THE BLOG

The Kerry Peace Initiative Is DOA

I wonder what it is that other people see about Secretary of State John Kerry's Israeli-Palestinian breakthrough that I'm missing.

The fundamentals haven't changed. The Palestinian Authority's goal is to achieve a peace agreement with Israel in which it (yet again) recognizes Israel and Israel agrees to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the occupied territories of the West Bank (including east Jerusalem) and Gaza.

This has been the Palestinian position since the Oslo agreement of 1993, the one that produced the famous handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat. The Palestinians have never changed their position. They insist on taking possession of 100 percent of those occupied territories, with "land swaps" that will permit a few settlement blocs to stay under Israeli jurisdiction in exchange for equal acreage now inside Israel. It, of course, should be noted that 100 percent of the West Bank and Gaza represents only 22 percent of historic Palestine (Israel plus the West Bank and Gaza). Israel would still control 78 percent.

That is important to remember when you read a report that Palestinians are being obstinate for not agreeing to accept 90 percent. That is because the 90 percent is of the 22 percent which would reduce their portion to 18 percent.

The Palestinian position has been consistent since the days of Arafat. And even Hamas has endorsed it in its more realistic moments.

But no Israeli government has ever agreed to the 78-22 percent deal, certainly not Netanyahu's (Ehud Olmert came closest but it was at the very end of his term and the Palestinians knew that he couldn't deliver). On the contrary, Netanyahu says that he will never yield any part of Jerusalem, that although he would conceivably grant Palestinians 90 percent of the West Bank, he would insist on the presence of Israeli forces on a demilitarized Palestinian state's border with Jordan and even on retaining Ariel, the Israeli city deep in the West Bank. Additionally, he would keep Ma'aleh Adumim, a huge settlement a few miles from Jerusalem and fill the (E-1) corridor which, separates it from Jerusalem, with 3,000 settler homes to permanently divide the northern West Bank from the southern part.

Nothing that Kerry or any Israeli official has said since the "breakthrough" indicates that Netanyahu has modified these positions.

And the Palestinians, rightly, will never accept them. After all, they have considerably compromised from their pre-Oslo demand for the return of all of Palestine to 22 percent of it. They have recognized Israel's right to security and, even without a peace treaty, they work hand-in-hand with the Israeli Defense Forces to defend Israel. Additionally, under international law, the occupied territories are just that -- occupied -- and must be returned to them.

What are they supposed to compromise on? They have nothing to give to Israel except an enhanced version of the security guarantees they already implement. Netanyahu likes to say that he will not sacrifice Israel's security for any peace agreement. But he knows that he will never be asked to. Every significant proposal for Israeli-Palestinian peace contains extensive security guarantees for Israel. Notably, the Palestinians, who are infinitely weaker than Israel, don't demand security guarantees, just their territory.

There is one last point as to why Kerry's agreement will go nowhere. The Palestinians cannot trust the United States to be an impartial mediator, far from it. Even beyond the fact that the U.S. official expected to be chosen as mediator, Ambassador Martin Indyk, was long affiliated with AIPAC and then with the think-tank it created, the Washington Institute For Near East Policy, is the simple fact that the United States has unambiguously taken Israel's side for decades.

The Palestinians understand the role of the Israel lobby in keeping Congress in line behind Israel, with Congress doing the job of making sure the administration doesn't stray. As recently as 2012, the United States led the opposition to a resolution granting Palestine observer status at the United Nations (only seven countries voted with us). In March of this year, President Obama visited Israel to deliver, both in words and symbolic actions a vivid demonstration of Vice President Biden's oft-repeated pledge that there must be "no daylight, no daylight" between U.S. and Israeli policies.

Exactly why would the Palestinians trust the United States? The answer is that they don't and they shouldn't because, during two presidencies in a row, we have made not the slightest attempt to play "honest broker," remaining even more "Israel's lawyer" than we were when Clinton-era negotiator, Aaron Miller first used the term to describe our modus operandi.

This is significant. The only successful U.S. mediation between Israelis and Palestinians was conducted by President Jimmy Carter at Camp David in 1978. Carter managed to bridge the gaps that had led Israel and Egypt to go to war three times previously by being the ultimate honest broker.

In his book about Camp David, Gen. Moshe Dayan, who was then Israel's foreign minister, described how Carter would keep the pressure on both sides equally, telling President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin, in turn, that if the talks failed, he would publicly name who was responsible. All during the long arduous process that produced a peace treaty that has survived 34 years, Carter refused to act as either side's advocate. His only client was peace and that is how he achieved an agreement.

Can anyone seriously imagine that the Obama administration with its "no daylight" policy would ever do that? Occasionally, very occasionally, over the past five years it has laid blame equally on the two sides but -- other than once in 2009 on the matter of settlement expansion -- it has never blamed Israel for anything and, in that one case, it quickly flinched. That means that all Palestinians can expect in the Kerry negotiations is blame on them whenever anything goes wrong with Israel getting a pass.

The bottom line is that the Kerry initiative is dead even before arrival. And, sad to say, that is how it should be until the United States looks at the Palestinian and Israeli demands, side by side, and decides, honestly, that there is no moral equivalence between the demands of the occupier and the occupied. And then we can, just possibly, help achieve peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians. But not before.

This blog has been modified since its original publication.