Maintaining Appearances

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To: President Barak Obama

From: Secretary of State John Kerry

Subject: Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process

Date: August 2013

Mr. President, you asked me to describe my impression of the resumption of talks between the Israelis and Palestinians which we have put into motion, and explain what justifies our continued involvement. You wanted to know why I deem the talks important enough to divert the time and energy that should be invested in China, North Korea and Russia.

Mr. President, we both share the same doubts, as expressed in out joint discussions.

During the many years of the peace process, the Israelis and Palestinians have always managed to reach the same conclusion – the U.S. is to blame. According to them, the President was either too involved or not involved enough; the American mediation was either too pushy or too weak; the ideas we proposed were too revolutionary and far-reaching or they lacked innovation and imagination. In any case, as Americans, we will never be totally objective, and lack fundamental understanding of the Middle East and the conflict.

Israel and the Palestinians have demonstrated impressive creativity in the way they have expressed their criticism against American policy. These skills are not lost on us (you can ask Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton), which raises the question of what has changed in our geo-strategic assessment in 2013 that is different from that of my predecessor during 2009-2012?

The short and simple answer is that we see no real change in the Israeli-Palestinian dimension. By the middle of 2014, we will have to take our hands off the “process”, when it becomes clear that it lacked any real purpose and substance, and that the two sides lacked leadership, courage and imagination, and more than anything – believe they are doing us a favor. Both have a negative incentive to work for a “two-state solution”, a model that has sadly become a worn-out bumper sticker that everyone knows how to read aloud, but no one really intends to apply.

The more complex answer, Mr. President, is that we have no real choice, despite the extremely low chances for success. We know that there is a gap that the two sides cannot, and will not, bridge.

There are two equations that cannot be solved under the current political circumstances:

One, the maximum that the Netanyahu government can offer is nowhere near the minimum that the Palestinians will be willing to accept. More so, the two basic outlines for a solution – the Clinton parameters made public after the failure of the Camp David meetings in 2000 and the discussions between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abu Mazen in 2008, are considered by the Palestinians as a reference point, but are not even an option for Israel.

Two, Israel cannot continue to rule over the Palestinian population, but the Palestinians are not yet ready to rule a sovereign state.

The Middle East in 2013, is not the Middle East you met after being sworn in in 2009. It is explosive, unstable and hostile against the U.S. On the other hand, Israel is an ally. I told Netanyahu, that should the process dissolve, Israel would experience a “de-legitimization on steroids” all over the world, and that we would find it extremely hard to protect it. Israel’s maneuvering would be minimized. To Abbas I said, without the U.S. you will have no state. Go to the U.N. if you like, and see what you get. To both of them I said: do you really think time is on your side? Do you want to try a Middle East or a peace process without the U.S.? Go ahead.

Mr. President, I have no illusions. Not of Netanyahu nor of Abbas. But in this geo-political situation, with the Iranian issue still unsolved, we must at least maintain the appearance of a process.

Translation of  “In the Eyes of John Kerry”, by Alon Pinkas (Yediot Aharonot, 14.8.13). 

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