Australian-American former Ambassador Martin Indyk is the lead negotiator for Secretary of State John Kerry’s Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative. He heads a nearly all-Jewish American negotiating team, including David Makovsky, a “mapping expert” from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) spin-off Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). Indyk is currently briefing an array of Jewish leaders in the US about his plans while keeping them secret from everyone else. Scott McConnell has observed that the Israelis are characteristically screaming about being forced into an agreement even though they will get nearly everything they want.
As if to demonstrate that no good deed goes unrewarded, Israeli politicians have reviled Kerry in personal terms, leading to a rare rebuke by the White House, while a group of conservative rabbis has warned that God will destroy him. Meanwhile the corrupt Palestinian leaders will likely cave to US pressure in anticipation of the personal rewards they will receive when the donor cash begins to flow after an agreement is signed. The Palestinian people will get the sharp end of the stick.
Make no mistake, Kerry’s objective from the start has been to get the maximum possible for Israel while enticing the Palestinians to accept the barest minimum that will get them to agree to sign on to something. Even if Kerry wanted to be an honest broker he knows he can’t go that route because the Israel Lobby is so powerful and pro-Palestinian sentiment means nothing in terms of American elections. Kerry’s boss President Obama is looking at congressional elections later this year and would be extremely reluctant to antagonize Israel’s friends. So it is better to let the process limp along until the end of the year. If Kerry is very fortunate he might be able to give Israel a lopsided deal that would at least limit the incessant settlement expansion and just might create a modus vivendi that would not threaten to explode every couple of years. But more probably the peace process will again die a natural death, linked inexorably to the US two year election cycle.
There have been some suggestions regarding what the Kerry “framework” proposal might look like. In his secret talks with Jewish American leaders, Martin Indyk has indicated that three quarters of Israeli settlers would be able to stay on the West Bank, which is, in rough terms, 400,000 people. There would be swaps of land to accommodate the settlements by giving the Palestinians parcels of land that are currently regarded as part of Israel. The transfer of population would take place over a period of from three to five years.
Another key feature of the Kerry plan is to give money to Palestinians who were displaced by the Israelis in 1948 and 1967 in exchange for their giving up their right to return to their homes at some future point. Interestingly, money would also be given to Jews who fled their homes in Arab countries, not because they are now lacking homes, but to build political support inside Israel for some kind of agreement. Likewise settlers who are forced to leave their homes on the West Bank will be compensated. The possibly tens of billions of dollars needed will presumably come from Washington.
The Israelis are also insisting that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state,” a demand which Kerry and the president, at least rhetorically, appear to be supporting. They are also demanding that they exercise military control of the Jordan River Valley in any future arrangement, which is surely a deal breaker, but which might be parlayed into a joint US-NATO force providing security.
If it all sounds like a reasonable enough tit-for-tat arrangement that would serve as a jumping off point for further discussions, that is clearly the intention, but the devil is in the details. If Israel is a Jewish state then Muslims and Christians are only citizens or residents by sufferance, meaning that they have only limited rights in obtaining redress for actions undertaken by the Israeli government, including eventual expulsion if Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has his way. Ongoing negotiations from the “framework” would also prevent the Palestinians from going to the UN in September, an option feared by both Tel Aviv and Washington as overwhelming worldwide support for the Palestinian cause would be evident, fueling new demands for divestment and boycotts of Israel.
The Palestinians would also in principle be conceding control over the major settlement blocs that together cut them off from Jerusalem and also divide the West Bank nearly in quarters, bisecting the West Bank both to the north and south and also to the east and west. The Israeli intention to tighten its grip by expanding the key settlements was made clear last week when it announced approval for 558 new housing units in East Jerusalem, a sharp rebuff for Kerry and the Palestinians even as a framework agreement appears to be imminent.
If the Palestinians are allowed to declare part of East Jerusalem as their capital, it will be surrounded by Israel and possibly only accessible by Israeli military controlled roads. The settlements outside Jerusalem itself are largely built on good, arable land which is why they are located as they are, with access to water. In return the Palestinians will get unproductive land that that the Israelis do not want, carefully mapped out by David Makovsky.
Other possible details to be resolved along the way demonstrate that a Palestinian state would only have limited sovereignty. They include Israeli demands for the complete demilitarization of Palestine and possible control of its borders, Israeli management of scarce water resources, and Tel Aviv’s refusal to permit a Palestinian controlled airport. Jewish-only roads might also survive to link the settlements.
So it is a very bad deal for the Palestinians, but given the lack of effective leadership they have few options apart from a new resort to violence, and Kerry just might be able to convince them to take what they can get. I should think that if I were a Palestinian I would be throwing rocks and graduating up to hand grenades, if I could get hold of any. Living under any government requires an abridgement of freedom, something which we Americans have learned to our chagrin over the past thirteen years as we have watched our constitution shredded and our rights curtailed. But I think the measure of a tolerable arrangement between rulers and ruled is a situation in which there is at least a modicum of democratic self-determination. If you can push back against the government or vote to throw the bums out, even if you know it won’t change anything, it at least permits some self-respect.
Palestinians have nothing like that to fall back on. They are helpless in a confrontation with a ruthless and powerful enemy backed by the world’s only superpower. They have become the victims of the Israeli occupiers and also of their own leaders and an essentially indifferent United States. As an American I am ashamed of Washington’s role in the suppression of the Palestinian people. We too should be throwing rocks, but directed at Congress, the White House and the mainstream media, which have together caused our country to become a true heart of darkness.