With one 'poof' the US leaves the stage. What's the next scene?

April 11, 2014
Sarah Benton

This posting has these items:
1) Jewish Forward: What’s Israel’s Plan B as Peace Talks Look Doomed?;
2) +972:Headlines say ‘Kerry blames Israel’ – who would have dreamt it?, Larry Derfner hails the historic moment of the US blaming Israel;
3) JVP: Kerry’s latest statement: more honest than he intended? Cecile Surasky asks what we do in the new open space;
4) Juan Cole: Poof! John Kerry Blames Israeli Squatting in E. Jerusalem for breakdown in Peace Talks; Bennett: It’s Just Zionism;
5) Arutz Sheva: Kerry is the ‘Lapdog of the Arabs’, from the people who make Bennett (above) look like a moderate;
6) Gush Shalom: In One Word: Poof!, Uri Avnery on the fundamental misconception of two equal parties;

No prisoner release, more settlements in East Jerusalem, and it just went poof Kerry explains to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 8th. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

What’s Israel’s Plan B as Peace Talks Look Doomed?

Annexation, Unilateral Action, Status Quo Have Drawbacks

By Nathan Guttman and Nathan Jeffay, Jewish Forward
April 10, 2014

What’s the fallback plan?

That’s the question increasingly on the minds of Middle East policymakers and analysts as Secretary of State John Kerry struggles to save the Israeli-Palestinian peace process from collapse.

For the Palestinians, the path forward in the event of a collapse is clear: They will seek international recognition as a state in the Israeli-occupied West Bank for their government, and perhaps recognition, too, of their jurisdiction over Gaza, which is currently ruled by the rival Palestinian faction Hamas.

But for the United States and Israel, the search for a “Plan B” is considerably more complicated. The spectrum of ideas in Israel ranges from partial annexation of the West Bank to simply maintaining the status quo, with many other possibilities in between. But for America, none of the options is welcome.

“What Kerry is doing now is already Plan B,” said Aaron David Miller, a former senior government peace negotiator who now serves as vice president of the Wilson Center, a nonpartisan Washington think tank. Kerry, Miller explained, has already fallen back from his original plan to broker a final peace accord by the end of April into a less-ambitious attempt to bring about a framework agreement. He is now struggling just to get the two sides to agree to extend talks about such a framework agreement beyond the end-of-April deadline.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is preparing to deal with the fallout if Kerry’s effort fails. On the international front, the administration is determined to block Palestinian attempts to win statehood through recognition by international organizations. But America could find itself in a tougher position than it was in two years ago, when it mobilized European allies to block the Palestinian drive for statehood. Back then, the administration argued that such recognition would upend the ongoing peace process.

Domestically, the administration is also gearing up to halt congressional sanctions against both the Palestinians and the international organizations that choose to recognize Palestinian statehood.

A 2011 law already requires termination of all American assistance to the Palestinians if they gain statehood. But lawmakers on Capitol Hill have now begun calling for cutting U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority in response to the P.A.’s more modest request to join 15 international treaties.*

The White House and the State Department are also trying to block congressional moves to cut American funding for international organizations that accept Palestine, as it will be called, as a state. Stopping such support, Kerry warned, could simply result in the loss of America’s right to vote in these organizations. “Who will pay the price?” if Congress takes such an action, he asked. “The United States of America. We won’t be able to vote.”

In comparison to the largely reactive and defensive moves the administration anticipates taking, Israel is rife with proactive ideas for responding to a possible peace process collapse.

The right wing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, which harshly criticized Kerry’s mission from the start, sees an opportunity to strengthen Israel’s hold on the West Bank.

Danny Danon, a top leader of Netanyahu’s own Likud party, told the Forward on April 7 that the moment that Palestinians unilaterally ask the United Nations for full statehood recognition, Israel should unilaterally declare sovereignty over part of the West Bank — in other words, annex territory. It’s the kind of move that has just won Russia widespread world condemnation and Western sanctions in the case of Crimea. But according to Danon, “If the Palestinians act unilaterally, then we will have to act unilaterally.”

Danon, who is chairman of the Likud party’s Central Committee, claimed that in the event of unilateral action by the Palestinians, “I would be able to get the [support of a] majority of Likud Knesset members” to support annexation. The area he is targeting is within the so-called Area C of the West Bank, which is already under full Israeli control and home to most settlers.

Cartoon from Haaretz, June 2013

Others on the right see a collapse of the peace process, if it occurs, as an opportunity for Israel to officially withdraw from the process’s basic goal of a two-state solution.

“What is clear is that a Palestinian state is not a solution,” Tourism Minister Uzi Landau said at an April 6 conference in New York, sponsored by The Jerusalem Post. “With the absence of solution, this is a conflict that has to be managed.”

Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington who is considered to be a Likud authority on foreign policy, proposed unilateral withdrawal by Israel from parts of the West Bank, to be carried out in tacit coordination with the Americans and the Palestinians, though without a formal agreement. He described this approach as “bilateral unilateralism.”

Another former ambassador, Michael Oren, who is close to Netanyahu, floated the idea in February, arguing, “If we declare our borders, that creates a de facto situation of two nation states recognized by the U.N. — we may not recognize one another, but they’re already recognized by the U.N. — that have a border dispute.”

Such a unilateral step, supporters of this move say, would help Israel fend off potential Palestinian challenges in the U.N. and at the International Criminal Court by shifting the discussion from the term “occupation” to “border dispute.”

Netanyahu’s own policy preferences remain unknown. But advocates of annexation and/or partial unilateral withdrawal took hopeful note of the Israeli leader’s comment at his government’s April 6 Cabinet meeting that “unilateral steps on their part will be met with unilateral steps on our part.”

Tamar Hermann, a leading public opinion expert, said the idea of partial withdrawal could be accepted by Israeli public opinion. Hermann, who conducts a monthly survey called The Peace Index on a broad range of issues for the nonpartisan Israel Democracy Institute, said support for partial withdrawal would feed on “the desire of Israelis not to be bothered by the conflict.”

Dennis Ross, a former top Middle East negotiator for several administrations who is now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank supportive of Israel, said Washington, too, might welcome such a move by Israel.
“It becomes something they do with [the United States],” he said during an April 7 discussion at the institute. “It’s not part of a formal agreement, and maybe that’s an easier thing to work out.”

Miller questioned Netanyahu’s domestic political ability to pull off such a move. In 1998, he noted, Netanyahu lost his coalition for proposing minor withdrawals during talks with the United States and the Palestinian Authority. It is hard to see how his coalition today would approve a much more significant pullback, Miller said.

This could leave one final fallback option as the most practical: maintain the status quo. It is not an option the Israeli government would adopt or declare as official policy, but it may be the most obvious route for most Israelis.

“The public has not bought the interpretation that the situation on the ground can’t go on the way it is,” Hermann said. Jewish Israelis, she said, “do not see the Palestinians as a [security] threat or a strategic threat, and sanctions are not yet felt by the average Israeli. People expect life to go on as it is and do not expect a third intifada.”

The defense establishment, which has supported a peace drive as a national security interest, could also unenthusiastically agree with a continued status quo between Israelis and Palestinians. “It can be an option,” said Shaul Shay, former deputy head of the Israel National Security Council, “not a preferred option, but we can survive it.”

Dan Soffer, vice president of business development at VeriFone and part of a business group promoting a two-state solution, said he remains optimistic. And if his optimism is misplaced?

“Unfortunately I don’t think we have a Plan B. As a businessperson I always have a Plan B but I don’t see a Plan B beyond a deadlock and a third intifada.”

Nathan Guttman reported from Washington. Nathan Jeffay reported from Tel Aviv. Hody Nemes contributed reporting from New York.

Headlines say ‘Kerry blames Israel’ – who would have dreamt it?

If the road to the UN was open to the Palestinians before, now there may as well be a red carpet on it.

By Larry Derfner, +972
April 09, 2014

It goes without saying that Kerry’s blaming of Israel for the blow-up in the peace talks is a great thing, a bigger win for the fight against the occupation than anyone could have expected to come out of this process. From the time about a year ago that these negotiations were a twinkle in Kerry’s eye, the name of the game for Israel and the Palestinians was to avoid being held responsible for their inevitable failure. The best anyone had a right to hope for was that the Americans would blame Israel off the record, but on Tuesday Kerry did it on TV in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee!

They must be delirious in the Muqata, the Palestinian Authority’s headquarters in Ramallah. If the road to the UN was open to them before, now there’s almost a red carpet on it. This may or may not be the start of the endgame for Palestinian independence, and even if it is, it’s going to take years and be terribly painful for them, but whatever happens in the next stage of the conflict, the Palestinians start it with the wind clearly at their back.

The funny thing is that Kerry didn’t consciously intend to blame Israel. He’d have to be crazy or stupid to do such a thing in a setting like that, and he’s neither. What he said was this:

Both sides, whether advertently or inadvertently, wound up in positions where things happened that were unhelpful. Clearly, [the Palestinians] going to these treaties is not helpful, and we have made that crystal-clear. Unfortunately, prisoners were not released [by Israel] on the Saturday they were supposed to be released. And so day went by, day two went by, day three went by. And then in the afternoon, when they were about to maybe get there, 700 settlement units were announced in Jerusalem and, poof, that was sort of the moment. We find ourselves where we are.

The U.S. is now trying to assure Israel that Kerry wasn’t playing the “blame game,” he was just giving a “factual account” of the events. But here’s the thing – when you give a factual account of events that begins with one side’s violation of the agreement (Israel’s refusal to release 26 prisoners as promised), followed by that same side’s provocation (the announcement of the new settlement units), followed by the other side’s violation (the Palestinians’ bid to join international treaties), then it’s clear to everyone you’re saying there’s a causal relationship between the initial moves by Israel and the one that followed by the Palestinians. In short, you’re blaming Israel.

But Kerry denies this because he has to. He knows he can’t blame Israel, at least not publicly, so as far as he’s concerned, he isn’t. He’s just giving a factual account of the events. No causal relationship implied, his people claim.

The problem is that basic human logic doesn’t work that way. If Joe punches Harry in the nose, then Harry punches Joe back, basic human logic says Joe is to blame. If Israel breaks its agreement to the Palestinians to release prisoners, then the Palestinians break their agreement to Israel not to go to the UN, basic human logic says Israel is to blame. Kerry can deny that that’s what he said, and I fully believe that he didn’t consciously mean to blame Israel because that could have only gotten him in trouble, but that’s the only way his words make sense.

He didn’t mean to blame Israel, he only meant to give a factual account. It was those facts that blamed Israel.

But what can you do; the top story in this country on the Tuesday night TV news and in the Wednesday newspapers was, “Kerry blames Israel,” in one wording or another. The news is not exactly a secret outside of Israel, either. The damage has been done – to the occupation’s prospects for the future.

Kerry’s latest statement: more honest than he intended?

“700 settlement units were announced in Jerusalem, and poof – that was sort of the moment.” – Secretary of State John Kerry

The US-backed peace process is faltering. What comes next?

Letter from Cecile Surasky, Jewish Voice for Peace
April 11, 2014

It wasn’t exactly poetry, but Secretary of State John Kerry’s testimony to Congress this week might go down in history as a real turning point in the last 20 plus years of US-orchestrated negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. (1)

For the first time— and despite later efforts to backtrack— a U.S. Secretary of State admitted it was the Israelis who are derailing talks.

Kerry couldn’t have been more clear about the recent sequence of events that have driven these talks to the brink.

First Israel refused to release the last group of Palestinian prisoners they had promised to free, then they announced construction of 700 new settlement units, and only then did the Palestinians announce that they would attempt to join 15 international human rights conventions.

The US and Israel still vigorously criticized that move, which begs the question: what kind of “peace process” considers signing on to covenants promoting the rights of children, the disabled, and others a threat to peace? (2)

Of course, unilateral Israeli actions to undermine peace go back much further.

Since the Oslo Accords, the number of Jewish settlers on Palestinian land has more than doubled – to more than 650,000. (3) In fact, Benjamin Netanyahu campaigned for re-election on a promise of one million Jews living in “Judea and Samaria”. (4)

Rather than hold Israel accountable, the United States has repeatedly rewarded the Israeli government whenever it violated the law or agreements, now fueling the occupation with $3.2 billion in annual military aid.

The United States is indeed acting like a broker in these talks — representing Israel.

The losers in this peace scam? The Palestinians most of all, but also every Israeli who wants a lasting and just peace. And every US resident who wants our tax money to be used for freedom and democracy, not occupation and apartheid.

In truth, the terms Kerry and Israel set forth have nothing to do with equality – they’ll require Palestinians to sit at the back of the bus.

But they give us an idea of what will be on the table should talks, which have proven to be an effective delaying tactic while Israel builds “fact on the ground”, limp along.

They include an unprecedented demand that the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as a Jewish state. That’s code for condemning Israel’s 25% of citizens who aren’t Jewish to second and third class status, and denying the internationally recognized rights of Palestinian refugees. (5)

And the land being negotiated for a future Palestinian “state”?

It looks more like the holes in a piece of Swiss cheese, thanks to decades of US-enabled settlement expansion. Put another way, whatever the rhetoric of a “two-state solution,” Israeli policies have already created a de-facto single state including all of Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and occupied East Jerusalem, albeit one built on the premise of separate and unequal lives for Jews and non-Jews. This is the very definition of apartheid.

So what next?

At Jewish Voice for Peace, we believe that the struggle for freedom and self-determination will end, like similar struggles in Northern Ireland and South Africa, at the negotiation table. But that will only happen when all parties can sit down together with equal power.

Israel has one of the strongest militaries in the world, the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East, and the unconditional backing of the world’s sole super power. It is the 24th wealthiest country in the world. Meanwhile, the Palestinians across the table remain stateless, impoverished, occupied, or second-class citizens inside of Israel.

But the balance of power is changing.

And the engine of that change is the unstoppable movement of nonviolent resistance by Palestinians and their allies – including Jews of conscience – around the globe. Education, lobbying, the involvement of international legal bodies, demonstrations in the streets in Israel and Palestine, have all made a difference and will continue to grow.

And where our governments have thus far failed us, more and more people everywhere have begun to stand up and use nonviolent, economic power to build pressure on Israel to do the right thing.

The successes of the Palestinian-led nonviolent movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) are growing, with billions of dollars and major multinational corporations already impacted. That pressure has already been felt at this round of talks. Even Prime Minister Netanyahu mentioned BDS 26 times in his speech to AIPAC, the largest U.S. pro-Israel lobbying organization.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is the Palestinians’ Montgomery Bus Boycott.

This movement for us as Jews is a form of tochecha, the Jewish tradition of sacred rebuke, which comes from a place of love and is the religious obligation to remind one’s friends to live by their values. It is also a nonviolent and principled way to liberate our own community from the dehumanizing role of oppressor.

Can BDS really work? We think so.

Israeli government officials agree. Israeli finance minister Yair Lapid warned that even a limited EU boycott could cost the Israeli economy over $5 billion dollars a year.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni put it even more directly: “The boycott is moving and advancing uniformly and exponentially…Those who don’t want to see it, will end up feeling it.”

Already impacted, even Israel’s business elites are organizing to demand a negotiated agreement.

Certainly, BDS is working better than any strategy has before. It’s a movement rooted in Palestinian civil society – women’s groups, trade unions, students – and so it has no leader that can be stopped. No single funder that can be cut off.

It is fueled instead by the same love for justice, equality, and human rights that has fueled every successful justice movement the world has ever seen. Grounded in international law, it asks for an end to occupation, equality for the Palestinian citizens of Israel, and a just resoution for millions of refugees.

But why BDS to get to the negotiating table?

Martin Luther King famously wrote in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:

You may well ask: ‘Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?’ You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.

That is precisely what we are doing.

And we ask you to continue to join us in this historic movement. So that all who live in Israel and Palestine, in whatever configuration both peoples choose, can live as equals, with the same opportunities to raise families safely, go to school, and build a future.

Whatever happens in the coming days and weeks, we have turned a corner, and there’s no going back.

Poof! John Kerry Blames Israeli Squatting in E. Jerusalem for breakdown in Peace Talks; Bennett: It’s Just Zionism

By Juan Cole, Informed Comment
April 09, 2014

You heard it first here. I had argued on Sunday that that the actions and statements of the far rightwing Israeli Likud government had sunk the peace negotiations with Palestine.

Secretary of State John Kerry gave a similar narrative [my points 9 & 10] on Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for how the peace negotiations he had initiated between Palestine and Israel appear to have faltered, and it caused a stir. He said,

In my judgment both leaders have made courageous and important decisions up until now. For Prime Minister Netanyahu to release prisoners is a painful, difficult political step to take, enormously hard, and the people of Israel have been incredibly supportive and patient in giving him the space in order to do that. In exchange for the deal being kept of the release of prisoners and not going to the U.N. Unfortunately, the prisoners weren’t released on the Saturday they were supposed to be released. And so day went by, day two went by day three went by and then in the afternoon when they were about to maybe get there, 700 settlement units were announced in Jerusalem. And poof! That was sort of the moment.

Mondoweiss called it a possibly ‘historic’ admission.

Note that actually Kerry attributed the breakdown to two separate Israeli moves. One was to decline to release the remaining 25 or so Palestinian prisoners jailed before 1993, whose release had been agreed to in the Oslo Peace Accords (a pledge on which Israel reneged, as it did on the whole Oslo process), and which Israel had undertaken to free last August. The second was the announcement of 700 new squatter homes in Palestinian East Jerusalem by fanatical Israeli expansionist, Housing Minister Uri Ariel.

The State Department rushed to affirm that Kerry blamed both sides for the collapse of his talks, but he was pretty plain about what he thought actually happened.

The Palestinians had pledged to delay going to the UN and the International Criminal Court over illegal Israeli squatting on their land, in return for a firm pledge by Israel to release the 100 or Palestinians.

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett slammed Kerry for the admission, saying that Palestinians in the past had attempted to use violence to stop Israelis from putting their homes in East Jerusalem and surroundings, but had failed. Now, he said, such settlements are not ‘poof,’ they are identical to Zionism.

So Naftali Bennett thinks “Zionism” is identical to a set of war crimes in international law and requires disregarding the Geneva Convention of 1949 on Occupied Territories as well as disregarding a raft of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

It is difficult to see how any fair-minded person could avoid being “anti-Zionist” if this lawlessness, coercion and usurpation is what, as Bennett maintains, Zionism entails. (In fact, there are saner versions of Zionism, which is a form of nationalism like other nationalisms).

Talk-show host, lawyer and media personality Yoram Sheftel [see item 5]. ‘On his show, Sheftel … discusses current affairs with listeners, with the host often resorting to personal attacks against institutions and personalities. On several occasions, those being targeted on the show…are left-wing NGOs and leaders, referring to them as being “anti-Semitic,” and calling them “Judo- Quislings.” The show also includes verbal attacks against Arabs, often comparing them to Nazis and animals. On one broadcast, he said that “the Arabs’ wet dream is a mid-air explosion of a plane leaving Ben-Gurion Airport, preferably an El Al plane.” ‘From Haaretz, Feb. 2012. Photo by Alberto Dankberg

Kerry is the ‘Lapdog of the Arabs’

Attorney Yoram Sheftel says Kerry ‘soaked with hatred of Israel,’ with a moderator like this ‘who needs enemies?’

By Benny Toker, Ari Yashar,  Arutz Sheva
April 11, 2014

US Secretary of State John Kerry is the “lapdog of the Arabs,” according to Attorney and senior political commentator Yoram Sheftel, who gave Arutz Sheva on Friday his response to Kerry’s blaming of Israel for peace talk failures this Tuesday.

“We witnessed the horror show of the hater of Israel, who blamed us that the peace talks blew up because we didn’t release lowly worthless murderers, and we announced the building of 700 apartment units in ‘settlements’ in Jerusalem; this is how he defines Jewish building in Jewish neighborhoods of the capital,” remarked Sheftel.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry testifies during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on April 8th, 2014 in Washington, DC. 

Kerry indeed said before the Senate “Israel didn’t release the Palestinian prisoners on the day they were supposed to be freed, and another day passed, and another day, and then another 700 settlement units were announced in Jerusalem, and ‘poof’…that was sort of the moment.”

The recap Kerry presented ignored the fact that building freezes were not a precondition to talks, and that Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas breached conditions last Tuesday applying to join 15 international conventions, effectively scuppering the talks. Kerry simply called Abbas’s move “clearly unhelpful.” As for the release of terrorists, Israel delayed the move due to a total lack of talk progress and widespread opposition.

“This man is soaked with hatred of Israel from the soles of his feet to his head,” remarked Sheftel of Kerry.

“The stupid and foolish idea that the bloody conflict with the Arab enemy, which hopes to destroy the Jewish people, can be solved within nine months, shows the lack of intelligence in Kerry’s cranium,” charged the senior commentator.

With an American mediator like Kerry, Israel doesn’t need haters, said Sheftel.

“[Kerry is] such an unfair moderator that is so biased towards the Arab enemy – it was clear from the start that he would make any possibility to reach an agreement fail,” he added. “The Arab enemy understands that Kerry is their lapdog, and therefore Kerry only has himself to blame for his foolish initiative, and his one sided support for the Arab enemy.”

Speaking before the Senate this week, Kerry further blamed Israel for demanding recognition as the Jewish state, a demand Abbas consistently refused, bringing the talks to a standstill.

“The government of the United States and the president supports the notion of Israel being defined as a Jewish state,” Kerry noted. “We believe that that should happen. But when it happens, and how it happens, has to be part of the negotiations. It’s not going to happen in the beginning.”

In One Word: Poof!

By Uri Avnery, Gush Shalom
April 12, 2014

POOR JOHN Kerry. This week he emitted a sound that was more expressive than pages of diplomatic babble. In his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations committee he explained how the actions of the Israeli government had torpedoed the “peace process”. They broke their obligation to release Palestinian prisoners, and at the same time announced the enlargement of more settlements in East Jerusalem. The peace efforts went “poof”.

“Poof” is the sound of air escaping a balloon. It is a good expression, because the “peace process” was from the very beginning nothing more than a balloon full of hot air. An exercise in make-believe.

JOHN KERRY cannot be blamed. He took the whole thing seriously. He is an earnest politician, who tried very very hard to make peace between Israel and Palestine. We should be grateful for his efforts.

The trouble is that Kerry had not the slightest idea of what he was getting himself into. The entire “peace process” revolves around a basic misconception. Some would say: a basic lie. Namely: that we have here two equal sides of a conflict. A serious conflict. An old conflict. But a conflict that can be solved when reasonable people of the two sides sit down together and thrash it out, guided by a benevolent and impartial referee.

Not one detail of these assumptions was real. The referee was not impartial. The leaders were not sensible. And most importantly: the sides were not equal. The balance of power between the two sides is not 1:1, not even 1:2 or 1:10. In every material respect – military, diplomatic, economic – it is more like one to a thousand.

There is no equality between occupier and occupied, oppressor and oppressed. A jailer and a prisoner cannot negotiate on equal terms. When one side has total command of the other, controls his every move, settles on his land, controls his money flow, arrests people at will, blocks his access to the UN and the International courts, equality is out of the question.

If the two sides to negotiations are so extremely unequal, the situation can only be remedied by the mediator supporting the weaker side. What is happening is the very opposite: the American support for Israel is massive and unstinting.
Throughout the “negotiations” the US did nothing to check the settlement activity that created more Israeli facts on the ground – the very ground whose future the negotiations were all about.

A PREREQUISITE for successful negotiations is that all sides have at least a basic understanding not only of each other’s interests and demands, but even more of each other’s mental world, emotional setup and self-image. Without that, all moves are inexplicable and look irrational.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali, one of the most intelligent people I have met in my life, once told me: “You have in Israel the most intelligent experts on the Arab world. They have read all the books, all the articles, every single word written about it. They know everything, and understand nothing. Because they have never lived one day in an Arab country.”

The same is true for the American experts, only much more so. In Washington DC one feels the rarefied air of a Himalayan peak. Seen from the grandiose palaces of the administration, where the fate of the world is decided, foreign people look small, primitive and largely irrelevant. Here and there some real experts are tucked away, but nobody really consults them. The average American statesman has not the slightest idea of Arab history, world-view, religions, myths or the traumas that shape Arab attitudes, not to mention the Palestinian struggle. He has no patience for this primitive nonsense.

SEEMINGLY, THE American understanding of Israel is much better. But not really. Average American politicians and diplomats know a lot about Jews. Many of them are Jews. Kerry himself seems to be partly Jewish. His peace team includes many Jews, even Zionists, including the actual manager of the negotiations, Martin Indyk, who worked in the past for AIPAC. His very name is Yiddish (and means a Turkey).

The assumption is that Israelis are not very different from American Jews. But that is entirely false. Israel may claim to be the “Nation-State of the Jewish People”, but that is only an instrument for exploiting the Jewish Diaspora and creating obstacles for the “peace process”. In reality there is very little similarity between Israelis and the Jewish Diaspora, not much more than between a German and a Japanese.

Martin Indyk may feel an affinity with Tzipi Livni, the daughter of an Irgun fighter (or “terrorist” in British parlance), but that is an illusion. The myths and traumas that shaped Tzipi are very different from those that shaped Martin, who was educated in Australia.

If Barack Obama and Kerry knew more, they would have realized from the beginning that the present Israeli political setup makes any Israeli evacuation of the settlements, withdrawal from the West Bank and compromise about Jerusalem quite impossible.

ALL THIS is true for the Palestinian side, too. Palestinians are convinced that they understand Israel. After all, they have been under Israeli occupation for decades. Many of them have spent years in Israeli prisons and speak perfect Hebrew. But they have made many mistakes in their dealings with Israelis.

The latest one was the belief that Israel would release the fourth batch of prisoners. This was almost impossible. All Israeli media, including the moderate ones, speak about releasing “Palestinian murderers”, not Palestinian activists or fighters. Right-wing parties compete with each other, and with rightist “terror-victims”, in denouncing this outrage.

Israelis do not understand the deep emotions evoked by the non-release of prisoners – the national heroes of the Palestinian people, though Israel itself has in the past exchanged a thousand Arab prisoners for one single Israeli, citing the Jewish religious command of “redemption of prisoners”.

It has been said that Israel always sells a “concession” three times: once when promising it, once when signing an official agreement about it and thirdly when actually fulfilling the undertaking. This happened when the time came to implement the third withdrawal from the West Bank under the Oslo agreements, which never happened.

Palestinians know nothing about Jewish history as taught in Israeli schools, very little about the holocaust, even less about the roots of Zionism.

RECENT NEGOTIATIONS started as “peace talks”, continued about a “framework” for further negotiations, and now the talks have degenerated to talks about the talks about the talks. Nobody wants to break off the farce, because all three sides are afraid of the alternative.

The American side is afraid of a general onslaught of the Zionist-evangelical-Republican-Adelson bulldozer on the Obama administration in the next elections. Already the State Department is frantically trying to retreat from the Kerry “poof”. He did not mean that only Israel is to blame, they assert, the fault lies with both sides. The jailer and the prisoner are equally to blame.

As usual, the Israeli government has many fears. It fears the outbreak of a third intifada, coupled with a world-wide campaign of de-legitimization and boycott of Israel, especially in Europe. It also fears that the UN, which at present recognizes Palestine only as a non-member state, will go on and promote it more and more.

The Palestinian leadership, too, is afraid of a third intifada, which may lead to a bloody uprising. Though all Palestinians speak about a “non-violent intifada”, few really believe in it. They remember that the last intifada also started non-violently, but the Israeli army responded by deploying snipers to kill the leaders of the demonstrations, and more suicide bombing became inevitable.

President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) has responded to the non-release of the prisoners, which amounted to a personal humiliation, by signing the documents necessary for the Palestinian State to join 15 international conventions. The Israeli government exploded in anger. How dare they?

In practice, the act means little. One signature means that Palestine joins the Geneva Convention. Another concerns the protection of children. Shouldn’t we welcome this? But the Israeli government fears that this is one step nearer to the acceptance of Palestine as a member of the International Criminal Court, and perhaps the indictment of Israelis for war crimes.

Abbas is also planning steps for a reconciliation with Hamas and the holding of Palestinian elections, in order to strengthen his home front.

IF YOU were poor John Kerry, what would you say to all this?
“Poof!” seems the very minimum.

* Congress Blocking Aid to the Palestinians: the Facts & What They Mean, by Lara Friedman, Americans for Peace Now, October 3, 2011, Foundation for Middle East Peace.

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