Peace Talks Fail, Blame Game Begins

Juan Cole catches John Kerry publicly pinning the failure of the Mideast peace process on Israel:

Note that actually Kerry attributed the breakdown to two separate Israeli moves. One was to decline to release the remaining 25 or so Palestinian prisoners jailed before 1993, whose release had been agreed to in the Oslo Peace Accords (a pledge on which Israel reneged, as it did on the whole Oslo process), and which Israel had undertaken to free last August. The second was the announcement of 700 new squatter homes in Palestinian East Jerusalem by fanatical Israeli expansionist, Housing Minister Uri Ariel.

The State Department rushed to affirm that Kerry blamed both sides for the collapse of his talks, but he was pretty plain about what he thought actually happened.

An apoplectic Jonathan Tobin asks why Kerry would make such a “disingenuous” and “mendacious” statement:

Kerry doesn’t want to blame the Palestinians for walking out because to do so would be a tacit admission that his critics were right when they suggested last year that he was embarking on a fool’s errand.

The division between the Fatah-run West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza has created a dynamic which makes it almost impossible for Abbas to negotiate a deal that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn even if he wanted to. Since Kerry hopes to entice the Palestinians back to the talks at some point, blaming Israel also gives him leverage to demand more concessions from the Jewish state to bribe Abbas to negotiate.

In a thoughtful, pessimistic reflection on the peace process last week, Matt Steinglass doubted that the US would ever force Israel to cut a deal:

The standard blog-post turn at this point would be to say that Americans will eventually have to decide whether they can support a state that dispossesses, disenfranchises and exploits millions of people in territories it has conquered on the basis of their ethnicity and religion. …

But I think this standard blog-post turn is too optimistic. I’m not confident that Americans will ever have to face such a decision. The human capacity for tolerating cognitive dissonance is immense. While some American Jews are starting to demand that Jerusalem reach a peace deal with the Palestinians or lose their allegiance, others will stick with Israel regardless of its policies, elaborating ever more baroque arguments to justify their position. Most American evangelicals and conservatives remain staunch supporters of Israel, and have little trouble blaming the conflict on Islamic extremism. It’s entirely possible that most Americans could continue backing Israel indefinitely, as the prospect of a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict recedes into the mist. Maybe we won’t force a solution for Israel’s treatment of its non-citizens any more than we’ve forced a solution for our treatment of our own non-citizens.

Zbigniew Brzezinski and several other senior advisors to the US/Middle East Project urge Kerry to stand firm on clearly stated American positions:

The terms for a peace accord advanced by Netanyahu’s government, whether regarding territory, borders, security, resources, refugees or the location of the Palestinian state’s capital, require compromises of Palestinian territory and sovereignty on the Palestinian side of the June 6, 1967, line. They do not reflect any Israeli compromises, much less the “painful compromises” Netanyahu promised in his May 2011 speech before a joint meeting of Congress. Every one of them is on the Palestinian side of that line. Although Palestinians have conceded fully half of the territory assigned to them in the U.N.’s Partition Plan of 1947, a move Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, has hailed as unprecedented, they are not demanding a single square foot of Israeli territory beyond the June 6, 1967, line.

Netanyahu’s unrelenting efforts to establish equivalence between Israeli and Palestinian demands, insisting that the parties split the difference and that Israel be granted much of its expansive territorial agenda beyond the 78 percent of Palestine it already possesses, are politically and morally unacceptable. The United States should not be party to such efforts, not in Crimea nor in the Palestinian territories.

Michael Crowley wonders whether the process has any future:

The question now is whether this is just pantomime. Are the two sides still meeting for purely public relations purposes—to demonstrate a faux good faith to the world? Or are they still capable of cutting a deal?

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Obama conclude that the process is hopeless, at least for now. Many others in Washington have. Last week’s effort by Kerry to secure Israeli concessions through the release of Jonathan Pollard, convicted of spying for Israel, had carried a whiff of desperation that suggested Washington wants a deal more than the Israelis do.

But it’s also possible that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas are engaging in brinksmanship to maximize their leverage.