Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talk Charade

Indyk hobnobs with Kerry and Erdogan at Brookings  (Ralph Alswang)

I’ve held off writing about John Kerry’s shuttle diplomacy attempting to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, because I thought there was “no there, there” and figured it might collapse of its own weight.  But developments in the past 24 hours indicate that while this is still likely, all parties have already been guilty of bad judgments which should be pointed out.

The negotiations thus far seem to be a Rorschach test in which any onlooker sees what he wants to see.  For example, there are reports that the U.S. will send a letter to the Palestinians confirming that the basis of the talks is the 1967 borders.  But Israel, of course, disagrees.  Given that fundamental divergence, on what basis do we have any hope that this process will succeed?  Despite Israel’s demurral, the Palestinians appear to be willing to join the process.

They’ll supposedly be getting 100 freed Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails for decades.  The Israel Broadcasting Authority says the prisoner release would happen in four stages and the first one would only happen during the second month of negotiations.  A lot can happen in that time.  And I’d say a guarantee of this happening is pretty thin.  Furhter, the Palestinians seem willing to overlook that Israel, after past prisoner exchanges, promptly rearrested whoever it still wants behind bars.

Another issue the Palestinians would apparently give up is their efforts to win international recognition in bodies like the United Nations.  That’s giving up a whole lot in return for very little.  The Guardian quotes a former PA official on the illusions that underpin the talks about starting talks:

Ghassan Khatib, former director of communications for the Palestinian Authority. “The thing that bothers me is that it seems that the resumption of negotiations is seen as an objective in itself. But the problem was never the lack of negotiations, direct or indirect. It is the huge gap between Israel’s stated position and its practices, and the lack of willingness by the US to put pressure on them.”

Returning to the U.S. letter of understanding, the Israeli will purportedly get a similar letter affirming the basis of the negotiations will be that Israel is a Jewish state.  Which may be news to over 20% of Israeli Palestinians who are citizens of this state, definitely not Jewish, and also not equal in rights to Jewish citizens.  Such a guarantee, if forthcoming, will be a U.S. affirmation of a de facto version of Israeli apartheid.  Not only is Israel occupying millions of Palestinians across the Green Line, affirming Israel as a Jewish state will enforce the second or third-class citizenship of all non-Jewish citizens within the Green Line.

Israel has supposedly engaged in a tacit settlement freeze by which they have built no new settlements for some time (though of course they’ve continued building in existing settlements).  This is about as close to a settlement freeze the Palestinian are likely to get if they agree to enter talks now.

A further question is: who is Mahmoud Abbas and by what right does he negotiate the fate of Palestine?  Elected by no one and serving in a self-appointed position, he carries no authority to sign any deal on behalf of the Palestinians.  If Israel and the U.S. truly want such a partner (and they don’t because he would be too independent), they should encourage Fatah-Hamas reconciliation so that a national Palestinian consensus can emerge that will ratify such an agreement.

Regarding Israel, it seems clear that Netanyahu will be unable to carry his far-right coalition into any peace agreement that is remotely based on 1967 borders.  In fact, Naftali Bennett has already threatened to bolt under such conditions.  Avigdor Lieberman said today the idea of a peace agreement is currently impossible and will not happen “for years.”  Which is, of course, what Bibi believes as well–but which he cannot say publicly.

If this negotiation ever gets serious (which is doubtful), his only options will be to stall or abandon it (or better yet to hope his Palestinian interlocutors do so first), or to ditch his far-right bedmates and form a new centrist coalition.  Netanyahu has never remotely been a centrist nor cohabited willingly with any.  The idea of a centrist Israeli coalition under him is a pipe dream for liberal Zionists who harbor such illusions.

But today’s worst outrage, which sent me into a paroxysm of righteous indignation, was the report by Laura Rozen that John Kerry may plan to appoint Martin Indyk his “peace envoy.”  You’ll recall that the estimable George Mitchell had that role towards the beginning of Obama’s first term.  But Mitchell failed because Obama wasn’t willing to use the power of his office to pressure the Israelis to deal.  Despite such a failure, at least one might say that Mitchell was truly an honest broker.  He had no strong affiliation with either side nor any hostility against either side.

Indyk is an entirely different story: there seems to be a notion among U.S. presidents that to secure Israeli-Palestinian peace they need a former Aipac analyst on their team.  That’s how they got Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk and a number of other similar figures.  They both are or were affiliated with WINEP, Aipac’s foreign policy think tank.  Neither Ross nor Indyk has any special affinity or interest in the Palestinians, except as a means to an end (a peace deal that responds to and guarantees Israeli interests).  The latter was also U.S. ambassador to Israel under Pres. Clinton.  The NY Times calls the Brookings think-tanker “a seasoned hand,” which as usual for the Times is beside the point and misses the key reasons for his appointment and his political affiliations.

The Times also adds this questionable judgment about Abbas’ rapport with Indyk:

Mr. Indyk has maintained a good rapport with Mr. Abbas…

If this is indeed true (which may or may not be the case), it only indicates that Abbas doesn’t represent Palestinian interests.  Why would any truly independent Palestinian leader ratify as mediator an envoy who subordinated his (Palestinian) interests to the opposing party?  The Times, as usual, completely misunderstands Palestinian interests as Palestinians see them.

There is no chance in hell that the Palestinians will trust Indyk to represent them.  He will be carrying water for the Israelis.  He of course will claim to be Palestine’s best friend.  And people like him always talk a good game.  But when push comes to shove, he’s there to put pressure on the Palestinians to cave to Israel’s interests.

You can expect no substantive recognition of Right of Return in any form from an Indyk brokered negotiation.  You can expect much more settlers and settlements to be included inside Israel’s boundaries in any map offered to the Palestinians.  Any offer of East Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital will surely be attenuated in significant ways.

This iteration of the peace process is dead on arrival.  The sooner John Kerry realizes this the less political face he will lose.  What is being proposed shows that Obama has no real interest in settling the conflict.  He wants to be seen to be doing something.  And what he’s seen to be doing he hopes will last for the next three years so he can kick the can down the road for the next guy.  Or, as Mitt Romney so inimitably put it: “to kick the football down the field.”