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Kerry’s failure — whose fault?

May 06,2014 - Last updated at May 06,2014

Many questions are yet to be answered about the failure of the peace mission of US Secretary of State John Kerry: Will the Americans give up? Will the fact that Israel was blamed for the failure lead to a crisis in US-Israeli relations?

Will the Americans reevaluate the situation and try again, as some news reports speculate? Will the failure of what many believed, Washington in particular, would be the last chance for peace, lead to another Intifada? 

Will Palestinians abandon any further negotiations in favour of an internal reconciliation, as a prerequisite to pursuing their struggle within the UN system?

One question that keeps popping up is how the US, usually described as the only power with effective influence on Israel, could have failed so spectacularly, and how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could afford to rebuff all Kerry’s proposals that were specifically tailored to meet Israel’s demands.

This begs the question: Who influences who? Who has the final word, Tel Aviv or Washington?

I always believed it is Tel Aviv. It is true that Israel is increasingly dependent on full American diplomatic, military and financial support, perhaps more now than ever, and the logical conclusion, therefore, should be the opposite.

That is true except that the Washington political structure routinely avoids upsetting Israel even when placing Israeli interests not only ahead of the Palestinians’ but even ahead of US concerns.

Evidence can be found partly in the latest account of what happened during the nine-month-long, totally sterile Kerry peace mission in the long interview given by unnamed “senior” US officials to Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea.

While Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas offered major concessions on borders, the right of return, Israel’s security, settlements and Jerusalem, Netanyahu did not move from his positions more than “one inch”, the interview revealed, without defining what that one inch involved.

According to the interview, Abbas “agreed to a demilitarised state, he agreed to the border outline so eighty per cent of settlers would continue living on Israel territory, he agreed for Israel to keep security sensitive areas (mostly in the Jordan Valley) for years and then the United States would take over... he also agreed that the Jewish neighbourhoods 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”.

The interview also revealed that the main cause of the failure was the Israeli insistence not to agree to any settlement construction freeze, even to the last demand of Abbas for only a three-month halt during which borders could be defined.  Instead, Israel launched record-breaking new settlement construction — 14,000 housing units during the nine months of negotiations.

The US agreed to abandon its demand for a settlement freeze, believing that this would lead to the collapse of the Netanyahu coalition government. But the officials admit that the construction projects were timed and declared by the Israeli housing minister precisely to sabotage any possible progress.

Just as a new deal over prisoners, which would have included the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard (to reward Israel for implementing a previous agreement to free the last of four batches of Palestinian prisoners) was about to be completed, Israel announced a new project of 700 housing units in Gilo, a colony on occupied Palestinian land south of Jerusalem. That was the final blow, leaving the Palestinians with no hope whatsoever.

While the US officials were careful to blame “both sides”, it is very clear from their account that it is Israeli intransigence and sabotage that brought down Kerry’s effort.

Even the US officials could not deny that Abbas had bent over backwards to accommodate virtually every Israeli demand.

One would think therefore that there would be consequences. But because that did not happen, and was always unlikely to happen, one can reasonably infer that Israel dictates and the Americans follow — at least when it comes to the Palestinians.

True, one could argue that the US successfully stared down Israel’s campaign to incite a military attack against Iran in favour of negotiations over the nuclear issue. And even though the Israel lobby group AIPAC supported a proposed US attack on Syria last summer, President Barack Obama backed out at the last minute.

But the price of appeasing the Israeli lobby for these defeats is paid by the Palestinians. To assuage Israeli anger, America gives more and more of what does not belong to it: Palestinian land and rights.

Kerry was often blamed for being hard on the Israelis in favour of the Palestinians. Twice, at least, he had to withdraw some mild references he made to Israel. 

When he once warned that Israel may face rising calls for international sanctions, in an attempt to prod Israel to seize the moment, he was accused of threatening Israel with sanctions. And when Kerry recently mentioned “apartheid” as a possible danger awaiting Israel in the absence of an agreement, he again had to swallow his words in the face of Israeli protests.

We are still very far from the day when Israeli leaders would think twice before openly challenging US positions, not just when such positions run contrary to Israel’s interests, but even when they are perfectly designed in Israel’s favour.

This is a consequence of decades of Israel being appeased and rewarded no matter what it does.

There are, of course, American political explanations for all that: pro-Israel constituencies, including major Jewish and Christian Zionist groups, still dominate political debate. And because other powers, particularly the European Union, follow sheepishly behind the United States, the US domestic situation has a negative international influence.

While hope that the United States will change any time soon is dim, the question is whether the rest of the world will continue to allow Israel to carry on as it pleases, paying no price for the suffering and havoc it wreaks.

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