This week the Israeli columnist, Nahum Barnea, spoke to senior American officials involved in Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace effort and heard their explanation for the talks’ failure. Barnea writes, “what they told me is the closest thing to an official American version of what happened.”
Let’s go back to the beginning. Was this round not doomed for failure from day one?
“The negotiations had to start with a decision to freeze settlement construction. We thought that we couldn’t achieve that because of the current makeup of the Israeli government, so we gave up. We didn’t realize Netanyahu was using the announcements of tenders for settlement construction as a way to ensure the survival of his own government. We didn’t realize continuing construction allowed ministers in his government to very effectively sabotage the success of the talks.
“There are a lot of reasons for the peace effort’s failure, but people in Israel shouldn’t ignore the bitter truth – the primary sabotage came from the settlements. The Palestinians don’t believe that Israel really intends to let them found a state when, at the same time, it is building settlements on the territory meant for that state. We’re talking about the announcement of 14,000 housing units, no less. Only now, after talks blew up, did we learn that this is also about expropriating land on a large scale. That does not reconcile with the agreement.
“At this point, it’s very hard to see how the negotiations could be renewed, let alone lead to an agreement. Towards the end, Abbas demanded a three-month freeze on settlement construction. His working assumption was that if an accord is reached, Israel could build along the new border as it pleases. But the Israelis said no.”
Compare the current round of talks to Henry Kissinger’s efforts after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, an effort that led to disengagement agreements between Israel and Syria, and Israel and Egypt. Compare it to James Baker’s effort after the first Gulf War, an effort that led to the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991.
“At the end of a war there is a sense of urgency,” they said. And then one of them added bitterly: “I guess we need another intifada to create the circumstances that would allow progress.
“20 years after the Oslo Accords, new game rules and facts on the ground were created that are deeply entrenched. This reality is very difficult for the Palestinians and very convenient for Israel.”
Were you surprised when you discovered that the Israelis don’t really care what happens in the negotiations?
“Yes, we were surprised. It surprised us all along the way. When (Moshe) Ya’alon, your defense minister, said that the only thing Kerry wants is to win a Nobel Prize, the insult was great. We were doing this for you and for the Palestinians. Of course, there were also American interests at play.
“A lot of people told us – ‘don’t stop. Keep going.’ We told them: ‘It’s in your hands. Take responsibility for your own fate.’ But, stuck in their own ways, they preferred we do their job for them. Public apathy was one of our biggest problems.
“One of the Palestinians who participated in the talks told an Israeli participant: ‘You don’t see us. We’re transparent, we’re hollow.’ He had a point. After the second intifada ended and the separation barrier was built, the Palestinians turned into ghosts in the eyes of the Israelis – they couldn’t see them anymore.”
It almost sounds like you wish for an intifada.
“Quite the opposite, it would be a tragedy. The Jewish people are supposed to be smart; it is true that they’re also considered a stubborn nation. You’re supposed to know how to read the map: In the 21st century, the world will not keep tolerating the Israeli occupation. The occupation threatens Israel’s status in the world and threatens Israel as a Jewish state.”
The world is being self-righteous. It closes its eyes to China’s takeover of Tibet, it stutters at what Russia’s doing to Ukraine.
“Israel is not China. It was founded by a UN resolution. Its prosperity depends on the way it is viewed by the international community.”