"It’s a funny old world," said the late Margaret Thatcher when the Conservative party gave her the sack, even after she had led the Tories to three successive electoral victories. A similar comment would best describe the reaction to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's scheme to strip the Jordan Valley from Israel after a mere ten-year stay of execution. Israel's response to the Kerry plan was, unfortunately, low key almost to the point of silent acquiescence. Ironically it was the plan's prime beneficiary, Mahmoud Abbas, who accused Kerry of taking Israel's side in the negotiations and announced that he could not abide an occupation that lasted a single day longer.
- Ramallah: Kerry Isn't Neutral
- U.S. Pressures Israel Against New Settlements
- Arab League Meets in Cairo
- U.S.: IDF Temporary Presence in Palestine
- Not on the Republicans Alone
- The Cowardly Lion
The Palestinians are hardly the first country required to await the end of a transition period before the handover of territory. China waited 12 years to reassert sovereignty over Hong Kong, following a deal with the Thatcher government. Additionally, the agreement stipulated that competitive elections and a capitalist system would be in force for 50 years following the takeover. Britain did not acquire Hong Kong honorably; it was part of the booty acquired in the Opium Wars fought over Britain's right to turn the Chinese population into addicts.
A 20-year transition was also attached to the terms of the 1977 U.S. agreement with Panama that turned the Canal Zone over to the Panamanians. Senator S.I. Hayakawa opposed the treaty with the immortal words: "We stole it fair and square." Contrast this to Israel's liberation of Judea and Samaria as the result of a defensive war. Moreover neither Britain nor the U.S. risked their security by relinquishing areas geographically remote from their borders.
If China and Panama were quite satisfied, why isn't Abbas similarly content with what obviously represents a Palestinian win? In fact Abbas's policy is quite logical, and it is consistent with Arafat's rejection of Ehud Barak's fire sale offer at Camp David and Abbas' rejection of Ehud Olmert's defeatist proposal at Annapolis. Any deal offered to the Palestinians merely constitutes the baseline for the subsequent better deal. The Palestinians are quite content to pocket the concessions offered to them, but secure in the knowledge that they will not be penalized for their obstinacy, they can walk away and simply await further concessions.
It was not even necessary to leave Haaretz to see the Palestinian strategy vindicated. Carlo Strenger wrote to Abbas as someone who has demonstrated his solicitude for the Palestinians; he appealed to the Rais' self-interest in avoiding a mistake that "would further empower Israel's extreme right-wingers." Strenger also genially absolved Abbas from complicity in terror, although the worthy gentleman dispatched by the IDF in Qalqilya last week was a member of the PA's security apparat and responsible for recent shooting attacks on the IDF. Abbas however feels free to disregard Strenger's benevolent advice because he senses the desperation for a deal and - like the Iranians - he intends to exploit it.
Steven Klein, also in Haaretz, goes Strenger one better by actually agreeing with Abbas that a ten year Israeli military presence is an intolerable indignity to the Palestinians, and therefore the IDF presence must be replaced by American bayonets. Klein consoles Abbas by citing the Kosovo parallel: An American force will actually protect the Palestinians from Israel more than it will protect Israel from the Palestinians. Accept an American military presence, counsels Klein, and Israel will be subjected to overwhelming international pressure.
Klein is actually quite right about an American force complicating Israel's response to Palestinian terror, and that it would only provide an irritant to Israeli-American relations. This is indeed the major reason why Israel has consistently rejected such security substitutes. Fortunately for Israel, the idea of an additional American military presence in the Middle East is a non-starter, given American public opinion's hostility to further U.S. military involvement.
If Abbas' position is quite understandable, Benjamin Netanyahu's silence over the proposal is inexplicable. Netanyahu has occasionally described his desired outcome as 'Allon Plus', referring to the Labor Party's peace plan formulated by the late Yigal Allon that survived into the 1990s. The keystone to this plan was Israel's retention of the Jordan Valley. Appropriately enough, it was Labor rather than the Likud that was responsible for setting up the Jordan Valley communities, including its kibbutzim. The Kerry Plan means that these communities are slated for the chopping block, as in the interim period he envisages only military Israeli observation posts.
Tactically Netanyahu prefers a situation where Abbas scuttles the Kerry plan rather than Israel. But his fixation on lobbing the ball into the opponent's court is strategically self-defeating and deflects attention from putting points on the scoreboard. By failing to openly contest Kerry's proposal, Netanyahu helped consolidate the fiction that the territorial contours of a final agreement have already been decided. It was left to Israel's Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon to issue the correct and historically proven response: Israel cannot maintain a military presence without a civilian presence. This is what Netanyahu should have said, and he raises suspicions about his ultimate intentions by leaving such clarifications to others.
Dr. Amiel Ungar is a political scientist.