Since 1967, Israel has been the stronger party in all negotiations with Arab interlocutors, and the Arab parties who have sought changes in the status quo for one painful reason or another have realized that to get what they need from Israel they have to go through the United States. U.S. negotiators win concessions from Israel based ultimately on an underlying trust in the relationship; so good relations are an asset to both parties in attracting Arab principals first to the table and then to an agreement. If U.S.-Israeli relations are too bad—and there have been times since June 1967 when they were pretty bad—the Arab side loses confidence in the U.S. ability to deliver Israeli concessions. If relations are too good—if no blue sky at all can be discerned between Washington and Jerusalem—the Arab side tends to conclude that it cannot afford to offer enough to sufficiently lubricate the U.S.-Israeli connection to service its interests. So it then sometimes turns to other methods—including the aforementioned clarifying acts of violence—to reshuffle the deck. That’s where both the 1973 war and the second Palestinian uprising of 2000 came from.
How will it all end up? Hard to say, but there is danger, the danger of failing, in pursuing this peace process now. “One can fail intelligently or stupidly,” Adam writes. “But how is one to know when a negotiation destined to fail is liable to do more harm than good, or more good than harm?” The danger of failing is one reason all the actors, for their own reasons, have kept quiet about the Kerry-led peace process. For the US, the greatest danger is that we “will forfeit what’s left of the benefit of the doubt as to whether we know what the hell we’re doing.”Side mirrors on cars warn that things in the mirror may be closer than they appear; peace between Israelis and Palestinians, unfortunately, is just the opposite. Peace usually looks much closer than it is. It looks close because there are clear advantages to both sides in getting a deal and, given the nature of the geography, the physical distance between what Israelis and Palestinians might want from negotiations is not very large. We can all see within a few hundred meters where a final border might be drawn.But the real obstacles to a deal are in the politics on each side, not the politics between the sides. As it stands, it would be easier in principle to get a deal between the PA and Israel than to get Palestinians in Gaza, Lebanon and elsewhere to accept the agreement as final. But the Israelis are unlikely to pay a large price in either political recognition or territory for a deal that the Palestinians cannot actually deliver. Signing a deal with the PA will not stop rockets coming from Gaza, will not stop Palestinian exiles from continuing a campaign of delegitimization against Israel, will not stop foreign powers like Iran and others supporting rejectionist factions of the Palestinians with weapons, money and diplomatic cover and will not end Hezbollah’s terror campaign against Israelis and Jews worldwide. Given all that, it is hard for many Israelis to see enough benefit to justify serious territorial concessions for a Potemkin peace.Everybody wants peace in the Middle East, most people agree that a two state solution based on a territorial division that doesn’t look all that different from the pre-1967 armistice lines is the best possible solution — and nobody knows how to get from here to there. That’s been the case in the Middle East for a very long time, and so far there isn’t much in the current negotiations to suggest that the underlying situation has changed.The smartest part of Secretary Kerry’s diplomacy is getting the Arab League involved. For Israelis, there is a much better case for a Potemkin peace with a weak Palestinian Authority if that peace could deliver peace and diplomatic relations with a significant number of Arab states. With Syria sidelined, Saudi Arabia and Egypt angry at Hamas and its Muslim Brotherhood allies, Qaddafi gone, and Qatar on the back foot, this isn’t a bad time to line up Arab support.We wish Secretary Kerry and his interlocutors all the success and all the luck in the world; they are doing God’s work by trying to bring an end to this conflict, but God’s work is rarely accomplished in the timeframe that human beings would like to see.[Photo courtesy Getty Images.]