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Kerry's Peace Process: Smart Diplomacy or a Complete Hash of Things?


Is John Kerry making progress on peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians? Good analysis of his efforts has been mostly speculative and hard to come by because, remarkably, there have been no leaks from the negotiating teams. Adam Garfinkle, one of the most astute and persistent analysts of Israeli-Palestinian affairs, wonders why, and where all this is going.

The Obama administration bungled this relationship to a degree not seen in decades during its first term, and as Garfinkle points out, “the Arab-Israeli sandbox is one of the few that a control-freaky White House will let him [Kerry] play in—so no wonder he perseverates on it.” And this perseverance has paid off: Kerry appears to have made some small progress. “He has gotten the parties to and perhaps just past the ‘shape of the table’ phase,” for which he deserves some credit, but the “heavy lifting … has not yet begun to begin…. He has achieved success not at mediating negotiations but only at mediating negotiations about negotiations.”

Adam goes into the details of the different parties’ interests, liabilities, strategies. It is an essay that is definitely worth your while. There is particular value in his assessment of the geopolitical landscape:

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.]

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  • wigwag

    I don’t think the Israelis should listen to John Kerry; instead they should listen to Charlton Heston. You know the part I mean; where he says,

    “The Lord of Hosts will do battle for us…behold his mighty hand.”

    It seems to me, so far, so good. Lets review.

    There’s a civil war between Sunni and Shia and an internice struggle on the Sunni side between the Islamic Brotherhood (supported by the Turks and Qataris) and the secular Arabs (ironically supported by the Wahabis in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

    Syria is falling apart and there seems to be no end to the conflict in sight.

    Egypt is in the midst of a low level civil war and the Egyptian military is pumping raw sewage into the Hamas smuggling tunnels (proving the deity has an ironic sense of humour.)

    Speaking of Hamas, they’ve lost their financial patrons in Iran and their political patrons in Egypt. Can you just hear them screaming “oy gavalt?”

    Lebanon is as fractured as ever and Israel feels free to over fly Lebanese territory with impunity. Hezbollah has antagonized the rest of Lebanon more severely than ever.

    As long as we are talking about Hezbollah, they’re not doing to well either. Their fighters are being killed in large numbers in Syria which isn’t exactly pleasing the Shia friends and relatives of those dead fighters. At the same time Hezbollah understands that if Assad falls, they’re toast. Do you know how Nasrallah spells Syria? He spells it “V-I-E-T N-A-M”

    Then, there Jordan; Israel depends on a stable Jordan and the Kingdom has its problems. But surely disaffected Jordanians, whether of Palestinian or Bedouin stock, must see what’s happening in Egypt and Syria. The civil war in those countries will surely disabuse Jordanians that it would be wise to start one of their own.

    An ironic sense of humour can also be discerned in the punishment meted out to the Turks. They are experiencing terrible internal strife over, of all things, whether to replace a park with a shopping mall in the style of an Ottaman barracks. The Turks are having their clocks cleaned by their competitors for the leadership of the Sunni world; the Saudis. Worst of all their leader looks more and more crazed and delusional like the Pharoh he longs to emulate; Ramaes. We all know it didn’t work out well for the Egyptians; its hardly likely that it will work out better for the Turks.

    As for two other opponents of Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia, things also seem to be moving in the right direction. Despite their nuclear pretensions, Iran is more isolated than ever. It’s economy is in a shambles and its only two allies, Syria and Hezbollah are in big trouble. The Saudis see their interests aligning more with the Israelis everyday; both nations hate Iran and, more or less, they view Palestinian aspirations with contempt.

    Of course Israel has one adversary more vicious, angry, repugnant and dangerous than all its Arab adversaries put together. Of course, the beast I am talking about is none other than the European Union. Already we can see the hand of The Lord at work. Europe is in bigger trouble than at any time since World War II. It’s institutions are failing, it is less united than ever and Europe’s influence on the world is fading. The Lord of Hosts is severe but just. I tremble to think of the plagues he has yet to inflict on Europe.

    Of course, I have not mentioned the United States; there’s a reason for this. Prime Minister Netanyahu didn’t need divine intervention to deck President Obama; he did it all on his own. As a great scholar and prophet once said, watching Obama go up against Netanyahu was alot like watching Bob Dole take on Bill Clinton. In other words; it was pathetic. Besides, with the mid term elections coming up and then the 2016 elections, Israel won’t be feeling any pressure from tge United States any time soon.

    Why negotiate with the Palestinians? Better to put your faith in The Lord.

    So far he’s doing everything he said he was going to do.

    And more.

    • bpuharic

      Oh brother talk about hysteria. First, there is no god, so we might as well invoke the Easter Bunny, references to fools notwithstanding.

      And Netanyahu’s main goal was to have Obama act as his Foreign Minister and the US Army to replace the IDF. It’s good Obama is sticking up for US interests.

      Israel is a nuclear power, It can handle its own defense

  • James Jones

    To paraphrase Tonto, who is this “everybody” that you say wants peace in the Middle East?

  • bpuharic

    This has been a 60 year problem for every administration. But let’s blame it on Obama!

    Better yet, since WRM thinks every problem in the world since the Peloponnesian war can be blamed on unions, let’s just pretend Kerry is a union member, that way we get a twofer.

  • ljgude

    There is no agreement on a two state solution that I can see. Just a one state solution based on the elimination of Israel. All this activity by Kerry is balderdash – the issue has long been settled – a state of perpetual war will continue indefinitely. It has little to do with Obama or Kerry, it is just the way it is and has been all the way back to the Clinton Administration. It is changing with the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the civil war in Syria. Bibi has to pretend to go along with the Kerry charade to preserve the possibility that the alliance with the US can be brought back to life after after Obama, but that is some ways down the track just now.

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