Pro: Administration was scrupulously even-handed
EDITOR’S NOTE: The writer is addressing the question, “Did the Obama Administration treat Israel fairly in the recent Mideast peace talks?”
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- It was a nice try. Last July, Secretary of State John Kerry convinced the Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate for a period of nine months. During that time, Kerry cajoled and wheedled to get to a peace treaty. Kerry kept both sides on board, almost to the very end, which came at the end of April.
There were some unexpected moments. One of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demands was that Palestine recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Kerry initially backed Netanyahu, viewing the demand as verbiage without great significance. But the Palestinian negotiators explained to Kerry that Netanyahu’s ulterior motive was to scuttle the possibility of a repatriation of the Palestine Arabs displaced from Israel in 1948, and perhaps to force out the Palestine Arabs who remained in Israel after 1948.
Kerry to his credit flipped on the issue. In March, Kerry told Israel that the United Nations had already accepted it as a Jewish state in 1948. Kerry also reacted with a certain equanimity when, just days ago, the West Bank and Gaza administrations, which have been at each other’s throats, announced that they would form a joint government for Palestine.
Netanyahu reacted by saying he will never negotiate if the Gaza administration, headed by the Hamas organization, is in the picture. Hamas won a Palestinian election a few years ago, but it is on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations. So Kerry might have followed Netanyahu’s lead and said that with Hamas in, peace was off the table. To his credit, he did not. He did not depict it as ending the possibility of peace talks.
Then there was the move made by Palestine in mid-April to sign on to some fifteen international treaties. Israel cried foul. Netanyahu said that Palestine had agreed not to join international organizations during the nine months of negotiations.
But Palestine was acting in response to Israel’s own failure to release a group of Palestinian prisoners—a release to which Israel had agreed as part of the negotiation process. And, said Kerry, quite correctly, Palestine was not joining organizations. The fifteen treaties did not involve organizations.
With the United States traditionally on Israel’s side in the conflict with Palestine, these stances by Kerry shocked Netanyahu and sent U.S. stock upwards in the Arab world.
Kerry had been expected to back Netanyahu on everything. He did not. He even suggested, as the negotiation deadline came and went, that Israel was moving towards being an apartheid state by keeping control over the Palestinians but without their participation in the political process.
But in the end it was not enough. There was an elephant in the room all along, and Kerry never dealt with it. Israel kept transferring more of its citizens into settlements in Palestine’s West Bank, solidifying its grip on the very land that is supposed to wind up under Palestinian control.
During the nine months, the U.S. continued to give Israel huge sums in aid, money it uses to build settlements. Since the “peace process” started in the mid-1990s, we have vetoed U.N. Security Council actions that were directed at stopping the settlements.
The Palestinians had been reluctant to negotiate for nine months without a freeze on settlements. They gave in to Kerry on that point, only to find that upon the expiration of the nine months, they are now worse off, with more Israelis living on their land. The negotiations set peace back, rather than advance it.
As Kerry doubtless knew, Netanyahu was not serious about a peace agreement from the start. He has always opposed negotiations, preferring instead to take Palestine territory by accretion. Kerry’s nine-month gambit may have been an effort at peace, but the reality of it was collusion in Israel’s efforts to block peace.
John B. Quigley is a distinguished professor of law at The Ohio State University and the author of more than a dozen critically acclaimed books on various aspects of the law. Readers may write him at Moritz College Law, 55 West 12th Street, Columbus, Ohio 43210.