At last, we have an explanation for what has been going on with Israel-Palestinian talks. It is credible, yet ridiculous. And it is very important.
Here is today’s New York Times:
In recent weeks, Mr. Kerry and his aides have outlined several basic arguments for why his efforts might bear fruit. Perhaps the most important one, which Mr. Kerry advanced almost the moment he was picked for the State Department post, is that the United States does not have the luxury of staying on the sidelines.
With the Palestinians poised to take their claim for statehood to the International Criminal Court and United Nations bodies, American officials say the two sides were facing a downward spiral in which the Israelis would respond by cutting off financing to the Palestinian territories and European nations might curtail their investment in Israel, further isolating the Israelis.
Now, what is this saying?
— The Palestinian Authority (PA) intends to violate all the pledges used over the last 20 years of negotiations and in obtaining the West Bank and, previously, the Gaza Strip. (Not a good precedent for the likelihood of them keeping future commitments.)
— For doing so it is not being punished, but rewarded.
— The PA will seek statehood not through negotiations with Israel, but unilaterally. No Israel agreement will be necessary.
— Note a key assumption here: The United States will either not oppose, or effectively oppose, this effort.
Let’s pause here. You mean the United States cannot lead or pressure such countries as Britain, France, Germany, or Italy in saying ”no”? The New York Times doesn’t point out what a failure of Obama administration influence that would be. Let’s also note the incompetence and failure of that government to stop leading allies at the UN General Assembly to vote for non-member statehood (a non-binding vote) last year, despite a one-year warning the PA would try this.
— To summarize, the United States proposes surrender to a development which breaks its more than 20-year-long policy that no comprehensive solution would be achieved without real mutual agreement.
— After the “success” of the unilateral independence for Palestine — remember, with no control of the PA over Gaza — Israel will take action, understandably since it has been sold out by its allies.
— European states, again with no effective action by America, will punish Israel and Israel will be worse off.
Where to begin in analyzing this remarkable foundation for policy?
— First, as I pointed out, it presumes incompetence and betrayal by the Obama administration. It presumes that any battle to block either unilateral independence or punishment of Israel for opposing it would be doomed. This includes a refusal for the United States or European states to punish the PA even while it is believed they will eagerly punish Israel.
Incidentally, this explains Kerry’s seeming slip about Palestine already being an independent country. Will the Obama administration recognize a state of Palestine not achieved through negotiation with Israel?
— Second, it presumes that after everything it has done for 20 to 40 years has proven to be based on false promises, Israel should base itself on more of such promises.
— Third, it presupposes that the punishment would be worse than the risk taken by Israel, and ignores any possible costs faced by the Palestinians. Just because the EU has put sanctions — far looser and less significant than they seem — against special economic privileges for Israeli settlements in Europe, does that mean the EU will enact major sanctions against Israel in its recognized territory? (If Israel has such indications we don’t know about it, and again, this shows how the United States has not fought against this.)
— Fourth, it assumes that having been given every reason to believe that they hold all the cards, the PA will not make compromises. This is not likely to result in a deal since Kerry has already told them that in a year or two more they can have anything. Here is Mahmoud Abbas radiating confidence that he is about to get a state. Remember that Kerry’s last Middle East negotiation was when he thought he would easily wean away Syria’s dictatorship from Iran
— Fifth, why would the PA keep any post-treaty commitments? We know that Hamas will not, and that Iran would not accept them. How long before new cross-border attacks and new demands would be made?
I presume that talks would fail, and after this explanation of what Kerry is doing, I feel even more strongly that this will happen. That’s why the Israeli government has accepted this bad deal, believing, I think accurately, that the PA will make the talks fail. I understand why this option was taken — also, because there might be American or European threats and promises; nobody can be as bad as Obama in the future — but this tactic is getting tired.
Related: From Bridget Johnson at the PJ Tatler: “Palestinians ‘Delighted’: ‘All Final Status Issues Will be Resolved’ in Kerry Talks.”