Now that we have established that John Kerry is not “stupid” as he was described in these pages (May 27th 2013), that he is no “hapless gofer” (July 1st 2013) and that he is most certainly not “The first casualty of the EU settlement directive…” as one brazen headline declared (July 17th 2013), let us take a moment and analyze some difficult truths.
The fact is that in the weeks before the “outbreak” of peace talks anyone who had their ears close to the ground could conclude that events were beginning to turn. Palestinian leadership had adopted a different lexicon and the amendments in the Arab Peace Initiative, largely ignored here in Israel, came about not through fata morgana in the deserts of Saudi Arabia but from Palestinian understanding that the large settlement blocs are a reality that needs creative solutions.
In early July I attended two significant events lending credence to this, not as a journalist but as a member of a delegation of the Geneva Initiative. My impressions were recorded here. It is noteworthy that at the event in Ramallah, few journalists, if any were present. The following day at the Knesset while coverage existed, the absence of journalists from several notable news outlets was both conspicuous and inexplicable. Fortunately for absentees, once the breaking news of the day had been released, one needed only to pick up the crumbs left by a third party on the internet to have “covered” the event. With demise of the dead tree press, it appears that journalism itself in its reincarnated form has transmuted from something live-beat to dead-beat. From going out and getting the story to sitting back and waiting for it. And herein lays the danger: the news is not only what a third party states in selected, edited text from within that writer’s own paradigm. It is the dynamic in the room, it is a presence in the field, the analysis of the entire text or event and the ability to put the relevant dots together preferably without acrimony, skepticism or undo emotion. Yet even after the peace talks commence, we must endure op-ed style, opinions from Washington based correspondents who should be talking to the right people and bringing us news rather than telling us what they think.
The Obama Doctrine: bad cop by proxy
Notwithstanding seismic shifts in Palestinian thinking to which the Israeli public is solidly impervious, something has happened within the Obama administration. From a carrot and stick approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict where Israel has been consistently offered the carrot without any stick, we now see what can only be concluded as a change of strategy. In many respects, this takes a form similar to other foreign policy matters that the Administration prefers to manage either indirectly or by proxy through powers who are both geographically and economically enabled to effect change without fallout within the U.S.
So from a time when Obama pleaded with Netanyahu to extend the settlement freeze in 2010 for only three more months (seasoned by the commitment to supply F35 warplanes to Israel, a gesture to which Netanyahu extended his hand, took the gift and promptly turned his back on peace), things are a now a little different. Today, Israel is getting the stick and the Palestinians the carrot. The stick takes the form of the European directives, a solid thrashing of Israel widely regarded as collaboration with Kerry and a wake-up call for Israel as to its increasing isolation. In contrast to prophecies of doom predicting the demise of Kerry, it is no coincidence that Israel’s immediate acquiescence in coming to the table is consequent in part to this. If one needed further proof, Netanyahu tried his luck by insisting that Pollard be released as a last minute attempt at getting something in return to which he received a flat no. The only way out of Israel’s isolation is a carrot dangling a long way in the distance and the only road leading there is the Kerry road.
The Palestinians on the other hand get the carrot: an investment package of $4 billion underwritten by Kerry and Blair if they can put the peace train on the tracks. The stick for them? Simply continuing as they are indefinitely while PA credibility runs out and goes to the extremists.
Remember the game Twister? Who hasn’t played it as a kid or a parent? Great game. Wikipedia: “players will often be required to put themselves in unlikely or precarious positions, eventually causing someone to fall”.
The Israeli public reminds me of Twister. One foot is stuck in the uncomfortable position of nurturing the pain of the holocaust – forever. Another foot is twisted across it nurturing the pain of the second intifada. One hand is grabbing at a square of land and biblical entitlement in occupied territory. The other is waving a fist fighting off the enemy. Our eyes and ears try to keep us from falling. If peace were to come and say “I am here, you can stand up now. Move forward and greet me” this player wouldn’t even know the opportunity for peace was staring at him straight in the eye.
A dismal reality
It therefore comes as no surprise that Israelis, Zionists, the Jewish world at large has woken up to a cold, harsh reality: the peace process is underway but rather signaling its beginning by elevating hopes and galvanizing a national sentiment to meet this challenge, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has paid a deposit in advance – irredeemable once paid- by freeing Palestinian terrorists and murders who engaged in premeditated killings, from Israeli prisons as a starting position. It doesn’t look good. Israel has buckled under pressure due to prolonged obdurate refusal to initiate a process, thereby causing increased isolation and censure. Rather than work with the most pertinent issues and finding flexibility there, namely the 67 borders as a basis for negotiation with equitable land swaps or declaring a cessation of settlement which can always be reversed, the flexibility that this government found was in every respect anomalous, certainly at this stage before any headway at all. It appears that the settlement obsession, the power of the settler wing in the Likud and the dependence on the fanatics within the coalition has brought about this state of affairs. Freeing prisoners is supposed to come when peace comes: at the end of the process after the signing, not the beginning.
Wanted: true leadership and a nation aware of the issues
If there is an upside to this drama, it is the sure fact that Israelis have been stopped – struck stone cold and sobered by this reality. Twister is over and a stunned public is left convoluted in frozen motion wondering just what has happened here, why, and what to do.
Peace is the word and we need to start relating to it seriously. Now is the time for leadership to step in, to take a nation by the hand and guide it towards peace.
Can Netanyahu do this, the man smitten with the settlement obsession and shackled down by history? We cannot know. A Gandhi, a de Klerk, a Mandela he is not. But as an involved public maybe this is the time to put skepticism, cynicism and mockery aside. We have nine months to study the issues, go into the field to learn and to prepare ourselves for a responsible decision. The public referendum will come and when it does, an informed assessment needs to be made unfiltered by daily processed media handouts.