Kerry (L) and Abbas
I came, I saw, and I was relieved – negotiations with the Palestinians are not on the horizon. This was the message relayed from Washington last week by Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon to the new "Greater Israel lobby" in the Knesset. The Arab initiative, he said, was a spin. Kerry's initiative has failed.
And he's right. The American secretary of state, who is mockingly referred to in Washington as the "minister for Middle Eastern affairs" due to the amount of time he is dedicating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has not been able to advance his project.
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Kerry has a lot of good will, but he has no understanding of the people he is up against in the region. Ya'alon, however, jumped for joy a bit prematurely. Kerry has not lost hope, and he still plans to present his peace plan towards September, before the annual Palestinian festival at the UN General Assembly.
Kerry began his term believing wholeheartedly that he can bring both sides back to the negotiation table, which is in the interest of the US. But he failed to understand that lobbying in the Middle East is vastly different from lobbying in Congress. He thought he would come here with a reasonable plan and two diligent aides and be able to move mountains. He quickly learned that if you do not leave a very proficient team in the region to continually pressure the sides – you haven't done anything.
Each time Kerry boarded the plane en route to another crisis somewhere in the world, both sides returned to the starting point. Kerry failed also because he focused, before anything else, on two core issues - borders and security. According to the American viewpoint, a solution to the borders issue will also resolve the settlements issue. But there is no Israeli prime minister who will agree to sign on the borders before receiving Palestinian commitments regarding the right of return.
Now starts the countdown until September. In case the sides do not resume negotiations, Abbas will have three options: The first – to disappear from the scene entirely; the second possibility is going to the UN, ask to be recognized as a member of dozens more of its organizations and complain against Israel to the International Criminal Court in The Hague; Abbas' third option is to reconcile with Hamas (the reconciliation has been delayed in part due to the chances that peace talks with Israel would resume). But there is another possibility as well: The Palestinian street may act in contradiction to Abbas' strategy, bypass him and ignite the region.
The Americans fear all of these scenarios. They are currently setting up work teams to deal with each core issue. The teams will be sent to the field and accompany Kerry's dialogue. The top US diplomat will make an effort to present an outline for a peace agreement by the end of the summer, but to achieve this he needs both sides to start moving and take trust-building steps. The Americans are also discussing plans to build infrastructure in the territories, including Area C.
So, Ya'alon, the time is not ripe for opening champagne bottles in celebration of Kerry's failure. Remember the message Netanyahu conveyed to Abbas as he addressed the Knesset: Give peace a chance.