Kerry. Impressive political maneuver
Prof. Alex Mintz
Photo: Yotam Frum
No one in Israel took John Kerry seriously at the beginning of the peace process when he said he would bring the Israelis and the Palestinians to the negotiating table. But Henry Kissinger has already said that in Israel there is no foreign policy, only domestic politics which determines a foreign policy.
The difference between Kerry and his predecessor, Senator George Mitchell, who tried to lead a similar move in Obama's first term but failed, is that Kerry realized the critical importance of political obstacles to the agreement right away, and in an impressive political maneuver he managed to get both us and the Palestinians to the negotiating tables, which seemed impossible at the time. How did Kerry do it and what does it say about the chances of the American movement at this time?
Mitchell, the former American special envoy for Mideast peace, banged his head against a brick wall for two years, starting off with a demand that Israel freeze settlements, a move which Netanyahu did not have a political majority for in the cabinet, and proceeding with a demand that Abbas give up on issues like the right of return. Mitchell managed to get a settlement freeze for nine months, but no more.
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Unlike him, at the first stage Kerry set aside the issues he had no chance of gaining concessions on from either side. He brought up a completely different aspect – the release of Palestinian terrorists – which both sides could live with politically. The division into four stages was also smart, as Abbas turns a blind eye to the Israeli declarations on ongoing construction in the territories in order to continue the flow of released murderers. The government in Israel, on its part, does not fall apart as long as there is no decision on freezing construction or negotiations based on the 1967 lines.
Kerry managed to maneuver between the political obstacles of both sides, and that's also the way he'll pursue. In order to increase the public support for the agreement in Israel, he pulled a rabbit out of his hat and added compensation for Jewish families which arrived in Israel from Arab countries as refugees. By doing so, he is trying to conquer another large population group in Israel, which he wants to recruit in favor of the agreement. He is not imposing the compensation issue on the parties but leaving it for the Americans and others to handle.
Kerry also brought Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, a significant force in the coalition, closer. He also sought and obtained Lapid's support for the process. Kerry understands politics. Based on the saying "by wise counsel thou shalt make thy war," one can say that Kerry is trying to make peace using wise tricks.
In a calculated manner, his envoy Martin Indyk reveals the details of the agreement first and foremost to a senior group of US Jews in order to gain their support or at least remove their objection to the agreement. That is how the framework agreement is made public, allowing the two sides to add their reservations.
Economic bonanza lies within Gulf statesKerry and Indyk are sowing optimistic statements when they determine that the move will succeed, thereby trying to gain public support for an agreement, and even more so, to increase the cost of failure for the parties, which will not want to take the blame. He is also warning that a failure will lead to a European boycott of Israel, increasing the price of failure.
If Kerry goes on this way, by identifying and understanding the sides' political barriers on every issue and in every stage, he will be able to reach an achievement. In the short term, a framework agreement will provide a momentum for continuing the process as far as he is concerned.
Kerry has something to offer Netanyahu on the channels which are most important to the prime minister – in the powers' negotiations with Iran – as Kerry is navigating the moves on the nuclear issue, as well as on the elimination of chemical weapons in Syria. He has something to sell and to leverage, and so it's too early to eulogize the move John Kerry is leading.
As far as Israel is concerned, it's better to get the Arab League involved in the negotiations in addition to the Palestinians, because with the concessions Israel makes – if it does make – to the Palestinians in an agreement, it will be possible to get a much bigger prize from the Arab League – a normalization of the relations with all Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia, as well as with other Arab League members. That is where the State of Israel's huge economic bonanza lies. This prize should be included in every future agreement rather than be left as a vague and undefined consequence of an agreement.
Prof. Alex Mintz is the dean of the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya and an expert on strategic-political negotiations