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Talking — about talking

on 34 Comments
Kerry leaves Amman
Kerry leaves Amman

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.

Was I wrong yesterday when I claimed that John Kerry’s peace process mission was a failure?  Just he because Kerry wrangled a last minute agreement from Israel and the Palestinians to come to Washington to talk about talking – over six months no less – doesn’t place the peace process in Kerry’s win column.  It also doesn’t forfeit my claim that both Kerry and President Obama have become the latest of America’s lame ducks in the Middle East.

I hope I’m wrong.  I doubt it.

Why did Israel agree to talks?  Some believe that the drumbeat commentary of the coming end of the Two State option forced Israel’s hand.  Others think that the new European Union guidelines separating Israel and its occupation, the BDS movement and the growing international sense that Israel had gone too far was the catalyst.  In other words, Israel had to do something.  Why not look ready for peace and at the same time exhaust yet another American administration by agreeing to talk – about talking. 

Since the last time there was direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians was several years ago, after this latest go another several years will elapse.  Buying time to further consolidate the occupation is a win for Israel.  Why not agree to talk – about talking – and further consolidate the occupation at the same time?

Beside the Middle East is in turmoil.  By agreeing to talk – about talking – the spotlight on Israel is diverted.  Over the next year, Syria and Egypt will be the focal point.  Better to be perceived as cooperative rather than intransigent. 

Why did the Palestinians agree to talks?  With the region in turmoil, attention has been diverted from Palestinians, too.  Syria has replaced Palestine as the center of regional squabbling and the devolution of Egypt’s political and economic life is foreboding.  Gulf money is flowing everywhere but Palestine. The region’s militaries and oligarchs want Israel in on their security guarantees. 

Palestinians are increasingly isolated.  They exist as negative symbolic markers without power.  The instability Palestinians caused in the past paid dividends for Middle East powerbrokers. Palestinian usefulness is at an ebb.  For some rulers in the region this is a time where Palestinians and dissenters in general can be disciplined once and for all. 

The landswaps deal that the Arab League signed onto said it all.  For those in power in the Middle East, the Palestinian issue has been resolved in favor of Israel.

So it seems that the Palestinian agreement to talk had little to do with Israel as a partner for peace.  While this may sound preposterous at first, think what Palestinians might get from Israel for talking – about talking. 

A real Palestinian state, with the settlements dismantled, the freedom to control their own internal affairs and borders, with their own military and ability to conduct a foreign policy?  No one on the Palestinian side believes that any of these possibilities are seriously on the table.

In the announcement of the Washington meetings, Kerry stressed once again the economic incentives that would flow to Palestine – a theme he has harped on since his first trip to the region as Secretary of State.  Remember Kerry’s four-billion- dollar plan to transform the Palestinian economy?  Now he’s talking about reducing unemployment in the West Bank.  To stress economic benefits when everyone one knows the plight of the Palestinians is about occupation rather than economics means that Palestinians are looking toward the United States rather than Israel.   

All of this raises a serious question.  What is the agreement to talk – about talking – really about? 

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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34 Responses

  1. Mike_Konrad
    July 20, 2013, 10:20 am

    These talks are useless.

    As one Israeli general put it: The minimum an Arab would accept is more than Israel is willing to give.

    The Jews will never give up the eastern half of Jerusalem (and I do not blame them).

    The Arabs will never surrender the right of return. (I understand them, but do not agree)

    There is no hope of peace.

    A better plan would be to spend the money wasted on these summits to pay Young Palestinians to leave == For Islamic Asia, for South America, for Indonesia, etc.

    Pay them $100,000 per person.

    It sounds awful … BUT NO PEACE IS POSSIBLE AT ALL.

    At least get the Palestinians out of there.

    • homingpigeon
      July 20, 2013, 3:07 pm

      How about cutting off the welfare check to Israel and welcome those Israelis who so desire to come to the US?

    • James Canning
      James Canning
      July 20, 2013, 6:27 pm

      @Mike_Konrad – – You are simply dead wrong on right of return issue. Dead wrong.

    • libra
      July 20, 2013, 7:51 pm

      Yes, you’ve heard it first on Mondoweiss. It’s the “Let’s get the Palestinians out of Palestine Plan” aka “The Konrad Plan”.


      In fact it’s the same as the Witty Plan or indeed any other Zionist plan. But whilst Witty shamefully tacked on cash handouts to the Palestinians to quietly vacate their homeland to the end of his plan, Konrad shamelessly makes the cashing out of the Palestinians the central plank of his. And he’s bold enough to value the Palestinians at $100,000 per head.

      Mike, can I assume an Israeli is also worth $100,000 per head? Still feeling comfortable with the notion? Good. It means we could return Palestine it to its rightful owners for around $700 billion. Sounds a lot but it would probably be a better investment than the Iraqi war for the hard pressed American tax payer. And maybe the Saudis would chip in a few hundred billion. Then there would the the annual saving of at least $3 billion in handouts. Yes, I’m warming already to the “Konrad 100k per capita to clear off Plan”.

    • Inanna
      July 20, 2013, 7:57 pm

      @Mike: Why is it that the solution is to pay the Palestinians to leave but not the Jews? It would be far better if you looked inside yourself and saw the ugliness of your prejudice and rebuild your world view again based on some semblance of kindness and compassion rather than the heartlessness that you show here.

    • Dutch
      July 20, 2013, 8:37 pm

      @ Mike Konrad

      Hold it. When it comes to ‘solutions’ of this sort it’s really time for Europe and the US to bring their people back to their cradles, which they left only yesterday. Just close the shop and stamp the colonial experiment as ‘Failed’. And, hey, you don’t have to pay the homegoers; these are proven colonists.

      By the way, people can do without peace, but not without justice. Just human rights and stuff, actually pretty basic. Is that coming anytime soon, you expect? Or is that also ‘not possible at all’ from the Israeli perspective?

    • gingershot
      July 20, 2013, 8:41 pm

      How about paying each Jew $1,000,000 to leave for California, Germany, or Israel?

      Get a grip

    • RoHa
      July 21, 2013, 1:44 am

      Mike, I’m not actually a Palestinian, and I am not currently in Palestine, but if you send me $100,000 I promise, on the few remaining shreds of my honour, not to go and settle there.

    • talknic
      July 21, 2013, 3:39 am

      Mike_Konrad “As one Israeli general put it: The minimum an Arab would accept is more than Israel is willing to give”

      The Palestinians only ask for their legal right sunder the laws Israel agreed to uphold when it became A) a state B) a UN Member State C) when it ratified the GCs.

      “The Jews will never give up the eastern half of Jerusalem “

      “the Jews”? It’s Israel who illegally acquired it by war, illegally annexed and illegally settled in East Jerusalem. Not “the Jews”

      “There is no hope of peace”

      While Israel refuses to abide by the law, what do you expect.

      “A better plan would be to spend the money wasted on these summits to pay Young Palestinians to leave …. at least get the Palestinians out of there.”

      Mike_Konrad believes in ethnic cleansing …. cute stuff …. so did Hiltler

  2. Denis
    July 20, 2013, 11:12 am

    “A real Palestinian state, with the settlements dismantled, the freedom to control their own internal affairs and borders, with their own military and ability to conduct a foreign policy? No one on the Palestinian side believes that any of these possibilities are seriously on the table.”

    Not on the table?? They are not even in the realm of vague possibilities. Anyone who thinks GoI will ever abide an armed Palestine is in la-la land. As long as Israel exists the West Bank will always remain a demilitarized buffer zone between Jews and armed Arabs. The best the Palestinians can hope for is swaps for the settlements, the right to administer a non-militarized West Bank, and, maybe, the right to call themselves “a state.”

    “What is the agreement to talk – about talking – really about? ”

    What it’s really about is Iran. GoI is making huge concessions here for a reason. GoI will never do something because it is the right or moral thing to do, there is always a quid pro quo. When GoI is talking a quid as big as this, the quo has to be commensurate. That can only be USG agreeing to take the lead, or at least join in, on an attack on Iran.

    Obama would love to be the president to crack this nut — he probably wants it more than Carter does. If Obama has to pay the price of starting what will be an unpopular war to do that, well, so be it. At least he’s smart enough to wait until he’s on the way out of the WH to pull the trigger.

    The Israelis win, the Iranians lose big time, the Americans pick up the tab with lives and lucre, and the ME could go up in smoke. That’s going to be the price for getting GoI off the Palestinians’ back, and that doesn’t even address Gaza and Hamas, who are not going to buy into this deal with the devil.

    A couple years after the dust settles, GoI will organize a false flag missile attack from Palestine and use that as an excuse to re-occupy, and GoI will be right back where it is now, but with Iran no longer threatening its hegemony.

    • James Canning
      James Canning
      July 20, 2013, 6:25 pm

      I agree there is no chance Palestine could have a military, apart from ceremonial staffing. Key issue long-term is borders. Existence of Jews in Palestine to me is a relatively insignificant aspect of the equation.

  3. HarryLaw
    July 20, 2013, 11:21 am

    Excellent observations Marc “Fears that Netanyahu could drag out any negotiations were fuelled by an unidentified Israeli government minister saying the prime minister’s primary objective was merely to show willingness to negotiate, and that he did not intend to engage in a far-reaching peace process”. Harriet Sherwood, and [Reuters] – New Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, if resumed, would take months, an Israeli official said on Friday after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced the sides had laid the groundwork for negotiations.

    “We are talking about months, both to ensure the process is substantive and comprehensive, and to get us past September,” the official said, on condition of anonymity. Stop the Palestinians applying for the UN agencies and formally joining the ICC a win win for the Israelis, surely Abbas cannot sign on to that, can he?

  4. gingershot
    July 20, 2013, 11:41 am

    I don’t hope you’re wrong that the Kerry Scam was a failure – I hope the Bennett and the rest of the Settler state cause Israel to CONTINUE doing what it has already been doing except now with CONSEQUENCES

    ‘Negotiations’ at gunpoint or with a psychologically battered victim like Abbas are certainly NOT a good starting point from which Palestine should negotiate with it’s abuser.

    I think the conflict MUST be taken out of the hands of the Israelis and the ‘Dennis Ross’es’ and ‘John Kerrys’ and ‘adjudicated’ at the ICC and by EU/then worldwide BDS of Israel.

    The conflict must be ‘adjudicated’ – not ‘negotiated’ – by conformance to UN Resolutions Israel is currently violating, to the Geneva Conventions which Israel is currently violating, and to International Law which Israel is currently violating

    Negotitations is what Israel is trying to do IN LIEU of being held to the laws it is violating. Palestinians should say NO DICE

    Negotiations with Israel are POINTLESS and I wouldn’t trust Abbas negotiating with the Israelis on behalf of the Palestinian Diaspora any further than I could throw him

  5. amigo
    July 20, 2013, 12:39 pm

    Why did the Palestinians agree to stall ICC action while Israel continues Illegal expansion.

    These talks about talks are going nowhere so might as well put the pressure on Israel now.

    BDS needs to be accelerated and the EU needs to up the ante.

    Israel will not co operate unless they are held in a headlock and squeeze their air pipe.

    • Justpassingby
      July 20, 2013, 2:43 pm

      Palestinians didnt stall, PA did and thats the problem. PA do whatever they’re told by their masters.

    • gingershot
      July 20, 2013, 8:44 pm

      In order to help set up and get the Apartheid system running, Dennis Ross and the rest of the Israeli Lobby insisted that we coddle Israel, shower her with gifts, and show Israelis we love them more than our own country.

      The exact opposite – hard ball BDS sanctioning, no mercy ICC decisions, and all other means of pressure (stopping US Aid, stopping US vetoes for Israel at the UN) – is the cure for Israeli Apartheid

  6. Citizen
    July 20, 2013, 1:02 pm

    Maybe the PA is hoping that it can get more Americans to know about the Palestinian plight if they talk here, and get the Arab leadership in the USA to get it more in the news here?
    Israel’s TP is leading the Israeli delegation; surely she will get herself in the US news, and maybe the PA delegation, with help from CAIR can actually get in the US mainstream TVnews a tad, riding on TL in our TV news?

    • American
      July 20, 2013, 2:48 pm

      ‘with help from CAIR can actually get in the US mainstream TVnews a tad, riding on TL in our TV news?”>>>>

      I am sure the PA hopes that but doubt it will happen.
      The Powers Sequel II to Hagel I will make it even more clear to any media rouges in OrwellUSA that any objective airing of the Palestine side would fall under treason to the new United States of Israel.

  7. James Canning
    James Canning
    July 20, 2013, 1:36 pm

    I think Palestinian leaders are doing their best to preserve 1967 borders as basis for any potential adjustments. This should be applauded, in my view.

  8. Justpassingby
    July 20, 2013, 2:42 pm

    Another time wasted, israel will be greeted, palestinians will be fooled.

  9. Krauss
    July 20, 2013, 7:54 pm

    The instability Palestinians caused in the past paid dividends for Middle East powerbrokers.

    Damn those Palestinians! Uprising against an occupation?
    They better stop causing all that “instability”!

    Using Orwellian terms like “causing instability” makes you sound awfully much like a right-wing Zionist from Israel, Marc Ellis.

  10. dbroncos
    July 20, 2013, 9:29 pm

    Another ploy to forestall any Palestinian plans to take Israel to the ICC. I hope Abbas sees this for what it is and walks away.

  11. Ludwig
    July 20, 2013, 10:06 pm

    It’s clear that any solution that requires the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Judea and Samaria is a non-starter.

    • James Canning
      James Canning
      July 21, 2013, 1:47 pm

      @Ludwig – – I agree. Let the illegal Jews stay, subject to conditions.

      • American
        July 21, 2013, 2:19 pm

        James Canning says:
        July 21, 2013 at 1:47 pm

        @Ludwig – – I agree. Let the illegal Jews stay, subject to conditions.>>>

        Nope, they would be terrorist in Palestine…an endless source of Jewish fanaticism and trouble…not to mention they are living on land actually ‘stolen’ from some Palestine. Palestine is suppose to honor their nutcase claim that God gave them their stolen land?—-dont think so.

      • James Canning
        James Canning
        July 22, 2013, 1:47 pm

        @American – – The land would be Palestinian, even if Jews lived on that land inside Palestine.
        Palestinian police should be able to enforce the laws of the country.

      • American
        July 22, 2013, 3:00 pm

        James Canning says:
        July 22, 2013 at 1:47 pm
        @American – – The land would be Palestinian, even if Jews lived on that land inside Palestine.
        Palestinian police should be able to enforce the laws of the country.>>>

        Suggest you think about what kind of people the illegal settlers are to begin with…..religious fanatics, militant separationists, ethnic racist, people who had no quams about stealing land and kicking the owners off.
        Nope, no reason for Palestine to let them stay and continue to be a problem for Palestine…would be asking for trouble.

      • Ludwig
        July 21, 2013, 5:14 pm

        First change your nomenclature. Don’t call human beings “illegals”. Then think about what it means to have second class citizens that live under “conditions” one word. Apartheid.

  12. Qualtrough
    July 20, 2013, 11:53 pm

    Why does anyone on the Palestinian side continue to play this game with the Israelis? They have made their end game abundantly clear, and all they are engaging in is delaying tactics that result in a continued chipping away of what little the Palestinians have. I can guarantee that nothing positive for Palestininans will come from this. Absolutely guarantee it. If this was a gambling forum I would be will to stake some cold cash on it.

  13. Mayhem
    July 21, 2013, 12:01 am

    Kerry’s gargantuan efforts look like paying off despite the naysayers. All of this while his wife’s health has been a serious concern – she has been hospitalised the whole time he has been travelling to and fro. My compliments to him.
    With Netanyahu having reiterated a preparedness to resume talks immediately without pre-conditions the pressure was back on Abbas. Kerry was publicly expressing disappointment at Abbas who “presented to Kerry three conditions for the renewal of negotiations: the complete cessation of construction in Judea and Samaria, the release of all security prisoners who were arrested before the Oslo Accords and that talks on borders be based on the 1967 lines.” all of which were obviously not acceptable to Netanyahu (read
    Abbas had no choice but to agree as he would have further isolated the Palestinians from the world stage if he had deployed his usual stubbornness.
    Let the games begin!

    • annie
      July 21, 2013, 1:05 am

      With Netanyahu having reiterated a preparedness to resume talks immediately without pre-conditions the pressure was back on Abbas.

      that just means Netanyahu refuses to stop the settlement growth. big deal, nothing has changed wrt that. check this out:

      we are not idiots mayhem.

      The leaders were drafting a formal reply to Mr. Kerry that is expected to ask him to make several specific guarantees before Palestinians agree to resume peace talks, a senior Palestinian official said.

      The decision was a setback for Mr. Kerry, who is due to wrap up his sixth trip to the region in as many months on Friday. It came a day after the Arab League endorsed Mr. Kerry’s proposal to restart direct negotiations for the first time since they collapsed in 2010 amid disagreement over building in Jewish settlements.

      The Palestinians’ decision followed hours of closed-door deliberations on Thursday, which participants described as stormy, among leaders of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah Party and other Palestinian factions in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

      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 senior State Department official called the Palestinian debate appropriate and encouraging. “We understand that there are many strongly held views and appreciate efforts to find a basis to move forward,” the official said, adding that Mr. Kerry planned to consult with the parties on Friday before returning to Washington.

      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.

      Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party is dominated by conservatives who support settlements and oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state. One of the largest parties in his governing coalition is also vigorously pro-settler and anti-Palestinian statehood. Mr. Maqbul said that ill-timed denial torpedoed any chances of securing an immediate Palestinian agreement to resume talks. “Netanyahu’s office’s declaration that Israel rejects a Palestinian State on the ’67 borders means the continuation of settlements, which means the Palestinians will not return back to the negotiations,” said Mr. Maqbul.

      Palestinians are mistrustful of anything Israel offers only in private, and Mr. Netanyahu is reticent to offer anything substantive publicly, underscoring the challenges for Mr. Kerry.

      Publicly declaring support of talks on the basis of 1967 borders—even with generous land swaps—would likely plunge Mr. Netanyahu into an immediate conflict with his political base.

      Instead, Israel has offered as confidence-building measures to free a small number of Palestinian political prisoners and provided a vaguely worded pledge to slow settlement building, according to Wasel Abu Yusef, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The committee, an umbrella organization for Palestinian factions, must approve Mr. Kerry’s proposal before Mr. Abbas agrees to return to talks.

      President Barack Obama encouraged Mr. Netanyahu in a phone call Thursday to continue to work with Mr. Kerry to resume negotiations as soon as possible, the White House said.

      now listen to the nyt:

      On Friday, Mr. Kerry met twice here in Amman with Mr. Erekat and then traveled by helicopter to the West Bank to see Mr. Abbas at his Ramallah headquarters. He 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.

      Some actions on confidence-building measures — the prisoner release, and perhaps a Palestinian agreement to postpone participation in international organizations based on the observer-state status it won at the United Nations General Assembly last fall — must yet be taken, which is why a date has not been set for the Washington meeting…………… This time, according to Israeli news reports, both sides have agreed to negotiate for at least six months.

      iow, abbas has agreed to delay the ICC for 6 months in exchange for a prisoner release. that is about it. and netanyahu has been forced into going to washington because of the threat from europe, perfectly timed. who are those long time prisoners? barghouti? what will make palestinian people not be pissed at their leaders? prisoners freed. is it worth it for a 6 th month delay? with the bds threat from europe looming? that would depend on who those prisoners are. and as the clock is ticking if the US doesn’t get anything substantial from israel….another bds bomb could this:

      only bigger this time. netanyahu is on a tight leash.the palestinians not so much. as always, have very little to loose, since they have very little to begin with except what really counts, their sumud. on their side.

      • Mayhem
        July 21, 2013, 8:36 pm

        @annie, how is time on their side? (by the way shouldn’t you have said ‘our side’?)
        The demographics won’t help, the right of return issue will become more of a furphy when not a single Palestinian remains who ever lived in the land of Israel.
        If the Palestinians have refused peace agreements from Barak and Olmert, how can they expect any better deal today from Netanyahu, given that his hand is heavily restrained by his Knesset partners? (not to mention the constant threat from those spoilers Hamas who watch menacingly from the wings)
        Yes sumud is very useful when you are locked away in prison for murdering civilians or when you try to survive under Islamic regimes where progress is their very antithesis.

  14. anthonybellchambers
    July 21, 2013, 2:44 am

    Netanyahu is obliged to participate in this play-acting otherwise he could lose the $6billion in aid and loan guarantees from the American tax payer every 12 months.

    The plain fact is that the Likud party of which Netanyahu is leader is committed to its charter which demands a ‘Greater Israel’ with all Muslim Arabs and others in the occupied West Bank and in East Jerusalem ethnically cleansed from the former land of Palestine.

    These talks about talks will stumble on for a few weeks until Israel again refuses to stop the illegal settlement program and everyone goes back home including a naive John Kerry who didn’t even bother to read the Likud Charter.

  15. Egbert
    July 21, 2013, 6:19 am

    From the Guardian, Israel will release some “prisoners who have been in jail for decades comes as part of agreement to enter preliminary peace talks in US”

    Prediction: Once the Talks about Talks (TAT) (TM) fail, as intended by Israel and the Palestinians will be blamed, the released prisoners will be put back in prison. The MSM will not cover this.

    A slightly less certain prediction: The prisoners will be re-imprisoned irrespective of the outcome of the TAT (TM).

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