Firstly, I believe it is only fair and correct to commend the editor of the Times of Israel and its management on a policy of open and fair discussion: one that has enabled a limitless range of opinions and writing on almost any subject and with almost any extremity in beliefs within the Ops and Blogs section of this publication. With this comes a marketplace of opinion ranging from serious argument to quirky insight, from extremism to populism with a measure of fallout towards the intolerable when the heat is on, for better or for worse.
In the spirit of such free discussion I have set out to prove to our readers that your opinion piece “The petulant Secretary Kerry” from the 5th February 2014 is, politely said, an empty house of cards with no foundation. Not so politely said, it is a diatribe of rhetoric based on populist myth and conjecture with a patronizing tone and lame advice that leads nowhere. In deconstructing the content, I believe this will become evident.
We have moved ahead in terminology. From calling Kerry “stupid” (ToI May 27th 2013), he was elevated to the level of “lame gofer” (ToI July 1st 2013). Today he is merely “petulant”. So much for the patronizing tone towards the emissary of the president of the United States who many wish would simply go away. The occupation, Israel’s rule over another nation, human rights abuses, land arrogation and the transformation to a Jewish minority in the area Israel controls will all resolve themselves without a third party intervening according these editorials.
Kerry is accused of hubris by attempting to find solutions to problems as yet insurmountable. Is the willingness to seek solutions based on a process which has clear landmarks hubris or boldness? Abbas is described as weak willed but evidence proves to the contrary. Charismatic he is not, but a shrewd and powerful politician he most certainly is. Not only was this made clear in the in-depth analysis on Israel’s Channel 2’s Friday evening news on the 7th February 2014, but there is mounting evidence that vindicates this. A short trip to Ramallah or Kalkilya or any city in the west bank will demonstrate law and order, a powerful police presence, close cooperation with Israeli security, indeed a complete change and approach which includes building instruments of state and solidification of current PLO dominance with Hamas kept on a short leash. The nine month deadline term listed also as “hubris” was a target date which would most likely be a tranche in what is clearly not a simple process. To suggest “hubris” is to suggest “never try” and while “never try” is most certainly not hubris, it is defeatist.
The five No’s
The defeatist position regarding proactive peace negotiations continues in Horovitz’s five No’s: No Mr. Netanyahu does not…No Mr. Abbas will not… In many ways this describes almost all negotiations of significance prior to peaceful solutions. Jermiatic predictions of what leaders will or will not do, lead nowhere. Certainly in the case of South Africa we know that positions were absolutely not reconcilable even at the outset of negotiations however an agreement was reached. A brief review of the Camp David accords reveals that Sadat was about to abandon the process and yet with American persistence and intervention, a peace deal was reached.
Popular myths and presumptions backing up this conjecture are for example:
- Abbas follows Arafat in refusing to declare the Jewish state legitimate. Wrong. Firstly Arafat was stated on record as accepting the Jewish state. Secondly, recognition of Israel as legitimate has been stated many times specifically by Abbas. Likewise, the current position of PLO leadership is that Israel can and must define for itself what it is: It is not for Palestinians to define it as Jewish as this in turn suggests that non-Jewish citizens are second class citizens. This has not been a demand on any Arab country negotiating peace with Israel nor of any other country that has dealings with Israel. In any event, we may see changes here as the process continues.
- Abbas will not abandon the right of return to within Israel. Wrong, Abbas has stated publicly he will not and cannot return to live in Safed. More importantly it is widely known that both within the Geneva Initiatives discussions and in negotiations with Olmert that a symbolic compromise figure of several thousand refugees will be agreed on and enabled to return to live within Israel. Some say 5,000 others talk of 100,000. Such a compromise reaches a number far smaller than the 300,000 Palestinians now living in east Jerusalem who will come under Palestinian rule and citizenship with the advent of a Palestinian state. The numbers play in Israel’s favor.
The tirade of No’s is in fact all presumption of what Netanyahu believes and intends and what Abbas believes and intends. In the lexicon of non-peace and non-negotiation the editor has ignored process, compromise and the power of a dedicated broker, something that has been sorely missing in the last decade.
A class in good diplomacy
The lecture to Secretary of State Kerry on “Good Diplomacy” is, and I say this with respect, embarrassing, no less.
Lesson one: Tell Abbas that he must give up on the right of return. He must work against incitement. Seriously now, do you really believe these are issues that have been ignored? Now that Palestinian leadership has met the core conditions of Bush’s roadmap by bringing stability to the West Bank while Israel has proactively engaged in rampant settlement schemes in violation of those conditions we now wave a red card of incitement. As if “price tag”, mosque burning and chanting “death to Arabs” are not prolific within Israel often met with an overnight arrest and mild dismissal.
Lesson two: Good diplomacy means that Kerry must be in charge of Israel’s failing hasbara by explaining why Israel is not an apartheid state. If he wants to discuss boycott, then he should chat to Netanyahy in private. Here’s the thing: Kerry is not a contractor for Israel. He owes us no favors. He works for American interests. Right now, peace for Israel-Palestine is perceived as an interest. When the Obama administration tried to use the carrot by offering F35 stealth aircraft for a mere three months of settlement freeze the U.S. was both ignored and laughed at. Conversely when the EU, no doubt in collusion with Kerry, threatened to cut off Horizon 2020, suddenly Israel responded to the Kerry initiative. Kerry learned fast that the stick is more powerful than the carrot with respect to Israel and makes sure to voice his warnings to further his interest.
As the Middle East implodes with social unrest while the U.S. acquires self-reliance on energy, you may actually get your wish and the Americans will simply go away – as brokers, as bankrollers and as friends.
The true path
We are fortunate to read that the editor has solutions:
- “Gradual painstaking work from the sides themselves helped by outside would-be peacemakers”.
- “Real engagement…”
- “Gradual change from the bottom up…”
- “…Slower fixes..”
So we have above, advice for both new ideas and creative ventures. The problem is the ideas are not new, the creative ventures are in process and the editor is either not aware of them or chooses to ignore: whether on the level of security or with educators investors and journalists as suggested, and with many others. The living model of this, and there are many, is the Geneva Initiative which is both a powerful structure for basing negotiation, a workshop of communication and ideas and networking between Israelis and Palestinians.
Unfortunately, left merely as ideas, initiatives, real engagement and slow fixes, the misrepresentation that fills the void is that we have all the time in the world. We don’t.
The ongoing settlement debacle places Israel firmly in international pillory of shame and if anyone didn’t hear the stocks shutting tight, Kerry certainly made sure they did. On the Palestinian side, a government that has categorically denounced violence with a leader who is specifically quoted as being opposed to BDS, now find themselves without real achievements for their efforts.
To conclude, for someone who states that he has “no time for those on the rejectionist right who waded in to publicly assail the secretary”, you sure sound like them.
The never-never plan coming from the editorial is not the stuff we need to hear. It is a pusillanimous excuse for non-negotiation.