Thursday 13 February 2014

Kerry's Framework for settling the Arab / Israeli conflict.

1. It was reported way back in July 2013 in the Sunday Times (and quoted in the Jerusalem Post) that “The Palestinian leader, Abu Mazen, said to President  Peres that "we should complete the peace process that we initiated together many years ago," adding, "There is hope; we will continue to build the future and I hope we will reach a good end."  Citing unnamed Israeli and Palestinian sources, the Times reported that Peres met Abbas in Amman for secret talks in which he convinced the PA President to accept that "West Bank settlers and Jewish residents of East Jerusalem could remain in their settlements but be subject to the Palestinian state." According to the sources, Peres pressured the Palestinian leader to accept this condition "as the minimum that he needed to convince Netanyahu to give his blessing to the talks." We need now to pray to God to keep these two old men alive to avoid another decade of mutual bloody conflict causing disintegration from within of the two States that have no other choice but to live next to each other in peace.

2. Now the cat is out of the bag, Kerry's patience is being rewarded. And as with his Iranian cry wolf Netanyahu's messianic vision of the future is yet again facing the rock of realities. And the winner is crafty Abu Mazen who all his life was watching the Israelis and learning how to manipulate their tactics to his advantage playing one faction against the other within Israel's political establishment.  By now Netanyahu must have realized that it was not clever to talk about a Referendum. Once Netanyahu said he would submit any settlement to a referendum Abu Mazen rushed to offer a similar procedure for his people. He understood the implication for him of such an unexpected gift. Netanyahu  does not need a Referendum because he knows fully well that the majority of the country is behind him anyway in seeking peace and the survival of Israel and so is the Knesset. But Abu Mazen can now keep his options open and use this pretext as a powerful chip. It will be up to him to ask which Palestinians should vote and when and where: the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon or wherever there are Palestinian Refugees. And here therefore lies another problem of our own making handing it a gift to Abu Mazen!.

3. And then comes the question of the Jordan Valley. Here there are two issues, the security and the settlements created there. As part of any final status agreement the Jewish Settlers can continue living there as Israeli citizens living as residents in Palestine. The commercial enterprise created by them will continue to need Arab workers and can therefore contribute to a continued successful commercial cooperation in the future under Palestinian sovereignty. As for the security issue; in modern age warfare and weaponry is it really vital for Israel to hold on to it? Even some top Israeli security experts think not. Any Israeli force stationed there will be vulnerable and become in the hands of extremists provocative in the future. Meantime it can only serve to protect Jordan from a future Palestine instead of facilitating letting the two merge into one State. At the time of the disengagement in Gaza we protected Egypt by insisting on the Philadelphi line separating them and Gaza to Mubarak's delight. We are repeating the same mistake now, this time protecting Jordan. No wonder King Abdullah rushed to register his interest meeting Netanyahu to give him support on this issue. Abu Mazen of course will oppose any Israeli presence or sovereignty on the Valley and insist on stationing an international military presence for the time being. And Kerry might offer an American proxy from Europe. But for how long? By default it will be Abu Mazen's successors who will decide, not Israel. There are many precedents for that.

4. And then the question of recognizing Israel as a Jewish Democratic state. For the life of me I don't understand why do we need this recognition. It is up to any sovereign state  to define and redefine itself democratically and by consensus of its citizens.  In the case of Israel it was decided way back by the UN in 1947. But now Israel says that   once Abu Mazen recognizes Israel Jewish status that will be the end of the Palestinian Refugees' claims. This is another gift, a bargaining chip to Abu Mazen. So what will Abu Mazen do now? I bet he will continue to resist such recognition using his resistance to gain concessions. At the end he will agree and sign. But what is the value of his signature when Hamas does not follow and even if it does declare its recognition, another group of Palestinian Refugees somewhere could in time raise the same question and demand the return of the refugees to their original villages and towns.  Are we not playing with useless semantics? Irridenta claims are open ended which only close neighbouring cooperation can put stop to it.

5. Meantime as with Iran Netanyahu is again misreading American evolving policy changes in general and in the Middle East in particular. Secretary of State Kerry is implementing those changes. However as one of the most consistent friend of Israel for many years he decided to give time for Netanyahu to sort out his problems with his Party and Coalition and his electoral weakness reflected in the results of the last Elections. That is why he came up with the idea of extending the negotiations to the end of the year but within an agreed Framework. But Netanyahu is a political tactician. He is not the leader that Ben Gurion, Rabin and Begin were. Unfortunately for Israel his moral authority is rooted in vague historical past rather than the future survival of Israel. Realities dictate and he lacks the authority or the steel in him to confront it and convey its grave consequences to our people.   

6. The American President in his second term is dubbed "lame duck" That might be true in home policy although Obama in his recent Address to Congress came out fighting even on that front. But one thing is sure, he can be even more defiant on foreign policy. Having extricated America out of Iraq and Afghanistan he set his vision on resolving the two intractable pending issues, those of Iran and the Arab-Israel conflict to keep American central dominance in the Middle East while turning his attention to the Pacific.  Kerry is carrying out diligently and tenaciously the resolution of these issues. He is not going to give up.  It was easier in Iran which found for itself a strong  leader, Rouhani. Unfortunately in our arena we have two weak leaders.  Of the two the weaker is Abu Mazen,  but not necessarily the less effective. He knows he is weak with nothing to fight with. So he must have learnt from De Gaulle sitting isolated in his embassy in London during War II pretending to face Churchill as equal.

7. I wonder if it occurred to the Extreme-Right Israeli politicians claiming in unison that they have no Palestinian partner, that in fact the Palestinians were not party to the 6-Day War, they were the victims.  Gaza was part of Egypt and the West Bank part of Jordan. Israel negotiated the peace that ended that war both with Egypt and Jordan gratuitously choosing to retain and therefore to accept  responsibility for both these regions. After the two peace treaties Egypt and Jordan washed their hands of the whole conflict. The Palestinians were left to themselves and became Israel's problem and responsibility to the delight and relief both of Egypt and Jordan.

8. Abu Mazen must be amused to hear Israeli politicians accusing him day in day out of this and that when in fact he is their captive with nothing to fight with except words. And luckily for him he is not a good speaker so he does not need even to use rhetoric against Netanyahu and lose. He waits, letting us do all the running and all the mistakes. But Kerry needs to find a solution to help the American-Israeli de facto military alliance while avoiding a failure that would have repercussions on American new policy in the Middle East and its world wide leadership. So he came with the idea of a Framework that will enable the negotiations to continue till the end of the year. But this is going to be an American Framework no doubt approved by the Quartet.  The biggest problem that will face Israel then will be if Abu Mazen out of desperation applies to the Security Council asking it to ratify Kerry's framework accepting all the conditions on his side. What has he got to lose? To him it would be a win-win situation, the end of the occupation and the legitimization of the State of Palestine. How could America veto his application? And even if it needs under pressure to abstain, the resolution will of course be still carried. Abu Mazen knows that through this gate Palestine can be established and he can speak to Netanyahu with the status of equal, not as the leader of captives but as head of a state recognized by all the world.  

9. Kissinger was right all that long time ago when he said that Israel had no foreign policy only internal policy. He repeated this again recently in Munich. Is it not time for us to wake up, stop using and abusing our past  and face the realities of our  present.  The new generations in Israel and in the world at large can't buy our convoluted prehistoric narratives any more pitching our fundamentalism against Arab fundamentalism. Now that Avigdor Lieberman no less  is echoing the late Rabbi Ovadia Yoseph that the safe existence of Jews in Israel should come before possessing this or that piece of land and settlement is it not time for all of us to get real.  May be the time has come for Israel's political establishment to face realities and internalize the truth that it cannot procrastinate any longer. The Palestinian leadership still possesses the trump card, the joker.  It could declare that the negotiations are leading nowhere and it is too late anyway to set up a  viable State so they have no choice but to accept  living in greater Israel, from the sea to the river demanding full citizenship. What would Israel's response be then?

Aharon Nathan, 13th February 2014