Sunday, February 02, 2014
Curing our conflict won't fix Middle East
Neither side has seen the U.S. document on the framework agreement, but the Americans have allowed it to pass through U.S. Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations Martin Indyk and others in the know.
The unofficial version has the following elements: Israel will be declared a Jewish state; it will retain the settlement blocs, comprising 80 percent of the settler population; the Jordan Valley will have special security arrangements; the new Palestinian state will be demilitarized; Jews who immigrated to Israel from Arab states will be compensated for their lost property; the Palestinians will receive an area equivalent to the territory Jordan controlled west of the Jordan River up until 1967 Six-Day War, and they will claim east Jerusalem as their capital. The section dealing with the "right of return" for descendants of the 1948 Palestinians refugees is worded ambiguously.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should not bolt from the peace talks. I think the emerging U.S. document is a reasonable platform that could, with some tweaks, serve as a cornerstone for a two-state solution. If Israel endorses it as is, the Palestinians would try to avoid doing so, and would simply rebuff U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
But even those who believe the glass is half empty know that the document cannot be rejected. Even Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett and Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel have stopped short of calling on the Israeli negotiators, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Special Envoy Isaac Molho, to stage a sit-in. In light of all this, Kerry's speech on Saturday -- on the risk of increased isolation if the talks fail -- is his way of prodding the two sides to accept the document, even as he threatens, almost reprimands, Israel.
But his speech was perplexing on two levels. First there is the issue of whether the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is as consequential for regional stability as it is made out to be. The conflict is definitely important, even if only because some countries in the region and beyond just can't get enough of it.
But is it more important than Syrian President Bashar Assad's continuing failure to deliver on his promise to surrender his chemical weapon stockpiles? Is it more important than the dangerous uprising of the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaida affiliates in Egypt? Is it more important than their efforts to turn Sinai into a launching pad from which they could fire rockets on Eilat, as was the case over the weekend? What about Iran recently conceding that Saudi Arabia is one of its greatest enemies, an assessment the U.S. cannot seem to accept despite Israeli intelligence officers relaying the necessary information in bilateral meetings? Resolving the conflict over the land of Israel will not fix these problems.
The second thing that should have us scratching our heads has to do with the U.S. perception of each side's views. Kerry has warned Israel that it might suffer the adverse effect of a boycott and compromised security because he wants to get Israel on board with his positions.
But his premise is all wrong. American diplomats have apparently been consuming too much news. They apparently believe the ongoing disagreement between Netanyahu and Bennett is what stalled progress on the peace process. They have failed to realize that the talks have reached an impasse primarily because of what is going on in Ramallah. Having Israel embrace the document is no easy task, but it is nothing compared to what needs to be done to undo Palestinian rejectionism. Once again, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has proved himself to be the ultimate naysayer.
And despite all this, Kerry has been preaching morals to the Jews; in fact, he has been almost singularly focused on the Jews.