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July 23, 2013 3:13 am

Kerry Must End the ‘Israel-is-to-Blame’ Game

avatar by Ben Cohen / JNS.org

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with PA President Abbas in May 2013. Photo: State Department.

JNS.org – Which aspect of Secretary of State John Kerry’s repetition of the Arab position last week, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies at the root of Middle Eastern instability, is more remarkable? The fact that Kerry could actually say such a thing, or the fact that, with the exception of theWeekly Standard, such an extraordinary claim could pass almost unnoticed in a media landscape that is rarely short of opinions about the region?

Let’s first revisit what Kerry said. After talks in Amman with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh and his colleagues, Kerry waxed lyrically as follows: “Peace is in the common interest of everybody in this region. And as many ministers said to me today in the meeting that we had—many of them—they said that the core issue of instability in this region and in many other parts of the world is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”

Think, for a moment, about that clause “in this region and in many other parts of the world…” During a week in which the total number of deaths accumulated during the civil war in Syria approached 93,000, there is something almost obscene about depicting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the source of regional instability.

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Even more breathtaking is the follow on about other regions around the globe. I’m wracking my brain trying to figure out how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict impacts the terrorist militias on the Colombian-Venezuelan border who are making millions of dollars out of cocaine trafficking, or how it influences Chinese repression in Tibet, or whether three instead of four million people would have perished in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s myriad wars had, you know, those pesky Israelis stopped building settlements in the West Bank.

I do, however, understand why Kerry made this statement. The State Department needs to place the best possible spin on the announcement that direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) are to resume after more than two years of gloomy silence. Never mind that Hamas has already said that the PA has no legitimate right to conduct negotiations. Never mind that, almost as soon as Kerry made his announcement, rumors began circulating that the PA is renewing its insistence on placing preconditions on Israel before entering talks. Never mind that other countries in the region are too preoccupied with the crisis in Egypt to get overly excited about another photo opportunity involving Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas. You must have faith, ladies and gentlemen, that this is the only show in town, the key to the puzzle, the path to transforming the Middle East.

There’s another way of describing this situation. Faced with the brutality and complexity of the Middle East’s other, larger conflicts, western policy has been emasculated. Another intervention in the Israeli-Palestinian arena is therefore all the more attractive, because—irony of ironies—it is the one aspect of the Middle East today that looks manageable, and can thus distract attention from the west’s shameful do-nothing record in the face of the massacres in Syria.

Here’s another irony: the primary reason it looks that way is because Israel, a stable democracy and reliable western ally, is the one party to the conflict that can be relied upon to be cooperative. Israelis are rightly skeptical that their little corner of the world is of almost metaphysical significance to the future of the international order, but they also grasp that a renewed peace process is in their interest. As Finance Minister Yair Lapid pointed out last weekend, Israel isn’t looking for a happy marriage with the Palestinians, but a fair divorce. And a fair divorce means that Israel can finally place responsibility for governing the Palestinians on the Palestinians themselves.

Moreover, if the world wants evidence of Israel’s decent intentions, look no further than the announcement from Yuval Steinitz, the minister in charge of the country’s intelligence and strategic affairs portfolio, that the government is willing to release a significant number of Palestinian prisoners, some of them convicted for monstrous terrorist crimes, in order to smooth the way for negotiations.

Which brings me to the last irony: Kerry was said to be furious that a potential monkey wrench in the works emerged from an unexpected source, in the form of the European Union (EU). The EU believes that Israel must be pressed into concessions, which is why, a few days before Kerry announced what he hopes will be a breakthrough, it issued new guidelines stating that any Israeli “entity” that wishes to be considered for funding or other opportunities must have no direct or indirect links with those Jewish communities established in the territories that came under Israeli control after the 1967 war.

That doesn’t just refer to the West Bank. It refers to the eastern half of the city of Jerusalem, Israel’s capital. And it refers as well to the Golan Heights, which the EU apparently wants to return to its rightful owner, the bloodstained dictatorship of Bashar al Assad in Damascus.

With this measure, as well as its earlier decision to separately label produce from settlements in Judea and Samaria—in effect, a moral health warning aimed at European consumers—the EU is demanding that Israel return to its 1949 armistice lines before negotiations even begin. Any flexibility that Kerry and his team might desire on the Palestinian side will, as a consequence, be that much more limited, since the PA can now retort that while Washington might not fully grasp the justice of its cause, Brussels certainly does.

Herein lies the risk of renewed peace talks: The Palestinians derail them, much as they did with previous attempts launched by the Clinton and George W. Bush Administrations, and the Israelis get the blame.

That’s why John Kerry should be making it clear to the Europeans that the U.S. will not tolerate any EU punitive measures against Israel, should the talks collapse. And he should also make clear that final borders would be addressed at any negotiations, not in advance of them. Frankly, given the warm welcome Israel has given his peace initiative, it’s the least he can do.

Ben Cohen is the Shillman Analyst for JNS.org. His writings on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Ha’aretz, Jewish Ideas Daily and many other publications.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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  • PJ Smith

    Peace Talks? I have been waiting patiently since Begin and Sadat shook hands for the PLO/PLA/Fatah/Shmatah/ whatever they call themselves to remove the clause in their charter calling for the destruction of Israel. Everyone in the west just ignores this. Why? You can’t negotiate with someone who is just looking to get closer to you to cut your throat. Enough already. Israel should unilateraly declare a Palestinian state in the west bank, then wipe it out the day after. That will change the rules from occupier/occupied to waring nations.

  • Carla Isselmann

    Please, send that traitor home and let him stay with his lady who needs him.He has this obsession to get Isael from the map as a good communist and that is what he is after.Point to him his duties as a good husband when his wife is ill and let him go away from this charade.

    It is so disgusting to watch this internationally despised man.

  • BH in Iowa

    Hanoi John

  • Vivienne Leijonhufvud

    Watch the rise and rise of Kerry, Abbas thinks the sun shines out of his proverbial back side as Kerry does of ABBAS. Kerry is having a wonderful junket in the Middle East with the likes of the ‘Jordanian ROYAL family’. ABBAS, is on a blackmail binge and so is the EU, made up of trendy juvenile lefties, trotsky lefties from Dublin, a dull eyed middle aged women with triple chins. All the real Europeans are on holiday, this how the dull eyed Ashton got the vote through. Doubt there were many MEP’s on site, a lot of hot air for the next few weeks, by Autumn, Ashton will have to withdraw or modify her dumb directives, because we the Europeans think it’s hairbrained. These last two weeks in Israel have been a complete FARCE. Islamists have attacked people at Temple mount, brought in a bulldozer to destroy archeological evidence of 2500+ Temples 1 & 2. Egypt has dethroned MB. The only productive activity and it hasn’t gone far enough is EU recognize Hezbollah as terrorists but the political arm, only after more terror struck in France. Kids in kindergarten could do better than EU Kerry & Abbas. Mr. BN you cannot release criminals no matter how old and infirmed they are, unless they are actually at deaths door and about to make their final journey to the grave. The people of Israel will never forgive you nor do they agree, referendum will bear this out, smart move. Freeze Peace talks, it is the only intelligent thing to do.

  • Aisha22

    Israel has always been compassionate. Unfortunately, being compassionate to deranged, sadistic Muslims has always been a mistake. See them for what they are…liars, cheats, thieves, woman haters, pedophiles, savage serial killers. See them for what they are…and act accordingly.

  • la Demain

    Best for Israel to stick to the mantra that Israel is not to blame nor responsible for the messes made in the world by unprincipled and out of control arabs. The time has come to call the arab world what it is: IMMORAL.

  • Okey

    Is that why “the world” tells lies such as the references to “occupied territories”, “illegal settlements”, “oppression of the “Palestinians”, “resistance fighters” etc etc etc
    No, my friend, something else is at work here, a 2,000 year-old hatred of the Jewish People.

  • Bella Ceruza

    Wake up!!!

    2013 is 1939 and Israel is Czechoslovakia.
    Both Obummer, Kerry & Co will be pleased to offer the notion that they have facilitated ‘Peace for our time’ (words that Obummer borrowed from Chamberlain)and will watch the Muddled East and Europe sliding into the Caliphate.

    I suspect as long as USA doesn’t slide the same way and they can collect their salaries (and maybe join such noble folk as Arafart in a Piss Prize or two from Sweden) they don’t give a damn.

    Who in history has cared about a few million pesky Jews?

  • Fred

    Kerry & Obama are no friends of Israel. Everybody wants more concessions from Israel without the slightest return in kind. EU has become an underground replica of Germany of the 1930th reinventing the Nuremberg Laws.
    Help with Arab money the anti Israel( anti Jewish ) flourishes. Europe is loosing its conscienciousness becoming anti semitic again USA is silent again.

  • Jose Carp

    In the eyes of the world, with its modern army and air force, as well as high tech, Israel is no longer considered the ‘underdog’ in spite of its population disproportion compared with the Arab world. It is a new reality to which both Israelis and Diaspora Jews must adapt to. It was not the case during the Six Day War in 1967 and Yom Kipur war in 1973.

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