Kerry’s Mission Impossible
by Jerold Auerbach
No, it is not a bird, a plane or, least of all, Superman. It is only Secretary of State John Kerry flying yet again to the Middle East, this time to Jordan, in another futile attempt to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
One might infer, from the familiar destination of Kerry’s frenetic travels, that nothing else deserving of his attention is roiling the neighborhood in, say, Egypt or Syria. Kerry seems obsessed with the idea that he can broker a final solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has eluded resolution ever since the Palestinians rejected statehood back in 1947 when the United Nations voted to partition Palestine.
Never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity, as Abba Eban memorably observed of Arabs decades ago, Palestinians somewhat belatedly realized that perhaps they should turn back the clock. Ever since Jordan launched the attack against Israel in the Six-Day War that cost it the West Bank, Palestinians have demanded that the clock be reset to May 1967 with Israel’s pre-war “Auschwitz” borders (Eban again) defining the old-new reality, as though the war never happened.
Israel must also freeze settlement construction where more than 350,000 Jews now live in land that happens to be the biblical homeland of the Jewish people. And, as a good-will gesture, it must agree to the release of more than one hundred Palestinian prisoners “with blood on their hands” from murdering Jews. Then, presumably, real negotiations can begin.
If this seems like a charade, it is. But Kerry probably remembers that on the Israeli side of the table sits Benjamin Netanyahu, who has a history as prime minister of caving in to American pressure. Although he first took office in 1996 as a sharp critic of the Oslo Accords, he was quickly pressured by the Clinton administration to become more conciliatory following an eruption of Palestinian violence after a new exit from the tunnel adjacent to the Western Wall was opened – with Yasser Arafat’s approval.
Within months Netanyahu signed the Hebron Protocol, which divided the ancient city where the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish people are entombed in Me’arat HaMachpelah. Jews were confined to a tiny ghetto, where they were vulnerable to Palestinian attacks because Israeli soldiers were under orders to turn the other cheek.
Early in his current term as prime minister, Netanyahu agreed to a ten-month settlement freeze to meet Palestinian Authority demands for renewed peace negotiations. Although he subsequently promised no more freezes, it was recently revealed that his government had quietly curtailed new settlement construction, receiving nothing in return. Along the way, he agreed to the exchange of more than 1000 Palestinian prisoners for imprisoned Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Nearly 300 of those released had received life sentences for the murders of 569 Israeli civilians. Within months, dozens of them were rearrested for renewed violence.
Given Netanyahu’s proclivities for submitting to diplomatic and political pressure, it is not surprising that Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon recently attempted to divert the conversation from renewed – and disastrous – Israeli concessions. His initiative would actually preserve the ancient biblical homeland for the Jewish people rather than allowing it to become a launching pad for Palestinian, Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist attacks.
“Our interest,” Danon stated bluntly, “is to retain as much territory in Judea and Samaria as possible, placing it under Israeli sovereignty.” The citizenship status of Palestinians would be decided jointly with Egypt and Jordan. They would not become citizens of Israel. Left unsaid by Danon was the likeliest outcome: West Bank Palestinians would be reunited with Jordan, as they were before 1967. Jordan, after all, comprises two-thirds of Palestine as originally defined by the League of Nations after World War I. Its population is 60 percent Palestinian. It is, de facto, the Palestinian state in Palestine (if ruled by a Hashemite king).
When Jordan was severed from Palestine in 1922 by Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill, Jews were guaranteed the right of “close settlement” west of the Jordan River. That right, never rescinded, is the international guarantee for Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria. Netanyahu, the son of a distinguished historian, should know that and firmly assert Israel’s sovereign right to its own land.
As for Kerry, aptly described at the outset of his current journey by Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens as “a fool on a fool’s errand,” it is time to return to safe harbor in Nantucket where his yacht awaits him.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author, most recently, of Against the Grain: A Historian’s Journey (Quid Pro Books, 2012).