Negotiator: US Peace Talks Failed Due to Palestinian Demands, Kerry’s Approach
JNS.org – The 2013-2014 round of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations failed because the Palestinian Authority (PA) responded to each Israeli concession with new demands and the Obama administration kept taking the Palestinians’ side, according to a veteran Israeli negotiator.
Brigadier-General (ret.) Michael Herzog, a member of various Israeli negotiating teams since 1993, disclosed previously unknown details about the peace talks in an essay for the American Interest on February 27.
Herzog disputed claims by former State Department envoy Martin Indyk that Israeli housing construction was the main reason the talks failed. “I doubt that even a full settlement freeze would have salvaged these talks,” Herzog wrote. “More compelling causes determined their outcome.”
The major cause for the failure, he argued, was that each time Israel offered concessions, Palestinian leaders would respond by demanding more and taking provocative actions. For example, in hopes of keeping the PA at the negotiating table, Israel at one point offered to give the Palestinians partial control over some sections of Area C — the portion of Judea and Samaria that is under Israeli control. The very next morning, the PA signed a unity pact with the terrorist Hamas regime in Gaza.
On another occasion, Secretary Kerry hoped to convince the PA to extend the negotiations by pressing Israel to release an additional 400 imprisoned terrorists. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to convince his reluctant cabinet to agree to the demand. Yet before the cabinet meeting had even concluded, the PA announced that it was asking 15 international agencies to recognize a “state of Palestine” — violating the conditions that Kerry had set for the talks.
These Palestinian actions “shattered our nascent hopes” for a peace agreement, Herzog wrote. They confirmed “the Palestinian mindset I have witnessed for years. It is as if negotiations are simply about exacting what Palestinians perceive to be their rights, rather than engaging in a two-way give-and-take.”
The situation was further complicated by the fact that Kerry sometimes presented the PA with concessions by Israel that were more extensive than what the Israelis were actually offering. Herzog said that the Israelis’ “jaws dropped” when they learned what Kerry had been offering the Palestinians.
In one instance, PA President Mahmoud Abbas demanded that Israeli Arabs be included among the terrorists who were going to be released. Israel rejected this demand, Herzog reported. Yet “[we] were soon surprised to find out that Kerry had nonetheless promised this to Abbas, later claiming a misunderstanding with Israel.”
There was a similar “misunderstanding” when Abbas demanded that the released terrorists be permitted to return to the Palestinian territories. “The head of Israel’s General Security Services, Yoram Cohen, warned all along that some of these prisoners were still dangerous and would likely go back to murdering Israelis if released to their homes in the West Bank,” and this was “conveyed to the US side early on,” according to Herzog. Kerry nevertheless assured Abbas “that all prisoners would be released ‘to their homes,’” and when the Israelis protested, Kerry’s aides said that the diplomat “was not aware of this nuance,” he wrote.
“US negotiators put great pressure on the Israeli side to feed the extension of negotiations with gestures,” Herzog recalled. “It soon felt like a bazaar, with the Palestinians adding more and more to their cart of insatiable demands.” For example, even after Kerry agreed to Israeli construction inside existing Jewish communities in major settlement blocs,“the US side complained” about the construction and “Kerry began to press for significant restraint in the future,” according to Herzog.
For Alan Baker, a former Israeli diplomat who runs the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, the Herzog revelations illustrate John Kerry’s bias against Israel. Baker said he is “not at all” surprised to learn that Kerry misled the Israeli negotiators, because “Kerry, despite his false claims of friendship and sympathy [toward Israel], consistently displayed ignorance, utter naiveté and even hostility.”
According to Herzog, President Barack Obama made one last attempt to convince the PA to continue negotiating. At a White House meeting on March 17, 2014, Herzog says that Abbas “was presented with new ideas and formulations that departed from traditional official US positions and tilted toward his positions and that were never shared with Israel.” One of the ideas involved turning the Old City of Jerusalem and its adjoining neighborhoods into the capital of “Palestine.” Abbas never responded, and “to this day, he has not provided a response,” Herzog concluded.
David Bukay, a professor of Middle East Studies at the University of Haifa, told JNS.org that Herzog’s account demonstrates how the fundamental problem in the negotiations was the Obama administration’s failure to understand that the PA’s goal is ultimately to conquer Israel “in its entirety.” That “is why all the mediators and schemes have failed in finding a solution to the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and why we are still at square one.”
Raphael Israeli, a former professor of Middle Eastern history at Hebrew University, said that the tactics used by the PA in the 2013-2014 negotiations show that the Palestinian leadership will only accept “peace on their terms,” and will never accept a Jewish state.