. I don’t see him going to war with Netanyahu – the Obama administration clearly doesn’t have the guts for that – nor do I think he’ll try too hard to pressure Abbas to agree to Netanyahu’s terms – Abbas is not going to commit suicide.  Kerry will probably try to get the two sides to meet somewhere in the middle, which I don’t believe will happen because they’re on two different planets politically – the Palestinians want independence and Israel doesn’t want to give it to them – so this current U.S. attempt at Middle East peacemaking will fade to nothing like so many before it.

But by blowing off Kerry’s mission so brazenly, Israel, presumably, has pissed off the Americans – not enough, unfortunately, for them to sanction this country, but maybe, just maybe, enough for them to let Israel suffer the consequences of its policies. Today’s statement of Israeli rejectionism is good news, a possible small step in the right direction: it makes it easier for Abbas to follow through on his promise to take the occupation to the International Criminal Court and proceed with other “unilateral” steps unless Kerry’s efforts deliver meaningful results within three months, which ain’t gonna happen. As long as the right wing is in power here, nobody’s going to sweet talk Israel into giving up the occupation; this can only be done by uncompromising, adversarial means that magnify Israel’s crime against the Palestinians before the world, that threaten Israel with pariahhood – and only the Palestinians can do that, because nobody else cares enough. Hopefully, then, the senior Israel official quoted in Haaretz today brought the occupation one step closer to The Hague.