Sec. Kerry plays a dangerous game in his effort to revitalize Israel-Palestinian negotiations.
The Times of Israel has the following headline this morning: "In sea change, Arab League backs land swaps in peace talks."
A sea change is defined as a marked change or a transformation. But what we're looking at here is nothing of the sort.
Members of the Arab League, representing seven Arab nations, met with top US officials yesterday in Washington. The topic of discussion was the "peace process" and ways in which the Arab nations might advance it.
After the League delegation huddled for consultations at Blair House, Qatari Prime Minister Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem Al Thani announced "the possibility of 'comparable,' mutually agreed and 'minor' land swaps between the Israelis and the Palestinians." (Emphasis added)
Note that "land swaps" are not agreed to firmly in principle. There is a "possibility" of support for this, which means at the end of the day they might say, "Sorry, we won't do this after all." After all, only seven of 22 nations of the League were represented here.
And even if they were to agree, in any case it would be "minor," mutually agreed upon, swaps only. Piddling. Only piddling.
Most importantly, this entire notion is predicated upon an erroneous and unacceptable concept.
Secretary of State Kerry, who seems to have staked his entire professional (sic) reputation on succeeding with the "peace process," gushed:
“We’ve had a very positive, very constructive discussion over the course of the afternoon, with positive results...”
He praised the League for the "important role it is playing, and is determined to play, in bringing about a peace in the Middle East."
A bit of background is in order here:
The Arab League "Peace Plan" had originally been advanced by Saudi Arabia in 2002, then was adopted by the League, and subsequently "re-endorsed" by the League in 2007. It was, and is, a horror:
If Israel will surrender all lands acquired in 1967, and provide for a "just" settlement of the Palestinian Arab refugee problem, based on UN General Assembly Resolution 194— which the Arab world interprets as giving the "refugees" "right of return," when in fact there is no such thing—then the Arab world will "normalize" relations with Israel. No specification of what normalization means re: diplomatic, security, or economic ties.
Translation: If you will surrender the Temple Mount, and the Kotel, and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hevron, and Shilo, and much more, including the Golan Heights. And if you will return to the 1967 line [the Green Line], which, admittedly, was recognized by Security Council Resolution 242, passed after the Six Day War, as not providing a secure border. And in addition, if you will take within your borders millions of so-called refugees, rendered radical and hostile by decades of UNRWA influence. Then all 22 of the Arab states—and not just "Palestine"—will have some sort of ties with you.
This was touted as a great opportunity for Israel, which would secure "normalization" with the whole Arab world in one fell blow.
There were to be no negotiations with this plan. It was a take-it-or-leave-it deal.
Israel rejected it out of hand:
Israel has legitimate rights to Judea and Samaria, based on a heritage that is more than 3,000 years old, as well as legally binding resolutions in the twentieth century, notably the Mandate for Palestine.
Israel will never return to the '67 line—which, in addition to everything else, provides insufficient strategic depth for adequate security.
Resolution 242 says the final border of Israel must be determined by negotiations. Agreeing to pull back without negotiations is not the way to go.
For years now, the Palestinian Authority and its supporters have promoted the idea that the '67 line is Israel's "real" border, and that everything on the other side "belongs" to the Palestinian Arabs. It is a crock. A myth. But unfortunately—because successive Israeli governments have not been vigorous enough in countering this—it has become accepted thinking in many places.
It is this myth, this crock, upon which the Arab League fashioned its "peace proposal."
More recently, President Barack Obama has advanced proposals based on the same myth. Has he swallowed it whole, so that he really believes it? There is no way to be certain, although there is ample reason to suspect so. We only know what he says.
Obama's only deviation from the stipulation of return to the '67 line is the concept of "agreed-upon swaps" of land. This means the principle of the '67 line as Israel's legitimate border is retained but if Israel wants to hold on to a community that, say, spreads over two square kilometers east of the line, then "Palestine" will be given two square kilometers of land west of the line, inside of Israel. In the end, Israel will be defined by an area no greater than what rests within the '67 line.
For the record: the '67 line, or Green Line, was, with very minor adjustments, the 1949 armistice line. It is the line that was drawn when Israel and Jordan stopped fighting, at the end of the War of Independence: Israel fought that war defensively, having been attacked by the Arab nations on the day she declared independence. It is referred to as the "'67 line" because Israel was behind that line until June 1967, when the Six Day war was fought.
The armistice agreement signed between Jordan and Israel stipulated that the line was temporary and that the permanent line would be determined by negotiations. Actually, this stipulation was put in at Jordan's insistence. And, please, note that it WAS Jordan on the other side of the line—the nation with which, it was presumed, Israel would ultimately negotiate. There was no talk of "Palestine" or a "Palestinian people" with whom Israel had to negotiate. Whatever existed on the other side of the armistice line, it certainly wasn't a Palestinian state, or land defined as belonging to a Palestinian people.
How Israel could be required to "return" Judea and Samaria to the Palestinian Arabs is a genuine mystery. The historical situation has been distorted: It has morphed from the reality into what people of a certain political bent wish it to be.
What I see is that Kerry went to these Arab League members and asked them for some flexibility so that he might move ahead with the infernal process. And, to his delight, they delivered. Not only delivered, but stated themselves willing to go along with certain parameters outlined by the president.
At a press conference, Kerry declared:
"The US and Arab League delegation here this afternoon agreed that peace between Israelis and Palestinians would advance security, prosperity, and stability in the Middle East. And that is a common interest for the region and the whole world..."
Well, then, it's the Arab world that sees eye-to-eye with President Obama, yes? And Israel?
We can anticipate that the secretary will now turn to Israel with a request/a veiled demand for more "flexibility," for the sake of stability in the Middle East. But what has been tentatively proposed is no more acceptable to Israel than the previous formulation of the Arab League plan, or only very minutely so. (Now, presumably, there would be some negotiations to determine the "minor swaps.")
The essential premises of the plan remain as unsatisfactory, and as faulty as a basis for peace, as ever.
I do not, for a moment, anticipate that Israel will agree to the terms tentatively outlined by the Arab League. But I do anticipate a huge amount of pressure coming down the road.
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