Sunday, 29 January 2017

France's damp squib


        November the 5th – for anyone unfamiliar with British customs – is the day each year when children across the UK gather around a bonfire, burn an effigy of a 17th century villain called Guy Fawkes, and let off fireworks. Guy Fawkes’s villainy consisted in packing the basement of the House of Lords with barrels of gunpowder, hoping to blow up the whole place when King James I was present, thus despatching the monarch and the entire aristocracy to kingdom come. Details of the plot leaked, and it turned – as any firework does if not kept completely dry – into a damp squib.

        “Damp squib” is an epithet that could be applied to the much-trumpeted 70-nation assembly in Paris on January 15, 2017, brought together to discuss the apparently insoluble Israeli-Palestinian stand-off. “An exercise in futility” is how the London Daily Telegraph termed it;“a lame duck enterprise.” Others described it as “much ado about nothing”.

        French presidents have aspired to be power brokers in the Middle East ever since France assumed its colonial role there, after the First World War. France was, of course, one of the two principals ­– the other was Britain – responsible for dismembering the Ottoman empire. The division of Turkish-held Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine into various French- and British-administered areas flowed directly from the Sykes-Picot agreement, a secret understanding concluded during the war.

        As a result, for the last hundred years France has involved itself in the politics of the region. As regards the Israeli-Palestinian situation, while France has consistently defended Israel’s right to exist in security, it has also long advocated the creation of a Palestinian state. Belying the well-known logicality of French thought, the possible incompatibility between these two positions has never been acknowledged. It was certainly not referred to by former French president, François Mitterand, when he addressed Israel’s parliament in 1982.

        France sees itself as a possible facilitator of an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, a perception which has led it into a blind alley on more than one occasion. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was the initiator of a damp squib par excellence in 2007-8, when he devised and pushed through the European Union a concept grandiosely entitled the “Union for the Mediterranean”. In July 2008 he induced more than 40 heads of state, including Israel’s then-prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, to attend a summit in Paris. Nothing of any significance emerged from the meeting, and the Union for the Mediterranean has long since been sucked into the quicksands of history to disappear without trace.

        A year later, in August 2009, when it was clear that newly-elected US President Barack Obama was eager to relaunch peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, Sarkozy believed he saw an opportunity to get in on the act and offered to host another international conference, in order, as he said, to facilitate the peace process. He went so far as to issue invitations to leaders from concerned countries, including Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria. Obama, however, intent on pursuing his own initiative, rejected the overture.

        Nothing daunted, in January 2010 as Obama’s efforts to bring the parties to the negotiating table were inching their painful way forward, Sarkozy repeated his offer. He declared that the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian discussions was a French priority, and that a Paris-located international conference would be a positive way to advance the peace process. Once again France’s attempt to elbow its way into the negotiations was quietly pushed aside.

        This prescription of a Paris-based international conference seems to have become an idée fixe in French thinking. It reappeared in December 2014, when President François Hollande took the lead in drafting a Security Council resolution outlining proposals for an Israeli-Palestinian final-status deal. The formula incorporated a two-year timetable for completing negotiations and (one is tempted to remark “ça va sans dire”) an international peace conference to take place in Paris.

        Laurent Fabius, France’s then foreign minister, played the same tune, with minor variations, when he visited the Middle East in June 2015 to sell the idea of a French-led initiative to reboot the peace process. Hollande followed this up with a meeting in Paris on June 3, 2016. Attended by 28 governments or organizations, it was intended to signal a sort of remobilization of the international community in support of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Then finally, on January 15, 2017, France achieved its long-held ambition of hosting an international peace conference, and in Paris too.

        It garnered a splendid turnout, including the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, even though he was within two weeks of relinquishing his post. The occasion was, however, rather like a performance of Hamlet without either the prince or his father’s ghost because, in accordance with a rather convoluted political plan, France had invited neither of the two principals to the occasion. The intention was to impose global pressure on Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the PA president Mahmoud Abbas, to re-enter negotiations on the basis of the recent UN resolution 2334 and the vitally important earlier resolution 242. Ignored or unrecognized was the glaring incompatibility between the two. While 242 envisages the creation of new “secure and recognized boundaries” in the West Bank and Jerusalem, 2334 hands the whole territory over to the Palestinians.

        The main positive point emerging from the conference was that “interested participants” resolved to meet again before the end of 2017 to support both sides in advancing the two-state solution. It is not clear how many of the 70 attendees qualify as “interested participants”, but it is certain that neither the US nor the UK will be at that get-together, if it ever takes place. The US under President Trump will have no interest in further Israel-bashing, while the UK virtually snubbed the Paris event by sending not the Foreign Secretary, nor even a minister, but the head of the Middle East desk at the Foreign Office, and then not endorsing the final communiqué.

        Paris produced nothing new or positive on January 15, and is unlikely to do so the next time round. Israeli settlements may seem to many the ultimate obstacle to an accord, but far more of an obstacle is the stubborn refusal of Palestinian extremists to recognize the legitimacy of the state of Israel, linked to their continuous propaganda promoting hatred of Israel, Israelis and Jews, and lauding and rewarding terrorists and terrorist activity against them. If that issue were ever addressed, some long-awaited fireworks might well result.

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 28 January 2017:

Published in the Eurasia Review, 1 February 2017:

Published in the MPC Journal, 28 January 2017:

               [Next posting:  Saturday 4 February 2017 at 7.30 pm GMT]

Tuesday, 24 January 2017


This letter appeared in the London Daily Telegraph on 24 January 2016:


SIR – The UN Security Council’s Resolution 2334, passed by 14 votes to nil on December 23 with the US abstaining, refers three times to “Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem”.

In so doing, it runs counter to Resolution 242, adopted by the Security Council immediately after the Six Day War in June 1967, which did not call for a full withdrawal from all the territories that Israel had captured but required the creation of new “secure and recognised” boundaries.

The corollary to East Jerusalem being recognised as occupied Palestinian territory, however, is that West Jerusalem is part of sovereign Israel. Accordingly, what logical objection could there be to any nation locating its embassy there, as Donald Trump plans for America?

Neville Teller

              [Next posting:  Sunday, 29 January 2017 at 7.30 am GMT]

Sunday, 22 January 2017

UN Resolution 2334 and the Jerusalem anomaly


        In the course of its vehement condemnation of Israeli settlements, UN Security Council resolution 2334, passed on December 23, 2016, refers three times to “Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem.” To some, the phrase may appear not only innocuous, but self-evident. In fact it is saddled with a load of historical assumption, and requires a little cool picking apart.

        In the first instance, the wording of 2334 makes it clear that the idea of the City of Jerusalem as a so-called corpus separatum, namely international territory – a concept inherent in the original UN partition plan for post-Mandate Palestine – has been abandoned by the Security Council. But contradictions abound in international thinking about the Israel-Palestinian situation. Incongruously the UN as a whole, like the European Union, still clings to the concept of an internationalized Jerusalem while at the same time asserting its support for the incompatible objective of “a viable state of Palestine in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem." It must be one or the other; it cannot be both – and the Security Council at least appears consistent.

        The idea of an internationalized Jerusalem was set out in General Assembly resolution 181 (II), passed on November 29, 1947: "The City of Jerusalem shall be established as a corpus separatum under a special international regime and shall be administered by the United Nations." It was restated after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war in resolution 303(IV) of 1949, and again reiterated in a 1979 report prepared under the guidance of the UN’s Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. It has never been countermanded, though as a practical proposition it is surely obsolete. There has never been any agreement, treaty, or international understanding which applies the corpus separatum concept to Jerusalem.

        The idea was part and parcel of the UN’s original partition plan for Mandate Palestine. At the moment the British government surrendered its mandate, the territory then known as “Palestine” – except for the area designated for the Jewish state, which had come into existence on the previous day – ceased to belong to any sovereign nation. In the subsequent Arab-Israel war Jordanian forces seized East Jerusalem, while Israel gained control of West Jerusalem. In 1949, the Israeli government declared Jerusalem to be the capital of the new state.

        It was during the 1967 Six Day War that Israel captured East Jerusalem from the Jordanian army. The Security Council’s purpose in asserting that East Jerusalem is occupied Palestinian territory is to reaffirm, as it has done on a variety of occasions in the past, that it regards as invalid Israel’s Jerusalem Law of July 1980 declaring the whole city to be the unified capital of Israel.

        As for possible changes to the pre-Six Day War lines regarding Jerusalem, these are many and various. Several have been discussed down to fine detail during past intensive negotiations. They include redrawing the boundaries of the city and its environs to carve out a new Arab municipality of Al-Quds (the so-called “Clinton Parameters”), leaving the city unified but under joint Israeli-Arab administration (the “open city” concept of the 1999-2001 final status negotiations), and the “divided city”, or separation barrier, proposed in the joint Israeli-Palestinian Geneva Initiative of 2003.

        The Old City of Jerusalem presents its own problems, and various models are similarly afloat, including so-called “territorial sovereignty” (ie divided Israeli-Arab control), a “special regime” (a united Old City under special management), and hybrid versions of these.

        The main problem with resolution 2334 is that it seeks to modify Security Council Resolution 242, the accepted and agreed basis for the Arab-Israel peace process. Adopted by the Security Council in the immediate aftermath of the Six Day War in June 1967, resolution 242 became the cornerstone of Middle East diplomatic efforts to solve the Arab-Israel dispute. 242 accepted that the armistice line boundaries after the 1948 Arab-Israel war, which remained in place up to the outbreak of the Six Day War in 1967, were merely where the two armies happened to be placed when hostilities ceased in 1948, and were far from satisfactory as defensible international borders. In fact, Article II of the Armistice with Jordan explicitly specified that the agreement did not compromise any future territorial claims of the parties, since it had been "dictated exclusively by military considerations." Accordingly resolution 242 required the creation of new “secure and recognized" boundaries, and did not call for a full withdrawal from all the territories that Israel captured in the Six Day War.

        Resolution 2334 runs counter to 242 by explicitly establishing the 1967 pre-war boundaries as the borders of a Palestinian state, only subject to any possible future agreement. Those boundaries refer back to a city of Jerusalem divided between Israeli and Jordanian occupation. The dividing line ran south past the Mandelbaum Gate and skirted the Old City wall, thus incorporating the Old City within East Jerusalem.

        Right up until 1967 Jordanian snipers were positioned along the City Line, frequently shooting at citizens and other targets on the Israeli side of the city. Jordan’s commitment in the 1949 Armistice Agreement to allow free access of Jews to the holy sites, such as the Western Wall and the cemetery on the Mount of Olives, was not honored. Synagogues, cemeteries and the area adjacent to the Western Wall were desecrated. Israel understandably has no desire to recreate the conditions that gave rise to this situation – which explains why much of the Israeli media objects to the idea of pre-determining the borders of a putative Palestinian state to include an East Jerusalem occupied for 19 years by the Jordanian army.

        A further interesting point. To declare, as resolution 2334 does, that East Jerusalem is Palestinian territory carries with it an obvious corollary – namely that West Jerusalem is an integral part of sovereign Israel. The Security Council therefore, by implication, removes any objection to states locating their embassies within that part of the city. In the light of resolution 2334, the furore raised in certain circles by US President Donald Trump’s declared intention to relocate the American embassy to Jerusalem seems otiose.

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 23 January 2017:

Published in the Eurasia Review, 23 January 2017:

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Unpicking UN resolution 2334

        Resolution 2334, approved 14-nil by the UN Security Council on December 23, 2016 with only the United States abstaining, has generated a tsunami of media comment. A major subject of debate has turned on the fact that, for the first time in his eight years in office, President Obama decided not to veto a demonstrably anti-Israel resolution.

        From much of the media verbiage it might be assumed that this US abstention on a vote on the Israeli-Palestinian issue was unique. Unique for the Obama administration it certainly was, but over the years the US has abstained on – rather than vetoed – no less than 21 Security Council votes relating to Israel. US abstentions have occurred under Presidents Nixon, Carter, Reagan, both Bushes and Clinton.

        So that in itself was nothing new. The truly unique aspect of resolution 2334 is that it seeks to modify Security Council Resolution 242, the accepted and agreed basis for the Arab-Israel peace process. Adopted by the Security Council in the immediate aftermath of the Six Day War in June 1967, resolution 242 became the cornerstone of Middle East diplomatic efforts to solve the Arab-Israel dispute. It was accepted not only by the world community in general, but specifically by Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and even the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

        Emphasizing the need to establish “a just and lasting peace in the Middle East”, it maintained that Israeli armed forces should withdraw “from territories occupied in the recent conflict” and that there should be an “acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area, and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”

        The term “every state in the area” encompassed Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. It could not refer to Palestine, because there was no such state at the time. The “Palestine” that the world had recognized until 1948 had been superseded by the UN General Assembly’s vote to partition it into a Jewish state and an Arab state. During the war that followed the establishment of Israel in 1948, Transjordan, as it then was, seized the West Bank and east Jerusalem, and Egypt gained control of the Gaza strip. These areas, now referred to in resolution 2334 as “Palestinian territories”, were governed by Jordan and Egypt respectively for 19 years ­– from 1948 until 1967 – without any attempt by either Arab state to establish a sovereign Palestine. Then, as now, recognizing a sovereign Palestine in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza meant recognizing a sovereign Israel outside those areas – something the Arab world was not prepared to do at the time.

        Resolution 2334 runs counter to 242 because it explicitly establishes the 1967 pre-war boundaries as the baseline contours for a Palestinian state, declaring that the council "will not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties through negotiation."

        What are the “4 June 1967 lines”? They delineate where the Israeli and the Arab armies happened to be positioned in 1948 at the moment the fighting stopped. "I know the 1967 border very well,” said Lord Caradon, Britain’s ambassador to the UN, who submitted Resolution 242 to the Security Council. “It is not a satisfactory border, it is where the troops had to stop...It is not a permanent border." Caradon’s US counterpart, Ambassador Arthur Goldberg, confirmed that the armistice lines did not constitute an acceptable border. In fact, Article II of the Armistice with Jordan explicitly specified that the agreement did not compromise any future territorial claims of the parties, since it had been "dictated exclusively by military considerations." 

        Which is why – as Dr Dore Gold, the renowned expert on Middle East affairs, has pointed out – Resolution 242 required the creation of new “secure and recognized" boundaries and “did not call for a full withdrawal from all the territories that Israel captured in the Six Day War; the 1949 Armistice lines were no longer to be a reference point for a future peace process."

        President Lyndon Johnson made this very point in September 1968: "It is clear, however, that a return to the situation of 4 June 1967 will not bring peace. There must be secure and there must be recognized borders."

        Resolution 2334 by-passes this vital building block for a future final status agreement, and embeds the status quo ­– long assumed to be negotiable – into permanence. It urges countries and organizations to distinguish "between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967" – an appeal that will doubtless be used by Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists to bolster their campaigns, aimed at cutting Israel’s political, economic, commercial, academic, artistic and sporting ties with the rest of the world, and eventually dismantling the state.

        In voting through Resolution 2334 the Security Council, like the EU in seeking to differentiate between Israeli produce and that emanating from the territories, is – perhaps from the best of motives – setting back the process that it nominally seeks to promote. Pre-determining the borders of a future sovereign Palestine is scarcely consistent with maintaining that they must be the subject of direct negotiations between the parties, a mantra repeated endlessly by world leaders. If they are already determined, why undertake face-to-face negotiations? In short, rather than advancing the peace process, resolution 2334 significantly retards it.

        Obama’s decision to allow resolution 2334 to pass does not sit easily with one of his keynote speeches on the Israel-Palestine issue. Back in May 2011 he was firmly backing the principles established in 242. “We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”

        He went on: “Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism, to stop the infiltration of weapons, and to provide effective border security.”

        UN Security Council resolution 2334 has little to offer on these matters beyond aspirations. In addition to calling on Israel to end all settlement activity, it asks for “immediate steps to prevent all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror.” Do such acts include Hamas launching rockets indiscriminatingly out of Gaza? What steps, taken by whom, does it envisage?

        In urging both parties to create the conditions “necessary for promoting peace,” it calls on them to “launch credible negotiations on all final status issues in the Middle East peace process”, blind to the anomaly that the resolution itself creates and its deleterious effect on that exhortation.

        Despite the applause that greeted the vote, December 23 was not the Security Council’s most creditable day.

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 16 January 2017:

Published in the Eurasia Review, 16 January 2017:

Published in the MPC Journal, 17 January 2017:

                     [Next posting:  Sunday 22 January 2017 at 9.30 am GMT]

Sunday, 8 January 2017

UN Resolution 2334 – misgivings and second thoughts

        The UN Security Council is made up of 15 states – five permanent members with the power of veto (the US, Russia, China, France, and the UK), and a shifting list of ten other states, elected for two-year terms by the General Assembly. In December 2016, Egypt was reaching the end of its first year on the Council.

        On the evening of Wednesday, December 21, Egypt circulated a draft resolution – reportedly drawn up with the assistance of the UK – which asserted that the settlements in what it described as “Palestinian territory occupied since 1967 including east Jerusalem” had no legal validity. It called upon Israel to "immediately and completely" cease all further construction, and upon all states to distinguish in their relevant dealings between “the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.”

        The next day, Thursday, members expected to vote on it. To their astonishment, just a few hours before the Egyptian delegation, led by Amr Abdellatif Aboulatta, Egypt’s permanent representative to the UN, were due to present their resolution to the Council, they withdrew it.

        “A complete embarrassment to our diplomatic establishment,” was how Emad al-Din Hussein, editor-in-chief of the independent Egyptian newspaper Al-Shorouq described the debacle, apparently a classic case of crossed wires. Egypt’s diplomatic team in New York, relying too heavily on the nation’s traditional pro-Palestinian anti-Israel stance, had forged ahead, failing to factor in two recent game-changing developments: the close collaboration that has developed between Egypt and Israel, as their forces jointly battle against the terrorist infrastructure in northern Sinai, and the total rejection by US President-elect Donald Trump of the Obama administration’s policies in the Middle East.

        One US commentator asserts that Cairo and Jerusalem are perhaps “closer than at any time in their history.” Egypt relies on Israeli security support at home, as well as diplomatic support internationally, including in Washington. Egypt’s foreign minister Sameh Shoukry visited Jerusalem in June 2016, the first such visit in nearly a decade. His meeting with Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, indicated a growing willingness on Egypt’s part to make public its strong relationship with Israel.

        As for President-elect Trump, his victory at the polls was met with delight in Cairo. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi saw it as bringing a welcome end to the Obama administration's persistent badgering following his overthrow of the previous Muslim Brotherhood regime, and also the prospect of strong future support for his government's battle against the Brotherhood and its jihadist followers, both hell-bent on toppling his administration.

        Reacting to determined efforts by Israel to persuade Washington to block the resolution, Trump let loose on Twitter and Facebook. "The resolution being considered at the United Nations Security Council regarding Israel should be vetoed. As the United States has long maintained, peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians will only come through direct negotiations between the parties, and not through the imposition of terms by the United Nations."

        Trump followed this up with a telephone call to Egypt’s president. Sisi's spokesman, Alaa Yousef, said the two leaders agreed to allow Trump's incoming administration a chance to tackle the issue.

        As a result, the Egyptian delegation at the UN were instructed by their president to withdraw their resolution. They had no alternative but to comply. The decision was met with incomprehension by the other members of the Security Council, four of whom ­– Malaysia, Senegal, Venezuela, and New Zealand – instantly agreed to put forward a resolution couched in exactly the same terms as the withdrawn Egyptian version. It was put to the vote on Friday, December 23, and of the 15 members of the Security Council, 14 voted in favour. The United States, in a move unprecedented by the Obama administration  in previous Security Council polls concerning the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, did not use its veto, but abstained.

        Sisi is not the only figure on the world stage to have had misgivings about the resolution. On Tuesday, December 27, Russia’s deputy ambassador to Israel, Alexander Dubrovin, revealed in a radio interview that his country had tried to delay the vote but had been opposed by the other Security Council members. Whether or not Russia had been trying to align its policy with that of President-elect Trump, he said that Russia had wanted the discussion to continue, and was unhappy that the resolution focused only on the settlement issue in the complex Israeli-Palestinian situation.

        Immediately after the vote Russia issued a statement criticizing the way the resolution was brought to the Security Council, only a day after Egypt had pulled its own proposal on the matter.

        “Our experience shows convincingly that a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is only possible through direct talks between Palestinians and Israelis without any preconditions,” said the Russian statement. “It is with this aim in view that Russia has been working and will continue working as a member of the Middle East Quartet... We would also like to reaffirm our readiness to host a meeting of the leaders of Israel and Palestine in Moscow.”

        And then, on December 29, out of the blue, Australia’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop, announced that had Australia been a member of the Security Council, it would have voted against the settlement resolution criticizing Israel’s presence in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. “In voting at the UN,” said Bishop,” the Coalition government has consistently not supported one-sided resolutions targeting Israel.”

        The Australian government’s position is that the status of territories captured by Israel in the 1967 war should be decided only by direct bilateral negotiations. This is consistent with the 1995 Interim Agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, which deemed those lands subject to “permanent status” negotiations.

        In an interview with the Times of Israel in January 2014, Bishop said that West Bank settlements should not be referred to as illegal under international law. “I don’t think it’s helpful to prejudge the settlement issue if you’re trying to get a negotiated solution.” 
Other members of the Australian government support this position. Attorney General George Brandis stated in June 2014 that Australia would no longer use “occupied” to describe eastern Jerusalem (which includes the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, the Temple Mount and the Western Wall). Shortly afterwards, Australian ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, said that Australia would not in future use “occupied” to describe the West Bank.

        On January 5, the US House of Representatives in a motion supported by some 30 Democrat members, voted 342-80 to veto any similar UN resolution in the future. The Senate is expected to follow the House in a parallel vote shortly.

        It is not, perhaps, surprising that an attempt to lay down the law on one of the thorniest issues in the complex Palestinian-Israeli dispute should give rise to misgivings and second thoughts in some quarters. Unfortunately Resolution 2334 does nothing to resolve them.

Published in the Jerusalem Post, 3 January 2017:

Published in the Eurasia Review, 12 January 2017:

                    [Next posting: Sunday 15 January 2017 at 12.05 pm GMT]


Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Flaws at the heart of Kerry's blueprint

        On December 28, 2016, in the dying days of the Obama presidency, Secretary of State John Kerry summoned the media to the Dean Acheson Auditorium in the State Department building in Washington, where he promised to “deliver remarks on Middle East peace”. In a speech lasting more than an hour, Kerry provided a detailed apologia for the Obama administration’s policy on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, including an impassioned rationale for the US’s abstention on the Security Council vote on December 23 demanding an end to further Israeli settlement construction in territories captured in the 1967 Six Day War.

        Kerry proceeded to outline a blueprint for advancing towards a two-state solution. It took the form of six principles which, he believed, were generally acknowledged to be essential in any final status agreement that met the needs of both sides. In fact Kerry’s six principles closely mirror what is known of the near-agreements achieved in the negotiations of 2000 and 2008 under the two Israeli prime ministers named Ehud – Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert respectively.

        Kerry’s speech was a model of balance, logic and reason. Unfortunately two major flaws lie at the heart of his thinking on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and they render both his analysis and his solution defective.

        The first is the mantra, oft-repeated by Israeli leaders, and adopted by Kerry, that the only path to an accord lies in face-to-face discussions between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). “A final status agreement ,” asserted Kerry, “can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the parties.”

        It is time that particular sacred cow was slaughtered. Face-to-face negotiations between Israel and the PA have been tried to destruction. A plethora of dates, strewn across the recent history of the Middle East, mark doomed efforts to resolve the conflict by face-to-face discussion. The truth is that all were predestined to fail, even before the negotiators for each side sat down at the table.

        The reason is not difficult to deduce. Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), leads a Fatah party whose charter states quite unequivocally that Palestine, with the boundaries that it had during the British Mandate – that is, before the existence of Israel – is an indivisible territorial unit and is the homeland of the Arab Palestinian people. Each Palestinian, it declares, must be prepared for the armed struggle and be ready to sacrifice both wealth and life to win back his homeland.

        Why then, one might legitimately ask, has Abbas spent the past ten years nominally supporting the two-state solution, and pressing for recognition of a sovereign Palestine within the boundaries that existed before the Six-Day War? The reason was spelled out by Yasser Arafat, in a secret meeting with top Arab diplomats in Stockholm's Grand Hotel on January 30, 1996. It is a tactic, the first stage in a strategy ultimately designed to gain control of the whole of Mandate Palestine. The PLO, said Arafat, plans "to eliminate the State of Israel and establish a purely Palestinian State.” This unchanged objective underlies everything that Abbas says in the Arabic media, but which he never mentions in his statements to the world.

        Supporting the two-state solution is designed to swing world opinion to the Palestinian cause – and it has succeeded very well. But the naked truth is that no Palestinian leader would ever sign up to it, since to do so would be to concede that Israel has a legitimate place within Mandate Palestine – and that would instantly brand him a traitor to the Palestinian cause. To sign an agreement that recognizes Israel’s right to exist within “historic Palestine” would probably be more than his life was worth.

        So to persist in asserting that face-to-face negotiations are the only way forward is perverse. They must, and always do, end in failure.

         The second fatal flaw in Kerry’s perception of the situation is his continued assertion that there is only one possible objective if peace and stability in the region are to be achieved – the two-state solution. It is vital, he asserted, “that we not lose hope in the two-state solution, no matter how difficult it may seem – because there really is no viable alternative.”

        Kerry’s two-state solution involves establishing a sovereign Palestine on most of the West Bank subject to agreed land swaps, on Gaza and somehow within a shared Jerusalem. He says there is no viable alternative, but quite simply this is not so. Imaginative thinking could yield a sovereign Palestine within a number of alternative contexts. It could also result in by-passing ineffective face-to-face negotiations, and provide the Palestinian leadership with the cover necessary to allow them to sign off on a final status agreement while shielding them from retribution meted out by extremists within their own ranks.

        In September 2014 a report, quickly denied by both parties, suggested that Egypt’s President Sisi had offered PA President Abbas a 1,600 square kilometer area in the Sinai, immediately adjacent to the Gaza strip, to create a “greater Gaza state” some 5 times larger than at present. In exchange the PA would abandon claims to a sovereign Palestine within the pre-1967 lines, although the Palestinian cities in the West Bank would remain under PA rule. Adapting this concept, one could envisage a sovereign Palestinian state based on land swaps between Egypt, Israel and Palestinian areas in the West Bank that would provide a contiguous sovereign Palestine, significantly expand Gaza, allow Israel to retain major settlements in the West Bank, and provide Egypt with a land link to Jordan.

        A second possible answer? At the instigation, and under the shield, of the Arab League the PA might be invited to a peace conference which takes as a starting point the Arab Peace Initiative, now 15 years old, but which adapts it to take account of today’s realities. The conference would be dedicated to establishing a sovereign state of Palestine, but only within the context of a new three-state Confederation of Jordan, Israel and Palestine – a new legal entity to be established simultaneously, dedicated to defending itself and its constituent sovereign states, and to cooperating in the fields of commerce, infrastructure and economic development to the benefit of all its citizens – Jordanian, Israeli and Palestinian alike.

        Such a solution, based on an Arab-wide consensus, could absorb Palestinian extremist objections, making it abundantly clear that any subsequent armed opposition, from whatever source, would be disciplined from within, and crushed by the combined defense forces of the confederation. 

        The old nostrums have outgrown their usefulness. Present needs call for lateral thinking.

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 8 January 2017:

Published in the Eurasia Review, 7 January 2017:

Published in the MPC Journal, 11 January 2017:

                    [Next posting: Sunday 8 January 2017 at 9.30 am GMT]