Peter Beinart writes: As John Kerry’s bid to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace approaches its moment of truth, you can sense the desperation among liberal Zionists. “Kerry’s mission is the last train to a negotiated two-state solution,” declared Thomas Friedman in January.
“This is a watershed moment after which Israel will face a completely different situation – one which will be governed by new realities much less favorable than those Israel faces today,” argued the philanthropist S. Daniel Abraham that same month. Kerry himself has said that, “If we do not succeed now, we may not get another chance.”
I get it. You have to be blind not to see that liberal Zionists—those of us who believe in the legitimacy of a state dedicated to Jewish self-protection and the illegitimacy of Israel’s unjust, undemocratic control of the West Bank—are losing ground to one-staters at both ends. Kerry’s failure, which might spell the end of the American-led peace process itself, could turn that retreat into a rout.
But there’s a problem with being desperate for a deal: You lose your leverage over its content. Kerry and the rest of the Obama foreign policy team know that if they present a framework that Benjamin Netanyahu dislikes, he and the right-leaning American Jewish establishment will make their lives miserable. If, on the other hand, they present a framework that tilts against the Palestinians, the resulting Palestinian outrage will be far easier to withstand. That’s partly because Palestinians wield little influence in Washington. And it’s partly because we liberal Zionists—desperate to see Kerry succeed—have given every indication that we’ll support whatever he serves up, the particulars be damned.
The consequences of this political imbalance have been quietly playing themselves out for months now. Numerous press reports have suggested that Kerry is contemplating a framework that offers the Palestinians substantially less than what Bill Clinton offered them in December 2000 and what Ehud Olmert offered in 2008.
The Clinton parameters, for instance, called for Israeli troops to leave the Jordan Valley—the twenty-five percent of the West Bank that abuts its border with Jordan— within three years of a peace deal. Olmert was willing to withdraw them even faster.
Mahmoud Abbas is also reportedly calling for a transition of three to five years. Netanyahu, by contrast, depending on whose reporting you believe, insists that Israeli troops must remain for ten or even forty years.
And Kerry? Palestinian sources say he’s endorsed the ten-year timetable. According to the Washington Post, he’s suggested somewhere between five and fifteen.
Kerry’s proposal, in other words, violates both the Clinton parameters and the understanding reached by Olmert and Abbas. Yet with rare exceptions, liberal Zionists aren’t protesting at all.
That’s just the beginning. When it comes to Jerusalem, the Clinton Parameters declared that, “the general principle is that Arab areas are Palestinian and Jewish ones are Israeli.”
According to Bernard Avishai, Olmert and Abbas agreed to the same concept: “Jewish neighborhoods [of Jerusalem] should remain under Israeli sovereignty, while Arab neighborhoods would revert to Palestinian sovereignty.”
And Kerry? In January, Israeli television reported that he had offered to locate the Palestinian capital in only one, relatively remote, neighborhood of East Jerusalem. (Either Isawiya, Beit Hanina, Shuafat or Abu Dis, which is not even in Jerusalem at all). Late last month, the Palestinians leaked that Kerry had again offered them a capital in Beit Hanina alone.
Notice a pattern? Once again, assuming the reports are true, Kerry is pulling back from the principles established by both Clinton and Olmert. And once again, liberal Zionists are cheering him on.
This has been a fools errand from the beginning, with the Palestinians losing and the Netanyahoo wining, no matter how it’s decided.