Monday, May 5, 2014

The Kerry Mission: An Exercise in Perfect Fatuity

Last September I had a couple of posts here pointing to John Kerry's absurd and self-contradictory rhetoric and incompetent as well as potentially dangerous policy recommendations about what to do about Syria, especially about its chemical weapons.

He has now trumped even that performance with his failed mission in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The exact details of Kerry's proposed solutions have not yet been made public (I'll have more to say about them if and when they are), but there have been enough leaks to make the main outlines clear.  They amount to the standard international consensus (or the 2000 Bill Clinton proposals) for a two-state settlement, which of course were once again rejected out of hand by the Netanyahu government, which knew it could do so with impunity, at least so far as the U.S. government was concerned. 

Several days ago, Nahum Barnea, probably Israel's most widely read political columnist, published an article on the failed negotiations, based on confidential interviews he had with one or more leading members of the Kerry team.  It makes for remarkable reading: ttp://,7340,L-4515821,00.html

Barnea's account makes it overwhelmingly clear that nothing either the U.S. or the Palestinians could do would move Netanyahu. Barnea's source--widespread speculation is that it was Martin Indyk, Kerry's main advisor--summed up the various concessions made by Mahmoud Abbas:

"He agreed to a demilitarized state; he agreed to the border outline so 80 percent of settlers would continue living in Israeli territory; he agreed for Israel to keep security sensitive areas (mostly in the Jordan Valley - NB) for five years, and then the United States would take over. He accepted the fact that in the Israeli perception, the Palestinians would never be trustworthy."

"He also agreed that the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem would remain under Israeli sovereignty, and agreed that the return of Palestinians to Israel would depend on Israeli willingness. 'Israel won't be flooded with refugees,' he promised."

Since none of this moved Netanyahu, the U.S. government surrendered to him--Barnea's source admitted to him that “the last chapter of the American initiative was borderline pathetic.”  In fact, from start to finish the Kerry mission was pathetic—and not merely “borderline” so--and its collapse was not only perfectly predictable, it was widely predicted. Who didn’t know that there was no chance of moving Netanyahu and his government unless Kerry gave Israel an ultimatum: either end the occupation and agree to a two-state settlement or we cut off U.S. diplomatic, economic, and military support? And who didn’t know that there was no chance of Obama—let alone Congress!—supporting such a course?

Well, it would appear that the Kerry mission didn't know it, at least judging from Barnea’s sources inside it.  In fact, it seems to have taken quite awhile for the U.S. delegation to come to an understanding even of the simplest realities, known to anyone who has followed the course of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Consider this remarkable admission by the U.S. official (should we laugh or cry?):

"The negotiations had to start with a decision to freeze settlement construction. We thought that we couldn't achieve that because of the current makeup of the Israeli government, so we gave up. (emphasis added) We didn't realize Netanyahu was using the announcements of tenders for settlement construction as a way to ensure the survival of his own government…There are a lot of reasons for the peace effort's failure, but...the primary sabotage came from the settlements."

You don’t say.

Yet, all this said it seems to me that liberal Zionists (like me) face an insoluable dilemma.  On the one hand, we still think that there was a good case for the establishment of a Jewish state and we still care about the future of Israel--not that it's easy to do so.  On the other hand, as American liberals we strongly support the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.  The problem is that liberalism in the U.S., as in Israel, is under siege from the lunatic fringe and the know-nothings in both countries.

Given the power of the Israel lobby in the U.S., then, any serious U.S. pressures against Israel would likely backfire in our domestic politics and further strengthen the Republican party—especially if, as seems likely, it leads to large scale Jewish defections, votes, and money from the Democrats. In the worst and by no means implausible case, in the next few years it could result in full Republican control of Congress, the presidency, and Supreme Court appointments for a long time to come.

That's way too high a price to pay.  Not only that, even if the U.S. government made its continuing support of Israel conditional on its ending the occupation and accepting a two-state settlement, it is not obvious to me that Israel would bow to those pressures, thereby risking violent civil conflict and possibly even a revolt by the IDF, which is increasingly nationalistic, religious, and hardline.

In the final analysis then--as hard as it is to reach such a conclusion--I would counsel Obama as well as Hillary Clinton or whoever emerges as the next  Democratic presidential candidate to avoid a frontal challenge to Congress or the Israel lobby: we can't beat them, it might not work even if we could, and the probable costs are way too high.

In short, I painfully conclude, Obama and the Democrats should keep quiet and do nothing about Israel--to coin a phrase, the Israelis have made their beds, so let them lie in it.  At least--and it's not negligible--let's stop looking like  fools.


Donald said...

Regarding your conclusion, I hadn't thought of it in quite those terms, but I guess I took for granted that Obama and the Democrats weren't going to go head to head against the Lobby for the sake of the Palestinians. In the interview with the anonymous US officials, they go so far as to say that the US will continue to support Israel in the UN, so that pretty much says it all. There's no short term reason for Netanyahu to budge.

That said, there's no reason why the press has to go along. The NYT editors on Sunday had a long piece about Obama's foreign policy. The paragraph on the I/P conflict claimed that the US was trying to be an honest broker, but put the blame on both sides for not willing to make compromises. Which is utterly dishonest--we're still supporting Israel, so we're not honest brokers. I can understand politicians picking and choosing their battles--that's their job. But do editorial writers have to act the same way?

pabelmont said...

You speak of the core belief of liberal Zionists, viz., that a state of Israel has a right to exist.

OK, not my belief, but yours.

So -- how large a state does it have a right to, considering it must dispossess a people-in-place to come into existence in 1948. Does it require as much territory as it had before 1967? all that? If not, would LZ accept a smaller Israel? Or if a larger Israel has a right to exist, again, how large? and where does the size (and particular territory) of the place Israel has a right to occupy come from? It is certainly not very clear from the raw "right to a state".

All this would not matter if Israel had had a clear right to a particular territory, but what we have, what LZ bought into, is a conflict, a mess, and, for 66 years, oppression.

A sad business. How can we (you and I so to speak) move Israel unless we criticize its territorial ambitions, and criticize them sufficiently to create pressure on Israel to do something a wee bit decent?

Anonymous said...

George P. Smith comments:
It's hard to exaggerate the thralldom of the lick-spittle congress to the lobby; I'm with you there of course. But neither the lobby nor the money of Citizens-United Zionism are all-powerful in American elections. They couldn't defeat Obama last time around. They couldn't quell the groundswell of noisy protest when Debbie Wasserman-Schulz rammed through a last-minute Jerusalem plank at the Democratic convention two years ago. And they can't stop Obama from undertaking the (admittedly very modest) steps he's currently taking against Israeli intransigence: namely, purposely leaking warnings to Israel through Kerry, Barnea's deep throat, etc. We (liberal Zionists like you, post-Zionists like me) should be ENCOURAGING boldness, not counseling defeat.

Eurosabra said...

I do like pabelmont's occasional POV voiced on Mondoweiss that a 1947-partition-plan Israel could be a stable, recognized entity. Let's call it the successful implementation of 181. We might call the successful implementation of 242 and implementing 194 by an agreement the same solution for a Green Line Israel and a shared or divided Jerusalem, depending how creative and accepting everyone gets.

I think the Armistice Line is pretty much the accepted basic line. This is not a mystery, it's implied by the status quo of the Armistice Agreements and the text of 242.

I also do not think that a clear Israeli right to a particular territory would help it that much in securing recognition of that territory as Israeli. But anybody, including lots of Israelis, could be the agent of that non-recognition.