Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
John Kerry's Efforts in Israel and
(Chutzpah in Hebrew)
CCUN, July 1, 2013
Kerry and Chutzpah
IF YOU happen to bump into John
Kerry at Ben Gurion Airport, you may wonder whether he is coming or
going. He may well be wondering himself.
For many weeks
now he has been devoting most of his precious time to meetings with
Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, trying to get these two people
It is about half an hour's car ride between the
Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem and the Palestinian President’s
Mukata’ah in Ramallah. But the two are more distant from each other
than the Earth and Mars.
Kerry has taken it upon himself to
bring the two together – perhaps somewhere in outer space. On the
moon, for example.
TOGETHER FOR what?
Ah, there’s the
rub. The idea seems to be a meeting for meeting’s sake.
have watched this procedure for many years. Successive American
presidents have undertaken to bring the two sides together. It is an
American belief, rooted in Anglo-Saxon tradition, that if two
reasonable, decent people get together to thrash out their
differences, everything will fall into place. It’s almost automatic:
meet – talk – agree.
Unfortunately, it does not quite work
this way with conflicts between nations, conflicts that may have deep
historical roots. In meetings between leaders of such nations, they
often just want to hurl old accusations at each other, with the aim of
convincing the world that the other side is utterly depraved and
Either side, or both, may be interested in
prolonging the meetings forever. The world sees the leaders meeting,
the mediator and the photographers working hard, everybody talking
endlessly of peace, peace, peace.
I remember a Scandinavian
gentleman named Gunnar Jarring. Remember him? No? Don’t blame
yourself. He is eminently forgettable. A well-meaning Swedish diplomat
(and Turkologist), he was asked by the UN in the early 1970s to bring
the Egyptians and Israelis together and to achieve a peaceful
settlement between them.
Jarring took his historic mission
very seriously. He shuttled tirelessly between Cairo and Jerusalem.
His name became a joke in Israel, and probably in Egypt, too.
The protagonists in those days were Anwar Sadat and Golda Meir. As we
disclosed at the time, Sadat gave Jarring a momentous message: in
return for getting back all of the Sinai peninsula, conquered by
Israel in 1967, he was ready to make peace. Golda rejected this
proposal out of hand. There was, of course, no meeting.
popular joke doing the rounds had Golda and Sadat facing each other
from opposite banks of the Suez Canal. Golda shouted: “Make Love not
War!” Sadat looked at her through his binoculars and replied: “Better
Everybody knows how this chapter ended. After Golda had
rejected everything, Sadat attacked, won an initial surprise victory,
the whole political world started to move , Golda was kicked out, and
after four years of Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin came to power and
agreed the same peace with Sadat that had been proposed before the
war. The 3000 Israeli soldiers and around 10,000 Egyptians who died in
the war did not see it.
Jarring, by the way, died in 2002,
unsung and forgotten.
KERRY IS no Jarring. First of all,
because he does not represent a powerless international organization,
but the World’s Only Superpower. The full might of the United States
of America is at his disposal.
Or is it?
really the most relevant – indeed the only relevant – question at this
He will need a lot to achieve his heart’s desire: the
meeting – not just the meeting, but The Meeting – between Netanyahu
That looks like an easy task. Netanyahu declares,
with his usual sincerity, that he wants to meet. Nay, that he is
eager to meet. With the polished charm of a seasoned TV presenter
familiar with the power of visual images, he even offered to put up a
tent halfway between Jerusalem and Ramallah (at the infamous Qalandia
checkpoint?) and sit down with Abbas and Kerry until a full agreement
on all aspects of the conflict is achieved.
Who could resist
such a generous offer? Why the hell does Abbas not jump at it and
grasp it with with both hands?
For a very simple reason.
The very start of new negotiations would be a political triumph for
Netanyahu. Actually, it’s all he really wants – the ceremony, the
bombast, the leaders shaking hands, the smiles, the speeches full of
goodwill and talk of peace.
And then? Then nothing.
Negotiations that go on endlessly, months, years, decades. We have
seen it all before. Yitzhak Shamir, one of Netanyahu’s predecessors,
famously boasted that he would have dragged out the negotiations
The profit for Netanyahu would be clear and
immediate. He would be seen as the Man of Peace. The present
government, the most rightist and nationalist Israel has ever known,
would be rehabilitated. The people around the world who preach a
boycott of Israel in all spheres would be shamed and disarmed. The
growing alarm in Jerusalem about the “de-legitimization” and
“isolation” of Israel would be relieved.
What would the
Palestinian side get out of it? Nothing. No stop to the settlements.
Not even the release of old prisoners who have been incarcerated for
more than 20 years (like those who were released to Hamas in return
for Gilad Shalit). Sorry, no “preconditions”!
that the aim of the negotiations be spelled out in advance: the
establishment of the State of Palestine with borders “based on” the
pre-1967 lines. The omission of this statement from the Oslo accords
of 1993 led to their eventual evaporation. Why make the same mistake
Also, Abbas wants to set a time limit for the
negotiations. A year or so.
Netanyahu, of course, refuses all
of this. At the moment, poor Kerry is trying to put something together
that would satisfy the wolf while keeping the lamb alive. Give Abbas
American assurances without Israeli assurances, for example.
IN ALL this bickering, one basic fact is ignored.
that elephant again. The elephant in the room, whose existence
Netanyahu denies and which Kerry is trying to ignore.
The assumption is generally made that
the negotiations are between equals. In cartoons, Netanyahu and Abbas
appear to be of equal size. The American picture of two reasonable
people talking it out between themselves presupposes two more or less
But this whole picture is basically false. The
proposed “negotiations” are between an almighty occupying power and an
almost totally powerless occupied people. Between the wolf and the
(it’s the old Israeli joke again: Can you keep a wolf
and a lamb together? Of course you can, if you put in a new lamb every
The Israeli army operates freely throughout the West
Bank, including Ramallah. If Netanyahu so decides, Abbas may find
himself tomorrow morning in an Israeli prison, together with the old
people Netanyahu refuses to release.
Less drastically, the
Israeli government can at any moment, at will, stop transfering the
large sums of tax and customs money it collects on behalf of the
Palestinian Authority, as it has done several times already. This
would immediately bring the PA to the brink of bankruptcy.
There are hundreds of ways, one more refined than the other, in which
the occupation authorities and the occupation army can make life
intolerable for individual Palestinians and their community as a
What can the Palestinians do to put pressure on the
Israeli government? Very little. There is the threat of a Third
Intifada. It worries the army, but does not frighten it. The army's
answer is more repression and bloodshed. Or another resolution of the
UN General Assembly, elevating Palestine to the rank of a full member
of the world organization. Netanyahu would be furious, but the actual
damage would be limited.
ANY PRESSURE to start meaningful
negotiations that would lead to a peace agreement in – say – a year
must come from the President of the United States of America.
That is so obvious that it hardly needs mentioning.
This is the crux of the matter.
Kerry can bring cash, a lot of
cash, to bribe the Palestinians, or whisper into their ears dire
threats to frighten them into meeting Netanyahu in his imaginary tent
– it will mean next to nothing.
The only chance to start real
negotiations is for Barack Obama to put his full weight behind the
effort, to confront Congress and the hugely powerful pro-Israel lobby
and dictate to both sides the American peace plan. We all know what it
must look like – a combination of the (Bill) Clinton outline and the
pan-Arab peace initiative.
If John Kerry is
unable to deliver this pressure, he should not even try. It really is
an imposition to come here and shake things up when you have no means
to impose a solution. Sheer impertinence.
Or, as you say in