Squabble in Holy Land

It’s time for a reality check on the Middle East.

By: New York Times | Published:April 12, 2014 1:59 am

By: ROGER COHEN

It’s time for a reality check on the Middle East.

Poof.

The word Secretary of State John Kerry used before the Senate foreign relations committee is a good one. Nine months of Israeli-Palestinian negotiation and, faster than you can say Holy Land, everything goes up in smoke. Or rather, everything descends into a pre-K schoolyard squabble that amounts to proof that neither side is serious today about a two-state peace settlement.

Time for a “reality check,” Kerry says. In reality, meaningful negotiations stopped some months ago. In reality, the recent Israeli decision to move forward with plans to build 700 new settlement units in Jerusalem reflects a widespread view within Netanyahu’s governing coalition (and quite likely in his heart of hearts) that not an inch of land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River should be surrendered.

In reality, Abbas has zero democratic legitimacy; he leads a divided Palestinian national movement whose talk of reconciliation has proved as much hot air as promises of elections. In reality, both Israel and the US have turned a blind eye to widespread corruption and nepotism within the Abbas-led Palestinian Authority, hoping Abbas will deliver if not peace then at least quiet. In reality this cynical attitude amounts to an investment in the status quo.

In reality, Netanyahu’s insistence on up-front Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state (not a demand made of Egypt or Jordan) amounts to so much bloviation designed to undermine any talks by placing at the front of the agenda an issue that can be resolved with minimal drafting skills if the two sides are ever close enough to a deal for it to matter.

In reality, for domestic political reasons, the Obama administration has lacked the courage to state again what the president said almost three years ago — that any territorial settlement should be based on the 1967 lines with agreed land swaps.

Salam Fayyad, the former Palestinian prime minister, made a speech last month in Britain in which he said: “To us Palestinians, the Israeli occupation has certainly been oppressive enough for us to want to see it end yesterday. But just as the occupation is oppressive to us, it cannot but be corrosive to our Israeli neighbours. Evidently though, it has not been, and still it is not corrosive enough to bring about the transformation needed to bridge the expectations gap.

For how else can one explain, inter alia, the insatiable appetite of Israel’s settlement enterprise for more and more expropriation of, and building on, the very territory where the Palestinian state is supposed to emerge, and at a time when many, including in Israel itself, clearly see how damaging this is to whatever remains of the viability of the two-state solution concept?”

There is not a more reasonable voice among Palestinians than Fayyad’s. If the West Bank has begun to resemble a state, it is thanks to him. He believes, passionately, in two states living side by side in peace, security, freedom and prosperity. But Fayyad sees no chance of that being achieved in negotiations with the current leaders in the current political situations.

Kerry should take a break. Let the impasse fester for a while, focus on securing a lasting nuclear deal with Iran, and demonstrate thereby that the US is capable of acting in its own interests when necessary, irrespective of the views of even its closest allies.

More than a few people in the Middle East would then sit up, and — poof — drop their posturing and playacting.

 

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