Jun 12th 2013

Kerry’s Last Ditch Effort

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

In his upcoming visit to Israel and Palestine, Secretary of State John Kerry will attempt a last-ditch effort to persuade Israel’s Prime Minster Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority’s President Abbas to resume peace negotiations. If there is, however, the slightest chance of getting the two sides to start talking it would require substantial American pressure and commitment to see the peace process through.

Given the regional turmoil, especially in Syria, the question is will the US be prepared to invest that much time and political capital on an uncertain venture when it must now focus on the far more urgent conflict that has the potential to spark regional conflagration.

Moreover, while a small chance may exist to resume the negotiations, neither Netanyahu nor Abbas have a political strategy in place, nor are they taking action on the ground to suggest that they are ready and willing to reach an agreement.

In fact, they have assumed certain positions and pursued policies that have impeded rather than advanced the peace process. Sadly, both Netanyahu and Abbas lack the vision and the courage to change course, depriving their own people of the opportunity to realize their aspirations for peace.

This theme on leadership was pointedly cited by President Nixon in his 1982 book Leaders: “Prescience — knowing which way to lead — lies at the heart of great leadership. The very wordleader implies the ability to act as the guide, to see beyond the present in charting a course into the future.”

Netanyahu is an ideologue who has no known political strategy for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and no clue where his policies of expansionism and militarization will lead to in 10 or 15 years.

He is fixated on maintaining a strategy of deterrence, backed by a superior military prowess that can simultaneously tackle military confrontations on multiple fronts while making Israel a military garrison surrounded by fences and walls.

Publicly, he insists that Israel is not an occupying power and that Israel has an inalienable right to the whole “land of Israel” (Israel plus all Palestinian territories). Furthermore, he does not accept the 1967 borders as the basis for negotiating a two-state solution.

He argues that the Palestinians cannot be trusted and that Israel’s national security depends on defensible borders which of “necessity” requires the annexation of a substantial part of the West Bank.

On the practical level, he has and continues to be an ardent advocate of building new and expanding existing settlements; he provides massive financial assistance to settlers and devotes substantial resources for their security.

Meanwhile, he continues to restrict Palestinian movement, limits Israeli-Palestinian interaction and cooperation, and inhibits joint economic projects and mutual visitations between Israelis and Palestinians which serve to build the very trust which he claims is lacking.

Conversely, President Abbas has for some time been a strong advocate of a two-state solution and sought to achieve it through peaceful means. Other than maintaining the calm, though, he did little to prepare the public for peaceful coexistence.

He insisted on a total freeze on building new and expanding existing settlements. When Netanyahu finally agreed, under American pressure, to freeze settlement activity for a year in 2009, he waited 10 months before agreeing to enter negotiations which lasted only two months, to no avail.

While he painted himself into a corner by insisting on a complete freeze on settlements as a precondition to resuming negotiations, he sought and succeeded to elevate the Palestinian status at the United Nations General Assembly to a non-voting observer state.

Although this might have been the right move to make, it made little headway as it has further hardened the Israelis’ position on the settlements problem and been found unhelpful by the Americans who insisted that only direct negotiations could advance the peace process.

Politically, Abbas is deeply troubled by Hamas’ rancorous rivalry with Fatah and its insistence on continuing militant resistance to Israel, which inhibited his ability to maneuver politically and increased his political vulnerability. To make up for his precarious political standing, he negotiated a unity agreement with Hamas which remains unfulfilled and has further soured relations with Israel.

He remains saddled by pervasive corruption, constrained by continuing financial hardships and infighting within his immediate circle. He failed to support his former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, an internationally respected economist, to press for more reforms and stem corruption. Instead, Abbas made his displeasure with Fayyad public knowledge, which led the latter to resign in April 2013.

On the practical level, he continues to promote untenable goals such as the right of return of the Palestinian refugees, giving the Palestinians false hope. Although this was more rhetorical than real, he gave the Israelis another reason to doubt his sincerity.

He turned a blind eye to the systematic maligning of Israel in schools, denying Israel’s very existence in textbooks while winking to the Palestinian media that portrays Israel as the source of all evil.

Even a cursory review of the strategic, political and practical approaches that Netanyahu and Abbas pursue explains why they insist on a negotiating strategy that fits their political position and the respective negative public perception they have shaped.

For all intents and purposes, Netanyahu does not accept the two-state solution and is merely paying lip service to Kerry’s efforts in order to not further alienate the Obama administration.

He borrowed a page or two from the Iranians by playing for time, which is evident in his insistence on restarting the negotiations unconditionally, which in and of itself is a precondition.

Should the negotiations resume under his terms, Netanyahu will certainly seek to first negotiate peripheral issues such as water or discuss trust-building measures, and avoid any substantive matters, especially borders, to define the parameters of two states.

Although Abbas’ demand to freeze settlements activity in advance of the resumption of negotiations is justifiable, in hindsight, Abbas made a major tactical mistake by not dropping his precondition of the settlements freeze and calling Netanyahu’s bluff.

Unfortunately, instead of siding with Netanyahu to commence the negotiations unconditionally, Mr. Kerry should have insisted on negotiating mutually accepted rules of engagement that could offer, at least, a precedent for future negotiations and even a chance for making modest progress.

Ideally, Mr. Kerry should be able to persuade both Netanyahu and Abbas to abandon any preconditions, clearly identify the conflicting issues, the order in which they should be negotiated, and a timeframe to prevent protracted negotiations.

Starting with borders would clearly be the most practical way, as negotiating borders first would define the parameters of the Palestinian state, which is the single most important issue to be agreed upon.

Moreover, an agreement on borders would resolve at least 75% of the settlement problem; establishing the extent of the land swap would also demonstrate the seriousness of both sides to reach an agreement.

An American presence at the negotiating table at all times would demonstrably show which side, if any, is indeed committed to reaching an agreement. The failure to agree on such principled rules of engagement should leave no doubt as to where Netanyahu and Abbas stand.

The irony here is that repeated polls taken during the past decade consistently show that a majority of Israelis and Palestinians want peace based on a two-state solution. Yet both Netanyahu and Abbas are delaying the inevitable, perhaps at a terrible cost in blood and treasure to their people.

Although I believe that a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains central to regional stability, the horrifying turmoil in Syria and its potential to engulf other states in the region will likely trump the relative calm on the Israeli-Palestinian front.

Thus, should Netanyahu and Abbas fail to seize Obama’s likely last effort to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace, Secretary Kerry may well abandon his mediating efforts.

The Israeli and Palestinian peoples will have to await the rise of wise and visionary leaders, unshackled by the illusions of their predecessors, leaders who can muster the courage to chart a new path to a peaceful coexistence.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "That long path, though, has from the start had within it one fundamental flaw. If we are to make sense of wider global trends in insecurity, we have to recognise that in all the analysis around the 9/11 anniversary there lies the belief that the main security concern must be with an extreme version of Islam. It may seem a reasonable mistake, given the impact of the wars, but it still misses the point. The war on terror is better seen as one part of a global trend which goes well beyond a single religious tradition – a slow but steady move towards revolts from the margins."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Is it not extraordinary that in a country that claims to be as enlightened and advanced as ours, the combined wealth of three individuals – Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and investor Warren Buffett – exceeds the total wealth of the bottom half of Americans? One has to return to the days of the pharaohs of Egypt to find a parallel to the extreme wealth inequality that we see in in America today." ...... "The top tax rate remained above 90 percent through the 1950s and did not dip below 70 percent until 1981. At no point during the decades that saw America’s greatest economic growth did the tax on the wealthy drop below 70 percent. Today it is somewhere around 37 percent. President Biden’s American Families Plan would increase the top tax rate to 39.6 percent – a fairly modest alteration, albeit in the right direction. It is true that there was a time when the top marginal tax was even lower than it is today: in the years leading up to the Great Depression it hovered around 25 percent."
Sep 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "But Biden can’t be blamed for the rise of the Taliban, or the fragile state of a country that has seen far too many wars and invasions. The US should not have been there in the first place, but that is a lesson that great powers never seem to learn."
Sep 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "The world is only starting to grapple with how profound the artificial-intelligence revolution will be. AI technologies will create waves of progress in critical infrastructure, commerce, transportation, health, education, financial markets, food production, and environmental sustainability. Successful adoption of AI will drive economies, reshape societies, and determine which countries set the rules for the coming century." ----- "AI will reorganize the world and change the course of human history. The democratic world must lead that process."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Although the Fed is considering tapering its quantitative easing (QE), it will likely remain dovish and behind the curve overall. Like most central banks, it has been lured into a “debt trap” by the surge in private and public liabilities (as a share of GDP) in recent years. Even if inflation stays higher than targeted, exiting QE too soon could cause bond, credit, and stock markets to crash. That would subject the economy to a hard landing, potentially forcing the Fed to reverse itself and resume QE." ---- "After all, that is what happened between the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, following the Fed’s previous attempt to raise rates and roll back QE."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Today’s economic challenges are certainly solvable, and there is no reason why inflation should have to spike."
Aug 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, they have focused on their agenda, which is totally misguided—not by our own account but by the account of the majority of the American population, who view the Republican party as one that has lost its moral footing to the detriment of America’s future generations, who must now inherit the ugly consequences of a party that ran asunder."
Aug 21st 2021
EXTRACTS: "Now that so many sad truths about Afghanistan are being spoken aloud, even in the major media – let me add one more: The war, from start to finish, was about politics, not in Afghanistan but in the United States. Afghanistan was always a sideshow."--- "....the 2001 invasion was fast and apparently decisive. And so it rescued George W. Bush’s tainted presidency,..." --- "Bush’s approval shot up to 90% and then steadily declined,..."
Aug 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The Taliban’s virtually uncontested takeover over Afghanistan raises obvious questions about the wisdom of US President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw US and coalition forces from the country. Paradoxically, however, the rapidity and ease of the Taliban’s advance only reaffirms that Biden made the right decision – and that he should not reverse course. ...... The ineffectiveness and collapse of Afghanistan’s military and governing institutions largely substantiates Biden’s skepticism that US-led efforts to prop up the government in Kabul would ever enable it to stand on its own feet. The international community has spent nearly 20 years, many thousands of lives, and trillions of dollars to do good by Afghanistan – taking down al-Qaeda; beating back the Taliban; supporting, advising, training, and equipping the Afghan military; bolstering governing institutions; and investing in the country’s civil society. .... Significant progress was made, but not enough." ....... "That is because the mission was fatally flawed from the outset. It was a fool’s errand to try to turn Afghanistan into a centralized, unitary state. "
Aug 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "But even in the US, which is more lenient than most countries, the principle cannot be absolute. Inciting imminent violence is not permitted. Donald Trump’s speech on January 6, urging the mob to storm the US Capitol, certainly came close to overstepping this boundary. It was a clear demonstration that language can be dangerous. What the internet media has done is raise the stakes; “fighting words” are spread around much faster and more widely than ever before. This will require a great deal of vigilance, to protect our freedom to express ourselves, while observing the social and legal bounds that stop words from turning into actual fighting. "
Jul 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "When it comes to the Chinese economy, I have been a congenital optimist for over 25 years. But now I have serious doubts. The Chinese government has taken dead aim at its dynamic technology sector, the engine of China’s New Economy. Its recent actions are symptomatic of a deeper problem: the state’s efforts to control the energy of animal spirits." ---- "... the Chinese economy, no less than others, still requires a foundation of trust – trust in the consistency of leadership priorities, in transparent governance, and in wise regulatory oversight – to flourish. --- Modern China lacks this foundation of trust ."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "It seems that they are, as the last 18 months have seen a remarkable expansion of the central banks’ fields of activity, largely driven by their own ambitions. So they have moved into the climate change arena, arguing that financial stability may be put at risk by rising temperatures, and that central banks, as bond purchasers and as banking supervisors, can and should be proactive in raising the cost of credit for corporations without a credible transition plan. That is a promising new line of business, which is likely to grow. ---- Central banks are also trying to move into social engineering, specifically the policy response to rising income and wealth inequality, another hot button topic with high political salience."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "The EU’s ambitious unilateral climate strategy will transform Europe into a trade fortress, encourage green protectionism worldwide, and give other regions the opportunity to develop using cheaper energy. And without China, India, and the United States on board, other countries will be careful not to follow the EU in its self-appointed role as the world’s green guinea pig. If Europe is not careful, it will risk finding itself in a climate club of one. "
Jul 9th 2021
EXTRACT: ".... ruminants belch and fart methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. As a result, rearing beef cattle brings about, on average, six times the contribution to global warming as non-ruminant animals (for example, pigs) producing the same quantity of protein. ..... if projected to 2050 [beef production], would use 87% of the total quantity of emissions that is compatible with the Paris climate agreement’s objective of staying below a 2° Celsius increase in temperature."
Jul 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " .... while China’s leaders never mention it, they are just as embittered over Russia’s theft of Chinese territory in the nineteenth century as they are over the West’s imperial predations. With Western imperialism having been largely rolled back, it is Russia’s continued occupation of historic Chinese territory that stands out the most to ordinary Chinese observers. For example, the city of Vladivostok, with its vast naval base, has been a part of Russia only since 1860, when the tsars built a military harbor there. Before that, the city was known by the Manchu name of Haishenwai." ---- "There is also a demographic argument for Putin to consider: the six million Russians spread along the Siberian border face 90 million Chinese on the other side. And many of these Chinese regularly cross the border into Russia to trade (and a good number to stay)."
Jul 7th 2021
EXTRACTS: "According to a new analysis by researchers at Brown University, America’s two-decade war in Afghanistan cost it nearly $2.3 trillion. Now, Afghanistan’s neighbors – Pakistan, Iran, China, India, and the Central Asian countries – are wondering just how much it will cost them to maintain security after the United States is gone." ----- "After clandestinely supporting the Taliban as a means to undermine the US war effort, Russia now fears broader destabilization in Central Asia and beyond." ---- "Similarly, after having made nice with the Taliban, China also now fears the greater regional instability that the US withdrawal may incite. In addition to disrupting Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Eurasia-spanning Belt and Road Initiative, a revitalized Taliban could re-energize the Islamist extremist threat in China’s western Xinjiang province."
Jul 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "When former Fed Chair Paul Volcker hiked rates to tackle inflation in 1980-82, the result was a severe double-dip recession in the United States and a debt crisis and lost decade for Latin America. But now that global debt ratios are almost three times higher than in the early 1970s, any anti-inflationary policy would lead to a depression, rather than a severe recession. ---- Under these conditions, central banks will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t, and many governments will be semi-insolvent and thus unable to bail out banks, corporations, and households. The doom loop of sovereigns and banks in the eurozone after the global financial crisis will be repeated worldwide, sucking in households, corporations, and shadow banks as well. ---- As matters stand, this slow-motion train wreck looks unavoidable."
Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: " I remember recounting fellow leaders of the story of a Rwanda schoolboy caught up in the genocide of the 1990s and now immortalized in the Kigali Genocide Memorial museum, where, in a section devoted to children, one can find his photograph and a plaque that reads: ----- David, age 11 ...... Ambition: to be a doctor ...... Favorite sport: football ...... Favorite hobby: making people laugh ...... Death: by mutilation ...... Last words: the UN are coming to save us ----- In his idealism and innocence, David believed the international community would save him and his mother. We didn’t. "