On Friday night in Amman, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that Israel and the Palestinian Authority were ready to resume peace talks. A perceptive Reuters article noted that “he did so standing alone as dusk fell over the Jordanian capital.”
The article mentions a “former senior U.S. official” who “said Kerry appearing alone might…be viewed as a signal that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians are as deeply committed to the resumption of talks as the U.S. secretary of state himself.”
Indeed, by Monday both of the two spokesmen for Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas had denied that talks, per se, were in the works. One of them, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said Abbas had “agreed to send a delegate to Washington merely to continue lower-level preliminary talks with an Israeli counterpart about the terms for negotiations.”
In other words, talks about talks—which have been going on intermittently for years, but this time are supposed to be held in Washington instead of Jerusalem, Ramallah, or Amman.
Kerry, for his part, has organized six such sessions of talks-about-talks in those venues over the past four months. Depending on one’s point of view, he should either be lauded for incredible persistence—or have his political sanity questioned.
Many commentators have noted that a U.S. secretary of state’s attention should seemingly be drawn to much more urgent crises in the region involving Egypt, Syria, and—most of all—Iran’s nearing the finish line of a nuclear-weapons capability.
Many have also pointed out that the eruptions throughout the Arab world over the past couple of years—in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, and elsewhere—would seem to have finally put paid to the supposed centrality of the Israeli-Palestinian situation, to which not a single one of these outbreaks has been in any way connected.
But Kerry has soldiered on.
At least, in his Jerusalem-Ramallah-Amman shuttle last week, frustration seems to have gotten the better of him. By all accounts, the recalcitrant party has not been Israel, whose prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly declared willingness to hold talks without preconditions, but the Palestinian Authority, which has constantly insisted on preconditions.
According to reports, it was Kerry’s threat to Abbas last week to withhold $4 billion in U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority—earlier promised by Kerry as a reward for going along with the talks—that finally got Abbas to give in.
If Kerry has learned anything about the Middle East, then, it may be the efficacy of threats—and bribes.
Israeli media have been reporting that—if the talks do get beyond the talks-about-talks stage to actual talks—there will be more goodies in store for Abbas.
As Israel Hayom puts it: “Israel has agreed, in principle, to release 85 Palestinian prisoners who are considered ‘heavyweight terrorists’ in four stages, according to the talks’ progress.”
In other words: progress toward peace, 21 terrorists; progress toward peace, 21 terrorists….
The terrorists in question would be “pre-Oslo”—meaning they carried out their attacks before September 1993. By that standard, Omar Abdel-Rahman (the Blind Sheikh), responsible for the February 1993 World Trade Center bombing, could—as deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi indeed wanted—be freed if the U.S. saw doing so as diplomatically advantageous.
Except that Americans—including John Kerry—would never agree to such a mockery of morality and the American justice system. But when “Israeli-Palestinian peace” is supposedly percolating, different standards come into play.
A few things, though, are generally clear to people in the Middle East but do not appear clear to Kerry:
● If Abbas has to be, so to speak, dragged kicking and screaming to the talks, even with promises of $4 billion and 85 terrorists in his pocket, he would appear to have no genuine desire for either talks or peace.
● Even if he did, Abbas represents only a small part of the Palestinians. He does not represent Hamas-ruled Gaza at all and has low legitimacy in the Palestinian Authority, his term in office as president having expired in 2009.
● As the Jerusalem Post notes in an editorial:
Abbas faces wall-to-wall opposition to the renewal of talks with Israel from nearly every Palestinian political entity, from the Islamist Hamas and Islamic Jihad to more secular movements such as Mustafa Barghouti’s Palestinian National Initiative, the Palestinian People’s (Communist) Party, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Even within his own Fatah party, Abbas, 78, has been attacked, particularly by the young guard, for daring to agree to enter negotiations without first securing clear Israeli concessions to Palestinian demands, particularly the recognition of the 1949 Armistice lines and a full cessation of settlement construction as a precondition for resuming the talks.
● Or as Khaled Abu Toameh put it on Monday: “Abbas will never agree to sign a peace deal with Israel: it would turn him into the biggest traitor in the Palestinian and Islamic world.”
Kerry’s supposed breakthrough on Friday came on the same day that the European Union formally published a boycott of all Israeli Jews living in East Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the Golan Heights.
The urge to clear these areas of Israelis and replace them with a twenty-second Arab state takes a deep hold of Western politicians (and bureaucrats) and appears to spring from an irrational source.
Somebody should spread the word that the U.S. secretary of state is running wild.
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