Saturday, April 5, 2014
The danger of peace has receded.
It seems that that is it. The most expected is what really happened. The very many sceptics were right again. The incorrigible optimists had cultivated some hope in vain. On yesterday's evening news an unidentified senior member of the Likud Party was quoted as saying: "The danger of peace has receded."
What was called "negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians" has apparently breathed its last, and the offer to release Pollard failed to do its magic. The magician's hat contains no further rabbits, and the career of Secretary of State John Kerry is not going to be crowned with the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony.
Nor will there be in the history books a big chapter about Kerry and his name will not be remembered as the one who succeeded to bring about peace between Israel and the Palestinians. He will have to rest content with a footnote at the side of all the many mediators who tried before him. At the side of Senator George Mitchell who succeeded in North Ireland and failed utterly in the Middle East, and before him James Baker who cut off contact in a farewell speech where he announced for the attention of the government of Israel the phone number of the White House, and before him Henry Kissinger who achieved interim agreements and took very much care not to touch the real problems, and before him the Swedish Gunnar Jarring who spent years for a futile going to and fro before the Americans asserted the monopoly over mediation, and even much earlier Count Folke Bernadotte who in 1948 paid with his life for asking of the young State of Israel some concessions which the Lehi underground didn't like.
This time, at least, the process which led to the final collapse was quite visible and open for all to see. Unlike after the collapse of Camp David in 2000 we are spared the tiring and endless debate of what happened in closed rooms and who offered what and who refused it and where the "generous offers" really that generous.
It is difficult to argue with the facts. The government of Israel obliged itself to release on March 29, 2014 the last 14 of 104 Palestinian prisoners it had committed to set free. The Palestinians in exchange committed themselves not to seek recognition in international institutions until the end of the time set for negotiations. In actuality the government of Israel took a formal decision to break its obligation and not to release those 14. To this was added the publication of building tenders for 700 housing units for Jewish Israelis in East Jerusalem.
In the past, the Palestinians reluctantly restrained themselves about settlement projects which were intended to "counterbalance" the release of prisoners. But there was no reason in the world to pass in silence a settlement project which was adding insult to injury; a settlement project on top of non-release of prisoners.
President Mahmoud Abbas reacted by sending applications to join 15 international institutions and treaties, so as to further cement the existence the State of Palestine as a recognized entity in international law - even if it does not yet exist as a sovereign state on the ground. It is in fact a long-established Israeli form of behaviour of facing the other side with accomplished facts - but Israeli decision makers don't like so much to be on the receiving side.
As could have been expected the Americans make every effort not not to take a position in the blame game dividing responsibility equally among Israelis and Palestinians. Both sides have resorted to "unhelpful" measures, both leaders have "avoided taking difficult decisions". Just like in earlier and more hopeful stages John Kerry took care to make equal compliments to Netanyahu and Abbas about their "seriousness and determination to go forward." A complete symmetry. Is it justified?
There is a reason to suppose that Mahmoud Abbas did want to reach an agreement. After sharp haggling about the terms, undoubtedly - but he had many good reasons for wanting to be remembered as the one who liberated his people from an occupation regime and brought them statehood. But did Benyamin Netanyahu ever really want to reach an agreement? To be remembered as the right-wing leader who put an end to a dream of ruling over the Biblical Homeland and to Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria? Was it his dream to get Israel out of the occupied territories, even had the Palestinians been willing to sing with a great chorus the mantra "Jewish State, Jewish State, Jewish State"?
Since he made the Bar-Ilan speech in 2009, a great crowd of commentators insisting upon dreaming again and again of Netanyahu crossing the Rubicon, becoming a man of peace, engaging in head-on confrontation with the zealots in his party and his coalition, extending his hand to the Palestinians and to the Israeli left. Learned articles set out very detailed scenarios and counted fingers in the Knesset towards fateful decisions. But there is a lot of reason to doubt whether Netanyahu's real aspirations ever went further than an end to the negotiations without an agreement and with the blame put on the Palestinians.
Could it have ended differently?
Where Kerry's efforts foredoomed in advance to inevitable failure, or was there a moment where a real chance for success was missed? If at all, one specific moment can be pointed at: afternoon of Saturday, February 1st, 2014, when Secretary of State John Kerry got up to speak at the International Security Conference at Munich, and made a sharp and firm warning:
(…) Today’s status quo absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained. It’s not sustainable. It’s illusionary. There’s a momentary prosperity, there’s a momentary peace. The fact is the status quo will change if there is failure. So everybody has a stake in trying to find the pathway to success. For Israel, the stakes are enormously high. Do they want a failure that then begs whatever may come in the form of a response from disappointed Palestinians and the Arab community? What happens to the Arab Peace Initiative if this fails? Does it disappear? Are we going to then see militancy? Will we see violence? What happens for Israel’s capacity to be the Israel it is today – a democratic state with the particular special Jewish character that is a central part of the narrative and of the future? What happens to that when you have a bi-national structure and people demanding rights on different terms? We all have a powerful, powerful interest in resolving this conflict. Everywhere I go in the world, wherever I go – I promise you, no exaggeration, the Far East, Africa, Latin America – one of the first questions out of the mouths of a foreign minister or a prime minister or a president is, “Can’t you guys do something to help bring an end to this conflict between Palestinians and Israelis?” (…) You see there’s an increasing de-legitimization campaign of Israel that has been building up. People are very sensitive to it. There are talk of boycotts and other kinds of things. Are we all going to be better with all of that? (…)
The word "boycott" out of the Secretary of State's mouth aroused in Israel an outburst of panic, especially among business people whose firms very much depend on trade with Europe. In the papers banner headlines read "Kerry threatens boycott" and under it was written: Is this how the European boycott will look like?
Worrying scenarios popped up about what the economy of Israel might face in case of boycott. The names of companies and financial institutions were mentioned from various European countries which already had taken steps against Israeli business partners. For a moment it looked as if Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama found in 'bad cop Europe' a way to by-pass AIPAC, a creative way to neutralize the power of the Israeli government's lobby on Capitol Hill and fundamentally change the rules of the decades-old game.
What would have happened if on that particular week John Kerry would have taken the bull by the horns, put on the table with no further delay his overdue "framework agreement", demanding an immediate and unequivocal Yes or No answer? We will never know.
Fact is that in reality Kerry did exactly the opposite, delayed and delayed again and thereby eroded the deterrence which he had for a moment created. He met several times with Netanyahu, spoke to him in a conciliatory way and softened the draft of the framework agreement, putting in it changes which Netanyahu liked, and the Palestinians didn't. From then on Kerry was more and more treated as a paper tiger...
So what is going to happen now? Kerry himself said it quite accurately on that day in Munich.
"Today’s status quo absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained. It’s not sustainable. It’s illusionary. There’s a momentary prosperity, there’s a momentary peace. The fact is the status quo will change. For Israel, the stakes are enormously high, whatever may come in the form of a response from disappointed Palestinians and the Arab community? What happens to the Arab Peace Initiative if this fails? Does it disappear? Are we going to then see militancy? Will we see violence? What happens for Israel’s capacity to be the Israel it is today – a democratic state with the particular special Jewish character that is a central part of the narrative and of the future? What happens to that when you have a bi-national structure and people demanding rights on different terms. there’s an increasing de-legitimization campaign of Israel that has been building up. People are very sensitive to it. There are talk of boycotts and other kinds of things. Are we all going to be better with all of that?"
Two months ago these words were intended as warning. Now they have become a realistic assessment of what to expect.
As Fatah's Jibril Rayyoub said in an interview in the Sof Shavua Israeli weekly: "The Israelis can't continue to eat honey while we eat shit. Either we both eat honey, or both eat shit. You decide what we will eat."