The fact that Israeli and American right-wingers are attacking Secretary Kerry should not make him immune to criticism from within the peace camp.
Troubling reports have been coming out of the Israeli-American-Palestinian negotiations in recent weeks. According to Israeli and Palestinian media, Secretary of State Kerry’s initiative appears to be growing less ambitious with each passing day. The goal to get the two parties to agree on an outline for a final status agreement was abandoned long ago. Now, the Israelis and Palestinians are waiting on an American peace offer, which also seems to have been gradually demoted. What at first was presented as a comprehensive solution that Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas would have to accept as is or reject outright, eventually became a framework and now it has become a paper intended only to allow the continuation of negotiations for another full year.
Details of the proposal itself give further reason for concern. Numerous reports have stated that Kerry has basically accepted Netanyahu’s demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, which has serious implications on the rights of Palestinians inside Israel; that a Palestinian right to East Jerusalem will only be mentioned and not recognized; that Israel will be absolved of any responsibility for the refugee problem; and there are rumors that the ratio for land swaps won’t be 1:1, meaning Israel will be allowed to annex territory beyond the 1967 borders without giving the Palestinians territory equal in size and quality.
If true, this proposal seems to be tailored to suit the political needs of Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition partners. No credible Palestinian leader can accept those terms; Abbas is likely to say no, and even if he can be persuaded or bullied into signing such a deal, he won’t be able to implement it. The occupation, in all likelihood, will not end.
Netanyahu, whose political strategy is all about maintaining the status quo, will score a major victory. The American proposal will be too vague to really hurt him politically. In any case, the negotiations will drag on and on and the implementation phase will be long enough that he won’t be forced to actually do anything, let alone evacuate major settlements (which of course is the heart of the matter and the only true litmus test for his political intentions).
In fact, the Israeli prime minister is likely to emerge as the winner regardless of the Palestinian response: if Abbas says yes, international pressure on Israel will be lessened and his government will receive all the benefits – from recognition to financial aid – of an agreement, but without actually doing much. And if Abbas rejects the American plan, as some reports suggest he intends to, Netanyahu will blame “Arab rejectionism” for missing out on another “generous offer.” This is probably the best outcome as far as Bibi and his right-wing coalition partners are concerned.
There is an inherent inequality in the process that the American negotiators have failed to address. The real trade-off in an agreement is land for legitimization; Israel is paying with land for the legitimacy it would receive for ending the occupation and signing treaties with the Palestinians and other Arab states. The problem is that the Palestinians begin to pay as soon as they enter the talks, while Israel is required to evacuate land only long after the deals are signed. This is why Israel’s interest will always be to negotiate forever – enjoying the legitimization of the peace process while not giving up the land, or more – while continuing to create “facts on the ground,” which will need to be recognized in the next round of talks, and so on. Allowing Netanyahu to prolong the talks without committing to the process, as Kerry is currently doing, maintains this dynamic. Forcing the Palestinians to accept an impossible deal is even worse.
Many organizations and individuals that oppose Israel’s occupation of the West Bank display unequivocal support for the Kerry process. They do it for various reasons: many believe that due to the “special relationship” between Jerusalem and Washington the American administration is the only party capable of ending the occupation. Others think the Kerry initiative is “the only game in town,” or that it is “the last hope for a two-state solution.” In Israeli politics, no mainstream force can position itself to the left of an American administration. Finally, the Israeli Left has a tendency to deduce that because the Israeli far-right opposes Kerry – demonstrated in Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s attack on the secretary of state – that he must right.
Yet those same groups should understand the danger in an American plan so biased that it would force Abbas to reject it, or one that would completely discredit the Palestinian president. They should also understand the danger in accepting some of Netanyahu’s far reaching demands, such as recognizing Israel as a Jewish state or pushing the Palestinian capital from East Jerusalem to Abu Dis or Issawiya, or the risk inherent in a prolonged process that would be accompanied by rapid settlement growth. The fact that Israeli and American right-wingers are attacking Secretary Kerry should not make him immune to criticism from within the peace camp. Life is not such a simple, zero-sum game. One can reject Ya’alon and criticize the secretary of state at the same time. If there are concerns, now is the time to speak up.