Thursday, January 23, 2014

Kerry's Peace Process Double Standards

by Khaled Abu Toameh January 16, 2014

It is interesting how one comment from an Israeli minister has managed to strain relations between the U.S. Administration and Israel, while fiery rhetoric and street demonstrations against Kerry and Obama in the Palestinian territories and Arab capitals are completely ignored by Washington.

The U.S. Administration has reacted quickly and strongly to statements attributed to Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon. Ya'alon was quoted by the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronot as describing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as "messianic and obsessive."

In response, the U.S. condemned Ya'alon's comments as "offensive and inappropriate."

But while the U.S. Administration has been quick in issuing a response to the Israeli minister's statements, it continues to ignore remarks and demonstrations against Kerry made by Palestinians and other Arabs.

Palestinian officials representing various organizations, including the Palestinian Authority, have been denouncing Kerry almost on a daily basis over the past few weeks. But these condemnations do not seem to bother the State Department.

Among the officials who have been extremely critical of Kerry's role in the current Israeli-Palestinian peace talks is Yasser Abed Rabbo, the PLO's Secretary-General and one of the closest advisors to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Just last month, Abed Rabbo launched a scathing attack on Kerry, denouncing his latest proposals as unacceptable. "Kerry does not have the right to decide where our borders will be," the top PLO official said. "If the U.S. wants, it can give parts of California or Washington to Israel. Kerry's framework agreement is very dangerous."

Abed Rabbo has also accused Kerry of seeking to "appease Israel by fulfilling its expansionist demands in the Jordan Valley under the pretext of security. He wants to buy Israeli silence over the Iran deal (with the six big powers)."

Palestinian officials have also been leaking details about Kerry's latest proposals for reaching an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Some have gone as far as accusing Kerry of being biased in favor of Israel, working toward "liquidating" the Palestinian cause and trying to extort the Palestinians.

Tayseer Khaled, member of the PLO Executive Committee, was recently quoted as accusing Kerry of trying to extort the Palestinians politically. Khaled's allegations have since been repeated by other Palestinians.

In addition, anti-Kerry demonstrations have become a common phenomenon in Ramallah and other Palestinian cities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. At some of these protests, Kerry is often condemned as a pawn in the hands of Israel.

At another protest in Ramallah, Palestinians chanted, "Oh Kerry, you coward, you have no room in Palestine."

In Bethlehem several weeks ago, Palestinians took to the streets to protest against Kerry's visit to the city. And when President Barack Obama visited Bethlehem last year, Palestinians hurled shoes at his portrait and chanted, and set fire to his photograph.

Anti-Kerry protests have also taken place in Egypt and Jordan, where protesters also torched his portrait and declared him persona non grata.
Why, then, Kerry is not just as offended by the Arab condemnations?

It is interesting to see how one comment from an Israeli minister has managed to strain relations between the U.S. Administration and Israel, while fiery rhetoric and street demonstrations against Kerry and Obama in the Palestinian territories and Arab capitals are completely ignored by Washington. If Kerry really cares about the peace process, he also needs to ask the Palestinian Authority and Arab governments to lower the tone and stop inciting against him and the U.S. Unless, of course, those statements and protests do not offend him.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Removing IDF from the Jordan Valley Would Destabilize Jordan

In the run-up to John Kerry’s arrival in Jerusalem today for yet another round of Israeli-Palestinian talks, media attention naturally focused less on real obstacles to peace than on an Israeli bill to annex the Jordan Valley that supporters and opponents agree hasn’t a prayer of becoming law. Yet despite this coverage, the most interesting fact about the bill has been largely overlooked: One of the biggest behind-the-scenes fans of Israel retaining control of this strategic location is none other than the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Last month, the Israeli daily Maariv reported that Jordan has been urging Kerry to support Israel’s demand for a permanent IDF presence in the valley under any deal with the Palestinians. Three months earlier, the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh quoted a senior Jordanian official’s response when asked in a closed briefing how Amman viewed the possibility of Palestinians replacing Israel along the Jordan border:

“May God forbid!” the official retorted. “We have repeatedly made it clear to the Israeli side that we will not agree to the presence of a third party at our border.”

The Jordanian official claimed this has been Jordan’s position ever since 1967. But it was undoubtedly reinforced by watching the deleterious effects on Egypt’s security of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.

With the IDF no longer there to impede the flow, radical ideology, terrorists, and weaponry began pouring from into Sinai, providing local terrorists not only with enhanced resources (as I explain in more detail here and here), but also with valuable training. As a result, Sinai quickly became a terrorist hotbed that poses a major threat not only to Israel–whose Shin Bet security service now devotes the same resources to monitoring Sinai that it does to the northern West Bank–but also to Egypt itself. A Sinai terrorist group, for instance, claimed responsibility for last week’s deadly bombing in Mansoura.

The last thing Jordan needs is a similar influx of arms, radicalism, and veteran Palestinian terrorists pouring over its border, especially given its large Palestinian population. Already destabilized by a massive influx of Syrian refugees and rumblings of homegrown discontent, such an influx would surely send it over the edge. And unless Israel remains in the Jordan Valley permanently (or at least for many decades to come), that’s exactly what will happen. Allowing the IDF to stay there merely for another few years, as Kerry is reportedly proposing, does nothing but temporarily postpone the inevitable.

Western leaders repeatedly say they want Israel out of the territories because its presence there is “a major source of instability” in the region, as President Obama put it his UN address in September. Yet experience shows that Israeli withdrawals may well be a far greater source of instability. The Gaza pullout certainly turned out that way for Egypt (as well as for Israel), and Amman clearly fears a Jordan Valley pullout would have a similarly negative impact on Jordan.

If the West truly cares about stability, pushing for an Israeli withdrawal that would destabilize Jordan, one of the region’s last remaining islands of stability, seems highly counterproductive. Indeed, given how often Israeli pullouts have had negative results, the West might do better to abandon this paradigm altogether and start searching for a new one. Supporting a permanent Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley would be a good place to start.