Some views of Kerry’s announcement (‘By George he did it!’ ‘Sovereignty over slivers’)

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Here are a number of statements and views of the latest peace initiative in the Middle East that the United States announced yesterday with some fanfare.

First, excerpts of John Kerry’s announcement yesterday in Jordan:

On behalf of President Obama, I am pleased to announce that we have reached an agreement that establishes a basis for resuming direct final status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis. This is a significant and welcome step forward.

The agreement is still in the process of being formalized, so we are absolutely not going to talk about any of the elements now. ..

If everything goes as expected, Saeb Erekat and Tzipi Livni, Minister Livni, and Isaac Molho will be joining me in Washington to begin initial talks within the next week or so, and a further announcement will be made by all of us at that time…

[N]o one believes that the longstanding differences between the parties can be resolved overnight or just wiped away.We know that the challenges require some very tough choices in the days ahead. Today, however, I am hopeful. I’m hopeful because of the courageous leadership shown by President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Both of them have chosen to make difficult choices here, and both of them were instrumental in pushing in this direction. We wouldn’t be standing here tonight if they hadn’t made the choices.

I’m most hopeful because of the positive steps that Israelis themselves and Palestinians are taking on the ground and the promise that those steps represent about the possibilities of the future. The path to resolution of this longstanding conflict in this critical corner of the world, that path is not about fate. It’s about choices, choices that people can make. And this is not up to chance. It’s up to the Israeli people and the Palestinian people and no one else.

So knowing that the road ahead will be difficult and the challenges that the parties face are daunting, we will call on everybody to act in the best of faith and push forward. The representatives of two proud people today have decided that the difficult road ahead is worth traveling and that the daunting challenges that we face are worth tackling. So they have courageously recognized that in order for Israelis and Palestinians to live together side by side in peace and security, they must begin by sitting at the table together in direct talks.

I thank those leaders. I thank all those who have worked so hard, my team especially, who have been part of this. And I look forward to seeing my friends from this region in Washington next week or very soon thereafter. Thank you very much.

The New York Times story on the announcement, “Kerry Achieves Deal to Revive Mideast Talks,” offers wan hope. It quotes just one Palestinian on the matter, and five or six Israelis and American Israel lobbyists, including the inevitable Dennis Ross: 

There was no indication that either the Israelis or the Palestinians had compromised on core issues — such as ending Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank or conceding the right of return of Palestinian refugees — that have sunk previous negotiations. Rather, this round of diplomacy was focused on getting distrusting adversaries to sit in the same room.

…“He’s gotten them into the pool,” said David Makovsky, director of a project on the peace process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, referring to Mr. Kerry. “Right now they’re in the very shallow end, and they’re going to have to swim in deeper waters — and they can be treacherous. It’s still an achievement that he got them into the pool.”..

[Kerry] apparently won concessions on the new framework, which American, Israeli and Palestinian officials said would allow Washington to declare the 1967 prewar borders as the basis for the talks — along with the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state — but allow Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas to distance themselves from those terms…

Dennis B. Ross, a former American peace envoy to the Middle East, said that … having the talks start at the negotiator-level and remaining mum about the terms were smart steps by Mr. Kerry.

“You don’t need another situation where you bring the leaders together and build the expectations that you’re going to have a dramatic breakthrough,” Mr. Ross said.

Israeli politician/centrist/Justice Minister Tzipi Livni on Facebook:

It was months of skepticism and cynicism. But now, four years of political deadlock are about to end. On occasion I also know that the negotiations will be complicated and not easy. But I believe with all my heart it’s the right thing for our future, for our security, economy and values of Israel. Get an estimate for the Prime Minister who took decisions that represent the interests of Israel. And the determination of the self-evident of the American Secretary of State led to the ג׳ון coming, and we, in the negotiations. In that room we will maintain the national and the security interests of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state — to that I vouch. [translation by both Bing and the NYT]

Martin Indyk, former US diplomat and Israel lobbyist, on Twitter:

So Kerry did it. By George he did it! Negotiations will resume forthwith. Now watch the naysayers declare there’ll never be an agreement.

To which our publisher, Scott Roth, responded:

how dense is Martin Indyk?

Diana Buttu, the lawyer and negotiator, speaking at the behest of Institute for Middle East Understanding:

“While there may be jubilation in some quarters over the resumption of talks, it is important to keep in mind that the goal is not to resume an already flawed and failed process but to liberate Palestine and Palestinians from decades of Israeli rule. That goal – freedom for Palestinians – will not be the result of these negotiations.”

MJ Rosenberg is, to say the least, unimpressed:

This agreement is utterly bogus. Israel agrees to allow the US to state that negotiations will be based on ’67 borders. That is precisely what U.S. policy has been since 1967 when UN Resolution 242 (promoted by the US) speaks of peace in exchange for “Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.”
This is a typical Israeli trick. Make the US accept as a concession something that is a requirement under international law. On top of that, Israel does not accept that condition but simply allows us to.
Palestinians, on the other hand, have to agree to accept that the US favors recognizing Israel “as a Jewish state,” an entirely new requirement made up by the Likud and AIPAC.
The good news is that no one but Israel and its cutouts here — the lobby, J Street, etc — are celebrating this “breakthrough.”
It is obvious to everyone (1) that this is just a typical U.S-Israel production that was rammed down the PA’s throats and (2) that it has no significance whatsoever.

Dimi Reider of +972 also isn’t buying. He posted this image on Facebook.

Dimi Reider
Dimi Reider’s take

Nadia Hijab of Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian policy network, also at the behest of IMEU, says this is a false undertaking, to grant Palestinians “little sovereignty over slivers of Palestine”:

There is now a strong Palestinian civil society call, backed by a powerful international solidarity movement, for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel. They are likely to stand against a sell-out gilded in promises of economic prosperity.

J Street is over the moon, calls it a “breakthrough” and denounces “vocal minorities” who are naysayers:

Secretary of State John Kerry’s tireless efforts to resume Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations have created an historic opportunity which must not be missed.

…Secretary Kerry deserves the recognition of the entire world for his determination and creativity in achieving this breakthrough. We are confident he will remain fully engaged as the parties get down to negotiating. We thank President Obama for making this issue a top foreign policy priority of his second term.

We call on Congress and American Jews to get fully behind this peace effort to give the parties the support they need to make the tough decisions necessary to resolve their conflict.

…Such an agreement is also the only way to secure Israel’s future as both a democracy and a Jewish homeland and would provide Palestinians with a vehicle in which to fulfill their self-determination and national aspirations.

…Vocal minorities on both sides can be expected to oppose the negotiations going forward but must not be allowed to frustrate the desire of clear majorities of Israelis and Palestinians for a two-state solution to end this conflict.

Netanyahu’s twitter feed has nothing to say about the news. There is this from three days ago:

For more updates, statements and interviews follow PM Netanyahu’s spokespeople

But neither spokesperson, Ofir Gendelman or Mark Regev, has anything to say either.

Mouin Rabbani of the Institute for Palestine Studies says that Abbas will have only a negligible minority of Palestinians behind him; he calls for a wholesale repudiation of Oslo and ejection of the U.S. from the driver’s seat (again thanks to IMEU):

“In considering how to approach the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Washington has chosen to yet again re-invent the square wheel of Oslo. For good measure, it has removed yet a few more spokes, and according to the available reports the terms proposed by the Obama administration not only incorporate the Bush administration’s radical pro-Israeli tilt but take it significantly further.

“It is time to recognise that under such conditions, renewed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are not an opportunity for a peaceful settlement of the conflict but a permanent threat for such a settlement. Indeed, only a wholesale repudiation of Oslo, and of American hegemony over Middle East diplomacy, can succesfully salvage the prospects for Middle East peace.

“In agreeing to resume negotiations under these conditions, Mahmoud Abbas has the support of not only a negligible minority of his people, but – more dangerously for him – only a minority of his own leadership. His decision to capitulate to Obama yet again may yet prove very costly to his leadership.”

Mitchell Plitnick at Lobelog also says this is warmed-over Oslo and he has doubts about the U.S. ability to apply pressure to make that work, especially given Palestinian mistrust of Oslo and the growing importance of the refugee issue:

Any realistic agreement is probably going to involve Israel keeping the three large settlement blocs, which is going to be a tough sell to the Palestinians because of the way the Ariel and Ma’ale Adumim settlements slice apart the West Bank. Conversely, any conceivable agreement would also mean sharing Jerusalem and Israel taking at least token responsibility for the creation and long-term plight of Palestinian refugees, which might be an even tougher sell….

Although it has become much more difficult as the Israeli public and body politic has drifted well to the right from where it was in the mid-1990s, there is reason to believe that enough Israelis would support an Oslo deal to make it work. It is not at all clear that the same can be said about the Palestinians.

The mistrust and frustration that resulted from Oslo has certainly hardened the resolve of many Palestinians. And while Palestinian refugees have always been central to the national narrative, few would argue that the refugees have a more prominent place in Palestinian negotiations today than they did twenty years ago. It will be much harder to sell an agreement now where Israel takes in zero or close to zero refugees than it was when the Oslo Accords were agreed upon. It will also be much harder to sell a demilitarized state to Palestinians weary and wary from years of violence from Israel.

…Kerry was able to push Netanyahu a little more than usual this week, but that was nothing compared to what will be required to get Netanyahu to agree to sharing Jerusalem, provide some concession on the refugee issue and limit his own draconian security demands, which currently include a very large Israeli presence remaining in the Jordan Valley. There is no indication that the Obama administration is prepared to apply that kind of pressure or weather the ensuing political firestorm such a move would bring.

Steve Walt at Foreign Policy says the Israelis have been forced by international isolation to do something, but nothing will likely come of it:

The only serious question to ask is whether this new round of talks has a better chance [than Oslo] of succeeding. And let’s be clear: Success means actually reaching a final status agreement that establishes a viable state for the Palestinian people. Kicking the can down the road for another few years is not success. Endless discussions that collapse in mutual recriminations, while the bulldozers continue to demolish Palestinian homes and construction crews erect more condos and apartments for Israelis in the occupied territories, are not success either. And neither is another demonstration of American fecklessness, naivete, and diplomatic incompetence….

So what are the grounds for optimism? Well, it is possible that Netanyahu & Co. are aware of broader global trends that are working against them. … By reminding even hard-line Israelis that the occupation is eating away at their international acceptance, such events give even the current government some reason to think differently… 

It is also possible that Obama will show more spine than he did during his first term and that he’ll get sufficient cover from groups like J Street so that he can pursue a more effective approach. That approach is going to require a combination of bribes and pressure:

My forecast: a lot of talk, but ultimately no action. The Palestinians have nothing left to give up (save for symbolic concessions over the so-called “right to return”), and I can’t see Netanyahu offering them a deal that comes even close to a viable state. And while Kerry’s tenacity is admirable, I’ve yet to see any sign of a genuinely different U.S. approach. Remember: Assorted U.S. diplomats have spent thousands of hours going back and forth with both sides over the years and have ended up with bupkis. So I think we’ll see more talks, along with more settlement building, and ultimately no agreement. And then Obama and Kerry will be gone, and another “opportunity” for peace — if it even is one — will have been lost.

I take no pleasure in this gloomy appraisal, and I will be genuinely delighted to be proved wrong here. I’m prepared to eat my words, but alas, I fear I won’t have to.

Yousef Munayyer at the Jerusalem Fund, before the announcement, wanted to have faith in the process, but addressed the ability of the lobby to short-circuit any pressure on Netanyahu. 

The incentives, for all parties, are structured toward having talks for the sake of having talks and not for them to succeed.

The reason for this problem is simple. Neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians believe that the United States will exert the necessary pressure on Israel during negotiations to get them to agree to a just peace…
If Kerry wants to succeed, triumph over cynicism and start talks aimed at more than just talking, he can only do so by shaking things up dramatically and sending the parties, specifically Israel, a message that will leave them uncomfortable and force them to recalculate their policies. Coddling has long since proven a failure.

Of course to actually press Israel, Kerry, Obama and their allies must be prepared to deal with the domestic political backlash. With Egypt and Syria erupting and devolving, pro-Israel voices will be even quicker to assert that this is not the time for any U.S. pressure on Israel.

So then here is the true test of John Kerry’s commitment. It is not something that can be measured in trips taken to the region, miles traveled or meetings held. Rather, it can only be through the willingness to take a political risk at a time when it is most inconvenient to do so.

Short of this, Israeli colonization of the West Bank will continue unabated and the peace can will be kicked down the road for the next White House occupant to deal with.

Benjamin Netanyahu, who knows this all too well, sleeps comfortably because of it.

It’s time he got a rude awakening.

Three days ago at a press conference in Amman with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, who has played a lead role in this effort, Kerry indicated the lineaments of the new understanding in the Arab Peace Initiative that is over 10 years old and is based on the ’67 borders, and in economic collaboration efforts– to normalize relations between Israelis and Palestinians without ending the occupation. 

And the Arab Peace Initiative, which [Jordanian] King Abdullah put forward a number of years ago, I have said before, was a very important departure point and one which never received the full attention and focus that it should have.

I’m glad that it is today because it promises to open up significant potential for normalized relations, for the potential for trade and growth in historic and very important ways. And it promises Israel – Israel needs to look hard at this initiative, which promises Israel peace with 22 Arab nations and 35 Muslim nations, a total of 57 nations that are standing and waiting for the possibility of making peace with Israel.

Their willingness that they brought to Washington in April was very significant, because at that time they not only restated the commitment to a two-state solution, the only solution that is real, but they also included the potential of land swaps, as a mechanism for achieving that solution. And that was another historic moment and historic departure by the Arab community.

Here’s his statement about folks investing in the peace process, — which Nadia Hijab specifically faulted, above:

What we have designed together with major business leaders and particularly the leadership of a number of consultants of major international consultant firms who have now compiled about eight years of man-hours through two months of work, and they have done an analysis of the economic challenges of the Palestinian territories, looking at the sectors of the economy – tourism, manufacturing, infrastructure, energy, water, and so forth. And the analysis has been made with a view to trying to figure out: How do we have a transformative initiative that actually impacts the lives of Palestinians in a way that they will feel quickly, not rhetorical, but real, on-the-ground steps?

They have now laid out a set of projects, and we are working with Israel and with the Palestinians together in order to identify projects that could rapidly be invested in, rapidly be approved, that will have a direct impact on unemployment. Our hope is that, over the span of about three years, you could actually reduce the unemployment rate from 21 percent to 8 percent, that you could double the GDP of all of the Palestinian territory. And this initiative is not just for the West Bank; it’s also for Gaza. And our hope is – in the days ahead, our hope is to be able to have specific announcements about those projects and about these initiatives in order for people to see concrete, tangible ways in which their lives could change and in which a peace process could, in fact, attract investment and have a way of having an impact on life in Jordan and Israel as well.

And while declining to talk about political discussions, Kerry addressed the “security track.”

On the security track, everybody knows that one of the greatest challenges to peace has always been the perception in Israel of the threat to Israel, and Israel’s security is paramount. It’s paramount to Israelis, obviously. It’s existential to any leader of Israel and to the Israeli people. But it’s also important to America, which supports Israel, and important to the allies and friends of Israel. And it is important, in fact, to the region – important to Jordan, important to the Palestinians – that there be security for the region.

One of the things that is mentioned prominently in the Arab Peace Initiative is a regional security concept. The Arab community is prepared to commit to a regional security framework, which has yet to be defined. So security is a very important component of any peace process. You must provide for the security of the Palestinians, the security of the Jordanians, the security of the region, and particularly, obviously, Israel will not sign a peace agreement if it does not feel that it will be secure.

The Wall Street Journal report on terms of negotiations two days ago indicates that talks could not begin till the Israelis gave in on the “principle” of ’67 with landswaps, and on a settlement freeze:

The senior Palestinian official said the leaders would ask Mr. Kerry for three guarantees: a pledge that Israel will freeze building in Jewish settlements while peace talks are continuing; a pledge that Israel’s 1967 borders will form the basis of negotiations, with agreed-upon land swaps to allow for Israel to retain its largest settlement blocs as part of Israel in a final peace deal; and a time limit on negotiations to prevent Israel from dragging them out indefinitely as Palestinians have accused Israel of doing in the past.

Mr. Kerry has given Mr. Abbas oral guarantees that address the Palestinian concerns, but the Palestinian leadership wants Mr. Kerry to make those guarantees publicly or in writing, according to Amin Maqbul, a Fatah Party leader. ..

A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to comment on the deliberations in Ramallah or on Mr. Kerry’s proposal to restart peace talks. The spokesman, Mark Regev, did say that Israel hasn’t accepted the principle of 1967 borders with land swaps as a basis for negotiations. That principle has formed the backbone of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process since the early 1990s.

The Israeli refusal to accept it appeared to have been a main factor in the Palestinians’ decision. As the Palestinian leadership was meeting on Thursday afternoon, reports circulated that Mr. Netanyahu had agreed to accept 1967 borders with swaps as a basis to start talks. Mr. Netanyahu’s office issued a prompt denial.

The Onion, from three days ago: “Man Who Couldn’t Defeat George W. Bush Attempting To Resolve Israel-Palestine Conflict”:

Arriving in the Middle East today for top-level negotiations with Palestinian and Israeli officials, a man who could not even devise a way to beat George W. Bush in a head-to-head vote will spend the next several days attempting to bring a peaceful resolution to the most intractable global conflict of the modern era, State Department sources confirmed.


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