‘The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.’
–Abba Eban, 1973
Obama administration Middle East hands, rankled, disrespected and generally pissed off, are extracting their pound of political flesh by exposing yet another historic Bibi Netanyahu missed opportunity (to evoke Abba Eban’s old bon mots). Haaretz reveals that Secretary of State John Kerry organized a secret peace conference last February, including Jordan’s King Abdullah and Egypt’s dictator, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi at which he presented a peace plan modeled on the Arab initiative which would’ve guaranteed recognition by all Arab states of Israel as a Jewish state. It also would’ve designated Jerusalem as a joint capital in which international commitments would ensure holy places would be accessible to all parties, the security of any settlement blocs would be guaranteed, all future claims against Israel would be abrogated, and the Palestinian Right of Return would be realized only within the new Palestinian state.
If you’re a staunch Likudist, it’s a dream deal right? Nope. Bibi welched. He told them every reason why it wouldn’t work: mainly, he couldn’t get his rightist coalition to agree to any territorial concessions, even ones which permitted Israel to build freely in its current main settlement bloc.
At that point, Kerry met with Labor’s Party leader Isaac Herzog and asked him if he’d bring his Party into the coalition to replace the rightists who would abandon it in the face of such peace talks. Herzog sensed he was being set up by Bibi and doubted his credibility. Though both Netanyahu and Herzog conducted serious talks on the matter, Bibi never persuaded the Opposition leader that he would follow through on his commitments. The possibility of a unity coalition agreeing to a peace deal was officially dead. Then, instead of bringing Labor into the ruling coalition, he brought Lieberman’s Yisrael Beytenu. And so ended another Israeli opportunity to miss an opportunity.
It’s important to note that the Likudist demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, a demand never made by any previous Israeli governments, would’ve been met by this plan. Yet Bibi still rejected it. Which indicates as clear as day that this demand is an artificial construct. Something created to obstruct, rather than enable a final agreement.
What’s interesting here as much as the substance of the peace deals revealed, is the reason this story has been leaked. Analysts have been bruiting about the notion that–in the absence of a functioning U.S. government and in fear of the chaos a future Trump regime will bring–the Deep State is kicking in: that is, that current and former government officials who reject the values of the incoming administration will seek to sabotage it at every turn with leaks and various stratagems. While I dislike the term Deep State used in this context because it refers generally to reactionary elements of totalitarian regimes seeking to impede reformist impulses, there may be some truth to the overall claim.
Former U.S. officials who served under Obama and current officials who’ve remained are petrified about what a Trump government will mean. They don’t have the power to mount an open revolt or topple Trump (yet). But they’re desperately attempting to wage a scorched earth campaign that will frustrate him at every step. It’s a form of Chinese water torture: death by a thousand leaks.
My money on the source of the current leak is Dan Shapiro. He’s been tweeting with barely disguised hatred about Bibi’s latest escapades in DC with Pres. Trump. Shapiro, as then U.S. ambassador, would’ve been privy to all of these discussions. His boss, in fact, would’ve been Kerry, who was deeply invested in the failed peace initiative.
Finally, the latest developments in U.S.-Israel relations threaten to not just undo, but to defame the Obama legacy in the Middle East. The point of the leak is to expose the fact that peace was on the table. As during the earlier Olmert and Barak regimes, when each tiptoed right up to a Syrian peace deal before refusing to seal it, it was there for the taking. There was no one to blame for its failure but one party. And that party, contrary to the Israel Lobby’s protestations, wasn’t Palestine. In fact, the Palestinians weren’t even present at these negotiations. They were, as usual, invisible thanks to Mahmoud Abbas’s willingness to farm out his country’s interests to the highest bidder. Now who never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity??
We know, despite a few murmurings to the contrary, that Bibi never supported a two-state solution. This provides incontrovertible proof. There is no partner, as the Israeli leadership likes to say. But the party that is ‘no partner’ is not Palestine, but Israel.
Returning for a moment to King Abdullah, fearing that Trump was about to give away the store upon meeting Netanyahu, he made a hastily arranged trip to precede Bibi to DC. There he did his best to put the brakes on Trump’s embrace with Israel’s extreme right settler movement. He met with whomever he could and apparently threw a tiny spanner in the works. This is why, when Trump spoke, on the subject, he didn’t completely renounce the two state solution. But my point in raising this matter is a fawning comment by GOP Sen. Bob Corker:
“He’s sort of the Henry Kissinger of that part of the world, right, which he enjoys hearing,” Corker said. “And it is true, and we do always love listening to his view of the region. And I think he does a great job with that.”
This encapsulates everything that is wrong with U.S. Mideast policy. Not just wrong–but stupid, ill-informed and downright condescending.
Finally, lest any reader think I’ve endorsed this U.S.-Arab plan, I have not. The portion which rejects return to Palestinian ancestral homes within the Green Line is a non-starter. The plan also does not specify withdrawal to 1967 borders nor does it specify from which occupied land/settlements Israel would withdraw (if any).
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.