Kerry will need a miracle to broker a peace deal

John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, following their joint statement in Jerusalem this month.
John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, following their joint statement in Jerusalem this month.

Last weekend, like other fellow Jerusalemites, I was confined to my home, besieged by the horrendous snow storm that plagued our city. When power was cut off in our Beit HaKerem neighborhood for two agonizing days, I proudly lit my wood-burning stove. For years, I have been a victim of ridicule by my family, for what they have described as my childish devotion to this toy. Now, during that trial of human endurance, I could regain my pride.

Being so absorbed with the storm, we hardly noticed that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited the region for the 10th time (Or was it the 11th? Who’s counting?). This time it seems that his ambitious drive to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has reached a dead end.

The Palestinians flatly reject American ideas about deploying Israeli troops on the border of a future Palestinian state with Jordan; and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not likely to accept the American demand that Israel refrain from announcing the building of new houses in the settlements.

However, Kerry, who, by the way, doesn't get enough credit in Israel for his resilience and perseverance, is not the type to take no for an answer. “I’m John Kerry, and I'm reporting for duty,” he said when he accepted the presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. It seems that he reported for duty in the Middle East as well, with failure not being an option, surely if he wants to run for president in 2016.

Speaking at the end of his recent visit, Kerry told reporters: “We remain hopeful that we can achieve that final-status agreement. Why? Because we are absolutely confident … that for both sides, and the region at large, peace can bring enormous benefits.”

So true. Except that if Israelis and Palestinians are not yet ready for a peace settlement, because they wrongly believe that by procrastinating they might get a better deal in the future, then there is only so much Kerry can do. Sadly, he will really need a miracle to broker a comprehensive peace settlement between the two parties, especially when a deadline was set for it — April 2014, only four months from now.

If April comes and there is no deal, the indefatigable Kerry can set a new deadline or, alternately, divert his attention to other troublesome areas of the world. Some Israelis will surely rejoice if the latter happens. Without American pressure, they might reason, settlements can go on uninterrupted.

They are wrong. If the Obama administration washes its hands of the Israeli-Palestinian arena, Israel will be more isolated in the world. Already on Monday, the European Union's Foreign Affairs Council denounced Israel’s further settlement plans, but stopped short of sanctions. With the United States turning a cold shoulder to Israel, Europe, and perhaps the rest of the world, might be tempted to take bolder steps.

How will the Palestinians react to a possible breakdown of the talks? This week, I read an ad in the paper announcing the death of Dr. Eyad el-Sarraj, a Palestinian psychiatrist from Gaza. His name rang a bell. I searched my library and found Tom Friedman's book From Beirut to Jerusalem.

In the summer of 1987 Friedman, then The New York Times’ correspondent in Jerusalem, interviewed el-Sarraj, who told him of a kid who had come to his clinic with a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: Each Palestinian should kill one Israeli. El-Sarraj, believing the kid was psychotic, checked him thoroughly. He found him perfectly normal. A few months later, the first intifada erupted.

I'm not sure a third intifada will break out if the recent talks fail. Perhaps the Palestinians have lost the energy for that. However, even if they just shrug their shoulders and do nothing, this doesn’t mean that we Israelis shouldn’t be worried.

In 2003, I wrote in the July 18 Miami Herald that “Israel has to act alone. In the long run, there will be more Arabs than Jews between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea. Therefore, there is only one way to keep Israel both a Jewish and a democratic state: Pull out of Judea, Samaria and Gaza. To do that, Israel shouldn’t be waiting for a trustworthy Palestinian partner to show up; it might wait forever. For its own best interest, Israel should act alone.”

We pulled out of Gaza indeed, and got Hamas terror in return. If we pull out of the West Bank, we might tackle the same problem there. This, however, pales in comparison to losing a Jewish and democratic Israel. After all, the choices in our region are not between good and bad, but rather between bad and worse.

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

Tony Lesesne


    Tony Lesesne: Overkill, and an apology

    Yes, it happens in South Florida, too — and it shouldn’t. Black men pulled over, needlessly hassled by police officers who give the rest of their colleagues a bad name, who make no distinction when a suspect has no other description than ‘black male,’ who harass residents because they can. A North Miami Beach officer pulls over a black man in a suit and tie — and behind the wheel of an Audi that simply had to be stolen, right? In another Miami-Dade city, an officer demands that an African-American man installing a vegetable garden justify why he has a shovel and seedlings. Detained for possession of cilantro? Here are five South Floridians who tell of their experiences in this community and beyond, years ago, and all too recently.

Delrish Moss


    Delrish Moss: Out after dark

    “I was walking up Seventh Avenue, just shy of 14th street. I was about 17 and going home from my job. I worked at Biscayne Federal Bank after school. The bank had a kitchen, and I washed the dishes. A police officer gets out of his car. He didn’t say anything. He came up and pushed me against a wall, frisked me, then asked what I was doing walking over here after dark. Then he got into his car and left. I never got a chance to respond. I remember standing there feeling like my dignity had been taken with no explanation. I would have felt better about that incident had I gotten some sort of dialogue. I had not had any encounters with police.


    Bill Diggs: Hurt officer’s feelings

    “I’m the first generation in my family to go to college, and if I wanted to do nothing else, I wanted to make my mom happy. I was living for my parents, I wanted to be that guy, I wanted to go to work and not have to put on steel-toe boots. And here I am in Atlanta, I have finally grown to a particular level of affluence. I wasn’t making a lot of money, but I was a college kid, wearing a suit, driving a nice BMW going to work everyday. Can’t beat that. I would leave my house, drive up Highway 78, the Stone Mountain area, grab some coffee, go to work. So on this particular morning, there’s a cop who’s rustling up this homeless guy outside the gas station where I was filling up. I’m shaking my head, the cop looks at me. This homeless guy is there every morning. I get in my car and on to the expressway. The police officer comes shooting up behind me. I doing 65, 70. He gets up behind me, I notice he’s following me. I get in one lane, he gets in the lane, I get in another lane, he gets in that lane. He finally flips his lights on, he comes up to the car. I’ve been pulled over for speeding before, I know the drill. Got my hands up here, don’t want to get shot, and I think he’s going to say what I’ve heard before: ‘License and registration, please.’ He says ‘Get out of the car!’ and he reaches in and grabs me by my shirt. He says, ‘So you’re a smart ass, huh?’ Finally he says, ‘License and registration.’ I tell him it’s in the car. He says, ‘Get it for me!’ He goes back to his car, comes back and asks, ‘So where did you get the car from?’ I say ‘It’s a friend of mine’s.” He says, ‘Is it stolen? What are you doing driving your friend’s car?’ I finally asked, ‘Is there a reason you stopped me? You followed me, what’s up, man?’ He says, ‘I’m going to let you go with a warning, but if you see me doing what I’ve got to do for my job, don’t you ever f---ing worry about it.”

Miami Herald

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