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Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks: All’s Not Well in the Kingdom of Oz

Jodi Rudoren published a NY Times story today noting that the uncharacteristic silence to which all parties to the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks adhered during the first six rounds of talks is breaking down.  The Palestinians in particular are aggrieved that Israel is proposing the creation of an “interim” Palestinian state on 60% of the West Bank, when John Kerry allegedly signed a document promising them that talks would be based on 1967 borders.

At the time these negotiations began, I posted about precisely this problem: that the U.S. made commitments to each side that contradicted each other and couldn’t possibly be finessed.  Now the chickens have come home to roost.  The Palestinians are realizing there was no “there there,” when it came to Kerry’s promises.  The Israelis are remaining mum because they’d love to be able to say that the Palestinians torpedoed the talks, even though Israel’s excessive demands and failure to compromise were clearly the cause of their presumptive failure.

nabil shaath

Nabil Shaath: State Department accuses him (and other senior Palestinian leaders) of lying about U.S. commitment that peace talks would be based on 1967 borders.

What’s extraordinary in Rudoren’s article is that she quotes a number of very senior Palestinian leaders confirming that Kerry signed a document with a commitment to 1967 borders.  Yet the State Department, clearly on the defensive and lying itself, implies that it is the Palestinians who are lying:

…A senior Palestinian official said Secretary of State John Kerry had “guaranteed us in writing” that negotiations would start from the 1967 lines, and American officials suggested he was not telling the truth.

Nabil A. Shaath, the Palestinian commissioner for international relations, said the Palestinians had agreed to enter the talks only because of the guarantee…When asked if it was signed by Mr. Kerry personally, said: “Absolutely. We wouldn’t have done it without this.”

But American officials denied there was such a document, which would have been a significant gesture to the Palestinians and could have enraged Israel. “We have always said that if you don’t hear news about the talks from senior U.S. officials, you can’t count on it being reliable,” Marie E. Harf, a State Department spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement. “This is a good example.”

It’s definitely not advisable, when you’re a mediator in a conflict, to accuse one side of lying. But that’s just what the U.S. has done. The fallout from this will damage the so-called “peace process” even further. The Palestinians can’t have placed much faith in a U.S. interlocutor like Martin Indyk, appointed by Pres. Obama to lead the U.S. effort. Now with his own State Dept. accusing them of making it up, things aren’t looking good.

Once again, when forced to choose sides the U.S. has chosen to side with Israel in denying the Palestinian claims. State knows that if the Palestinians can get the U.S. to confirm it has promised 1967 borders to them that it will make the rightist Israeli government howl with rage. Not only might it kill the process with Israel withdrawing in protest, it might further damage relations between Pres. Obama and the Israel lobby. He presently needs the pro-Israel crowd to carry the day for his Syria strike (which currently looks dead in the water, though 300 Aipac lay leaders will be inundating the Capitol with pro-Israel, pro-intervention invective tomorrow).

What’s more, Haaretz reported weeks ago that Kerry made such a promise to the Palestinians.  This is not news.  Yet State would have us believe that five senior Palestinian leaders are making this up out of whole cloth.  It’s one thing when the IDF, Shabak, Mossad or Bibi lie through their teeth: most people expect it.  But when the U.S. State Department tries to lie and looks feeble doing so, that’s pathetic.

On a related subject, a primary booster of these talks within the Israel lobby has been J Street.  It’s national conference will be held in a few weeks in DC and the event title is “Our Time to Lead.”  It sounds catchy and takes a subtle swipe at Aipac.  But when you think about it, where is J Street leading?  To dead-end peace talks.  To a so-called two state solution that every Israeli minister including the prime minister opposes either explicitly or de facto?  J Street leading?  Perhaps to the rear or to the past, but certainly not forward or to the future.

{ 11 comments… add one }
  • bar_kochba132 September 10, 2013, 8:34 AM

    I am mystified as to why you believe the Palestinians want a peace agreement with Israel under any circumstances. I am sure you are aware the Ehud Olmert, Tzippi Livni and other members of the “peace camp” have repeatedly said that “Israel is doomed if it doesn’t create a Palestinian state as soon as possible”. That may even be your opinion (is it?). So why should the Palestinians do Israel a favor and save it by making concessions that many of their constituents would view as treasonous in order to get an agreement? If indeed Israeli is doomed, then the Palestinians will end up getting everything, including a reversal of their 1948 defeat leading to their so-called “Nakba”. So again I ask, why do you think they won’t simply wait and get all their dreams fulfilled if even some Israelis themselves think the country is fated to go under eventually?

    • Richard Silverstein September 10, 2013, 10:37 PM

      @ bar kochba: Frankly, I could care less what Israeli leaders say. Saying “Israel is doomed,” is a dramatic rhetorical flourish by politicians to get a jaded electorate to sit up and take notice. But is nothing more than rhetoric. I don’t think any Israeli leader is willing to accept a Palestinian state based on 67 borders, even with land swaps. If they really believed “Israel was doomed,” they would negotiate more earnestly & seriously.

      As for Palestinians, they don’t think as you believe they do (again, isn’t it interesting how a settler like you believes he knows what and how Palestinians think–got news for you, you don’t). Also, if you think Palestinians are reading Olmert’s speeches avidly and nodding in agreement when he says “Israel is doomed if…” then you’re delusional. Palestinians could care less what Olmert, Livni or even Bibi say. They don’t believe a word from any of them. Why should they?

      Palestinians don’t worry whether Israel is doomed and how long it will take for it to die. They think of the here & now and how to survive Occupation. They would, if given half a chance, opt for peace. But only with a serious interlocutor, which Bibi & no previous Israeli leaders (with the possible exception of Rabin) have been.

      And no, Palestinians aren’t in the mood to wait 10 or 50 years for Israel to fade from the pages of history if it will mean Occupation & suffering will continue unabated. Though of course if Israelis are fools enough to believe they can maintain the status quo that long, and Israel fades in the process, Palestinians won’t shed any tears.

      I continue to find your thought process and just about everything about you, objectionable.

      • Davey September 10, 2013, 11:29 PM

        I believe Israel has had opportunities to make peace and gain acceptance in the region and it has refused any accommodation. These chances are now gone and I can’t see any accommodation at this point that will make for normalcy in the region. It is clear to anyone looking at the map that the goal has been the whole of mandate Palestine and without Palestinians to the extent possible. In order for Israel to abide as a Jewish state on the whole of Palestine it will need the support of the Jewish people and the US and I feel certain that these can only erode.

        The Zionist exclusive state is doomed by history and demographics. Only enormous and continuous and expensive violence can keep it afloat and eventually the exogenous funding will dry out. Israel will then have to take account of the gentiles in their midst. Jewish nationalism cannot turn back time to the point where England was for the Anglo-Saxon and Normans and France for the Franks. These states are multicultural now providing full citizenship to many different ethnic groups. The Jewish state will be forced to change its stripes and I think this is good as the Zionist concept was, in my opinion, an anachronism at inception. (I think the right wing fascist tendency in Israel is linked to the anachronistic character of its founding idea: Israel is still dreaming of a time when a Jewish state might have been entirely unremarkable among the sea of nations.) Of course, it could always become a theocratic national state but then it will not be “among the civilized states” with which it “shares values” and that seems just as unlikely a formula for success in our time as it is for Iran.

      • Mary Hughes Thompson September 11, 2013, 12:56 AM

        Would you mind elaborating on your description of what many people call the Palestinian Shoah as
        ‘their so-called “Nakba”?’ This is extremely offensive, which of course you realize.

        • Richard Silverstein September 11, 2013, 1:33 AM

          @ Mary Hughes Thompson: One wonders how bar kochba would respond to statements like the Jews’ “so-called Holocaust” or “so-called Jewish homeland.” They’d undoubtedly rouse him into righteous indignation.

          I can just see hasbarists accusing me of personally believing the statements I wrote above. I note the phrases are in quotations and not my own beliefs.

        • bar_kochba132 September 11, 2013, 7:13 PM

          The President of the Palestinian Authority, Abbas, is a Holocaust denier. He wrote a thesis in Moscow saying this. If their official leaders can be “offensive”, why can’t I? I will be sensitive to their feelings when they show me they are sensitive to ours.

          • Richard Silverstein September 12, 2013, 12:08 PM

            If he wrote such a document you find it & publish a link here. Till then, your claims hold no weight here. Not to mention that your comment is WAY off topic and a violation of comment rules.

            And even if he did do what you claim (which I don’t credit as accurate) can we see what you wrote 40 years ago and compare it to what you believe now & get a good laugh out of the result?

          • Davey September 12, 2013, 1:37 PM

            Why should anyone take your word on the nature of the thesis, if any at all?

  • pabelmont September 10, 2013, 10:16 AM

    As I read the PA statement, they claim only that STATE, in writing, promised that the talks would BEGIN based on 1967 borders. What the hell did that mean? Why should STATE deny it, even if false? All Israel had to do, as I see it, is begin talks as if the green line were proposed — but not agreed to, and not all that needed to be agreed to — and then say they’d changed their negotiating oosition. Which is almost consistent with what happened.

    I’m now waiting to see if PA will publish a facsimile of the claimed document. If so, and what with all the disclaimers from STATE, it would throw OBAMA & Cie. into the same hole (or unreliability, unbelievablity, “incredibility” — as Santa claus, if you will) that it is in over Syria, Egypt, and so many others.

    I’d seriously luike to know who the “cabal” is that has run Washington for 50 years. It is sure not the voters. Maybe the big-banks and big-defense — that is, a very very few very, very well connected very, very rich corporate bosses to whom most of congress and all presidential contenders have weillingly become “prostitutes” by seeking “campaign contributions” and other bribe-like emoluments (such as revolving-door jobs, stock-tips, etc.)

    That cabal, whoever it is (or has been over time) has sure loved dictators, war, torture, and all the rest of the unsavory stuff that we’ve seen so well advertised recently as USA policy (since Bush II).

    So again, will the PA publish the document it claims to have received from STATE?

    • Davey September 10, 2013, 9:22 PM

      Recent experience holds two new creative additions to the Duplicity Hall of Fame, both amusing and both chilling. First, there is this document that Kerry signed that apparently said something about the 1967 borders. This document is not a representation of the other side, nor does it represent any kind of tacit agreement to the terms of the talks! It is a formality to get talks going by PRETENDING there is an understanding. This is novel: We will talk just as though we had preconditions, but which we do not have.

      The other exciting exhibit is State claiming that they have “determined that they do not have to determine” whether the coup in Egypt was, in fact, a “coup.” Accordingly, funds to the military do not need to be cut off as no determination has been made! (Frankly, I don’t see the issue because Obama could find a means for getting funds to Egypt if aid, as such, were held in abeyance. Presidents have done all kinds of mischievous things to get around the law, why not now. It is perplexing or, like Lewis Black said about the US not finding WMD in Iraq: “Why didn’t they lie? I’m used to my government lying to me! Why not now?”)

      Both exhibits stretch duplicity into ever new and creative dimensions. A bit off topic, but worth taking a moment to appreciate.

    • Richard Silverstein September 10, 2013, 10:48 PM

      @ pabelmont: I don’t think the PA’s aim is to torpedo the talks entirely, which publishing the document might do. I think their aim is to both embarrass and pressure Obama & Kerry to stop pandering solely to the Israelis in setting terms & parameters for talks. Personally, I think their effort is doomed. There is nothing the Palestinians can gain from these talks. No current Israeli government will give it to them without a great deal more pressure exerted.

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