Secretary of State John Kerry and special envoy Martin Indyk have been meeting and talking with groups of American Jews in an effort to "sell" the interim deal Mr. Kerry plans to put on the table for Israel and the Palestinians. With Mr. Kerry acting as the "bad cop" and Mr. Indyk as the "good," they want the Americans to press the democratically elected government of Israel to accept the deal even if the Netanyahu government doesn't find it secure and responsible to do so. This is in keeping with the apparent belief in the administration that American Jews are both responsible for Israeli policy decisions and subject to them, but it is a poor way to approach American citizens and a very poor way to understand the independence of the government of Israel, which answers to its citizens.
And here is why they are doing it.
Secretary Kerry took Israel's primary requirement -- "secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force" (the language of UN Resolution 242) -- off the negotiating table.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and special envoy Martin Indyk at a July 29, 2013 press conference in Washington, D.C. (Image source: U.S. State Department)
UN Res 242 was directed at the Arab States, not the Palestinians (who were referred to only as "refugees"); and not only were the Arabs required to provide "secure and recognized boundaries," but also "termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area," reversing their 1948 rejection of the legitimacy of Jewish sovereignty.
But Mr. Kerry told his Jewish audience at the White House, "One of the lynchpins of the current peace process is the separation of Israel's security assurances from the general negotiations," He told them security assurances would be guaranteed in a "separate agreement" with the U.S. In that sentence, he eviscerated possibly the last remaining fundamental promise of the international community to the State of Israel.
Under Kerry's new formulation, Israel's sovereign legitimacy and secure boundaries do not have to be recognized by the Arab states, the Palestinians or anyone else; just determined, accepted and guaranteed by the United States. And for how long is unclear. Palestinian leaders have indicated that they might be amenable to international forces for two or three years, but then they want everyone out. That should be just about the time the U.S. decides it wants to end another war "responsibly."
The Israeli government vociferously objects to the notion of international troops filling in the security gap that would be created if Israel withdraws from vital territory in the face of continuing hostility from the newly independent State of Palestine as well as from the Arab states. That is not an objection American Jews should try to paper over, because the consequence of failure will accrue to Israelis, not to American Jews.
Secretary Kerry also told his Jewish audience he "fears for Israel's future if a deal isn't reached." His fears are nothing to sneeze at -- they distinctly resemble threats, and he has been waving them around at least since last summer, when, before a meeting with Israel's President, he pronounced Israel's prosperity an impediment to peace. "I think there is an opportunity [for peace], but for many reasons it's not on the tips of everyone's tongue. People in Israel aren't waking up every day and wondering if tomorrow there will be peace because there is a sense of security and a sense of accomplishment and of prosperity."
It is appalling, to say the least, to have an American Secretary of State suggest Jews value prosperity over a peaceful future for their children.
He followed up in November with two not-very-veiled threats. First, "If we do not find a way to peace, there will be an increasing isolation of Israel, there will be an increasing campaign of delegitimization of Israel that's been taking place on an international basis." Second, "The alternative to getting back to the [peace] talks is the potential of chaos," Kerry said. "Does Israel want a "third intifada?"
Israel was, at that moment, actually facing a spike in Palestinian violence. To Israeli political commentator Alon Ben David, suggesting that Palestinian violence would be a price Israel would have to pay for rejecting the American position was more than a mistake. "This isn't an intifada yet (but)...there is an atmosphere that appears to be encouraging these incidents."
Minister of Strategic Security Yuval Steinitz echoed Ben David's concern this weekend. "The things ... Kerry said are hurtful, they are unfair and they are intolerable. Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with a gun to its head when we are discussing the matters which are most critical to our national interests."
In neither case did it seem to occur to Mr. Kerry that the better position for the United States would be to stand firmly by its friend and ally, Israel, rejecting both violence and boycott. No, Mr. Kerry has simply warned Israel that it will suffer severe consequences for its failure to do as the U.S. determines best, regardless of the behavior of those who wish it ill, plan to do it ill and are prepared to follow through.
No wonder he needed former Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk to cheer up the Jews. Indyk is said to have been upbeat in a telephone meeting (it was "off the record," but at least four participants spoke to reporters), with Israel getting "75-80% of Israeli settlers inside Israel; recognition as 'the nation state of the Jewish people,' compensation for Jewish refugees from Arab land while the Palestinian refugees also get 'compensation.'" There was no apparent mention of a "right of return."
It is difficult to square Indyk's 75-80% with expressed Palestinian anger over houses being built in the largest town and villages of the "settlement blocs" that will apparently, according to Indyk, remain in Israel. PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said, "Israel is destroying chances of peace... There is no possibility of peace with such actions and plans." It is also hard to square the 75-80% with Kerry's formulation of a Palestinian State in the 1967 borders with "agreed upon land swaps." And there appears to be no way to square Indyk's formulation of the "nation state of the Jewish people" with Abbas's public refusal to contemplate that.
Indyk slid over the difficulties by noting that the parties could accept the American document "with reservations" without killing the deal. So while the U.S. may have included clauses American Jews appreciate, the Palestinians are free to reject Jewish nationalism, settlers, and borders. And, of course, that pesky UN Resolution requiring "secure and recognized boundaries."
Secretary Kerry the "bad cop" and Ambassador Indyk the "good cop" are threatening, cajoling and playing all the angles in an effort to create American Jewish leverage to replace the policies of the government of Israel with the policies of the Obama Administration.