This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
Will personal diplomacy do the trick? Has our Secretary of Pandering become a couples therapist?
So says Haaretz (link) in their attempt to describe why John Kerry’s latest round in the Middle East is bound to fail.
It seems that everyone in the world knows that John Kerry will fail except him. Though I admire his tenacity, Kerry’s desire to replace psychological prodding with critical political analysis is worrying. It’s a recipe for a failure.
While President Obama is touring Africa and the New York Times discusses how the ailing Nelson Mandela’s influenced him (link) Kerry – along with the President himself – should take a Israel/Palestine play from Mandela’s political playbook: Take a stand and stick with it through thick and thin. Be willing to suffer for principles that have political consequences. Build a future worth bequeathing to our children.
What would that mean for our Secretary of Pandering? What would it take for John Kerry to become our Secretary of Principle?
To begin with, Kerry should stop treating Israeli and Palestinian leaders as psychological patients. Both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas are seasoned politicians. For all their limitations, they have navigated the treacherous political waters of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict for decades. They know where the bodies are buried. They’ve helped bury them.
Netanyahu and Abbas are survivors. Neither is going to sign a deal they don’t want to or can’t. Neither is going to be convinced through enhanced psychological techniques.
Netanyahu and Abbas know well that Obama’s second-term power dwindles daily and that victory laps in the final years of his Presidency – including his present travels in Africa – will be limited to pomp and ceremony. Soon there will be new faces to deal with on the Presidential scene. When Obama and Kerry – and Clinton and everybody else – talk about the Two State window closing, Netanyahu and Abbas are thinking about the Obama Presidency window closing.
The idea of Netanyahu’s change of heart or his fear of a bi-national reality is exaggerated. His reported signing on to Israel taking 10% of the West Bank with an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley is fantasy on a variety of levels. In the first case, 10% is much more than the relatively small percentage indicates. Among other things, it doesn’t deal with East Jerusalem or the various military, security and economic controls Israel would maintain in the West Bank. Left out of the equation is Gaza.
Such a deal, if signed, would mean a permanent occupation of historic Palestine by Israel. It isn’t going to happen.
Netanyahu might negotiate parts of such a deal as a way of stalling for time if he could garner enough political support – which is doubtful. Abbas, even if he was likewise stalling for time, could never sign it. Politically it is impossible.
The Palestinian people are in a quandary of epic proportions. But agreeing to permanent occupation is not in the cards.
No one knows what it would be like for the reality as it is – one state, Israel, controlling Tel Aviv to the Jordan River, with millions of Palestinians stranded in between – to be negotiated, signed, sealed and delivered. Whenever it has reportedly come close, both sides walked away. This is the case today, perhaps more than ever.
Whether our psychologically-inclined Secretary of Pandering will spend a few extra days in the Middle East is immaterial. When he returns home, Kerry needs the therapy he is currently offering to Netanyahu and Abbas. In the end, though, the psychological couch can only do part of the work. The other, more important, part is standing for principles that have political consequences.
Counseling Palestinians to sign on to a permanent Israeli occupation is suicide. It is psychological – and political – malpractice.