Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Mideast Media Sampler 6/26/13: Kerry Plodding On -- With Help of New York Times and Robert Malley

by David Gerstman, contributing blogger at Legal Insurrection

1) Kerry to make his mark?

Michael Gordon profiles the new Secretary of State, in Following a Star, Kerry applies a Personal touch
Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Moscow early last month, determined to involve Russia in a new push to try to end the carnage in Syria. After a two-and-a-half-hour meeting with the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, and a private stroll with Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, the two sides announced they would convene a conference in Geneva to bring representatives of the Syrian government together with the opposition, possibly by the end of May. The idea of a conference was a bold move — and so far, at least, an unsuccessful one. 
More than six weeks later, the Syrian opposition has suffered a stinging setback in Qusayr, the Obama administration has decided for the first time to arm the rebels, relations between the United States and Russia have taken a turn for the worse, and it is possible the Geneva meeting may never take place. ... While his predecessor, Hillary Rodham Clinton, was a global celebrity and possibly a future president, Mr. Kerry is striving to carve out a legacy as one of the most influential secretaries of state in recent years by taking on some of the world’s most intractable problems.
It's interesting to contrast Kerry with Hillary Clinton. But while she may be viewed by some as a "star," was she a successful Secretary of State. (Aside from the record setting travel, did she accomplish anything?) But if the point of the article is to boost Kerry's reputation, why does it start off with a failure? Was the idea of the conference a good one? Or merely a product of wishful thinking? (This isn't the first odd profile of Kerry in the New York Times. During the 2004 campaign an article that seemed like an effort to portray Kerry as a regular guy who eats peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, couldn't get past the fact that Kerry had a staff member who made the sandwiches for him.) Is there anything in Kerry's background that makes it likely that he will solve problems that others before him have failed to do? In any case, prior to that admiring profile of the Secretary, an article provided a reason why he might not succeed in bringing peace to the Middle East, Trying to Revive Mideast Peace Talks, Kerry Finds a Conflicted Israel.
Despite Mr. Kerry’s push, the Palestinian conflict has faded from view here as Israelis worry more about threats from Syria and Iran, as well as domestic social and economic issues. A poll by the Peace Index project of the Israel Democracy Institute in April showed the Palestinian issue ranked fifth among seven top concerns for Israelis, with fewer than half of the respondents supporting negotiations or believing that they will bear fruit. Several analysts noted that while Israel’s Jan. 22 elections resulted in a less conservative Parliament than the previous one, the coalition Mr. Netanyahu assembled in mid-March tilts further to the right, particularly on the Palestinian question. David Horovitz, the founding editor of The Times of Israel, said that the most telling thing was not what Mr. Danon said but that Mr. Netanyahu had given him and the others who disagree with the prime minister’s stated support for two states prominent positions in the cabinet.
Note the bias of this story. It is only Israeli hesitation that is cited as a reason for the expected difficulty in Kerry's efforts. But while Danon's comments were controversial, he did give an important qualification that the reporter ignored.
Speaking to The Times of Israel in his Knesset office, Danon said that there is currently zero debate about the two-state solution within the Likud because there is no “viable partner” on the Palestinian side and it seems unlikely that peace talks would resume any time soon. In recent weeks, US Secretary of State John Kerry has engaged in shuttle diplomacy in a serious bid to get the two sides to return to the negotiating table — so far to no avail. If Kerry were to succeed, however, and Netanyahu and the Palestinians agreed on the implementation of a two-state solution, “then you have a conflict” within the government, Danon said. “But today there is no partner, no negotiations, so it’s a discussion. It’s more of an academic discussion.”
True Danon is saying that he expects that any peace agreement to be blocked. But he's also saying that the Palestinian Authority is not capable of making an agreement. The fact that the PA doesn't seem capable of governing with an independent prime minister or that one of its senior officials openly calls Haifa part of Palestine suggests that Danon is right about the lack of a "viable partner." Then there is the record of Israeli withdrawal since the beginning of the Oslo Accords. The major withdrawals from the West Bank in 1995 were followed by terror attacks in early 1995; Israel's retreat from southern Lebanon in 2000, led to escalating violence culminating in the 2006 war with Hezbollah; and the 2005 disengagement from Gaza has been followed by two military campaigns to stop the rain of rockets upon residents of southern Israel. Given that these withdrawals were supposed to remove a grievance and bring peace closer, is it any wonder that Israelis are skeptical of the effectiveness of the peace process?

2) Kerry's right hand man

Recent reports say that the new Secretary of State is set to appoint Robert Malley to an advisory role and possibly as an assistant secretary in the State Department. Malley had been kicked off of President Obama's campaign in 2008, when it was revealed that he had been talking to Hamas. Hamas is still designated as a terrorist organization by the United States. Perhaps Malley's most famous distinction is that he was the sole member of President Clinton's team at Camp David in 2000 who defended Yasser Arafat's rejection of a peace offer from then-Prime Minister Ehud Barack. In the subsequent years, there was a campaign to reduce Arafat's culpability for torpedoing the peace process and Malley produced op-eds and was quoted extensively by those who wanted to rewrite history. Lee Smith in profile of Malley in 2010, put it very well.
The importance of Malley’s articles was not that they suggested that both Barak and Clinton were liars, but that they created a viable interpretative framework for continuing to blame both sides for the collapse of the peace process even after the outbreak of the second intifada. If both sides were at fault, then it would be possible to resume negotiations once things calmed down. If, on the other hand, the sticking point was actually about existential issues—the refusal to accept a Jewish state—and the inability, or unwillingness, of the Palestinians to give up the right of Arab refugees to return to their pre-1948 places of residence, then Washington would have been compelled to abandon the peace process after Clinton left office. Malley’s articles were a necessary version of history that allowed policymakers to move forward without forsaking the diplomatic and ideological currency that Washington has invested in the concept of creating an independent Palestinian state through a negotiated peace with Israel.
Robert Malley
Robert Malley: Talking with terrorists in Hamas and covering for
Arafat make him ideal as assistant to Kerry.
Credit: International Crisis Group
If it was accepted history that Yasser Arafat rejected a viable peace offer and then launched a terror war against Israel, wise foreign policy experts would have to adjust their assumptions about the peace process. However, Malley's narrative, finding both sides at fault for the failure at Camp David, allowed future peace processors to avoid learning from the past and maintain their mistaken premises. The new Secretary of State intends to restart the peace process with no diplomatic successes to his credit and, possibly, an adviser who rewrites history. What are his chances of success?

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