Like most people, I can’t resist saying “I told you so” when the opportunity arises.  So, in light of the breakdown of the Israel-Palestine peace talks pushed by John Kerry, I am wont to point to my post of December 19, in which I opined that “…Kerry’s task is fairly hopeless because the far stronger side in this dispute—the Israeli side—doesn’t want a settlement and is under no particular pressure to come to terms. “ I said that I couldn’t imagine that Kerry could actually believe he had any chance of success.  As it turns out, it is clear that he didn’t have any chance, for the reasons I gave, though he naively believed that he did.

New evidence for why the talks broke down comes from a report by one of Israel’s leading political columnists, Nahum Barnea, based on confidential interviews he had with members of Kerry’s team.   As summarized by the reliably excellent Jerome Slater, “Barnea’s account makes it overwhelmingly clear that nothing either the U.S. or the Palestinians could do would move Netanyahu.”  Slater quotes Barnea:

[Mahmoud Abbas] agreed to a demilitarized state; he agreed to the border outline so 80 percent of settlers would continue living in Israeli territory; he agreed for Israel to keep security sensitive areas (mostly in the Jordan Valley – NB) for five years, and then the United States would take over. He accepted the fact that in the Israeli perception, the Palestinians would never be trustworthy.”

“He also agreed that the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem would remain under Israeli sovereignty, and agreed that the return of Palestinians to Israel would depend on Israeli willingness. ‘Israel won’t be flooded with refugees,’ he promised.

It’s not clear from Barnea’s report what concessions if any the Israelis made; instead, they undermined the talks by insisting on continued settlement construction even as the talks proceeded.  As one of Barnea’s sources put it, “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.”  Indeed, why should they?

Amazingly, the Americans didn’t foresee the altogether predictable Israeli intransigence.   A revealing Q&A from Barnea’s interview:

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.”

Now, I am in no way a Middle Eastern expert, so I think it remarkable that a US negotiating team full of such experts had a less realistic understanding of the obstacles they faced than did yours truly.

Both Barnea’s report and Slater’s commentary are well worth reading if you’re at all interested in the future of Israel/Palestine.


Unrelated self-promotional note 

It’s been pointed out to me that Amazon reviews help sell books.  If any of you who have read Chomsky’s Challenge is so inclined, I would appreciate your penning a brief (and of course favorable) review for Amazon.

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