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Kerry treads on thin ice in Mideast peace deal

John Kerry
John Kerry
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Returning to the Mideast in hopes of nailing down a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, 70-year-old Secretary of State John Kerry hoped his 10th visit to the region would do the trick. Meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Kerry received a warm greeting but the same old problems exist putting a final status agreement in doubt: Borders for a new Palestinian state, right of return or reparations for refugees and the fate of East Jerusalem, something Palestinians want as their capital. Traveling to Ramallah to meet with 78-year-old Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Kerry was heard loud protests against his visit. “The northern, central and southern Jordan Valley are a genuine part of Palestinian sovereignty,” read the sings of 150 protesters, opposed to Israel’s attempt to maintain a security buffer along the Jordan border.

Traveling to the Jerusalem to keep Kerry in line, a trio U.S. Republican senators, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wy.), met with Netanyahu to show their support. GOP politicians have accused the White House of putting pressure on Israel to make too many concessions to national security. Palestinians activist Abdallah Maslamani accused the senators of furthering the security interest of “the terror state of occupation,” setting the exact wrong tone for any peace deal. Palestinians like to call Israeli’s foreign occupiers when, in fact, Palestinians had no claim to sovereign territory when the British handed Israel the British Mandate of Palestine in 1948. Palestinians insist their land was stolen by new Israeli state. Releasing more than two-dozen Palestinian prisoners earlier in the week, Netanyahu complained about their heroes welcome in Ramallah.

Netanyahu didn’t hold back his ire when the formerly jailed inmates received cheers in the West Bank. “To glorify the murders of innocent women and men as heroes is an outrage,” said Netanyahu, showing no stomach to make the compromises needed for a peace deal. Chief Palestinians peace negotiator 58-year-old Saeb Erekat dismissed Netanyahu’s reaction, saying Netanyahu finds any excuse to call Abbas a terrorist, a vague reference to Abbas’ involvement in the 1972 Black September Israeli massacre at the Munich Olympics. “Prime Minister Netanyahu has serious, serious concerns about the plan that has been presented to him—whether it be the ability of Israel to defend its borders, the viability of a Palestinians state and there intentions and their actions toware the state of Israel, and particularly on the overall security—whether it’s boundaries, areas under Palestinian control,” said McCain.

Palestinians don’t get that there’s considerable opposition inside GOP circles to any peace deal that compromises Israel’s security. McCain and others recall Palestinians celebrating in Gaza and West Bank after Sept. 11. White House officials tend to take a benign look at Palestinians, when in reality they don’t like the U.S. and certainly not Israel. Former President Jimmy Carter, who negotiated the 1978 Camp David Accords that won Nobel Peace Prizes for Egyptian President Anwar Sedat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, accused Israelis of running an “apartheid state” against Palestinians. What Carter never accepted was that the late Palestine Liberation founder and leader Yasser Arafat routinely ordered terrorist attacks against the Jewish State. After Sept. 11, former President George W. Bush prohibited the U.S. from negotiating with terrorists, especially Arafat.

Kerry would like to deliver the Holy Grail of U.S. foreign policy: A comprehensive Mideast Peace. After offered various deals over the last 40 years, Palestinians haven’t caught up with today’s post-Sept. world where the U.S. can’t accept terrorism as a political tactic. Nor can Israelis accept any longer 1972 U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 that offers Israel peace-for-land, namely, returning to the pre-1967 Six Day War borders. Despite having no claim to sovereign land in Egypt’s Gaza Strip, Jordan’s West Bank or Syria’s Golan Heights, Palestinians expect Israel to turn over the spoils to the Six Day War. When Israel turned back Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in 1979 and the Gaza Strip in 2005, Israel received no peace for land. Palestinians complained it wasn’t enough, continuing sniping, firing rockets and suicide bombings, all considered legitimate resistance.

Kerry can only push so hard for Israeli and Palestinian concessions before the peace process backfires. Netanyahu has enough complaints about the administration’s recent six-nation deal to help contain Iran nuclear program, ease sanctions and eventually normalize diplomatic relations. Cutting a Mideast peace deal is no easy matter with Israelis and Palestinians making unacceptable demands. Insisting on a return to the 1967 borders won’t work, even for U.S. national security. Letting Palestinians declare East Jerusalem as its capital won’t fly with conservative Israelis, especially Netanyahu’s Likud Party or his Foreign Minister Avidgor Lieberman’s pro-settler Yisrael Beiteinu Party. If Palestinians won’t accept a Ramallah-based state in the West Bank, there’s little chance Kerry canl pull off any deal without alienating Israelis and Palestinians, ending another attempt at peacemaking.

About the Author

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

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