New York Times Room for Debate, March 27, 2013
The previous secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, thought that making efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were, as one Israeli news media outlet put it, “a waste of time.” Clinton delegated the task to George Mitchell — a sure sign that she did not expect to leave a legacy in the Middle East. Mitchell failed.
So why should current Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts yield fruit?
Because Obama came and gave an ego-stroking speech to the Israelis, peppered with Hebrew — confirming, yet again, Palestinians’ suspicions that the United States is not an impartial broker in the peace process? Or should we expect Kerry to make headway with the most right-wing government Israel has ever seen? With a government that includes Naftali Bennett, who openly rejects the idea of a Palestinian state and calls for annexation of Area C? With a government that has approved construction in Givat HaMatos — severing East Jerusalem, the future capital of a Palestinian state, from the West Bank? What headway will Kerry make in a country that refused to cooperate with the United Nations’ fact-finding mission on the illegal settlements that pose a threat to the two-state solution that he will try to broker?
Israel is calling for talks with no preconditions, which is itself a precondition. The Palestinians have already balked at the idea of negotiating while Israel continues building the settlements that eat up Palestinian land. What will Kerry do?
Let’s pretend that Kerry, miraculously, gets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on board. Peace accords will still have to be approved by the Israeli Knesset. And, barring a miracle, this pro-settler, pro-expansion Knesset makes that unlikely.
Last week, students at the Palestinian university where I teach were abuzz about Obama’s visit. Even if most of that buzz was in opposition to the president’s trip. But Kerry’s visit, and his attempts to restart a doomed peace process? Talks that simply buy Israel more time to do as it pleases with Palestinian land, that let Israel continue to impose a cruel and inhumane blockade on the people of Gaza, that allow Israel to go on arresting children, to continue detaining Palestinians without charge, to keep on depriving the Palestinian people of their human rights — inalienable rights that no human should have to negotiate for? It’s barely on the radar.