Secretary of State John Kerry is on a quest to bring “peace” to the intractable Arab-Israeli conflict, and specifically between Arab Palestinians and Israel. It is rather puzzling however, in the midst of the current Middle East turmoil, especially in Egypt, Iraq and Syria, that this should be Kerry’s obsession. Is it Kerry’s ego that propels him to seek a Nobel Prize for achieving a hitherto impossible peace, one which has eluded all previous US presidents and secretaries of state? President Bill Clinton’s Oslo Accords are in tatters. Yasser Arafat used the Oslo Accords to gain a foothold in Palestine, as a base to terrorize Israel, a strategy that many Israelis recognized as such. The naïve American policy makers and their leftist Israeli colleagues have consistently failed to understand the Arab-Islamic culture, and how the Arab-Muslim worldview differs from that of westerners, especially their outlook on the meaning of peace. As a result, the upcoming Israeli-Palestinian negotiations promise to be the same as in previous rounds.
The New York Times (July 29, 2013) put this in perspective. “It took Secretary of State John Kerry countless phone calls and six trips to the Middle East just to get Israeli and Palestinian officials to the negotiation table, and how will it be possible to achieve a comprehensive peace agreement? And what will happen if this herculean negotiating effort falls short?”
For starters, Kerry and the Obama administration need to understand that Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority President, has failed to prepare his people for the possibility of peace with Israel. And, while conducting peace talks with Israel, Abbas has been initiating campaigns that promote boycotts of Israel and hatred of its people. Diplomatic formulas cannot substitute for educating the Palestinian public about peace and humanizing Israelis, something neither Arafat nor Abbas have done since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993. On the contrary, both the deceased Arafat and his successor, Abbas, have created an educational system that teaches hatred of Israelis, Jews, Christians and Americans to young children. The next generation of Palestinians has already been infected with the hatred and intolerance virus and overcoming it will take more than a peace conference.
For Arab-Muslim Palestinians and Egyptians, the concept of peace is much different than that of Israelis or Americans, especially since they see the “partner” as an infidel enemy. Two examples illustrate this point: Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s statement at the 1974 Rabat Arab Summit when he said, “If the Israelis withdraw, I shall be prepared to sign a peace agreement, but not a peace treaty. These are two totally different things…I am ready to sign a peace agreement, but normal relations, diplomatic relations and trade relations are out of the question. Only the coming generation can decide upon this. You cannot expect me, following 26 years of violence, hatred, bitterness, wars and slaughters, to set up normal relations with Israel. The only thing I am ready for is a peace agreement that would end the state of belligerency that has prevailed for the past 26 years.” Sadat would repeat the same statement during the signing of the Camp David Accords in 1979, stressing again that full peace will have to be decided upon by the future generations.
And, in December 2000, Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami met with his Qatari counterpart, Sheikh Hamad Ben Jassem al-Thani in Paris. This meeting followed Arafat’s bolting of the Camp David Summit in July, 2000, and the intifada he subsequently instigated in September of that year. After Ben Ami described all the concessions Israel offered, al-Thani asked what Israel wanted in return, and the reply was “the end of the conflict.” Hearing this, Al-Thani said, “this is something I cannot give you, no one can.” He suggested that Israel should sign a peace agreement with the Palestinians, and added that “you will have quiet for a while and perhaps in 50-years from now, when the Arab-Israeli conflict is forgotten, you may have real peace.”
For Americans and Israelis, a peace treaty conveys the ability to have “peace now” with all that flows from it, something akin to the French-German amity after WWII that spawned the Common Market. Israelis and Americans are impatient and believe that “problems” can be solved with the right attitude. And when Israel makes unilateral and painful concessions to reach an agreement, the Arabs simply demand more while providing vague promises in return.
In an interview with Ha’aretz’s Ari Shavit, published on September 14, 2001 and titled “The Day the Peace Died,” Shlomo Ben Ami (a left-winger former Labor Party Foreign Minister) provided insights into what it was like to negotiate with the Palestinians. “We operated under misguided conceptions about the other side’s intentions. For Arafat, Oslo constituted a mega-camouflage behind which he exerted political pressure and employed varying measures of terror to undermine the very notion of a two-state solution.”
Ben Ami revealed that Israel kept retreating from one “red line” to another, eventually agreeing to handover almost anything the Palestinians insisted upon, including much of Jerusalem and its holiest of Holies. But never at any point “did the Palestinians so much as draft any counter-proposals.” The Palestinians, Ben Ami said, “were not ready for as much as allowing a face-saving formulation for Israel.”
The painful July, 2000 negotiations with Arafat at Camp David with President Clinton doing his best to salvage the summit in the face of Arafat’s spiteful behavior changed the worldview of a leftist like Ben Ami. He cautioned against “ignoring what was revealed to us – Palestinian and Islamic positions which defy our right to exist.” Ben Ami then added, “we mustn’t continue the culture of kvetch (concessions) which might lead us to suicide…We must no longer relinquish Jewish and Israeli patriotism…We must understand that we aren’t always guilty, and we must learn to say ‘Till here and no farther.’ If the other side aims to destroy even this nucleus, we must steadfastly defend it.”
For Israelis and Americans peace equals normalization of relations. For Palestinians and Egyptians in particular, it means an extra bonus that is not part of the peace deal. As Arafat demonstrated in July, 2000, the Palestinians are simply “unwilling to end the conflict” and refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
In order to induce Abbas to return to the negotiating table, Israel was obliged to make concessions such as releasing terrorists with the blood of innocent Jews on their hands. No demands however, were made of the Palestinian Authority to end its vicious anti-Israel incitement. Moreover, Kerry brought along several inducements for the Palestinians, including the promise of $4 billion in private sector investments into the Palestinian economy.
Elliott Abrams, former senior National Security advisor to President Bush said, “The existence of the talks can have a calming effect while they continue, and if they continue for several months can get us through the U.N. General Assembly without bitter Israeli-Palestinian confrontation.” He added however, “I see no realistic possibility that a final status agreement can be reached now.”
Secretary of State John Kerry is hoping that his efforts will result in being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Such a prize can only come at the expense of critical Israeli concessions. That in of itself will not bring peace between Palestinians and Israelis. Patience and time, in concert with a proud Israel that remains steadfast and strong and doesn’t plead for peace, will ultimately win the day. Kerry’s financial inducement may bring Abbas to the negotiating table, but it will not be enough to build a comprehensive peace that ends the conflict. It is for this reason that Kerry’s Mideast peace initiative is doomed.
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