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The Forgotten Costs of the Failed Peace Talks

Barring a late breakthrough, Kerry to return to U.S. after failed peace push

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US Secretary of State John Kerry steps off his plane upon his arrival at Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, Jordan on July 16, 2013. Kerry headed to Jordan on his sixth trip to the region as he tries to push Israelis and Palestinians back to peace talks.(MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Unpacking and explaining decades of failed peace negotiations and many more decades of avoidable death, enmity, and damage is the craft of people smarter and more patient than I am. And when I say avoidable death and enmity, I’m talking generations of it, exacted not just in the chalky grounds of the Levant or its waters, pulsing with the sting of jellyfish this time of year, but across the world canvas, scrawled on its altars, chalkboards, subway stations, and whatever. And when I say damage, it’s not just material damage, but incalculable human damage–the failing of basic institutions, the fraying of the common thread, the profaning of the sacred, and the pompous churn of pundits and smart-asses like myself, who claim they foresaw this moment.

It’s easy to be blasé about something we didn’t expect to work, that something being the resumption of peace negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians after nearly five more years of lost time. John Kerry’s proposal for the talks was rejected by the Palestinians last night, but Kerry has traveled to Ramallah this evening in pursuit of a late breakthrough.

Nevertheless, the deck seems stacked. The Palestinian leadership between the West Bank and Gaza hasn’t reconciled, the half in Ramallah too busy preening for attention and the other half in Gaza literally begging its neighbor for fuel.

Even after the Arab League endorsed Secretary of State John Kerry’s framework for the peace talks, giving Ramallah permission to skip out on its ever-changing list of preconditions (more released prisoners? an airport?), as of last night, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas couldn’t convince (or wasn’t strong enough to convince) his friends that a $4 billion boost and the 1967 borders were enough to even get back to the table. This is after twice rejecting offers of over 90 percent of the West Bank in the past 13 years. This week’s EU boycott settlement while lacking in bite is clearly a disincentive for Palestinians to negotiate at all.

On the other side, Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home, may never have to make good on his threat to leave Netanyahu’s coalition (along with members of Netanyahu’s own Likud party no doubt) should the 1967 borders become the starting point for negotiations. Though it certainly could have helped, Israel couldn’t or wouldn’t offer a settlement freeze, like a patient refusing treatment because they don’t like their doctor.

While some have been mocking Kerry for his masochistic shuttling, leading even those who admired his moxie to question whether or not his time could be better spent fretting over Egypt, Iran, Syria, Russia, or China, I don’t think we’ve yet internalized what it could actually mean for this situation to continue as it has forever and ever. I know some may be salivating over the prospect of ferreting out the logistics of a workable one-state solution or are content with the perpetual ignoring of the other side (despite its perils), but that’s not what I’m talking about here.

Yesterday, before the expectation of renewed peace negotiations (as silly as they were) went from hopeful to not, I caught up with an old friend of mine with who lives with his wife in Tel Aviv. We’d been out of touch because he had been busy moving apartments the past week in anticipation of the birth of his first child. A curious New Yorker, I couldn’t help but ask what it’s like to move apartments in Israel. He told me a few details that stuck me with all day. His movers were Palestinian. The driver/their boss was Jewish. During the shlep, one of the movers asked my friend to buy him a pack of cigarettes on the sly because he didn’t want to look weak in front of his coworkers during Ramadan.

On the ride over to the new apartment–in a vehicle leaden with all the worldly paraphernalia of a young American couple aiming to start a family in Israel–the driver fielded a phone call on speaker from a potential customer who wanted to haggle about the rate. Dissatisfied with his progress, the customer explained–in earshot of everyone–that he would rather give his money to Jews than to Arabs, but couldn’t if the price didn’t change. Upon hearing this, my friend relayed, the movers didn’t even flinch.

This is not my experience and, I’ve concluded, it probably will never be. But if there’s an American analogue for it, another moment that stuck with me was during a Passover seder I attended years ago with the family of an old girlfriend of mine in the suburbs of New Jersey. I don’t remember the exact context in which it came up, but one of the fathers at the seder explained to the children that as Jews we should never use weapons to kill others. He punctuated the simplest lesson with a quick dispensation for the soldiers of the IDF who have to kill to keep their families safe. One of his children nodded, understanding and probably not. There is the way that things are supposed to be and the way that things are.

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The Forgotten Costs of the Failed Peace Talks

Barring a late breakthrough, Kerry to return to U.S. after failed peace push

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