Dear John, It's Time for Plan B

After promising peace, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry must find a way to deliver.

Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit
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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, Friday, Dec. 13, 2013.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, Friday, Dec. 13, 2013.Credit: AP
Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit

A few months ago, I had a chance to hear U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speak in Washington. The hall was crowded with skeptical Israelis. We’ve all been through Oslo. We’ve all been through Camp David. We all remember Annapolis. We all remember the withdrawal from Lebanon and the disengagement too. Our expectations of the Middle East are close to zero. Our hope regarding peace — next to none. We’re all jaded cynics.

And yet, when the tall, presidential secretary of state stood behind the podium and spoke, an electrifying silence prevailed. It was impossible not to be impressed by the resolve of this man of peace to bring peace. It was impossible not to be captivated by the moral force he radiated. For a moment, it seemed that maybe the mission was not impossible, maybel reality was not so grim. As long as Kerry spoke, there was hope in the hall.

But there were also question marks. Do the Americans really know what they’re doing? Have they really been able to extract from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an indirect agreement to the principle of 1967? Have they realy persuaded Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to accept, indirectly, the idea of the Jewish state? Do they really have a security plan that solves the difficult problem of the Jordan Valley? Do they have a creative solution for Jerusalem and an ingenious solution for the refugees and a generous economic package that will tempt even the rejectionists? In other words, do they know whom they’re talking with and what they’re talking about?

Does the surprising optimism they’re broadcasting reflect reality, or is it merely an attempt to shape reality?

The misgivings were deep. We’ve all learned to know Netanyahu and Abbas. We all know the natives of this hard country are much more cunning than most of the decent foreigners trying to save them from themselves. So there was good reason to suspect that both the Israelis and Palestinians are singing for the noble American Kerry the operatic peace aria he wants to hear — without really intending to make peace.

There was good reason to believe that all the Israelis are doing is waiting for the Palestinian fraud to be exposed first, while all the Palestinians are doing is waiting for the Israeli fraud to be discovered first. But Kerry and his team promised this is not the case. That this time it’s real. That in 2014, peace is really within reach.

So now – when the sky falls – the Americans must not falter. They have lost the right to surrender. The expectations have been raised too high, and the risks that have been created are too great. They can’t just get up and go. They can’t cave in to the tragic determinism of no way out.

After Kerry decided to defy fate and confront it, he cannot fold the flags, declare a failure and go home. The inspiring things he said in Washington obligate him. The promise he transmitted binds him. Defeat is not an option.

The next few days are critical. Any idea that could buy time and extend the negotiation period must be welcomed. Pollard, Barghouti, a freeze — every stone must be turned and every wheel invented to prevent an immediate landslide and to stabilize a timeframe of six months or a year to enable returning to the room and dealing with the challenge of the conflict.

But beyond that, one must start thinking outside the box. Plan A had its chance but did not work out. Dear John, it’s time to see reality as it is and deal with it with resourcefulness and courage. You must now show the same moral resolve with which you advanced a final-status arrangement to promote another kind of agreement, which will advance us in another way toward peace.

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