US Secretary of State John Kerry has visited Israel numerous times since commencing his term in February this year. His current touchdown in Israel, however, is the most significant and loaded. Indeed, it signifies that Israel is very much at a crucial crossroads, the full magnitude of which perhaps we will only be able to appreciate retrospectively, in years to come.
Firstly, it is Secretary Kerry’s first visit to Israel since the US driven P5+1 deal was struck with Iran; a nuclear plan that was vehemently opposed by Israel and put a huge strain on the wobbly US-Israel alliance.
But more pertinent than this even is that Secretary Kerry is expected to bring with him a US plan for security arrangements in the West Bank. In the setting of the resumption of peace-negotiations (which is about four and a half months into the allotted ninth month timeframe) this is unprecedented. It is the first time in years that the Americans have formulated a peace proposal on home soil, with no involvement from Israel or the Palestinians and said “here, take it.”
One doesn’t need to be an expert in political diplomacy to understand that tensions between the Obama-administration and Prime Minister Netanyahu are at an all-time high. I touched on this last week when discussing the Iranian nuclear deal and its implications for Israel. The recent Geneva deal, which many saw as leaving Israel ‘high and dry,’ has huge implications for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks (reportedly at an impasse) and Kerry’s visit to Israel highlights these overwhelmingly.
Firstly, the signing of a nuclear deal with Iran has reinvigorated the ‘collective’ ego of the world’s superpowers. It shows the world at large, and particularly the Palestinians, that when the most influential countries come together they can indeed exhort the necessary pressure to make a deal happen, even in the face of fervent Israeli opposition.
Recent statements from members of the Palestinian Authority suggest that the Palestinians certainly feel bolstered by the Geneva agreement, encouraged to pursue their demands through international pressure. After all, if it seems likely that the world could impose a solution on Israel, rather than them having to negotiate and make compromises for the sake of peace, why would the Palestinians pursue the latter?
According to Khaled Abu Toameh who writes for Gatestone Institute the way the Palestinian Authority sees it is such; “if it worked with Iran, why shouldn’t it work also with Israel?”
He continues with this sentiment; “The Palestinians see the agreement as an opportunity to achieve their demands through international pressure, and not direct negotiations with Israel. They are also very happy to see growing tensions between the U.S. Administration and the Israeli government over a series of issues, including the Geneva deal.”
The PA is hoping that the international community will force Israel to comply with its border demands; namely, a complete withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines. Indeed this was the view espoused by Palestinian spokeswomen, Hanan Ashrawi, who voted in 1996 not to remove clauses in the PLO charter calling for the destruction of Israel (a great article here by David Harris about Ashrawi’s ‘credibility’-an all time favourite of mine.)
According to Gatestone, Ashrawi has demanded that the international community “impose sanctions on Israel and hold it accountable with the same will that led to an end to Iran’s nuclear plan.”
How seriously the PA was taking peace talks was subjective in the first place. In recent weeks several Palestinian negotiators have walked away from the table citing “Israeli settlement expansion” as the cause of their abandonment.
Proof of this terrible message derived from the Geneva deal is reflected in Chief PLO negotiator, Saeb Erekat’s, comment this week, where he said that the agreement with Iran should serve as a model for forcing Israel to accept international law and resolutions.”
Arutz Sheva further quoted Erekat as saying; “Mr. Kerry must work to save the talks, to work to stop the deterioration of the talks caused by Israel’s continuing settlement activity and crimes committed in cold blood.”
The mounting pressure on Israel exerted by the US was highlighted bythe Times of Israel earlier this month when it wrote:
“In an extremely unusual joint interview with Israel’s Channel 2 and the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, a very frustrated Kerry basically blamed the Israeli government for stealing the Palestinians’ land and the Israeli public for living in bubble that prevents them from caring much about it…
“If we do not resolve the issues between Palestinians and Israelis,” Kerry warned early in the interview, “if we do not find a way to find peace, there will be an increasing isolation of Israel [and an] increasing campaign of delegitimization of Israel.”
The second issue emanating from the P5+1 deal is that of the perception of America’s receding international influence. President Obama’s failure to exert influence in Egypt, Syria and now most notably in Iran has undermined the US administration’s role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The attitudes of the Palestinian leaders, alluded to above, suggest that the PA believe the US’ role in the region is diminished and its peace talks futile.
This is the assumption of Abu Toameh who says: “The Geneva accord and Washington’s failed policies in Egypt and other Muslim countries have taught the Palestinians that it would be better to wait until the U.S. completely loses its influence so that other players such as Russia, China and the EU will step in to impose a solution on Israel.”
Rumours and conjecture propose that Kerry will now unveil a proposal on security and if no progress is made by January/February subsequent plans relating to the status of borders, refugees and Jerusalem will be presented to the Israelis and Palestinians. The feeling is that this will largely be guided by the Clinton parameters of 2000.
Former head of the Shin Bet, and perhaps the most controversial of the ‘Gatekeepers,’ Yuval Diskin, said this week that the “ongoing conflict with the Palestinians poses more of an existential danger to Israel than Iran’s renegade nuclear program; this may be the last opportunity to reach a two-state solution,” he said.
Diskin continued; “The trickling of attacks in the past month and even the outburst of the Bedouins in the Negev due to the Praver outline could erupt into masses of Palestinians and Arab-Israelis taking the streets – that is a likely scenario.”
One thing emerges as crystal- the pressure Israel is under is palpable. The international community, led by the world’s heavyweights, is putting a solid foot down and demanding that it be called boss…and Israel is at a crossroads…