Resting in Peace

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I truly feel sorry for American Secretary of State Kerry. It cannot be easy shuttling back and forth to the Middle East to meet the same suspicious, unyielding and obstinate protagonists, and topping it all – coming out with nothing to show for it.  His tenacity is quite remarkable, especially in such a pessimistic region, though not totally unprecedented – this region has sadly seen the comings and goings of so many would-be peace brokers and mediators who bravely took on the impossibly complicated Israeli – Arab conflict.

Does the name Gunnar Jarring ring a bell? Who!? Exactly. Jarring was a Swedish diplomat asked by the UN in the early 1970′s to bring the Egyptians and Israelis together and to achieve a peaceful settlement between them. Unlike the countries receiving him, Jarring took his historic mission very seriously. He shuttled repeatedly between Cairo and Jerusalem, trying to set up a meeting between the protagonists in those days – Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir.

It is now a known historical fact that during one of these meetings, Sadat gave Jarring a momentous message: he was willing to sign an agreement with Israel in return for getting back all of the Sinai peninsula, conquered by Israel in 1967. Golda Meir rejected this proposal and there was, of course, no meeting.

Realizing that he will not be able to retrieve the Sinai through an agreement, Sadat initiated the Yom Kippur War. The initial surprise victory won by Egypt was enough to politically shake Israel , and Golda was forced to resign. After four years of Yitzhak Rabin as Prime Minister, Menachem Begin came to power and agreed to the same peace deal with Sadat that had been proposed before the war. Around 3000 Israeli soldiers and 10,000 Egyptians paid the ultimate price for this political decision, and are now resting in peace never having had the chance to see Sadat speak in front of the Israeli Knesset.

Jarring, by the way, died in 2002, unsung and forgotten. Sadly, as things stand now, there is little chance of Kerry being remembered any differently, at least in his capacity as a peace broker in the Middle East.

Our two actors on the center stage are Netanyahu and Abu-Mazen. Kerry’s overly optimistic conclusion of his latest effort, identifying “real progress” in the negotiations to begin negotiations, can only be termed wishful thinking. Despite appearances to the contrary, Netanyahu and Abu-Mazen are not truly interested in sitting down together in the same room (or tent for that matter) to broker a peace deal.

Netanyahu puts on a good show with his typical excellent appearances in front of the camera, but there is little proof that his core beliefs have changed. Aware of Israel’s current negative image in the world, he wants the appearance of talks, but not the substance. As far as he is concerned, as long as the world believes Israel wants peace, he has done his share.  Abu-Mazen also cares about world opinion, but for different reasons. He believes he can achieve more by turning to the U.N. and seeking recognition. His track record suggests that sadly, he may have a point.

Following the pattern of the classic Prisoner Dilemma, rampant mutual distrust is causing both leaders to fear the actions of the other in case negotiations are actually resumed. Netanyahu is afraid that the Palestinians will purposely disrupt the negotiations and place the blame on the Israeli doorstep, and Abu-Mazen is afraid of similar Israeli behavior. The job of a mediator is usually to dispel any built-in mistrust by offering support and incentives to the two sides, but it seems that in this case Kerry is simply not enough. Perhaps this is another sign of the waning American influence in the region.

Despite the fact that all sides involved – Israelis , Palestinians and Americans – realize the danger in maintaining the status quo, they all stay entrenched in their positions. If the ongoing stalemate results in a renewed outbreak of violence in the West Bank and Gaza – an outcome many believe, including high-ranking IDF officers, as being highly probable – history will once again repeat itself with the familiar pattern of peace deals following devastation.

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