Yesterday upon the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away
William Hughes Mearns could have been speaking for the American government’s proclivity to see an Israeli-Palestinian peace that doesn’t exist. Secretary of State Kerry at Davos rendered the 2014 version. “The truth is that after decades of struggling with this conflict, we all know what the endgame looks like.” Like Mearns, he was speaking of the man — or endgame — that isn’t there.
It’s simple, said Mr. Kerry. “The Palestinians need to know that at the end of the day, their territory is going to be free of Israeli troops; that occupation ends. But the Israelis, rightfully, will not withdraw unless they know that the West Bank will not become a new Gaza.” The “endgame” includes a “phased but complete” withdrawal of Israeli forces from the West Bank, where the Palestinian state would be established, Kerry said, and added that “mutual recognition of the nation-state of the Palestinian people and the nation-state of the Jewish people,” is part of the plan.
Break out the specifics, though, and there is less there than he would have us believe; in fact there is nothing there.
“Mutual recognition of the nation-state of the Palestinian people and the nation-state of the Jewish people.” Prime Minister Netanyahu recognized the Palestinian nation publicly in a televised speech in 2009 with the proviso that the Palestinians recognize the legitimacy of Jewish sovereignty in Israel. Mahmoud Abbas announced as late as January 2014 that he wouldn’t accept Israel as a “Jewish State.” Without entering the discussion of the merits, it is clear that Secretary Kerry sees a circumstance the rest of us have no reason to believe exists.
“Palestinian territory is going to be free of Israeli troops” in a “phased but complete” withdrawal.” This engenders several problems. First, Mr. Kerry implies there will be “other” troops to protect Israel, and indeed, this is at least the third time an American General has engaged in talks with Israel about how to secure Israel in the absence of a peace treaty and in the absence of the IDF on the West Bank. But Israel has never agreed to remove the IDF troops from the Jordan Valley; neither has the King of Jordan. Second, announcing in advance that the withdrawal will be “phased but complete” leaves no room for Israel to change its mind should the Palestinians prove to be less than honorable partners.
“We don’t want to see rockets and missiles streaming into a Palestinian state and placed on the hills above Tel Aviv and the hills encircling Jerusalem. If Israel does not maintain a credible military and security presence in the Jordan Valley for the foreseeable future, this is exactly what could happen again,” said Prime Minister Netanyahu. Defense Minister Ya’alon, Minister for Security Steinitz, and West Bank Commander Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon have echoed the prime minister’s remarks. Essentially the entire Israeli security establishment is telling Secretary Kerry that this man isn’t there either.
The Palestinians, to the extent that it matters, have also not agreed to the Kerry plan for Israel’s security because the secretary said, “Israelis need to know the West Bank will not become a new Gaza.”
The flip side of seeing what isn’t there is not seeing what is there.
Mr. Kerry neglected to mention that Gaza became the Gaza of Hamas and increasingly sophisticated rockets only after the IDF and Israeli civilians left Gaza in 2005 in a process that would strikingly resemble the removal of the IDF from the West Bank. He didn’t mention Gaza as part of the “two-state solution” seen as the administration’s “endgame.” Hamas is sovereign in Gaza. Turning it over to Mahmoud Abbas for part of an independent Palestinian state creates the possibility of carrying the civil war over to western “Palestine” while U.S. and other troops are there securing Israel. The price of not including Gaza is that Israel will remain under siege on at least one side, and Israel’s declared conditions: “end of conflict, end of claims” and “secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force” (the language of UN Resolution 242) will not be met.
The third problem with declaring in advance that the IDF will not be in “Palestine” is that it leaves the issue of Jewish civilians residing in the West Bank in limbo. If Secretary Kerry thinks he finessed the question of Israeli civilians in the West Bank, Prime Minister Netanyahu made his point about as clearly as he could. “I have no intention of removing a single community; I have no intention of uprooting a single Israeli.” But Mahmoud Abbas has been equally clear: “In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli — civilian or soldier — on our lands.”
If it is becoming clearer that Secretary Kerry’s vision includes a lot of pieces that aren’t in place, or don’t exist at all — including Jerusalem and refugees, which were not mentioned — the good news is that even the State Department appears to know that. Last week, an anonymous 35-year-veteran (his characterization) of the “peace process” held a briefing at the State Department. First was a very, very long discussion of “frameworks,” “endgames,” “peace treaties,” and “understandings,” implying that even that much had not been agreed among the parties. But there was a truly valuable nugget toward the end:
I think we have to make a decision about whether we go public or not once we have a sense of whether we have an agreement on this framework… the benefit of going public would be in starting to shape the debate on both sides and get people used to what it is that would be required of both sides to give up and what both sides would get in the process.
The downside of going public is that it exposes the leaders to a good deal of political opposition, because these are highly controversial and complicated issues. And so they may feel that it’s too much for the traffic to bear; it’s better to have a private agreement on what the end state would look like, but not go public.
And so you have a representative of the Government of the United States — a spokesperson for the Secretary of State — suggesting that two foreign leaders hide plans for their respective futures from their own people, to hide the parameters from the people who will live with the results.
That would be the ultimate man who wasn’t there.