Like the dog that finally caught the bus he chased, Secretary of State John Kerry now has to figure out what to do with what he’s got. He induced, bribed, cajoled, and threatened Israelis and Palestinians to return to the “negotiating table.” The Palestinians were promised up to $4 billion in “investment” and aid, and up to 104 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel from the pre-Oslo era; terrorists with blood on their hands and previously thought to be unreleasable.
What the Palestinians paid, if anything, is unclear, but they are trumpeting a victory — that Israel will release prisoners and that the prisoners cannot be banished to Gaza; that Israel will not be able to seek an interim agreement, but must to go “final status” issues; and that Kerry agreed with them that the 1949 lines (the so-called 1967 border) are the starting point. Almost as a throwaway line, Mahmoud Abbas said he was committed to a “two state solution” and Kerry has referred vaguely to the promise that that Arab States might make peace with Israel if the Palestinians were satisfied (more on that later).
So, Mr. Kerry has put his bribe on the table and Israel has paid in advance.
The core question arises, what will they negotiate? It will not be “peace,” which is not a negotiable property. Machiavelli called peace, “The condition imposed by the winner on the loser of the last war.” It can be a “cold peace,” a “warm peace,” or the “peace of the dead.” The “peace” of Versailles contained the seeds of WWII; the “peace” following WWII contained the seeds of a democratic Germany and Japan, but consigned millions to almost a half-century of Soviet-dominated communism. Peace emerges, if at all, only after the resolution of competing claims, whether through negotiation or war. WWII ended when the allies were in Berlin and Hitler was dead in the bunker; the Cold War ended when the Soviet satellites were freed from Moscow’s grip and communism died.
What are the competing claims between Israel and the Palestinians, and can they resolved such that a peace of some sort can emerge? In barest form, Israel’s essential requirements are:
- Recognition of the State of Israel as a permanent, legitimate part of the region; the “secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force,” that is the promise of UN Resolution 242.
- “End of conflict/end of claims.” The Israelis expect this agreement to be the last Palestinian claim on additional territory or rights.
- Israel’s capital in Jerusalem.
For the Palestinians, the requirements are:
- International recognition of an independent Palestinian state, while preserving the right to claim/restore more or all of “Palestine.”
- The right of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to live in Israel if they wish, or to take compensation; the decision will be theirs, not Israel’s.
- Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital
The positions are incompatible and this, not the lack of pressure or lack of bribes, prevents the present creation of the mythical “two-state solution” embedded in the Oslo Accords of 1993. From the Israeli and American sides, Oslo had three underlying — and mistaken — assumptions that have returned to haunt all negotiations:
- That Palestinian nationalism could be understood as the mirror image of Jewish nationalism. (Zionism was determined to “normalize” stateless Jews by giving them a state.)
- That Palestinian nationalism could find its full expression in a split rump state squeezed between a hostile Israel and a more hostile Jordan.
- That there was a price Israel, the United States (and maybe Europe) could pay the Palestinians to overcome any remaining objection to Jewish sovereignty on any part of the land.
But Palestinian nationalism is precisely about the restoration of “Palestinian land” usurped by the establishment of Israel in 1948, which it perceives to be a mistake by an international community in the throes of Holocaust guilt. The Palestinian Naqba refers to the original error of Israel’s birth, exacerbated by its acquisition of more territory in 1967. To assume the Palestinians desire no more than the bits left after Israel’s War of Independence, somewhat smaller than what the Arabs were offered in the unacceptable 1947 UN Partition Plan, ignores the Palestinian view of its own future as taught now to a generation of post-Oslo Palestinian children. On this and perhaps on this alone, Hamas and Fatah are in complete agreement.
Mr. Kerry might more usefully take two steps back. First, he should insist that the Palestinians live up to the commitments they have already made to end incitement against Israel and Jews.
Second, rather than accepting a vague Arab League promise that would recognize Israel after Palestinian claims are satisfied, Mr. Kerry should remember that the obligations of UN Resolution 242 for “termination of all claims or states of belligerency” accrue to the Arab States themselves, not to the Palestinians. It was they, not the Palestinians, who went to war against Israel in 1967.
(Note here that Israel’s corresponding obligation, “Withdrawal of the Israeli armed forces from territory occupied in the recent conflict,” was largely fulfilled by withdrawal from 90-plus percent of the territory under the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty; the UN-certified withdrawal from all Lebanese territory in 2000; withdrawal of the Israeli military and civilians from Gaza in 2005; and the withdrawal of the IDF from parts of the West Bank.)
This should not be taken to mean there should never be a Palestinian state, or that Israel should resign itself to permanent occupation. It simply recognizes that Secretary Kerry has repeated the mistakes of a mistakenly named “peace process.” No peace can emerge from the framework of a “two-state solution” that assumes one side or both will give up their deeply-held core principles. It behooves the parties — particularly the outside parties — to be honest about the futility of alchemy when they persist in demanding that the existing dross be turned into gold. And, having paid in advance, there parties are likely to find an empty coffer when the next installment of gold comes due.