During his tenth round of Mideast shuttle diplomacy, Secretary of State John Kerry will attempt something new: get Israel and the Palestinians to agree to the outlines of a final peace agreement. Obama administration officials are calling it a “framework” accord.
According to the NY Times, the framework document “is aimed at achieving enough of a convergence on core issues that the two sides can make headway toward a formal peace agreement leading to an independent Palestinian state.”
If you think you understand the above paragraph, which, essentially, sounds like the normal thing people do when they negotiate, try this next one, also from Today’s NY Times:
American officials said the framework document “would not be signed by Israeli and Palestinian leaders and would most likely take note of reservations the two sides have about some elements.”
In other words, after 7 months of negotiations, we finally have agreed on a list of all the things about which we disagree.
Or, to speculate just a little bit, we sat for 9 months and didn’t get diddly done, so now, less than 2 months before the deadline, we’re filing for an extension.
Meaning that, for all the participants in this thing, it’s not about the results, it’s about the process.
Well, we’ve known that from the start.
My original headline for this report was “Kerry Shuffling Seats on Titanic Deck to Avoid February Iceberg.” But then I figured I’d go with the Kotel sale story, because it offers a more useful metaphor.
Two American Jews are standing at the Kotel Plaza, admiring the holy relic. An Israeli guy comes up to them and says, You like this wall? I can sell it to you. Really? One of the Jews asks. Sure, been in my family for centuries, you can have it for one million dollars. So the Jewish guy says, For a million dollars, it’s a steal, I’ll write you a check right away. You have a pen on you? And the Israeli hands him a pen, the Jewish guy takes out his checkbook, writes a check to $1 million and hands it over. They shake hands, the Israeli walks away, and the other Jew says, Are you nuts? You know the Kotel doesn’t belong to this guy. And his friend says, Oh, sure, I know that. But I don’t have a million dollars, the check will bounce. So why did you do this whole dance? his friend asks and the first Jew says: for this pen.
In two more months, God willing, the two sides in the maddest negotiations ever attempted, Part 6 (or is it part 7 already?) will reach the point where they admit there’s no way to achieve this illusive “convergence on core issues,” otherwise known as their hopelessly contradictory bottom lines.
Jerusalem: Israel says it will retain it whole, the Palestinians insist making Jerusalem their capital is a deal breaker.
Right of Return for refugees: Israel says no way, the Palestinians say it’s a deal breaker.
The Jordan Valley: A very, very tough sale for Livni and the Bolsheviks, again, full sovereignty a deal breaker for the Palestinians.
The Israeli team is promoting territorial swaps and some annexation of block settlements, evacuating about 100-150 thousand Jews. The Palestinians, at least officially, say getting all of the pre-1967 territory is a deal breaker.
Israel insists (go figure) that the Palestinians recognize it as a Jewish State – that’s a gigantic problem for the boys and girls in Ramallah, who would have to tell Israeli Arabs that they’re officially living on Jewish land. Maybe not an outright deal breaker, but a heap of trouble for sure.
And therefore, judging by past history, this negotiation stretch will also end in an explosion, mutual or one-sided, which everybody was telling Secretary of State Kerry would happen back when he started this mess.
If that’s the case, why did Kerry, the Palestinians, and the Israeli government agree to participate in this charade for nine months?
Simple: for the pen.
A few pens, actually. First pen is a major political coup for PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who managed to get the release of about 75 Palestinian murderers without violence. Hamas resorted to a kidnapping to get their guys out – Abbas is a regular Mahatma Gandhi in comparison. Clear victory for him, total loss for Israel, who will get nothing in return for forcing its most vulnerable citizens, the victims’ families, to be raped by their autistic government.
Another pen for Abbas and the Ramallah team (the “shirts” in this case, as the Israelis will be left shirtless in this match): as soon as the talks fall apart, the Palestinians hail the first cab outside, to go and seek recognition in the International Criminal Court and all the United Nations bodies, making themselves a de facto state within a week.
Next pen goes to Secretary Kerry and President Barry: while the Middle East is collapsing around their astonishingly nearsighted foreign policy, they continue to look decisive and responsible because they’ve been pushing a comprehensive Middle East peace agreement all this time. Sure, the Israelis won’t buy it, right wing pundits, Jews and non-Jews alike, won’t buy it, Congress will cry foul, but the home crowd will continue to cheer, between attempts to reach their local health insurance provider.
A nice pen goes to Netanyahu, who will maintain his domestic peace with the right wing majority in Israel, including—most urgently—within his own Likud party, which would have dumped him long ago if not for the fact that he’s the only game in town. He also gets to give away nothing and still not completely ruin Israel’s trade and research relations with the EU.
That’s some pen.
But now we find out that Kerry is refusing to let the negotiations die a natural death, despite the fact that he, Kerry, stuck a Do Not Resuscitate sign on them in June, when he put a time limit on the talks.
Why? The only thing I can think of is the Nobel prize for peace, which often goes to politicians who create new environments where Jews can be murdered. Check it out:
2012 – European Union (EU)
2009 – Barack H. Obama
2005 – Mohamed ElBaradei
2002 – Jimmy Carter
1994 – The trifecta, Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin
But I’m digressing. The side benefits all the participants are getting from the negotiations, despite the fact that the central goal, a 2-state solution, remains as illusive as ever, are not necessarily a bad thing. As long as the Netanyahu negotiators don’t step over the line and give up the store (everybody is a sucker for those Nobel peace prizes), the talks offer a curiously positive measure of stability.
Kerry will do all he can to breathe new life into the “peace process,” but playing for time is a double-edged sword: the U.S. 2016 presidential primaries are starting in 2015. Before that, it’s looking more and more like the Republicans are poised to take both houses in 2014, and make it virtually impossible for the administration to ride roughshod over Israel. The longer this thing goes, the bigger the attentive, pro-Israel, right wing audience in America will be growing.
In other words, Kerry needs about a year to push some deal through – but Israel needs the same year for the process to lose all viability with American public opinion.
Meanwhile, the very stability provided by the “peace process” will encourage prosperity over on the PA side, boosting new and already existing Jewish-Arab business ventures, with the tacit cooperation of the PLO in Ramallah.
Maybe we all get to keep our pens.
About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.
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