John Kerry goes home with three “No’s”
John Kerry, should be given a top international award when he leaves office – an award for irrepressible optimism in the face of brutal reality, because he's utterly clueless on the Middle East peace process
President Obama’s Secretary of State, John Kerry, should be given a top international award when he leaves office – an award for irrepressible optimism in the face of brutal reality.
On Monday, he flew home from the Middle East after what must have been a depressing and morale-breaking few days of shuttling between Jerusalem, Ramallah, Amman and Riyadh.
The responses he received to his unpublicised “framework document” for peace between Israel and the Palestinians were reminiscent of the Arab League’s “three no’s” issued following the 1967 Six Day War with Israel.
Back then, the League swore themselves to “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiation with Israel”. Attitudes have relaxed a bit since (well, some), but John Kerry has discovered that feelings about peace with Israel run high and strong among America’s Middle Eastern Arab allies.
The first “no” was from Mahmoud Abbas in response to the suggestion that Israel be allowed to keep troops in the Jordan Valley in the event that a Palestinian state is created.
Israel needs to keep a security buffer between any international border and a future Palestinian state. Not to insist on this would be to risk leaving an open door for terrorists and weapons to supply militant anti-Israel groups. Mr. Abbas, on the other hand, insists that his own troops, or an international force, would guarantee the integrity of the Jordan Valley border.
The second “no”, also from Abbas, was allegedly in answer to a proposal that “Greater Jerusalem” should be the capital of both Israel and a Palestinian state. This is anathema to the Palestinians, who demand all of East Jerusalem as their capital even though they have no valid historical claim.
The third “no” came from King Abdullah of Jordan, who refuses to accept Palestinian forces or troops on his border. He has openly expressed his mistrust of Palestinian police, soldiers or intelligence services and doesn’t want them anywhere near his international border.
So, Abdullah refuses to countenance Palestinians on his border and prefers Israelis, while Abbas refuses to countenance Israeli troops on his border, and Israel refuses not to have them there. Sounds like a clash of red lines to me.
Of course these “no’s” are just the ones expressed this last weekend. While John Kerry’s optimism that things are always moving forward (even if they aren’t) is commendable, his assessment of progress to the media in Riyadh was showing cracks: “…very positive, but I have to say very serious, very intensive conversations. These issues are not easy.”
The “framework document” that John Kerry wants both sides to accept attempts to cover all the main points of contention and soften all the red lines that exist on both fronts. But a red line means nothing if you don’t stick to it and Kerry is discovering just how thick and solid those decades old lines are.
For such an intractable conflict, the major issues boil down to only five principle deadlocks, but each one is a red line for both sides. This is what Kerry’s framework document is up against:
Jerusalem - When Israel took the West Bank from Jordan’s illegal occupation of it, she annexed the eastern half of Jerusalem, put it under full Israeli sovereignty and enacted a law that made the whole city her capital.
But with a patchwork of Palestinian neighbourhoods interspersed with Jewish ones and the “Haram al Sharif” (Temple Mount) in the middle of it all, the Palestinians insist the city must be split up again with their capital being the East of the city.
Unfortunately, the development of infrastructure across the redundant divide over 40 years plus, including the East-West tram system, has rendered a workable redivision of the city virtually impossible, reinforced by the inconvenient fact that a high proportion of East Jerusalem Arabs would rather be ruled by Israel. Deadlock one.
Borders - the Palestinians and the international community want Israel to withdraw to the now-irrelevant armistice line of 1948. But this would leave the most populated areas of Israel highly vulnerable to missile or rocket attack, including Ben Gurion international airport.
The nearest Israel will come is to offer land swaps that would make the border slightly more defensible and keep the major settlement blocks within Israel proper. Problem: what land do you offer in place of the settlement blocks?
The latest offer is of those towns close to the final border that are most heavily populated by Arabs (known as “the triangle”). But the Arabs concerned have no desire at all to become Palestinians. They too prefer Israeli rule. Deadlock two.
Refugees - the Palestinians want the artificial “right of return” for several million refugees and their descendants; a return to live in Jewish Israel. Israel will never allow this because the demographics would lead to an Arab-majority Jewish state. I don’t think so. Deadlock three.
Security - After decades of violent attacks by Palestinians on Israelis, Jihadis ready to swoop in and attack Israel from a new Palestinian state and the expectation of more rockets from land given up, it’s not surprising that Israel wants listening posts on the hills of the West Bank and her own troops on the Jordan Valley border with Jordan.
The Palestinian position is that not one single Jewish soldier or settler will be allowed to set foot in a future Palestinian state, let alone defend Israel from it. Deadlock four.
Recognition - Ah, the really tricky one! The Palestinians refuse to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, because that would legitimise the “Zionist entity” occupying land that should be Muslim.
It would mean that the conflict would have to end with the formation of a Palestinian state because recognition that Israel is a legitimate Jewish state would remove the main raison d’être for wanting to destroy Israel completely.
Israel recognises that you cannot have peace between two states without mutual recognition and is insisting on this as part of any final agreement. Deadlock five.
Now we see why Mr Kerry’s optimism is so misplaced. Any bets on when reality will finally hit?
Nick Gray is Director, Christian Middle East Watch, a British organisation dedicated to objective and factual discussion of Middle Eastern issues, especially of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Nick, who is a regular contributor to The Commentator, blogs at cmewonline.com
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