Israeli-Palestinian peace effort not dead yet, claims Kerry (+video)

Palestinian leaders appear to have given up on US-brokered talks with Israel, spurring criticism from all sides as well as reflection on what lies ahead.

By , Staff writer

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The latest US-led peace effort appeared to hit a wall yesterday as Palestinian leaders applied to join several international conventions in an act of defiance. But Secretary of State John Kerry still considers the peace process alive – even if he has played all his cards.

Speaking from Algiers today, he said he planned to talk with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas this afternoon and urged the two to "lead," the Associated Press reports.

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“You can facilitate, you can push, you can nudge, but the parties themselves have to make fundamental decisions and compromises,” he said. “The leaders have to lead and they have to be able to see a moment when it’s there.”

He recalled the old adage that you can lead a horse to water but can’t make it drink.

“Now is the time to drink,” Kerry said. “The leaders need to know that.”

Citing the Washington Post and the New York Times, Barak Ravid, a columnist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, writes that US officials say Mr. Kerry has "maximized his potential as peace mediator and sees no chance for progress if the sides refuse to make major decisions on their own."

But the way many Palestinians see it, Mr. Abbas's decision to leave the talks and seek international recognition was a moment of leadership. He has long been pushed to stand up to Israel, and criticized for bowing to Israeli and US pressure at the negotiating table, as The Christian Science Monitor notes.

In two decades of peacemaking, Mr. Abbas and his predecessors have never drawn a firm line on issues such as an Israeli settlement freeze, the release of Palestinian prisoners, or lack of implementation of previous peace agreements, says Diana Buttu, a former member of the Palestinian negotiating team.

“As much as they say it’s a red line, it turns into a gray line,” Ms. Buttu says. “[Abbas’s decision] for me was good because it established for the first time that there is indeed a red line.”

...

“The Israelis and the Americans even believed that Abu Mazen didn’t have the courage to do so. And they don’t care about his requests,” says Hafez Barghouti, a Palestinian author and former editor of the PA daily newspaper al-Hayat al-Jadida. “So when Abu Mazen took this step, lots of people are supporting him and his popularity is up, because it’s a kind of dignity for the Palestinians.” 

Certainly Abbas will receive a chunk of the blame for the talks' failure for walking away from them – as Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg notes – but Netanyahu will as well. Larry Derfner, a columnist for the left-leaning Israeli commentary website +972, says the criticism leveled at both the Israelis and the Palestinians is a victory for the Palestinians.

The Palestinians have “won” the Kerry peace initiative: The Obama administration is blaming both sides for its likely failure, not just the Palestinian side, which is the most they could have expected. The New York Times editorial goes one better: It points the finger pretty squarely at Netanyahu, which is radical for a Times editorial. So the Palestinians, having the clear sympathy of Europe and the rest of the world as the aggrieved party, can go to the UN after the talks run out on April 29 and be able to say: “We are seeking our independence here because Israel refused to give it to us.”

 ...

So the Palestinians and their supporters – whose success is Israel’s success, regardless of their intentions – have a great opportunity. Politically, now is the time for the UN, for The Hague, for BDS, for unarmed “popular resistance.” Politically it’s the only option... 

Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev predicts that international public opinion will blame Israel for the collapse of the talks, even if it has the US on its side, and that Israel will turn inward, making any peace agreement a distant illusion.

The verdict is in and the outcome is a foregone conclusion. No matter how much effort and creativity Israel puts into its [propaganda] campaign, and even it were to present a truly compelling case against Mahmoud Abbas’, the international jury is certain to find for the his side. It’s best to prepare yourself in advance.

...

Of course, once Israelis and many Diaspora Jews understand that international public opinion is blaming them rather than the Palestinians, despite what they perceive to be the overwhelming and incontrovertible evidence on their side, they will only grow more insular, more isolated and more convinced not only that the “world is against us,” as their leaders keep telling them, but that it is inherently Jew-hating as well.

And once the Palestinians begin to gain acceptance to international organizations and the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions starts to really take off, Israelis will increasingly pin the blame on traitors in their midst, informers from within, Jewish back-stabbers bought and paid for by hostile money from malevolent foreigners abroad. And they will dig in their heels even more.

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