Here we go again, processing peace in the Middle East. Processed peace is no more peace than Velveeta is cheese, but it beats suicide bombing and killing children. So let the Kerry Games begin.
Neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians actually expect to accomplish much, but autumn in Washington can be very nice, with warm days and cool nights, and the restaurants are good. Not a bad place to spend the next eight months, pretending to negotiate “a diplomatic breakthrough to end more than a century of conflict,” as one optimist puts it.
Jaw, jaw is always better than war, war, as Winston Churchill famously put it, and who can argue with that, so long as you don’t lay down your arms or shut your eyes to the peril all around. The Israelis can expect to feel pressure from the White House, if not to lay down their arms, to shut their eyes to the peril and leave the looking to President Obama and his friends. They’ll hear a lot of advice from their friends in Europe, too, the “friends” with considerable experience in sleeping through the run-up to wars of attempted annihilation.
“They have zero chances of reaching an end of conflict, end of claims agreement,” says Yossi Alpher, an Israeli analyst and the former director of the Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies, as reported by Ben Lynfield in the Jewish World Review (jewishworldreview.com). “The positions are too far apart on narrative issues like the future of the holy places and the right of return.”
The usual voices, hired optimists all, are saying the usual hopeful things that nobody believes. “I travel with a feeling of deep responsibility and great hope,” Tzipi Livni, the justice minister and chief Israeli negotiator, told reporters on her departure from Tel Aviv. “There is a chance for the two sides to pave a way to bring about the solution of the conflict.”
Finding similar hopes and amiable sentiment on the other side is not easy. The Palestinians want what they want, and until they get it, they don’t intend to negotiate. It’s a point of cultural honor. This sounds to Western ears like getting the process backward, but Western logic has no currency in the Middle East.
The Palestinians say the negotiations are based on the 1967 border between Israel and the West Bank, as recognized before the Six-Day War, when the Israelis gave the assembled Arab coalition a good country licking in less than a week. Not true, a senior Israeli official tells reporters. “We did not agree to that. Israel rejected the Palestinian demand for this as a precondition for talks.”
This is the same old sordid story. These are talks neither side wants, and agreed to them only to oblige Mr. Obama, who needs something to persuade everyone that despite his troubled summer, he’s still a relevant president.
Neither Benjamin Netanyahu nor Mahmoud Abbas want to be portrayed in the press as the rejectionist who ruined the chance for “peace.” Maybe this fear of bad press will keep the sides jaw, jawing, unless Mr. Obama, still in love with the sound of the voice that nobody any longer listens to, pressures the two sides to paper over the vast gulf dividing them and reach an agreement to survive long enough for the president to preside over an elaborate Rose Garden ceremony and long enough for the negotiators to get home before the processed peace turns rancid.
The hard-liners in Israel — more correctly called “survivalists” — are not happy now. Several members of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, threaten to boycott key votes if Mr. Netanyahu concedes on the issue of the settlements in Judea and Samaria. Others argue that crippling or toppling the Netanyahu government is foolish. “It’s wrong to come out of this room with a decision to boycott a Likud-led government,” a government minister told a group of West Bank mayors this week. “We should strengthen the government to back the policies of the [conservatives].”
The conservatives are already upset that Mr. Netanyahu began freeing 104 prisoners, many of them violent criminals, in advance to the talks in Washington.
“The world’s thinking is twisted,” Ze’ev Elkin, the deputy foreign minister, told the mayors. “There is no reason for the world to think releasing murderers advances peace, while building kindergartens [on the West Bank] harms peace.” Only in the Middle East.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.