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.