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.
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.