Friday, July 19, 2013
The failure of latest Kerry round: background and implications:
Secretary of State, John Kerry, is about to leave Amman today without reaching the breakthrough that will enable a meeting between Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian president, Mahmud Abbas, Abu Mazen in order to launch a renewal of peace negotiations between Israel and the PLO.
First – what happened? The Fatah and PLO top echelons gathered in Ramallah last night in order to approve the verbal agreement reached between Abu Mazen and Kerry earlier this week in Amman to enable a meeting between PLO and Israel leaders. The verbal agreement was based on USA commitments to both sides to support their core demands- to the PLO: the recognition in 1967 borders and to Israel the recognition of Jewish state. A special military exert on behalf of Kerry is now studying the military aspects of possible Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. In addition the USA prepared a package of economic boosts that included mobilizing 4 Billion Dollars to revive the Palestinian stagnant economy in establishing industrial and tourist projects in area C in the West Bank and in Gaza in order to lure Hamas to accept the deal as well that will also include the revival of Gaza gas project licensed to British Gas. Israel agreed to remove barriers in order to increase the number of Palestinian workers inside Israel. A special Ramadan gesture of releasing some tens of old PLO prisoners was also included in the package.
Kerry was sure that this is an offer one cannot reject. Still it was rejected (formally speaking, the PLO did not reject the offer but decided to establish a committee that will study the offer).
The bad signals appeared already in Kerry- Abu Mazen meetings in Amman. Kerry told Abu Mazen that in case the PLO would reject the offer, the USA would not be able to continue financing the Palestinian Authority budget. He also demanded a clear-cut PLO endorsement of the deal. Abu Mazen returned to Ramallah under the impression that it is "take or break" offer.
However, when the USA offer was known to Fatah and PLO echelons in Ramallah a spontaneous rejection was mobilized. Firstly, they discovered that there is no recognition in 1967 borders and no deadline was specified to end the negotiations, no freeze of settlement building as pre-condition etc. what must worry the USA diplomacy that they rejected the "trust us" approach of Kerry- they did not trust his promises and demanded written guaranties. As far as we know, Kerry rejected it, but still Sa'eb Areiqat is going to deliver this request to Kerry when he meets with him later today in Amman.
What are the implications of Kerry's failure? First of all – a big damage to USA reputation worldwide; not many understand why secretary of state invest so much efforts in a hopeless case while USA attention is needed to the burning issues – literally speaking – in the region such as Syria and Egypt. What is worse- pro USA countries do not understand it either. Under this background in his meetings in Amman, Kerry tried to convince Arab foreign ministers to give a fresh endorsement to the Arab Initiative, but no such endorsement was published. The Arabs perceived the request as a distraction from the pressing issues they wanted the USA to intervene in- such as Syria and the new burning pressures in Egypt where the USA lost all say. Also Jordan decided to distance itself from the process for many reasons- the last and not least – its anger why the USA is ready to mobilize so much money to the Palestinians while it ignores Jordan SOS alarms to rescue it from its financial abyss.
Kerry also failed to understand the Palestinian mindset. The USA diplomacy took seriously the ousted Prime Minister Salam Fayyad state building vision- to mobilize the resources for building the economy especially in areas C. they have not interned the meaning of his ouster- that Fatah is not interested in state building but in "struggle". The loose end offered by Kerry raised fears that entering negotiations with no deadline will skip the deadline of September UN sessions where they want to sue Israel on settlements damages and war crimes. The EU latest decision to punish Israel for settlement activity emboldened them not to lose the UN option in favor of endless negotiations.
After the practical rejection of Kerry's offers by the PLO echelons, president Obama called Netanyahu and asked him to help Kerry's mission. It means that in the "blame game" there is no chance that the USA will blame the Palestinians- it will blame either the "two sides" or Israel alone. The EU already blamed Israel alone. So, Kerry's threats to Abu Mazen in Amman cannot be taken seriously in Ramallah.
Sum up: Kerry's last failure inflicted huge damage on the USA diplomacy and manifested a decline in its influence in the Middle East. In the blame game the USA is not ready to blame the Palestinians which means more futile rounds and further decline in USA prestige in the region and worldwide.