Kerry Can Survive Failure, but Can Israel?

John Kerry's peace plan is the very last time that Israel will be offered an agreement sympathetic to its concerns.

S. Daniel Abraham
S. Daniel Abraham
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S. Daniel Abraham
S. Daniel Abraham

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace mission is approaching its moment of truth, but the Israeli public remains indifferent. Over the years it has experienced American peace envoys arrive with excitement only to leave in bitter disappointment.

This thought pattern leads many in Israel to believe that even after Kerry leaves other U.S. emissaries will try their luck. Such thinking is misguided. For the foreseeable future, Kerry is likely to be the last American who tries to make peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

My many years of involvement in the peace process teach me that the approaching decision is unlike previous ones. This is a watershed moment after which Israel will face a completely different situation – one which will be governed by new realities much less favorable than those Israel faces today. If Kerry’s mission fails, Israel will miss a historic window of opportunity to achieve an agreement that is optimal from its viewpoint. In the future, Israel may be forced to accept a bad agreement or live without an agreement, thereby compromising its Jewish or democratic character.

If this round of negotiations fails, the United States will probably disengage from further attempts to bring about an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. The vacuum will be filled by other actors such as the UN Security Council. Unlike the United States, these actors have no great affection for Israel. Israeli interests will not receive as much positive attention as they do when Washington is in charge of the political process. Take, for example, U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary Kerry’s tremendous efforts to understand and address Israel’s security needs. They recruited John Allen, a retired four-star Marine Corps general, to lead 160 military and intelligence experts to devise a plan, in consultation with the Israel Defense Forces, to make the border on the Jordan River the most secure in the world.

If Kerry’s mission fails, Israel will be mistaken to assume that America will automatically veto every decision brought to the UN Security Council. Especially if such decisions correspond more or less to Washington’s perception of the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel will discover that America’s patience with friends who demand its help while simultaneously ignore its interests is shorter than before. And it’s no secret that the United States believes that the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict significantly harms U.S. national security interests.

U.S. demographics are changing and as a result the automatic sympathy Israel enjoys in the U.S. has greater potential of eroding. Even the support of American Jewry is not guaranteed. The high rate of assimilation combined with an aversion to Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank is distancing young Jews from Israel and causing them to become less and less involved and identified with Israel.

Israel’s official spokespeople often complain about the excessive attention given to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the world stage. They tend to forget that this excessive attention is the foundation of the generous foreign assistance that the Palestinians have received for all these years.

What will happen when the flow of donations recedes? Who will bear the financial responsibility for the fate of the Palestinians living under Israeli rule? Indeed, the donor countries are increasingly fed up. The Europeans, for example, believe their aid is funding the Israeli occupation. The possible failure of Kerry’s mission could lead to the increasing erosion of donor assistance, transferring responsibility solely to Israel. The Palestinian camp calling for the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority will be strengthened. If that happens, Israel will be responsible for the health, education, employment and sewage of the Palestinians living in the West Bank.

Without an agreement, we will witness the weakening of the moderate Palestinian camp that prefers a negotiated agreement with Israel and opposes terror. The one-state-for-two-peoples paradigm could become the preferred and practical option while violence most probably will escalate on the ground. The Palestinians will cease their independence campaign and will turn it into an anti-apartheid one. This will be an international media and PR battle that Israel cannot win.

If Israel continues with its policy of settlement expansion and is viewed as not being forthcoming with the Palestinians, Israel’s friends will then be hard pressed to counter the treacherous international efforts to isolate it. Unfortunately, economic and legal sanctions against Israel and Israelis will become prevalent. Ultimately, Israel will find itself on the defendant’s seat in international tribunals. The delegitimization campaign against it will worsen. Isolation will grow. Friends will become few. Even though Israel won’t be solely responsible, it will still have to face this difficult reality.

Such calamitous scenarios can still be avoided. The negotiations can succeed. After all, Israel needs an internationally recognized border to retain its Jewish and democratic character. To achieve such borders Israel needs a peace agreement based on two-states. Such an agreement will also grant Israel full normalization with the entire Arab and Muslim world, as the Arab Peace Initiative stipulates.

The failure of Kerry’s mission will not start the countdown for the next emissary’s arrival. It will mark a dramatic milestone in Israel’s history and identity. Israel will not become the awe-inspiring nation it can be. Rather, it will be a ruptured country losing its Jewish and democratic identity and becoming increasingly estranged from its own sons and daughters, as well as from the world community. Kerry can survive the failure of his mission. But the price for Israel will be dire.

S. Daniel Abraham is an American entrepreneur and founder of the Center for Middle East Peace in Washington. Follow the center on Twitter: @AbrahamCenter.

Kerry will be the last sympathetic emissary the United States send in the foreseeable future. Credit: Reuters

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