Netanyahu Should Have Given Kerry a Kiss

A year ago Benjamin Netanyahu received from then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry the most perfect expression of the two-state solution. Clearly the premier was not serious in his intentions.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Manhattan, on September 23, 2016.

The important expose by Barak Ravid in Haaretz on Sunday (“Kerry offered Netanyahu regional peace plan in secret 2016 summit with Al-Sissi, King Abdullah”) highlighted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s greatest achievement: In his eight years in office he has done almost nothing with respect to the Palestinians, but has nonetheless succeeded in convincing Israeli public opinion – including the leadership of the center-left bloc – that there is no chance for a permanent peace agreement.

Yair Lapid says so, as does Isaac Herzog and the great majority of their voters are convinced of it, too. The convenient Israeli theory, which is as old as the state, is dominant once again: We have no partner.

After all, Ehud Barak offered them everything at Camp David (nonsense, which even he would admit today – without diminishing Yasser Arafat’s responsibility for the failure); and Ehud Olmert offered them everything (after he had already resigned and when his two potential successors announced they were not obligated by his offer) – and the Palestinians rejected all these proposals.

Now it turns out that Netanyahu received from former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry the purest and most perfect expression of the two-state solution. If the premier was serious about his intentions, he would have smothered Kerry with kisses.

Recognition of the Jewish state, with Egyptian and Jordanian backing, a demilitarized Palestinian state, land swaps and a solution to the refugee problem. Is this Netanyahu’s dream scenario? It’s more like his nightmare.

Netanyahu did not say “yes” but, wisely, he did not tell Kerry “no” either. As always, he mumbled about how difficult things were with the coalition, and he went to think about it for a bit. He proves once again that it may not be clear whether there is a Palestinian partner, but it is clear that for the past eight years there was no Israeli partner.

The publication of the report caused many to feel that Herzog, the leader of the opposition, had been wronged. Maybe he had a real reason to join the Netanyahu government – and not just the desire to save himself by becoming foreign minister. But the apologists forgot to take into account just one thing: Why did they miss out on this opportunity? Because Herzog said "no"?

The opportunity was missed because Netanyahu did not agree to it. He never agrees because he does not really go for this solution. For eight years he could have suggested Kerry’s framework. It had nothing new in it. But he didn’t offer it.

Herzog and Kerry, during this round of diplomacy, and Tzipi Livni and Shimon Peres in previous rounds, were simply playing checkers while Netanyahu played chess. He brilliantly bought time; sold them fancy phrases; he let out a bit of rope, and then a little bit more, with the hope that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would kill the peace process before he did. Sometimes it worked, such as in the round with Livni, and sometimes not so much, such as with the channel Shimon Peres tried to use.

Yet even then Netanyahu could have trusted his checker players not to expose his true face. Almost a year has passed since the regional summit that was revealed on Sunday in these pages. Kerry said nothing, nor did Barack Obama. Herzog knew and remained silent, and even Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi and Jordan’s King Abdullah II kept mum.

There was no reason to keep their silence; no peace process would have been halted because of it. But these are serious people, loyal ones, who, it turns out, felt committed to keeping their word. Netanyahu, in comparison, felt a commitment only to his coalition government.

I still think Herzog did not have to enter these humiliating negotiations. He had enough experience with Netanyahu. When Netanyahu whispered the incredible secret in Herzog's ear, all he had to tell him was this: Bibi, I’m here for you. Tell Kerry "yes,” and I will be willing to enter the coalition with my entire party and without cabinet portfolios. That’s all.

Herzog should have understood from the very beginning that Netanyahu was using him in an attempt to kill time, finish off the international or unilateral American initiatives, and in the end cast the blame on him.

Herzog was unable to bring his party with him, as Netanyahu’s people noted with a denigrating smile when Avigdor Lieberman became defense minister. This was a great excuse for them, in explaining why Netanyahu was not trying to take advantage of the opportunity for a permanent agreement, which had the potential to change history. It was all because of "Bougie" Herzog.