The Middle East Peace Process is where hopes go to die. Professional diplomats don’t want to touch the thing. Foreign ministries don’t even treat ‘MEPP’ as a part of conducting real foreign policy. It’s a field apart, like Vatican relations or Esperanto.
The White House tried to pivot away from this graveyard of ambition, but John Kerry couldn’t resist. Like Charlie Brown who thinks that maybe this time Lucy won’t pull the football away, Kerry broke away from Obama’s commendable desire to leave bad enough alone. He is now flat on his back.
The warning tremor came from Abu Mazen. He announced a set of preconditions for negotiation that no Israeli government could even pretend to accept. The clue was the demand for Palestinian government institutions in Jerusalem. He might as well have demanded a dirty weekend away with Mrs Netanyahu, a demand that was as difficult for me to write as it was for me to imagine.
Now, that set of conditions didn’t bother the Israeli government at all. This round of MEPPing hasn’t even got the Israelis pretending to play. That set of conditions was aimed squarely at the Honourable John Kerry, Secretary of State of the US of A. It was a message saying, ‘stand aside now because I’m going to throw a massive bucket of warm urine into your face’.
And today, the bucket.
What the big power negotiators hate most is anything unilateral. Unilateral declaration, unilateral withdrawal, unilateral anything. Unilateral action denies the usefulness of process.
Unilaterally declaring Palestine independence was the Tony Blair bucket. Signing up to a raft of treaties last week was the first warning for Kerry’s bucket. Then, the conditions. Today: splash!
The Middle East Peace Process may grind on, but today Fatah and Hamas showed that they don’t expect anything to come of it.
The biggest question is not how long this apparent rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah will last. The answer to that is not long. Neither party will take well to the idea of fighting a fair election, and the losing side will not move easily into the role of loyal opposition. The results will be yet another disappointment for the Palestinian people who deserve better.
The biggest question is what Fatah was offered to acquiesce to a Hamas takeover of the West Bank. My bet is some share of gas revenue that might come from the economic exploitation zone of a Palestinian coast unfettered by an internationally unrecognised Gaza government.
Make no mistake that a takeover it is, if elections are honest. Abu Mazen couldn’t get elected dog catcher in Abu Dis if the polls are free and fair. Hamas has been confronting Israel for years, and if that doesn’t put food on the family’s table Fatah can’t offer better. The Fatah kleptocracy can’t offer much as evidence of good government except basic security, and even that is bought with the filthy secret of close co-operation with the Israeli government.
Mr Obama’s enemies in the US will try to make hay out of this, as though Middle East peace was Obama’s to lose. They’ll be wrong, though. Obama washed his hands of the region two years ago.
Netanyahu, and pretty much the rest of Israel, had no expectations of a result from Kerry’s round of the MEPP. Neither did President Obama, nor Abu Mazen. For Hamas MEPP is a nightmare, not a dream.
Today’s event was mostly a signal to John Kerry that his career as Secretary of State will be crowned with thorns and not the olive branches of a peacemaker.