Friday, January 03, 2014
Kerry and the Sharon legacy
When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Tel Aviv on Thursday for the 10th time in a five-month period, he was met with the news of a severe deterioration in the medical condition of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Though Sharon has been comatose for the past eight years, his kidneys began to fail two days ago. According to his doctors, this means that his other organs are soon to follow suit. It appears that Sharon, the man whose physical, military and political strength have been legendary throughout his lifetime, is now finally on his deathbed.
At a joint press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu upon his arrival, and prior to a private meeting later in the evening at which Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni were also present, Kerry conveyed his sympathy to the Sharon family and the people of Israel.
"We remember his [Sharon's] contributions, sacrifices he made to ensure the survival and the well-being of Israel," Kerry said, before launching into a mini-speech about the "framework" agreement he had brought with him.
Kerry's message could not have been more sadly ironic, given the circumstances of his desperate shuttle diplomacy, aimed at getting Israel to make extensive territorial and security concessions on behalf of Palestinian statehood. It was Sharon, after all, whose understanding that it would be a cold day in hell before any genuine agreement could be reached with the Palestinians caused him to undertake a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and northern Samaria. This disastrous move involved the evacuation of every last Jew from those areas. It was the response of the war-weary ex-general (with a late-in-life desire to be praised by the press after years of vilification) to the daily slaughter of Israeli civilians by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorists.
This suicide-bombing rampage -- known by Arabs as the Aqsa Intifada and internationally as the Second Intifada -- was more aptly and accurately called the Oslo War. It was waged, after all, in response to the "peace process" of the same name.
The result of Sharon's "disengagement" was a Hamas landslide victory in Gaza and years of missile barrages into Israeli cities.
Sharon's incapacitation in 2006 ushered Ehud Olmert into the prime minister's seat. Olmert officially became prime minister shortly thereafter, through general elections. Like his predecessor, Olmert had a plan to withdraw from territory -- this time, from most of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) -- which he called "realignment." Unlike Sharon, though, Olmert believed this could and should be accomplished through a peace deal.
Under his premiership, Israel was forced to go to war against Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006 (after rockets rained down on Israeli cities in the north), and against Hamas in Gaza in 2008.
In between the two unsuccessful and unfinished military operations, Olmert participated in the Annapolis Conference -- yet another U.S.-brokered attempt at bringing Israel and the Palestinians together to engage in a peace process.
Olmert was happy to sign the "roadmap to a two-state solution" drawn up at the conference; he began to court Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to offer him huge concessions, including most of the West Bank and east Jerusalem. But Abbas gave him the cold shoulder.
It was not for nothing that a piece of graffiti spray-painted on a wall in Jerusalem read: "Wake up, Arik [Sharon], Olmert's in a coma!"
In 2009, Netanyahu became prime minister when Barack Obama entered the Oval Office. Two days after his inauguration, Obama appointed George Mitchell as U.S. special envoy for Middle East peace. Mitchell had served in a similar capacity in Northern Ireland from 1995 to 2001, under President Bill Clinton; he is credited as the chief architect of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Mitchell was delighted to be entrusted by Obama with Middle East peace. "...[T]here is no such thing as a conflict that can't be ended," he announced. "Conflicts are created, conducted and sustained by human beings. They can be ended by human beings."
A couple of weeks later, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton attended the Herzliya Conference on "The Balance of Israel's National Security and Resilience." During an interview I conducted with him at the time for The Jerusalem Post, Bolton practically guffawed at Mitchell's statement.
"The Good Friday Agreement did not solve the Northern Ireland conflict...," Bolton said. "It was solved by the British army thrashing the IRA... [and] what was negotiated ... were the terms of surrender. That hasn't happened in the Gaza Strip or the West Bank."
Two years later, with nothing to show for his efforts but increased incitement to terrorism in the PA, Mitchell resigned.
Now it is Kerry who is determined to get Israel and the PA to negotiate peace. It is his turn to realize that this is not possible with Abbas unwilling to compromise on anything. But the secretary of state would die before saying so. Instead, seeing that the April deadline that he had set for a deal is fast approaching, he has come up with a "framework that will provide the agreed guidelines for permanent status negotiations. This will take time ... but ... would be a significant breakthrough. ... It would create the fixed, defined parameters by which the parties would then know where they are going and what the end result can be. It would address all of the core issues that we have been addressing since day one, including borders, security, refugees, Jerusalem, mutual recognition, and the end of conflict and of all claims."
In other words, the deadline for a nonexistent peace process even to begin has been extended indefinitely. You know, until the next war. One would have to be comatose -- or a member of the Obama administration -- not to wake up and brace for it.
Ruthie Blum is that author of "To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the 'Arab Spring.'"