Can’t Buy Peace

In an attempt to breathe life into the moribund Israel-Palestinian peace process, Secretary of State John Kerry this week unveiled a new proposal — which is essentially an attempt to bribe the Palestinians into returning to the negotiating table.

Together with Britain’s former Prime Minister Tony Blair, Mr. Kerry is putting together a $4 billion aid package that, he says, could expand the Palestinian economy by up to 50 percent in three years, raise average wages by 40 percent, cut unemployment by 40 percent, triple tourism and build 100,000 new homes, many of them energy-efficient. All the Palestinians need to do to get this basket of goodies, including the energy-efficient homes they’ve been clamoring for, is to renew peace talks with Israel and show a little willingness to compromise.

Kerry, to be sure, deserves credit for trying so hard to bring the parties together — he has visited Israel four times since taking office less than four months ago — and for his sincerity. But when he announced the aid plan Sunday at the World Economic Forum business conference in Jordan, he asked the $64,000 question: “Is this a fantasy?”

His answer is that it isn’t “because there are already great examples of investment and entrepreneurship that are working in the West Bank. We know it can be done. …”

With all due respect, while the proposal may not be fantasy, it is certainly not realistic, for several reasons.

First, why would an international community that has been battered by economic catastrophes — from Europe to Japan to the United States — agree to come up with $4 billion for energy-efficient homes in Ramallah?

Second, assuming that the money could be found, what reason is there to think that the PA leadership would spend it in a responsible, transparent way? After all, how many hospitals, libraries and universities have been built with the billions of dollars in aid that have been delivered to the Palestinian Authority since the Oslo Accords were signed 20 years ago?

Barry Rubin, a columnist and author, notes that the personal wealth of PA
chairman Mahmoud Abbas is estimated at $100 million. His predecessor, arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat, made out even better. And we’re not even mentioning the millions of dollars that are doled out to a long list of PA officials who are close to the trough. “PA leaders have received more aid money per person [for the Palestinians] than anyone else in history, and yet the results have been remarkably unimpressive,” Rubin writes. “The leaders have looted the money and used it as political pay-offs to buy patronage. By patronage I mean paying off the proportionately huge security forces that guard the PA and provide jobs for its supporters and benefits for political supporters.”

So why pour another $4 billion into the corrupt cesspool known as the Palestinian Authority?

But the big problem — even if the world coughed up the money and the PA leadership allowed it to reach the people — is the expectation that Abbas, or any Palestinian leader, is willing to compromise at the negotiating table.

Ever since the Oslo Accords, the West and the Israeli left have labored under the illusion that the Palestinians accept the idea of a Jewish state in the pre-1967 borders. It followed therefore that if Israel would only give up Yehudah,
Shomron and Gaza, where the Palestinians could set up a thriving, peace-loving democracy, then peace would come to the Middle East.

Today, after much bloodshed, we understand that the paradigm is wrong. Arafat received a dream offer from then–Prime Minister Ehud Barak in the summer of 2000 at Camp David, which included Israeli withdrawal from 97 percent of Yehudah and Shomron, “religious sovereignty” over Har Habayis for the Palestinians, and a Palestinian capital in part of Yerushalayim.

Arafat responded by launching the Second Intifada, which saw hundreds of Jews killed and thousands wounded by suicide bombers attacking buses and restaurants all across Israel.

Abbas, despite his image as a pragmatic moderate, similarly has no interest in reaching an accommodation with Israel. In a fascinating report last week, journalist Avi Isacharoff revealed that then–Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with Abbas in Yerushalayim on Sept. 16, 2008, and agreed to forgo sovereignty over Har Habayis (proposing that religious sites in Yerushalayim be managed by a special committee consisting of representatives from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Palestine, the United States and Israel). He agreed to allow some 5,000 Palestinian “refugees” into Israel and, most significantly, presented a map showing an Israeli withdrawal from some 94 percent of Yehudah and Shomron.

Olmert was ready to let Abbas leave his office with that map — committing Israel to an unprecedented, irresponsible, dangerous withdrawal — on one condition: that the PA leader initial it, signaling his agreement to make peace with Israel. That was something that Abbas was incapable of doing.

This doesn’t mean that Kerry should end his involvement in Mideast peacemaking, but that he needs to slow down. Four visits in less than four months, with a declaration last week that “We are reaching the time where leaders need to make hard decisions,” raises concerns that he is aiming for a final solution that calls for dramatic, irreversible moves.

He needs to lower expectations and think twice, or more, before answering the question “Is this a fantasy?”