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Kerry's post-Chistmas return to Mideast

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Looking for a shot of adrenalin, Secretary of State John Kerry hopes to breathe life into what looks like another failed attempt at Mideast peacemaking. Palestinians complain about Israel’s continue building in the West Bank and East Jersusalem where they hope for a future Palestinian State. Balancing on the head of a pin, Kerrry knows the sensitivities of both sides where Israelis insist that Jerusalem and right-of-return is non-negotiable. Both sides know that the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip is not in the plans for a future Palestinian State not matter what. Should 78-year-old Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas strike a deal with Israel it’s likely Hamas would resume its war against the Palestinian Authority. When Hamas’ 52-year-old Ismail Haniyeh seized Gaza by force June 14, 2007, the Palestinian civil war began, with the U.S. lining up behind Abbas’ Ramallah-based government.

Kerry’s trip next week to Tel Aviv and Ramallah hopes to mend fences with both sides, dangerously close to calling it quits with the latest attempt at Mideast peacemaking started July 5. “In these meetings, he will discuss the ongoing final status negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, among other issues,” said State Department spokeswoman Jan Psaki in a statement. When Kerry talks of final status issues, he’s referring to definitive borders of a future Palestinian state. With only the West Bank and East Jerusalem available, Kerry could wind up frustrated getting Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Israel’s conservative parties, especially Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s pro-settler Yisrael Beiteneinu Party, oppose any final settlement that includes East Jerusalem or refugees right of return.

When former President Bill Clinton tried to consummate a Mideast peace deal with the late Yasser Arafat in 2000, the process failed over the same old issues: Palestinians’ right of return, the fate of Jerusalem and, of course, boundaries of a future state. Arafat, with Hamas backing, started an active guerrilla war, firing missiles and sending waves of suicide bombers into Israel. Back then, Palestinians were not divided between Hamas and Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization. Today, it’s the opposite. Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist and continues the war against the Jewish State. While Abbas has less obstacles than Arafat, the PLO is still hung up over Jerusalem and the rights of refugees. Abbas and his chief peace negotiator, former Arafat aide Saeb Erekat, complain about Israeli construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

When Israel’s former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon turned over the Gaza Strip in 1995, he ordered the Israeli army to pull settlers kicking-and-screaming from their homes and businesses. No matter what Israeli construction goes on East Jerusalem or the West Bank, Palestinian officials know a peace deal would follow the path of Gaza, with the army dragging settlers away from their dwelling and businesses. When Kerry returns to Tel Aviv and Ramallah this week, he’ll find the same old hang-ups from Palestinians, demanding refugees right of return to Israel. Palestinians know it’s a non-starter. They also know what happens when they resume active guerrilla war against Israel: More death and destruction to an already beaten down people. Palestinians know that while 1972 U.N. Resolution 242 talked of a return to the 1967 borders, it can’t happen now, leaving Abbas only the West Bank.

Threatening retaliation for Israeli building in the West Bank won’t help Palestinians achieve a two-state solution. Despite the widespread poverty and sordid condition in the Gaza Strip, Hamas still believes they’ll eventually conquer Israel. Hamas leaders, especially Haniyeh and its once Damascus-based exiled leaders Khalid Meshaal, seek to return the original British Mandate of Palestine, handed to Israel by the British government in 1948. Hamas has no intent of returning the Gaza Strip to Egypt or the West Bank to Jordan. Perpetuating such fantasies of returning the British Mandate of Palestine gives false hopes of Palestinians currently living in dire conditions in Gaza or refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan. They offer no real hope of a future Palestinian State, only more poverty, suffering and death. Kerry must try his best to convince Abbas to accept reality.

Kerry’s Mideast mission, should he accept it, is to convince Abbas to take a peace deal involving the West Bank, saving other issues for eventual negotiation. Any interim agreement that puts Palestinians on the path toward a U.N.-recognized state in the West Bank with Ramallah as its capital would be the right move. Going back to the British Mandate of Palestine, refugees right of return to Israel proper or demanding East Jerusalem as the new state’s capital will end in failure. Instead of looking at the cup as half-empty, Abbas must accept reality and grab Ramallah and the West Bank for the current two-state solution. Whatever happens in Gaza is anyone’s guess. It’s possible if Palestinians see the peace and prosperity in the West Bank, they’ll eventually vote to join Abbas’ Palestinian Authority. Insisting on the same old demands for Jerusalem and right of return will get nowhere.

About the Author

John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’d editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.

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