The Mirage of Peace Now
The whirling diplomatic dervish, also known as John Kerry, is spinning once again. Leaving Israel for the umpteenth time on Friday, he proclaimed the imminence of a peace deal between the Jewish State and the Palestinian Authority. As he announced to reporters at Ben Gurion airport: “I believe we are closer than we have been in years to bringing about the peace and the prosperity and the security that all of the people of this region deserve.”
There was, however, a small problem. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas seems to have rejected every bridging proposal offered by the Secretary of State. That included, most recently, Israel’s understandable insistence upon sustained military control over the Jordan Valley. Kerry’s proposal to delay by one month the prison release of the third group of Palestinian terrorists, designed to pressure the Palestinian Authority to accede to the Jordan Valley demand, also received short shrift from Abbas.
And so it goes. But so it has always gone, ever since 1937 when the British Peel Commission first proposed the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states and Palestinians rejected the idea. A decade later, the United Nations approved partition and, once again, Palestinians rejected it. Two decades later, following Israel’s stunning victory in the Six-Day War, Arab League states voted at Khartoum for the Three No’s: “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel.” As Foreign Minister Abba Eban memorably observed: “The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
Although the hostility of Egypt and Jordan moderated over time, culminating in peace treaties with the Jewish state, Yasser Arafat’s PLO remained obdurately resistant. Not even the momentary rapture accompanying the Oslo Accords, signed on the White House lawn with President Clinton’s beaming approval, weaned Palestinians from their all-or-nothing demands. That meant return to the post-1948 borders (which they had rejected at the time), and the return of 700,000 Palestinian refugees to the Jewish state. In other words, no more Israel.
Israel kept trying. Prime Minister Barak’s concessions at the Camp David summit in 2000 were rejected by Arafat, and the second Palestinian intifada erupted soon thereafter. Eight years later, Prime Minister Olmert’s even more generous concessions, including sovereignty over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, were also rejected.
But John Kerry’s gullibility endures. With every Palestinian rejection he races back to Prime Minister Netanyahu demanding another Israeli concession to seal the deal that he hallucinates to be imminent. He remains convinced, as he declared at the end of his recent Israeli visit, that there is a shared commitment by Israeli and Palestinian officials “to work through these difficult issues in the days ahead.”
Israelis were not persuaded. Defense Minister Ya’alon dashed cold water on Kerry’s euphoria with the reminder that “there has never been since the dawn of Zionism a [Palestinian] leadership willing to recognize us as the state for the Jewish people,” nor relinquish the claimed right of return of Palestinian refugees to Israel. Foreign Minister Lieberman added: “There is zero trust between Israel and the Palestinians.” Israeli journalist and TV pundit Dan Margalit, writing in Israel Hayom, euphorically compared Kerry and Obama to “the biblical prophets who envisioned peaceful coexistence” and, with their unremitting optimism about its prospects, “could save the peace process.” In the end, however, even Margalit concluded that the likelihood of an agreement “remains very slim.”
The price of Palestinian peace pretenses has invariably been costly for Israel. In three years following the Oslo Accords, more than 300 Israelis were killed in terrorist attacks. Prime Minister Barak’s promises to Arafat were followed by the deaths of 1000 Israeli civilians during the Second Intifada.
If Palestinian peace promises so often prove to be false, “why,” asks Commentary columnist Jonathan Tobin sensibly, “should anyone believe Kerry?” And why should Israelis, who understandably feel betrayed by the Obama administration’s embrace of Iran, imagine a better outcome from Kerry’s proposals ? Given Kerry’s proclivities, that can only mean Israeli concessions and the heightened vulnerability that will inevitably accompany yet another ominous proclamation of peace in our time.
Jerold S. Auerbach’s most recent book was Against the Grain: A historian’s Journey (Quid Pro Books, 2012).