Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempt to exercise leadership in world affairs by jump-starting peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority greatly misreads the climate of Mideast geopolitics and is based on the fundamental fallacy that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the key to regional stability. His actions ignore important past lessons learned and threaten to further destabilize the region.
Kerry’s supporters argue that we should be willing to take great risks for peace. We fully agree, with one caveat: that the two negotiating sides actually have the authority and good faith to deliver what they promise. This is simply not the case with the Palestinians.
For its part, Israel has repeatedly shown itself willing to make tremendous sacrifices to live peaceably with its Arab neighbors. This explains why Israel agreed to give up the territory of Judea and Samaria (the original name of the West Bank) to the Arabs in 1948 despite being promised this land and in spite of the unique historical, religious, moral and legal claims Jews had to it.
At enormous risk to itself Israel also offered to return the West Bank, which it had captured in a defensive war, in 1967, 2000 and 2007. Needless to say, these offers were all rejected. In 2005 and against sage advice, Israel uprooted thousands of citizens and turned over the Gaza Strip to the Palestinians with no strings attached. The disastrous result – the establishment of a Palestinian terrorist mini-state run by missile-lobbing jihadists sworn to the destruction of the Jews, Israel, and the West – is now well known.
It is likely that Kerry will try to pressure Israel into returning to the 1948 armistice line as a starting point for negotiations. While Gaza remains a limited danger for now, the 1948 lines would pose an existential threat because it would give Palestinians control of land whose commanding heights make all of Israel vulnerable, especially at its slender nine-mile waist. Even in the most optimistic of times, Israelis would need to take a giant leap of faith that accepting this so-called Auschwitz border would lead to real peace and not national suicide. These are definitely not such times.
Split politically, ideologically and geographically, the Palestinian leadership is warring among itself. Mahmoud Abbas, their leader in the West Bank, is a corrupt, nasty despot with little public support who has continued indoctrinating his people with genocidal Jew hatred, contempt for Jewish historical links to Israel and maximalist demands that are incompatible with peaceful resolution of the conflict. His minister of religion recently compared peace treaties with Israel to the ancient Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, a reference to the tradition that Muslims may break agreements with infidels as soon as they gain the upper hand.
In short, Abbas has done everything in his power to prevent Palestinians from preparing for peace. This point cannot be overemphasized because the recent Arab uprisings teach us that peace treaties must have the support of the Arab people and not just their dictators, who can be swept away overnight.
In light of all this, Kerry’s near obsession in pushing hard for peace negotiations at this precise moment – when the Arab world is melting down and Iran grows ever closer to obtaining nuclear weapons – is troublesome. The inevitable failure of negotiations will accelerate the decline of American prestige and influence in the Mideast and make Israel less safe. Already the Obama administration has twisted Israel’s arm to release from its prisons terrorists with blood on their hands as a pre-negotiation goodwill gesture. As with past releases, the likelihood is that Israelis will die. Failed negotiations will also offer an excuse for Palestinian violence and intransigence like what occurred after Camp David in 2000.
Such outcomes are presumably the opposite of what Kerry seeks to achieve but will nonetheless be the most likely result of his efforts.