Is Kerry Precipitating Another Intifada?

To say that few Israelis think the current peace negotiations going on with the Palestinians have a chance of success is an understatement. In response to the passage by the Knesset of a bill to make it more difficult for the government to divide Jerusalem in the future, opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich mocked the proceedings as a futile exercise. Wasting time on it was ludicrous she said, “as if peace were in the offing … when we know talks are crawling.” But not everyone is taking the talks that were forced upon the parties by Secretary of State John Kerry as a total non-event. Yuval Diskin, a former head of Israel’s Shin Bet security agency, is claiming that the net result of the slow-motion failure of Kerry’s attempt to create momentum for peace when virtually no one thought the time was propitious could be another outbreak of violence.

Diskin, whose views put him on the left of Israel’s political spectrum, said that the recent upsurge in anti-Israel violence in the West Bank may show that another intifada may be in the offing next year once Kerry’s folly finishes running its course: “All of the conditions exist in our situation for the Palestinian masses to rise up,” Yuval Diskin told a conference at the Finance Ministry’s Budget Division. “In the West Bank, the intense tension and frustration is worsening among the Palestinians, who feel that their land is being stolen from them, that the state they strive for is getting further away, and the economy is no longer something that they can take comfort in.”

Diskin’s views about what his country should be doing about the stalemate are outside the mainstream since he advocates concessions that most Israelis are currently unwilling to make. But his fears about the way the process is unfolding and Kerry’s error in judgment in excluding neighboring countries from the talks may reflect a wider consensus:

“We must bring in Egypt and Jordan to the early stages of the negotiation process. Their entrance into this story will give [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas legitimacy to make critical decisions.”

It is doubtful that anything could move Abbas to gamble with his future by agreeing to anything that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn in any accord. The same Palestinian sentiment that is driving a demand for more violence is, as I wrote yesterday, providing the one spark of hope remaining for Abbas’s embattled Hamas rivals. It also gives Hamas and other intransigent elements within Abbas’s Fatah Party a virtual veto over peace that the PA leader challenges at his peril.

But the main point to be gleaned from Diskin’s warnings is that what Kerry has done is to set in motion a chain of events that may have consequences that are unpredictable. The presence of the Egyptians and Jordanians will not help stiffen Abbas’s spine. But in raising the hopes of the Palestinians without the means of satisfying them in the absence of evidence that their society has undergone the sea change needed for peace to be possible, Kerry has made violence more likely. The administration has at times acted as if the secretary’s initiative is a cost-free endeavor that the president can walk away from without consequences. But as Diskin rightly points out, the price of Kerry’s folly may be paid in blood.

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