Headlines say ‘Kerry blames Israel’ – who would have dreamt it?

If the road to the UN was open to the Palestinians before, now there may as well be a red carpet on it.

It goes without saying that Kerry’s blaming of Israel for the blow-up in the peace talks is a great thing, a bigger win for the fight against the occupation than anyone could have expected to come out of this process. From the time about a year ago that these negotiations were a twinkle in Kerry’s eye, the name of the game for Israel and the Palestinians was to avoid being held responsible for their inevitable failure. The best anyone had a right to hope for was that the Americans would blame Israel off the record, but on Tuesday Kerry did it on TV in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee!

They must be delirious in the Muqata, the Palestinian Authority’s headquarters in Ramallah. If the road to the UN was open to them before, now there’s almost a red carpet on it. This may or may not be the start of the endgame for Palestinian independence, and even if it is, it’s going to take years and be terribly painful for them, but whatever happens in the next stage of the conflict, the Palestinians start it with the wind clearly at their back.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks to some of his aides before the start of a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, January 4, 2013. (State Dept. photo)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks to some of his aides before the start of a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, January 4, 2013. (State Dept. photo)

The funny thing is that Kerry didn’t consciously intend to blame Israel. He’d have to be crazy or stupid to do such a thing in a setting like that, and he’s neither. What he said was this:

Both sides, whether advertently or inadvertently, wound up in positions where things happened that were unhelpful. Clearly, [the Palestinians] going to these treaties is not helpful, and we have made that crystal-clear. Unfortunately, prisoners were not released [by Israel] on the Saturday they were supposed to be released. And so day went by, day two went by, day three went by. And then in the afternoon, when they were about to maybe get there, 700 settlement units were announced in Jerusalem and, poof, that was sort of the moment. We find ourselves where we are.

The U.S. is now trying to assure Israel that Kerry wasn’t playing the “blame game,” he was just giving a “factual account” of the events. But here’s the thing – when you give a factual account of events that begins with one side’s violation of the agreement (Israel’s refusal to release 26 prisoners as promised), followed by that same side’s provocation (the announcement of the new settlement units), followed by the other side’s violation (the Palestinians’ bid to join international treaties), then it’s clear to everyone you’re saying there’s a causal relationship between the initial moves by Israel and the one that followed by the Palestinians. In short, you’re blaming Israel.

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But Kerry denies this because he has to. He knows he can’t blame Israel, at least not publicly, so as far as he’s concerned, he isn’t. He’s just giving a factual account of the events. No causal relationship implied, his people claim.

The problem is that basic human logic doesn’t work that way. If Joe punches Harry in the nose, then Harry punches Joe back, basic human logic says Joe is to blame. If Israel breaks its agreement to the Palestinians to release prisoners, then the Palestinians break their agreement to Israel not to go to the UN, basic human logic says Israel is to blame. Kerry can deny that that’s what he said, and I fully believe that he didn’t consciously mean to blame Israel because that could have only gotten him in trouble, but that’s the only way his words make sense.

He didn’t mean to blame Israel, he only meant to give a factual account. It was those facts that blamed Israel.

But what can you do; the top story in this country on the Tuesday night TV news and in the Wednesday newspapers was, “Kerry blames Israel,” in one wording or another. The news is not exactly a secret outside of Israel, either. The damage has been done – to the occupation’s prospects for the future.

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