Marino de Medici: Kicking the empty can of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations

By Marino de Medici

Secretary of State Kerry has touched the third rail in the seemingly impossible task of American diplomacy to bring peace to the Middle East. He used the word “apartheid” in an off the record meeting of the Trilateral Commission in trying to warn that without a two state solution Israel risked becoming an “apartheid state.”

The uproar that followed that statement was astonishingly ear piercing not in Israel but in the United States where the neocon Emergency Committee for Israel demanded the resignation of the secretary of state while other Israeli supporters, in and outside of Congress, excoriated Kerry, who found himself compelled to issue a lukewarm statement of regret.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not have to comment. After cashing in the unanimous vote of his cabinet to suspend peace talks following the announcement that Fatah and Hamas had signed a preliminary reconciliation agreement, the Israeli premier was able to chalk up another success in his firmly rooted strategy to buy time to allow Israel’s expansion through new waves of settlements and the pursuit of its plans for annexation of a large swath of Palestine.

The faux pas of the secretary of state allowed the Israeli leader to consolidate his rightist coalition, which in turn will make it possible for him to maintain power for as long as he wants. The strategy of West Bank land grabs has been denounced internationally as it not only violates international law, and innumerable U.N. resolutions, but it fuels the Palestinian sense of injustice over a half century of Israeli occupation.

Just like the term “apartheid state,” the definition of occupied territories is spurned by supporters of Israel and numerous lobbies. Will Secretary Kerry end up as a pariah among the majority of American Jews, just like former President Jimmy Carter who sounded the first warning in 2006 book with his book “Palestine: Peace or Apartheid?”

Secretary Kerry is not without supporters in his attempt to bring the parties together to talk about a settlement of what is generally, and wrongly, called the Arab-Israeli conflict. The results up to now explain in a perverse way why former Secretary Hillary Clinton showed a distinct lack of commitment in pushing a clear-sighted American project for peace. Likewise, they explain the discouraging present day aloofness of President Barack Obama.

On the opposite side, a group of former government advisers headed by former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski has taken a position rebutting the unabashed pro-Israel campaign in the United States. The group points out that no Palestinian leader could ever agree to a peace accord that entails turning over the Jordan Valley to Israel. Israel’s unrelenting strategy to annex the valley precludes a peace accord that would end Israeli occupation. Brzezinski and his colleagues stress that the marginal improvement in Israel’s security provided by the expansive Israeli demands “can hardly justify the permanent subjugation and disenfranchisement of a people to which Israel refuses to grant citizenship in the Jewish state.”

There are others, most notably the Jewish American organization J Street, who just as fervently advocate a stronger U.S. engagement to move the parties forward by presenting a public framework that would lay out the U.S.-backed parameters for a two-state solution.

The question that now arises is: will there ever be a Palestinian state? Probably not, for a long time at least, until the day that the Israelis themselves understand that serious negative consequences will result if negotiations fail.

Israel will face growing international isolation, boycotts, trade restrictions for goods manufactured in the occupied territories and mounting diplomatic pressures with possible legal actions against it. The BDS movement, as the boycott is called, has been opposed vociferously by the pro-Israeli lobbies in the United States but marches forward in Europe.

The Israeli government, which has suspended talks with the Palestinians in response to the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas, has kicked the empty can of negotiations down the road. Only a firm intervention by the United States could restart the negotiations that Netanyahu clearly abhors. But the Obama administration also continues with a policy of ambiguity and silence.

To his credit, John Kerry tried, very much on his own, to put pressure on the Israelis. It is clear now that he failed. Israel has turned much of the West Bank into a single entity by controlling not just the land but also the underground aquifers. And finally, it has built a ring of settlements that practically surround Jerusalem, denying the Palestinians their dream of having a capital in East Jerusalem.

In sum, it is not surprising that the Europeans are going ahead with the boycott and divestment, unlike the United States government that simply does not demonstrate the moral and political strength needed to persuade Israel to make sacrifices for a future of peace.

Marino de Medici is a Winchester resident and formerly the dean of foreign correspondents in the United States.