John Kerry’s failed peace negotiations set off the spiral of violence between Israel and the Palestinians
July 8, 2014
Events are moving so quickly in the Middle East that it seems like whatever you are reading is already outdated. Yesterday, after Hamas fired dozens of rockets into Israel over the weekend, Israeli Air Force planes targeted the Gaza-based group and killed at least seven members. Hamas’ actions follow the murderof a 16-year-old Arab Israeli, who was killed by soccer thugs in an alleged act of retribution for the abductionand murder of three Jewish Israeli teenagers, whose bodies were found last Monday. Netanyahu has repeatedly warned Hamas to cease its attacks. Hamas responded on Monday that it will continue its attacks until the blockade on Gaza is lifted. Both sides are likely to escalate.
So, how did we get here? Who is to blame? From one perspective, what we’re watching is the latest round in a nearly century-long cycle of Arab-Israeli violence, so it’s hardly surprising to see violence erupt once again. However, it’s also worth noting that it is precisely because peace is so rare in the Holy Land that the status quo needs to be given its space and left alone. Or you need to have a very good reason for disturbing it.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry thought he had one. “People in Israel aren’t waking up every day and wondering if tomorrow there’ll be peace, because there is a sense of security and a sense of accomplishment and a sense of prosperity,” Kerry said last May in Jerusalem. “But I think if you look over the horizon,” he continued, “one can see the challenges.” In other words, what lay over the immediate horizon was more violence and bloodshed, unless Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas got together under American leadership and changed their act.
Kerry’s peace process started nearly a year ago now, July 29, with a nine-month deadline for an agreement. Over that period, Kerry met with Abbas at least 34 times and talked a lot more frequently with Netanyahu. His first aim was to convince the two sides that in spite of all the apparent difficulties, the negotiations were not a formal exercise but rather a serious attempt at peacemaking. “Every journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step,” President Barack Obama solemnly told negotiators for the two parties about the talks. “What’s important is seriousness.” To get Abbas to the table, the American team asked Netanyahu for a confidence-building measure—either freeze settlement construction or release Palestinian prisoners. He chose the latter.
What Netanyahu wanted in return was for Abbas to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The request was a non-starter: Netanyahu understands it’s virtually impossible for Abbas, or perhaps any Palestinian leader in the foreseeable future, to relinquish claims to all of Palestine. If Netanyahu was hoping to illustrate for the Obama Administration the core problems in Middle East peacemaking, Kerry and his team already understood that there would be no …read more