Kerry’s 3 a.m. diplomacy is greeted with skepticism, scorn, ridicule

Israel/Palestine
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Kerry and Netanyahu
Kerry and Netanyahu

Reviews are in on John Kerry’s latest round of shuttle diplomacy in Israel and Palestine, and they range from skepticism to downright ridicule. Even the New York Times and Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations doubt that the activity is productive, and the mood at the State Department briefing today was disbelief of Kerry’s stated optimism, almost to the point of asking what the Secretary is smoking.

Matt Lee of AP did another brilliant performance piece, more powerful than anything written: 

I just want to know, for the public, when the Secretary of State comes out and says there has been real progress he doesn’t do so in a vacuum. He does so in an atmosphere where there is not a single tangible, discernible sign of progress to the rest of the world, to anyone.

Is there a single tangible piece of publicly available information that would back up the claim that real progress has been made? Yes or no?…

[State spokesperson says Kerry believes in privacy of talks]

Right. Okay. So there isn’t anything you can point to to back up that statement?

Another reporter brought up Israel’s latest settlement expansions as an insult to the United States:

The Israelis greeted Secretary of State Kerry by announcing settlements, and in fact, they gave him a sendoff with the announcement of more settlements. Does the Secretary of State get really upset by the Israelis doing this?

Says the spokesperson: We’ve made our opinion of settlements clear…

There is an undertone in the commentary that Kerry is naive and Netanyahu is playing him, that at a time when he has better things to do, he is wasting his nights staying up till 3:30 with Netanyahu, as the Washington Post reports. Add in the fact that Kerry himself said today he was unaware of the latest leak showing that the U.S. bugged the European Union because he was too busy in the Middle East and– well this could be another embarrassment in the long list of embarrassments Israel has delivered to Washington. 

Writes Stephen Walt:

NYT: “Kerry Sees Progress in Efforts to Revive ME Peace Talks.” Also sees a leprechaun, a hobbit, and a big pink unicorn.

Here’s a wrapup:

The New York Times editorial board tries to breathe hope into the operation but it’s doubtful. “Secretary Kerry’s Quest,” as if he’s the man of La Mancha:

There is a sense of fatalism in Washington about Secretary of State John Kerry’s quest to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks….

The editorial repeatedly refers to settlements as a “death knell” to the two-state solution but of course never states that Israel should be sanctioned for the illegal activity.

The Washington Post is also setting the bar low, with a hint of scorn: 

The nonstop meetings have set off a frenzy of speculation in Israel, the West Bank and Jordan that Kerry may be able to broker a deal, if not for an immediate Israel-Palestinian meeting, at least for a confirmed date for talks to start. The rising expectations, however, have also increased the likely magnitude of perceived failure in the event Kerry does not succeed…

And reporter Karen DeYoung has some delicious reporting about the Secretary of State’s pandering. He stayed up till 3:30 in the morning after dinner with Netanyahu, which he termed a Seder. 

As they sat down for a private dinner Saturday night with Netanyahu’s team, Kerry and his aides appeared somber and exhausted…

“I want to thank you, John,” Netanyahu said to Kerry. “This looks like a Seder,” the ritual Jewish feast that marks the beginning of Passover.

“It is,” Kerry replied.

Jodi Rudoren and Michael Gordon in the New York Times say the talks are stuck where they’ve always been stuck. And they quote Dore Gold, the former Israeli ambassador, who was raised in New England, telling the Americans to forget about it.

Those involved refused to disclose details of the discussions, but the sticking points seem to be the same ones that have produced years of stalemate…

Ghassan Khatib, a former spokesman for the Palestinian government, said “progress” was “the diplomatic way of saying that it’s not working now but it’s not the end of the line, because it’s dangerous to say that it’s over.”…

“We’ve gone through seven Israeli prime ministers; we’ve gone through three American presidents, two Palestinian leaders — no one reached a permanent-status agreement,” Mr. Gold said. “Which leaves the question of why a negotiation would work now, without retooling it based on the lessons of the past.”

FYI, experts polled by the Institute for Middle East Understanding predicted all this last week. Diana Buttu raises the accountability issue that the NYT dodges: 

“Secretary Kerry’s efforts to restart the ‘peace process’ will invariably fail unless and until he and the Obama administration begin to hold Israel accountable for its ongoing colonization and occupation of the West Bank, and its siege and occupation of the Gaza Strip….Israelis seem to believe that they can perpetually subjugate another people, without any consequences. Regrettably, by providing Israel with almost unlimited and unconditional support, the United States has only fed into this belief.”

Yousef Munayyer says that the secretary’s reputation is now on the line, and Palestinians will be compelled to bolster him:

“John Kerry is on a fool’s errand….There is no doubt that Mahmoud Abbas will come under tremendous pressure to comply with Kerry’s requests for resuming negotiations so that Kerry’s months of work don’t seem like a waste of time.”

Noura Erakat urges all of us to consider the one-state apartheid reality:

“The reality on the ground is that Israel has left little of the putative Palestinian state to be salvaged…. It would do Secretary Kerry well to forego pointless negotiations in favor of an international summit to deal with the one-state, apartheid reality that Israel has forcibly imposed on the territories it controls between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea.”

It’s not just the left that’s telling Kerry to give up on a charade in which the U.S. has lost any power to effect a just outcome. Richard Haass at the behest of Conor Friedersdorf says we should tiptoe away from the Middle East, and Kerry is wasting his and the taxpayers’ time:

Virtually none of the preconditions for diplomatic success are in place…. So, part of what you have to do as a diplomat is to survey your opportunity cost against your prospects, and I would just say that there are considerable opportunity costs for focusing on the Middle East…. And I’m simply saying whether it’s the hours in the day for a secretary of state, or the resources of an administration, given everything that’s out there, in terms of opportunities and challenges, I don’t think that the argument right now — maybe at some other points — is to put massive amounts of calories into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

All the above comments were made or published before today’s State Department briefing at which Patrick Ventrell, director of the press office, experienced bastinado at the hands of the press corps. Some of this is delicious. A lengthy excerpt:

Q. why do you think that the statements issued by either the Palestinians or the Israeli side actually contradict the optimism that was stated in the words of the Secretary of State?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, I think you heard the Secretary talk about this in his press availability a little bit, in terms of there’ll be various statements made and things said in public, but his optimism is based on what’s being said in private and he’s going to continue and have the team continue to work on this.

QUESTION: And finally, if there is to be some sort of a peace summit between Abbas and Netanyahu, is it likely to take place there or here in Washington?

MR. VENTRELL: I just don’t want to make any predictions about next steps other than to say that some progress was made and the Secretary has his team in place continuing to work through the issues.

QUESTION: Would holding something like this, a peace conference here in Washington, a peace summit, would it give the United States more leverage or less leverage?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m just not going to predict or preview what the next steps may be. The Secretary said he was prepared to return to the region in the near future if the conditions are right.

Okay.

QUESTION: I’m just curious.

MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: You will concede, I expect or I suspect —

MR. VENTRELL: You’re always trying to get me to concede something, but go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, there – what is the evidence for the – to back up the statement of the Secretary that there has been real progress? Is there anything that you can point to that is not a secret?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, the Secretary was very clear from the beginning of this process we’re not going to be getting into the day-to-day and the back-and-forth and what the —

QUESTION: Yeah. I just want to know, for the public, when the Secretary of State comes out and says there has been real progress —

MR. VENTRELL: I think the —

QUESTION: — he doesn’t do so in a vacuum.

MR. VENTRELL: Right.

QUESTION: He does so in an atmosphere where there is not a single tangible, discernible sign of progress to the rest of the world, to anyone.

MR. VENTRELL: Matt, the Secretary feels very strongly —

QUESTION: So I just want to know, is there a single tangible item that is – that you can point to that isn’t secret to back up the claim that there’s been real progress?

MR. VENTRELL: Matt, the Secretary believes very strongly in the integrity of the process. He feels strongly that keeping these negotiations private lends integrity to the process, and that some of the spoilers of things that can happen in the press of trading barbs or having exchanges through the press is deeply unhelpful to the potentiality to make progress here. And so we’re not going to read out the steps. We said we weren’t going to from the beginning. You all knew that’s how this process was going to go forward.

QUESTION: I understand.

MR. VENTRELL: And so the Secretary was very clear that he believes, based on what he’s seeing in his private discussions, that there’s been progress made, but obviously the judgments will be made about this in the future based on what progress is made.

QUESTION: But would you agree that there isn’t anything that you can point to as a sign of progress?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, that’s your characterization. My characterization of it is —

QUESTION: No, no, you’re pointing me to his comments.

MR. VENTRELL: Right.

QUESTION: His comments need to be backed up with some kind of fact. Now, it may very well be that any sign of progress – the reason that he’s saying that, is because there is actually a sign of progress that’s in secret. But I want to know if there’s any publicly available, tangible sign of – that would prove or that would back up the claim that real progress has been made.

MR. VENTRELL: As frustrating —

QUESTION: And you’re telling me no, right?

MR. VENTRELL: As frustrating as it is to you, Matt —

QUESTION: There isn’t anything you can point to —

MR. VENTRELL: As frustrating —

QUESTION: — that would show —

MR. VENTRELL: Can I finish?

QUESTION: — me or anyone else – I just want to know, yes or no? Is there a single tangible piece of publicly available information that would back up the claim that real progress has been made? Yes or no?

MR. VENTRELL: Matt, you do make a valid point, which is that – and what I will concede to you is that it can be frustrating that, through this process, not every piece of it is read out, of course, as we like to read out progress that is being made generally in our diplomacy. And that’s a real frustration. But given how intractable, how difficult, this problem has been for so many decades, the Secretary thinks there’s real value in keeping that private, and it is on his good word that progress is being made.

QUESTION: Right. Okay. So there isn’t anything you can point to to back up that statement?

MR. VENTRELL: I think we’ve done what we can on this, Matt.

QUESTION: No. All right. But I just wanted – because, listen, we went through this whole thing during the last – during the Bush Administration with Annapolis, being told every day that progress was being made, progress was being made, we can’t tell you about it; and now we’re being told – and that did not result in an agreement. And now we’re being told the same thing.

MR. VENTRELL: The Secretary is aware of the history.

QUESTION: Good.

MR. VENTRELL: And he’s aware of the precedent.

QUESTION: Good, because your colleague once said that she didn’t want to look through the rearview mirror, but I’m glad that —

MR. VENTRELL: I’m just saying the Secretary is aware of the history. He’s not naïve, and he’s very focused on working in good faith to make progress to getting these two sides back to the table…

The Israelis greeted Secretary of State Kerry by announcing settlements, and in fact, they gave him a sendoff with the announcement of more settlements. Does the Secretary of State get really upset by the Israelis doing this, and in fact, putting hurdles along the way in the and – along this process that he’s trying to relaunch?

MR. VENTRELL: Said, you know how we feel about settlements. I don’t need to tell you. We’ve said it repeatedly, and our position is the same.

QUESTION: Yes, but you say it repeatedly and we know – and it’s an admirable position, but what are you doing in terms of on the ground to stop the Israelis from doing these activities that, at the end of the day, will scuttle all peace efforts?

MR. VENTRELL: We consistently make our position clear on settlements.

Thanks to Adam and Donald Johnson.

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