In the past few weeks, Secretary of State John Kerry has come under attack from prominent Israelis as well as American friends of the Jewish state for some methods he has adopted in his determination to find a solution to the Middle East conflict.
Kerry’s defenders are right to scorn those who question his motives, but the way the secretary has tried to strong-arm Israel has neither enhanced the chances for peace nor strengthened Israel’s security. He has set in motion a chain of events that is, in fact, strengthening those who seek to delegitimize Israel and may even increase the chances of a new round of Palestinian violence.
Kerry came into office last year determined to take up a challenge that his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, did her best to avoid.
With the Palestinians hopelessly split between the Fatah-ruled West Bank and Hamas-run Gaza, there seemed little leeway for Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to sign an agreement that would end the conflict. Since the Palestinians had already turned down offers of statehood in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001 and 2008, there seemed no reason for Israel to make further concessions only to be turned down.
But Kerry was undaunted by these realities and set out to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks. He may even coax the Israelis to offer, as has been reported, the Palestinians a state in 90 percent of the West Bank plus territorial swaps of land inside the Jewish state. If so, he may be as close to cutting the Gordian Knot of Middle East peace as any of the Americans who have preceded him. But those who care about Israel shouldn’t be cheering.
What Kerry has forgotten — or never knew in the first place — is that peace initiatives don’t occur in a vacuum. In the eyes of international public opinion, progress is measured only in terms of Israeli concessions.
And yet, rather than bolstering Israel’s image and support around the globe, every concession has made Israel even more unpopular. In the 20 years since the signing of the Oslo Accords, Israel has made concession after concession, and international efforts to delegitimize Zionism and support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement aimed at the Jewish state have only grown.
Israelis well understand that the current Palestinian leadership is not likely to sign any deal that will recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Nor will the Palestinians renounce a “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees.
No matter what Kerry pressures Netanyahu into offering Abbas, the answer will probably be same one Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert received: No. When that happens, expect the BDS campaign to redouble its efforts and for European nations to blame Israel regardless of the fact that, once again, Palestinian obstinacy will have ended the negotiations and not a lack of Israeli flexibility or generosity.
Even worse, by seeking to frighten the Israelis into concessions by speaking, as he did last fall, about the chances of a third intifada if the talks fail, and more recently, by predicting an upsurge in boycotts if no peace deal is achieved, Kerry has not only tilted the diplomatic playing field against the Jewish state. He has also signaled that if he fails, it will be Israel’s fault. While he may not have intended to encourage either violence or boycotts of Israel, that is exactly what he has done.
Jonathan S. Tobin is senior online editor and chief political blogger for Commentary magazine.