The blame game, then the shame game

Neither Israeli nor Palestinian leaders prepared their constituencies for the eventual historic change should Kerry have been successful. On the contrary, Netanyahu applied every trick up his sleeve to play the blame game, diverting maximum blame onto the Palestinians.

By Ilan Baruch

Secretary of State John Kerry with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, September 15, 2013 (State Dept. Photo)
Secretary of State John Kerry with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, September 15, 2013 (State Dept. Photo)

In his speech in Jerusalem a year ago, President Obama told us peace in the Middle East is an American interest. He also called us to generate political pressure which will motivate our government to take serious strides toward peace. Secretary Kerry launched his peace initiative, exceedingly invested time and political currency in it and tightly sealed it from any media. Sadly, it is grounded. Wednesday April 29th, the final date allocated to the parties to produce a framework for final status negotiations, is gone and with it the expired exercise in diplomacy without statesmanship.

Most spectators were skeptical right from day one. The very basic ingredients were missing when it comes to credibility. In the negotiations room there were two parties, one with nothing to offer. The other had no interest in taking part in it in the first place, but for the sake of maintenance of its relations with the U.S. Palestine has given up on 78 percent of its historic territory and the Netanyahu government is aiming to annex 60 percent of the 22 percent of historic Palestine, which the entire world regards as occupied Palestinian territory. Public opinion on both sides was skeptical. No one prepared their constituencies for the eventual historic change which was on the charts, had Kerry been successful. On the contrary, Netanyahu applied every trick up his sleeve to play the blame game, diverting maximum blame on the Palestinians once the Kerry Initiative is doomed.

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The Americans took a huge risk in launching this initiative. Their failure is far more dramatic than meets the eye. Firstly, it makes any future initiative brewed in Washington DC more difficult to launch. It probably gave the Oslo paradigm a kiss of death. It leaves us, Palestinians and Israelis alike, deprived of a hope to see a change in the foreseeable future, unless new fundamentals are introduced. Leaks from DC made it clear: Netanyahu ruined it. His boisterous show of commitment to peace was a façade for ideological commitments shared with his extremely hawkish government, and external pressures on the other. He spared no effort to generate a blame agenda against his Palestinian adversary, and at times against the Obama administration as well. The sole test for diplomatic success in Netanyahu’s eyes was to drive the blame squarely onto Abbas’s turf.

Where does it leave us? Stalemate is the desired state of affairs for Netanyahu. It allows continued and escalating encroachment of settlements on the West Bank and East Jerusalem. More than 13,000 new flats were recorded under different stages of planning or construction while Kerry Initiative was underway. This means a boost of 60,000 new inhabitants, or a 10 percent increase in the settler population. But stalemate is the toxic environment in which violence sprouts and could escalate by dangerous proportions.

April 29th faded away unceremoniously, and so did the Kerry initiative. Kerry is taking a step back, prioritizing other diplomatic fronts. President Obama speaks on the Middle East off the cuff in Kuala Lumpur or Manila. Netanyahu and his hawks are probably rejoicing. But the next battle for Israel is already being fought far away from home. It is the psycho-political space of legitimacy, de-legitimization, counter-occupation diplomacy, and above all, the shame game of apartheid.

Kerry was quoted recently in a closed meeting, warning against the inevitability of Israel turning into an apartheid state if the two-state solution is aborted. Official Israel cried foul. Israel is not an apartheid state, for sure, and Kerry was obliged to issue statements of apology for his choice of words. However, in the West Bank we see manifestations of an apartheid-like regime, which are cause for grave concern. Like in South Africa, the population balance sheet in the West Bank shows five times more Palestinians than Israeli settlers. However, the Israelis perceive themselves as the majority which rightfully embraces the hegemony in every aspect of life. The Palestinians are under military rule and have no political say over their future. In every aspect of life, the security considerations in regards to settlers are paramount. Had the occupation been a temporary and transitional stage on the way to a negotiated solution, the stark differences in the treatment of Palestinians and Israelis could be tolerated. In June 2017 Israel will celebrate half a century of total control over the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

This can take an ugly shape: the shame game. Advocacy against manifestations of apartheid in the West Bank and East Jerusalem would be aiming to enhance world awareness of the moral aspects of occupation. This is where Israel is vulnerable. This is where the Obama administration failed. The Kerry initiative fell prey to its own self-constraints in applying political pressure. In an exercise of blame denial, Israel is now destined to resort to shame denial. Apartheid South Africa did not survive that.

Ilan Baruch is a peace activist and a former Ambassador of Israel to South Africa.

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