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John Kerry Rejects a Twenty Year Old Assumption of the Peace Process

John Kerry Rejects a Twenty Year Old Assumption of the Peace Process

Mideast Media Sampler 07/30/2013

The Talks Begin

The past two days has seen the reporting on the beginning of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

First there was the reporting on the Israeli concession that made the talks possible. The New York Times reported Netanyahu agree to free 104 Prisoners:

An Israeli government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said many of those who remained in Israeli jails, like the 104 now chosen for early release, had been involved in particularly gruesome acts.

“The goal here is to augment the political dialogue with confidence-building measures,” the official said, adding that the cabinet was expected to approve the release. In moves meant to appease the more right-wing elements in the government, the cabinet is also expected to discuss legislation for a referendum on any peace deal and to set up a special ministerial committee to deal with the negotiations.
But the prisoner issue is the one that has inflamed passions on both sides. Palestinians view these long-serving prisoners, convicted before the signing of the Oslo peace accords in 1993, as political prisoners whose release is long overdue.

The Washington Post reported Peace talks set to begin after Israel agrees to free 104 Palestinian prisoners:

The list of prisoners who may be released in coming days includes militants who threw firebombs, in one case at a bus carrying children; stabbed and shot civilians, including women, elderly Jews and suspected Palestinian collaborators; and ambushed and killed border guards, police officers, security agents and soldiers. All of them have been in prison for at least two decades; some were serving life sentences.

The Israeli public views these prisoners as terrorists who have blood on their hands. Palestinians see them as freedom fighters struggling to reclaim their homeland and oust the occupiers. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his leadership refused to return to the negotiating table without their release.

Regardless of whether it is a grudging gesture of goodwill, diplomatic blackmail or something in between, Netanyahu’s move is a major concession to Kerry and the Palestinians.

The Washington Post, at least acknowledged that this was a major concession on Netanyahu’s part, but the troubling aspect in both cases is the parallelism that each sets up. In the New York Times, the language is “inflamed passions on both sides.” In the Washington Post it is “Israeli public views / Palestinians see” equation. Only in describing something in the Middle East would two such different viewpoints be place side by side. No doubt that most Americans would have their “passions inflamed” by the early release of brutal murderers. Most Americans would “view” people who tried to kill a busload of children as a terrorist. These are views that need not be qualified. Similarly most Americans would find it appalling that anyone would excuse or celebrate such barbarity. This reporting isn’t designed simply to tell a story, but to excuse the glorification of terrorist by the Palestinians. If that behavior isn’t excused, the peace talks make no sense. How could one side trust the other, when the latter celebrates the killing of the former’s citizens?

The fact that Mahmoud Abbas recently eulogized a mass murderer as a “pure soul” or that the Palestinian Authority celebrated 61 acts of terror only underscores this point. These two media outlets instead of reporting the news, are excusing the behavior on one side.

As the talks started, the New York Times reported Talks Begin on Mideast to Doubts on All Sides

In recent weeks, Mr. Kerry and his aides have outlined several basic arguments for why his efforts might bear fruit. Perhaps the most important one, which Mr. Kerry advanced almost the moment he was picked for the State Department post, is that the United States does not have the luxury of staying on the sidelines.

With the Palestinians poised to take their claim for statehood to the International Criminal Court and United Nations bodies, American officials say the two sides were facing a downward spiral in which the Israelis would respond by cutting off financing to the Palestinian territories and European nations might curtail their investment in Israel, further isolating the Israelis.

Another argument Mr. Kerry has used is that diplomatic progress would foster as much as $4 billion in private sector investment in the Palestinian economy, a portion of which would take effect in the near term.

Kerry’s reasoning makes no sense, of course. All he’s saying is that the reason talks might be successful is because he insisted on having them. What he doesn’t explain is why wouldn’t he, as America’s top diplomat, tell the Palestinians that the only reason their governing body is not considered a terrorist organization is because twenty years ago its leader rejected terror and committed to bilateral negotiations, and that since they are eschewing negotiations for international pressure he can no longer support their quest for statehood? This rebuke would be matched with an end to aid to the Palestinian Authority and no diplomatic support for their efforts. The United States would also seek to urge others, especially in the European Union to withdraw their support from the Palestinian Authority until the PA returned to negotiations. Instead the United States is staying on the sidelines, pressuring Israel to negotiate with a partner it knows is rejecting the foundations of the peace process – bilateral negotiations – it claims to support.

In the Washington Post the issue is framed like this: As talks begin, Jewish settlements loom as challenge.

“The Israelis talk about peace, but on the land they act otherwise. We want peace, but the settlements are taking the land. This is an enormous problem,” said Youssef Abu Maria, a spokesman for the Popular Movement, a Palestinian group that is protesting Israeli occupation with its own encampments. …

The United Nations and many governments consider Israeli settlements built in the West Bank illegal under international law because they are built on occupied lands. The Israeli government disagrees.

While the number of settlers has climbed steadily over the last five years, they remain controversial in Israel. A May Pew Research poll of Israeli Jews found that 35 percent said continued Jewish settlement building “hurts security,” while 31 percent said it “helps security” and 27 percent said it “makes no difference.”

The article is set up to present the issue of settlements as an obstacle to peace without even examining if the claim is accurate, rather than a dubious definition applied uniquely to Israel in accordance with the highly selective Palestinian interpretation of the term.

And that is the problem, not just with this latest iteration of the peace process but how it’s reported too. The process is almost exclusively described through the Palestinian narrative. Anything that falls short of Palestinian demands is Israel not doing enough for peace. For example here’s Ben Birnbaum in the New Republic:

Perhaps no words have been the source of so much mutual misunderstanding as the Palestinian “right of return.” To Israelis, it spells nothing less than the demographic annihilation of the Jewish state; to many Palestinians, for whom the refugees are at the core of their national identity, it doubtless means the same thing. But behind closed doors, the position of Palestinian negotiators has been far more nuanced. They wanted refugees to be compensated monetarily for suffering and lost property and to be given four choices about where to live: their current host countries in the Arab world, third-party countries, the new Palestinian state, and Israel. Israel, whose citizen population is already one-fifth Arab, has publicly rejected this fourth option, though both Barak and Olmert agreed to absorb a symbolic number of refugees under the guise of a family-reunification program. Their proposals fell far short of Palestinian needs. Olmert offered to take in 5,000 over the course of five years (though was reportedly prepared to quintuple the offer). Abbas balked at the offer. “I can’t tell four million Palestinians that only 5,000 of them can go home,” he told Condoleezza Rice, according to her memoir No Higher Honor. In official proposals, meanwhile, the Palestinians asked for 150,000 refugees over ten years. But as I reported in my March story, Abbas signaled to Rice that he could accept a compromise in the 40-60,000 range (60,000 additional Palestinians would change the Arab share of Israel’s population from 20.6 percent to 21.2 percent).

Somehow, in this telling, the unreasonable Palestinian “right of return” is really nuanced. For someone who demands that no Israeli be in his territory after peace is concluded is the height of chutzpah for him to demand that Israel accept some number of Palestinians. And it’s just as outrageous for journalists to pretend that there’s anything reasonable about the demand. And if the Palestinians are compromising on the right of return what serious compromise will Israel make? Why, according to Birnbaum, it’s Jerusalem. For a phony compromise on the right of return Israel must cede some portion of Judaism’s holiest city.

Do either of these articles on the start of talks note that it is Abbas who rejected a deal with Ehud Olmert in 2008? Does either acknowledge that it is Abbas who, except for a week, had refused to negotiation with Israel since 2009? Does either account that he refused to negotiate with Netanyahu even though Netanyahu acceded to American demands for a settlement freeze in 2010? (The Washington Post acknowledges the freeze, but not that Abbas didn’t try to negotiate until the freeze was nearly over and then stopped when Netanyahu didn’t extend the freeze.)

Seth Mandel critiques John Kerry’s precondition demands on Israel. Barry Rubin notes that by validating the Palestinian efforts to internationalize the conflict, the administration reversed twenty years of precedent.

Elder of Ziyon identifies 22 “elephants in the room” regarding these negotiations, but let’s just focus on the first

Elephant 1: Hamas controls Gaza

Every peace plan includes Gaza in a Palestinian Arab state, and none of them has any provision on how to handle the fact that Gaza is a terrorist haven, in much worse shape since Israel uprooted the settlements there, controlled by a terrorist group that is consistently and wholeheartedly against Israel’s existence. Peace is impossible with this elephant, so it is easier to pretend it isn’t there. (See also Elephant 11.)

Let’s say Israel satisfies every single (ever changing) demand of the Palestinian Authority and its many cheerleaders, Israel still won’t have peace.


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Israelis should never have agreed to release the terrorists as a pre-condition. But don’t blame Kerry – he’s not supposed to be “holier than the Pope”. Blame Netanyahu and his cabinet.

Carol Herman | July 30, 2013 at 7:49 pm

Well, Pollard’s not being let go as a good will gesture. Or anything else. While Bill Clinton freed Frank Rich, just as he left office.

Bibi’s gone to the cleaners on this one. But why be shocked or surprised? If elections mean something, then when Bibi got barely by on 29 seats in the Knesset, why did he go to Livni? And, to Olmert? I know. Beyond language to describe.

Since arabs are the ones who start wars, you’ve now compiled a current list. No price to the saud’s for funding 9/11. And, for suppling the pilots. Instead? Dubya decided America needed Homeland Security. And, the TSA. Plus, fulfilling the Saud’s wish list, we went into Irak. Where the saud’s hoped to pick up Basra’s oil fields.

Sure, we spent treasure and American lives on this deluxe tomfoolery. But Israel should have been keeping her eyes wide open. Israel also saw General Martin Dempsey going in and training Palestinians. And, now he’s “chief of the joint.” Don’t call me surprised.

What’s in a peace deal that gets Bibi, Livni and Olmert so excited? A few hilltops have to go. Did Gaza go? You bet. Did the Sinai go? You bet. Who were the prime ministers? Menachem Begin. And, Arik Sharon.

More than prime ministers, Israel goes through labels. The left, under Ben-Gurion, was Mapai. And, while Arik Sharon built the Likud party to attract settlers (before he gave away territory), went from calling this party the Likud. To the Kadima. (A Hebrew word for “forward” over the cliff, I suppose?)

Yup. These types of governments, be they here (in the USA), or over in Israel, are considered “democracies” or “republics” where you give power to elected people. Instead of waiting for “lucky eggs” to procreate, like we just saw in England, where they’ve got a new Georgie.

Getting people to vote for ya is similar to the ways we got got Indians to sign treaties. With trinkets. And, mirrors.

It’s interesting that bland men have a tougher time getting elected, than the stars with “charisma.”

Did Bibi give any indication when he was running recently for votes, that he’d play with Livni and Olmert? Heck, no.

We are in for an interesting year.

Bibi thought he could “play ball.” What’s 100 murderers let loose? They “only” killed religious people. So, here hangs a sarcasm tag.

You want a different outcome? Bibi could’a gotten much less than 29 seats, ya know? But people generally are hopeful. Which also explains obama’s second term. People sitting in the audience are never shown backstage antics.

Calypso Facto | July 30, 2013 at 8:16 pm

You know what “hurts security” in Israel more than settlements? Arabs shooting at them and detonating bombs to kill civilians.

Talk is all this is. As usual, Israel is suckered into giving up something of value in return for the mere promise of getting something in return, which promise is never fulfilled.

Muslims have never negotiated in good faith with Israel, and they break any promises they bother to make at the earliest possible convenience. Why Netanyahu thinks it will be any different this time is beyond me.

    thorleywinston in reply to randian. | July 31, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    So basically the Israelis are like Republicans negotiating the debt ceiling and immigration reform.

Carol Herman | July 30, 2013 at 9:07 pm

The bigger question for me is why Bennett just didn’t yank himself out of government. And, then let the knesset jerks fight each other to stay seated. Bibi might then be just a bobble head waiting to see if he could stave off new elections. While, instead of palestinians yanking at him through Kerry’s dialog box, he’d have a real fight on his hands to stay in office.

Americans don’t have that luxury. We have to wait for presidential cycles to revolve every four years.

I know Israel pretty much has 3 parts to it. The religious groups. The left secular greens, communists and loons. And, the middle which can’t raise its voice up enough to be heard above the din.

When the country was “young” the leaders were all young. Then, through the wars heroes were born on the battlefields. And, politics started to reward some of the commanders. Arik Sharon being such a top notch figure.

What makes America look like such a sweet damsel to Israeli politicians? I can’t figure this out. Menachem Begin gave up the Sinai to Jimmy Carter. In exchange for a State Dinner. So, I wrote that off to “pomp.” Short little ugly man who thought he was gaining stature. Whatever.

Maybe, there’s just no miracles happening in politics?

Kerry is a known quantity! Is Israel bereft of psychiatrists? What Bibi doesn’t understand is that he polished Kerry’s shoes! It’s even a waste of shoe polish.

    mrzee in reply to Carol Herman. | July 31, 2013 at 8:26 am

    Bennett’s pulling out of the coalition would accomplish nothing. His party would be replaced by Labor and his political carrer would be over.

Juba Doobai! | July 31, 2013 at 12:51 am

Israel is getting exactly what it deserves, as it has into past, becauses she refuses to learn from past lessons.

When you agree to release killers of your people, you say Israeli lives mean nothing and Muslims have a right to slaughter Jews.

When you cede the cessation of settlement construction, you say that the land is not yours to dispose of and do with as you see fit,

When you do not insist that other nations accept an undivided Jerusalem as your capital, you say that you have no historical connection to the land and to the place.

When you accept demands that you must make concessions before talks can begin, while the other party must do nothing but show up, you say that your cause is not just and you are a supplicant before the rest of the world and those who would commit genocide against you.

The only solution is for Israel to refuse to engage in any type of talks with the Arabs until the PLO changes its charter and the Arabs renounce genocide as a policy towards Israel.

Until such time, nothing. There’s nothing to talk about. Nothing to negotiate.

RSConsulting | July 31, 2013 at 1:07 am

Israel 101 – Survival Kit For Dummies


I would make “Aliyah” in a heartbeat – except Israel has NO SECOND AMENDMENT, I am a GUN COLLECTOR and 20+ year DAILY CCW – and would never live were I couldn’t defend myself (and I’m too old to join the army).


NYT, WaPo – cheap violins. If the middle east situation was not so serious and tragic, it would be laughable. Meanwhile, back in Detroit plans for the new $500 million stadium move ahead, Mayor Filner has a date for the prom, Eliot Spitzer stayed in for the evening reading John Edwards’ book, Anthony Wiener spent the evening watching reruns of old Michael Jordan Jockey ads, and the president has been assured his 10:00AM tee time is secure.

John Kerry is just looking for his Legacy. And if millions of Israeli’s must die for his vanity, so be it.

Jane Fonda-John Kerry both phoney attention seekers with no cajones.

Kerry will fail, as all those before him have failed, not because of any lack of skill, but because his approach is to continue rewarding the misbehaving child until it sees reason and begins to behave.

If Israel has learned any lesson in the last decades with the Palenstinians, they should have learned to not take any prisoners alive. Kill them, catalog them, and leave them to be buried where they fell. Spare only those who are too dim to be dangerous and collect them for future US-dictated unilateral prisoner releases.

What could possibly go wrong? I mean look at how well giving back the West Bank and the Gaza Strip worked out for peace.