U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks duirng the American Jewish Community Global Forum at the Grand Hyatt Hotel June 3, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
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Kafka and the Mess of Peace Negotiations

Nothing’s changed, nothing looks to change

Adam Chandler
June 05, 2013
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks duirng the American Jewish Community Global Forum at the Grand Hyatt Hotel June 3, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Franz Kafka may have died almost 90 years ago this week, but the legacy of the surreal, nightmarish, absurd, and disorienting narrative is alive and well in the world of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. The immediate tragic figure in the mess: John Kerry. The real tragic figure: all of us.

Only four months into his term as Secretary of State, John Kerry has helped make one thing clear: the parties most instrumental in creating a two-state solution–Israeli and Palestinian leaders–don’t seem interested. And those who talk most incessantly about the necessity for peace–politicians, diplomats, and professional blowhards and opiners–are watching as Kerry toils tirelessly, futilely to get something, anything to happen.

In four months, Kerry has made four trips to the region, buoyed by a high-profile presidential visit in March that stirred even some pessimists. Kerry will return next week for his fifth trip, despite the fact that his efforts have not yielded even a scintilla of promise that the parties will return to the negotiating table. In fact, the opposite seems to be true.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has employed an interesting negotiating strategy by demanding preconditions for the talk (including the release of prisoners) that he knows Israel will reject (and few will blame Israel for rejecting), which he recently coupled with the semi-annual threat that he will dismantle(!) the Palestinian Authority, this time if the talks don’t resume.

Hussein al-Sheikh, the PA minister for civilian affairs, said that Abbas has informed Kerry that the PA’s functional role would end if current efforts to revive the peace process did not succeed.

Israel, as an occupying force, would then have to assume full responsibility [over the Palestinian population],” Sheikh told the PA’s Voice of Palestine radio station.

Abbas has even set a deadline for the PA’s suicide: June 20, as in two weeks from tomorrow, the second-longest day of the year. Who remembers that scene from Blazing Saddles where Sheriff Bart escapes mob justice by pretending that he will kill himself?

Meanwhile, John Kerry is trying to sell the viability of the suicidal Palestinian Authority to American Jews because Israelis (particularly Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) don’t find the institution useful. In a speech on Monday to the AJC, Kerry made his not-entirely-uncompelling case.

The Palestinian Authority has committed itself to a policy of nonviolence. They are the only entity out there in that region that has committed themselves to nonviolence. Think of the cost of that. And think of what they have done to try to build institutions, a security arrangement, a democracy, a prime ministership, growth in the Palestinian economy. The fact that last year, up until recently, not one Israeli died from anything that happened from the West Bank until there was a settler killed about a month ago.

For some insights into the spectrum of reaction to the speech, check out Ron Kampeas, who looks at how Kerry is now butting heads with AIPAC, and J.J. Goldberg, who saw the speech as breaking several rules of etiquette, including initiating something of a subterranean grudge match with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Looming ominously in the background, as Sarah Wildman points out, are the cranes of construction and destruction.

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.