Guess-T Again

Though a new calendar year has settled upon the world, it seems that 2014 is picking up where 2013 left off.

The Palestinians received a New Year’s gift of $440 million dollars from the people of the United States because they are …  Palestinian. If the money is rolling in, up 3% from the year before, why should the Palestinians change? If you put the proverbial carrot before the horse and then let the horse eat it and then feed it many more carrots, one after another, instead of motivating the horse, it becomes fat, lazy and has instead trained you to keep feeding it carrots while getting nothing in return.

The United States should consult its colleagues in the European Union to see how the Palestinian Authority has managed EU donations. Since 1994, the EU has provided the Palestinians with donations of nearly 5.6 billion euros ($7.56 billion). According this past Sunday’s Times of Britain, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) determined that the Palestinian Authority squandered nearly 2 billion euros ($2.7 billion) in European aid through corruption and mismanagement. It seems that at last the members of the European Union are beginning to make a real tzimmes over this serious amount of missing carrots.

As for Israel, the year 2014 also began just where 2013 left off, with Secretary of State John Kerry moving between states in the region like he is the reincarnation of Henry Kissinger or the Arab Spring. In either guise this does not bode well for Israel. His peripatetic ways serve best as a training exercise for the campaign trail he is sure to embark upon in hopes of the Democratic Presidential nomination for the 2016 elections. Israel’s great gift to America may be to keep Kerry so occupied with the pursuit of peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis that he could not tear himself from negotiations and hence not enter the derby for the Democratic nomination. Of course, that would mean two more years of Kerry’s kvetching, which might have the benefit of making both sides capitulate just to make him stop.

Kerry’s claim of “facilitating” peace rather than “imposing” America’s vision of peace in the region rings hollow when it comes to how he has handled Israel during his previous nine visits, but during his just concluded five-day visit to the region, he committed no egregious offenses as in the past. It seems that Kerry spent more time listening, proving to be a gracious guest while adhering to Ben Franklin’s saying, “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days,” leaving Israel before his 72 hours turned pungent and pugnacious. I don’t mean to “carp” on this point but did Kerry bring any fresh ideas worth “herring”? Or did he leave merely before the stink set in and he was reduced to old patterns of upbraiding Israel and blaming his failing peace plan on Israeli intransigence?

As for new ideas, apparently none were born on this trip, though support for the talks was found from two unlikely sources, each dusting off an old chestnut for reconsideration. Kerry shuttled to Saudi Arabia this past Sunday to elicit support from Saudi King Abdullah and the Arab League for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. Before leaving Riyadh, Kerry said, “Today His Majesty was not just encouraging, but supported our efforts in the hopes that we can be successful in the days ahead.” Kerry, trying to shift the focus of the talks from risk-adverse negotiations to the benefits of peace, said that one of the reasons for his trip to Saudi Arabia was to discuss the Saudi-led Arab League peace initiative from 2002. Kerry’s vision is that “if the parties could arrive at a peaceful resolution, you could instantaneously have peace between the 22 Arab nations and 35 Muslim nations, all of whom have said they will recognize Israel if peace is achieved.” Ah, the audacity of hope!

Yet another unlikely source for support for the negotiations appeared when Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman tepidly endorsed the current peace efforts on a relative basis, saying, “We need to understand that any alternative proposal that we’d get from the international community would be far less favorable to us.” Basically, what Kerry is offering is the lesser of two evils. Lieberman’s contribution to the talks was the reintroduction of an idea he first floated in 2004, in which he suggested trading Arab areas within Israel known as the “Triangle,” home to 300,000 Arabs, for Jewish areas in the West Bank, in the context of any peace agreement.

The proposal had a polarizing effect between Israelis who support a two-state solution, who consider transferring the “Triangle” an innovative idea, and three groups who rejected the plan immediately.

Rejecting it were those who thought it not politically correct, and claimed it was ethnic cleansing. Lieberman responded to them by distinguishing it from real ethnic cleansing which occurred in the Gaza expulsion of 2005: “It is important to emphasize that we are not speaking of a transfer. This is not like the [Gaza] disengagement, where we took 21 settlements, took people and expelled them from their homes, sent them to another place, and confiscated their property. In the case of an exchange of territories and populations, no one will be chased from their homes, and no one will be separated from their property. Everyone will stay in the same place and homes, only the border will be moved.” Another naysayer to this proposal was the Palestinians themselves who proved they do not really believe in a two-state solution. By rejecting Lieberman’s idea, they are in effect stating that they prefer remaining Israeli citizens in a Jewish state rather than living in a Palestinian state, or they expect the Jewish identity of Israel to eventually disappear and for Israel to transform into Palestine. Finally, there are Jewish Israelis who reject relinquishing or exchanging any Israeli territory under any circumstance.

So why did Kerry come now? Was it to revive any residual momentum? Was it to feel the gratitude of the Palestinians after the $440 million check cleared? Was it to beat it out of Washington before the blizzard that blasted the East Coast last week hit? Was it just because he missed the Middle East? With so many unanswered questions, your guess is as good as mine. But wondering what Kerry is accomplishing here does make a great idea for a game; it can be called “GUESS-T AGAIN.”


 

Meir Solomon is a writer, analyst and commentator living in Alon Shvut, Israel, with his wife and two children. He can be contacted at msolomon@Hamodia.com.