With the breakdown of the talks so assiduously chaperoned by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, it first has to be said: Kerry put his heart into these negotiations, firmly believing that he was serving the best interests of Israel, the Palestinians and the United States. The interlocutors themselves, the Israelis and the Palestinians, may not have taken the negotiations as seriously.
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The declared aim of the negotiations, to bring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, stood in stark contradiction to the fact that President Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian interlocutor, represented at best no more than half the Palestinians and that the other half, Hamas, insisted that he did not represent the Palestinians at all and had no legitimate right to negotiate on their behalf. It was therefore clear to everyone but Kerry, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and some on the Israeli left that even if the improbable were to happen and an agreement were to be reached, it would only lead to further Palestinian demands and acts of Palestinian terror in support of these demands, and not to the end of the conflict.
Abbas knew only too well that he was in no position to commit himself to concessions or the end of the conflict, which explains his reluctance to engage in serious negotiations. To him the negotiations were simply a means to please the Americans and the Europeans and to get Israel to release more and more Palestinian terrorists. Finally, he demanded the release of Israeli citizens who had been tried and sentenced for acts of murder. In this he almost succeeded.
To the Netanyahu government, the endless and fruitless negotiations were a way to play along with Kerry’s feverish quest to attempt to reach an agreement, which was patently impossible, even to the point of releasing terrorists from prison and watching Abbas feting these murderers upon their release. It was assumed that reaching an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority was in America’s best interests, and that in consideration of the strong ties between Israel and the United States, Israel should be seen as making a serious effort to oblige its American ally. Whereas, in the years before the “Arab Spring” a case could be made that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the cause of hostility in the Arab world toward the United States, and that resolution of the conflict would strengthen America’s position in the Middle East, it has become clear in recent years that there is no basis to this hypothesis. On the contrary, an Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria, presumably the necessary condition for an agreement with Abbas, might very well lead to the violence in Syria spilling over into the evacuated areas, and even reaching into Jordan, something that would obviously be contrary not only to Israel’s interests, but also those of the United States.
For Kerry it was a serious business, for almost everyone else it not. The process became truly comical when Kerry suddenly introduced the possibility of the release of Jonathan Pollard as part of the give-and-take in the negotiations. America was presumably prepared to release Pollard in return for Israel agreeing to Abbas’ demands for the release of convicted Palestinian terrorists.
For years many American public figures had protested the extreme prison sentence that had been handed to Pollard, a sentence for which there was no precedent in the United States in trials of other spies. Successive U.S. presidents had insisted that they could not accede to the many pleas that he be pardoned. It was said that presidents had to respect the judgment handed down by the court and the opinion of senior security officials. Now all of this was suddenly swept away in order to further the release of Palestinian terrorists. The negotiations had turned into a farce.
Kerry has now called for a reality check. That is a check that needs to be made in Washington, in Jerusalem and in Ramallah.