Kerry's Flawed Diplomacy Only Strengthens Israeli and Palestinian Hardliners

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry's ham-fisted - and very public - lumping together of Jerusalem suburbs with far-flung, peace-thwarting West Bank settlements undermines the moderate consensus among both Israelis and Palestinians.

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, center, Israeli President Shimon Peres, right, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas all shake hands during the World Economic Forum May 26, 2013.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, center, Israeli President Shimon Peres, right, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas all shake hands during the World Economic Forum May 26, 2013. Credit: AP
David Landau
David Landau

Barack Obama's and Hillary Clinton's total cock-up of Israel-Palestine peacemaking during the President's first term broke the hearts of peace-lovers in the region and around the world. It all but broke the chances of the two-state solution ever materializing.

While Obama, with the best intentions, was inexperienced and, as became belatedly clear, immature, his Secretary of State was thoroughly schooled, personally and vicariously through her husband, in the pitfalls of local politics.

It was – and remains – incomprehensible how she could have backed and echoed Obama's obtuse harping on Israeli "settlement building" in places like the decades-old Jewish Jerusalem suburb of Gilo.

Surely she, if not he, should have understood that this played straight into the hands of the recalcitrant Benjamin Netanyahu? Why was it not obvious, at least to her if not to him, that their indiscriminate lumping together of Jerusalem suburbs with far-flung and deliberately peace-thwarting West Bank settlements enabled the prime minister to keep building in both, and to rally the Israeli centrist consensus against any freeze, and against any resumed negotiation?

By the same token, the indiscriminate lumping together meant that Mahmoud Abbas would not – could not – climb down from his own indiscriminate rhetoric about the territory across the "Green Line", even though in the unconcluded negotiations with Ehud Olmert he had acquiesced in the obvious distinction between suburbs, blocs and peace-thwarting settlements.

The President's re-election, his appointment of the seasoned Senator Kerry as Secretary of State, and Kerry's huge investment of energy and commitment in peacemaking in Palestine, have kindled fresh hope in the Israeli peace camp and among peace advocates everywhere.

Hence the huge sense of let-down on reading the recent reports by Haaretz's Barak Ravid – confirmed by the State Department spokesperson – that the lesson of the earlier failure has not been learned in Obama's Washington and that once again the Administration, with its undiscerning diplomacy, is giving succor to Israeli and Palestinian hardliners.

"U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Kerry spoke with Netanyahu on Thursday," Ravid wrote on Sunday, "and expressed concern about the announcement of plans to expand building in areas of the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Ramot and Gilo, which are beyond the Green Line. Kerry “raised this issue as part of a broader conversation about the ongoing desire to move back to the negotiating table,” Psaki said. “This is a case where we feel these activities are counterproductive to the cause of peace.”

Well, maybe. But not nearly as counterproductive as Mr. Kerry's ham-fisted lumping together of Ramot and Gilo with West Bank settlements in this public upbraiding.

Doesn't the Secretary know, doesn't his embassy tell him, that Ramot and Gilo aren't "settlements"? Not in the eyes of the people who live in them, nor of millions of other Israelis right across the political spectrum. Nor in the eyes of the two previous American administrations (see "the Clinton parameters" and Bush's "new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers"). Nor in the eyes of Abbas and Palestinian negotiators in the sporadic rounds of talks throughout the past decade-and-a-half. Nor – and this is particularly heartbreaking – in the eyes of moderate Arab statesmen whom Kerry himself, with justified gratification and fanfare, just recently brought to publicly countenance adjustments (through land swaps) to the 1967 line. Are Ramot and Gilo not the obvious candidates for swapping in the Kerry State Department's scheme of things?

By admonishing Prime Minister Netanyahu over both building in Ramot and building in far-flung settlements, Washington is once again veritably forcing myriad moderate Israelis, who long for peace and the two-state solution, to bridle, with the Netanyahu camp, at the entire admonishment.

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