May 14, 2014

John Kerry’s Peace Talks Tactics Promote Palestinian Intransigence

By: Brian Albert

Skyline of the Old City and Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Israel.

If it has ever been your misfortune to deal with a dishonest salesman, then you can empathize with Israelis in the age of Secretary of State John Kerry. When a dishonest salesman wants you to agree to a bad deal, he makes it seem like he isn’t just doing his job; he’s doing you a favor. He helpfully reminds you that you’re running out of time on a deal that will unquestionably make your life better. At his most aggressive, a dishonest salesman insists that if you don’t take this deal, not only will your life not get better, it will get much worse. He’s only trying to help.

For the third time in recent months, Kerry has threatened Israel -and Israel alone- with dire consequences if the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations fails to result in a new treaty. Headlines from The Telegraph tell the story: “John Kerry warns of third intifada if Israeli-Palestinian talks fail” (Nov. 8); “John Kerry labeled ‘anti-Semite’ for warning of possible boycott of Israel” (Feb. 2); “John Kerry warns Israel could become ‘apartheid state’” (Apr. 28). The latest statement is also the most pernicious –and no accident.

For years now, the word “apartheid” has been the favorite catchword that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) uses to describe Israel. BDS’ers coopt other historical incidents as well. Israel has been compared to Nazi Germany, slavery, and the European conquest of the Americas. BDS’ers need to depict Israel with abusive analogies because if they attempted to describe the Israeli-Arab conflict in its own terms, in its own context, they would be ignored. Secretary of State Kerry just brought their juvenile rhetoric into mainstream public discourse.

Kerry’s defenders will say that he wasn’t accusing Israel of practicing apartheid today; he was saying that Israel could become an apartheid state if a deal is not reached soon. Here Kerry is referring to the prediction that in the near future, the Arab population will outgrow the Jewish population in Israel and the Disputed Territories, thus making it impossible for Israel to remain both Jewish and democratic.

In reality, the Jewish majority in the Jewish State is safe for the foreseeable future. All of Gaza’s 1.6 million Palestinians are free from occupation and are living in a de facto (dysfunctional) Palestinian state. Over 90 percent of the West Bank’s 2.5 million Palestinians are under the civil administration of the Palestinian Authority. In Israel itself, Arab-Israelis comprise roughly 21 percent of the overall population. According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, the Jewish-Israeli birthrate increased by 1.3 percent in 2013, while the Arab-Israeli birthrate declined by 3.5 percent. This trend has been going on since 2000. In short, where Israel is sovereign, Israeli Jews remain a huge majority.

Never mind that the demographic doomsday scenario has been repeatedly debunked; John Kerry’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the entire raison d’être of leftist groups like J-Street, hinges on scaring the Israelis with outdated statistics.

It is precisely this line of reasoning that sabotages any chance of a deal being reached. Negotiations are only successful when the parties involved believe their two choices are to compromise, or to suffer greater loss.  When Israel is told that time is not on its side, the Palestinians are listening. Why would Mahmoud Abbas then want a negotiated solution to the conflict when all he has to do is wait for Israel’s collapse? Why compromise for something, if waiting gets you everything? And what could the Palestinians possibly lose, when each new round of negotiations starts from their previous rejection? Abbas’s strategy depends on Kerry’s “pressure Israel” reflex. Secretary of State Kerry, would-be peacemaker, unwittingly facilitates a war by other means.

Brian Albert is a Campus Coordinator for the Zionist Organization of America. He served in an infantry unit of the Israeli Defense Force and earned a Master’s in Middle Eastern History at Tel Aviv University. Jerusalem skyline courtesy of Big Stock Photo.