Kerry Lands In The Israel-Palestine Blame Game

by Mitchell Plitnick

US Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Israel on Jan. 2, starting 2014 with an attempt to save what is increasingly looking like a doomed round of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The grim atmosphere was reinforced immediately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s words of welcome to Kerry. Netanyahu spent all of two sentences doing this before he said: “I know that you’re committed to peace, I know that I’m committed to peace, but unfortunately, given the actions and words of Palestinian leaders, there’s growing doubt in Israel that the Palestinians are committed to peace.”

The rest of Netanyahu’s speech was entirely devoted to depicting the imminent failure of peace talks on the PA. One important note he made was that PA President Mahmoud Abbas has not condemned the recent attacks on Israelis, including a bus bomb on Dec. 22, which caused no casualties, but which has raised the alarm level in Israel. It is worth noting that an attack like this one has usually been condemned by the PA, and Netanyahu has seized on the absence of such condemnation to “prove” ill will on the Palestinians’ part.

While that argument may be self-serving, it is still noteworthy. Abbas is dealing with a Palestinian public that has no faith in the current American efforts. What little there ever was has been completely undermined by word that the US agrees that Israel will be allowed to maintain forces in the West Bank even after the so-called “end of the occupation,” and that this is reflected in the proposals Kerry has brought along with him. Particularly because no Israelis were seriously hurt in the bus bombing last month, Abbas’ silence could well reflect his sense that his position in Ramallah is very tenuous, amid growing calls to abandon the current course of action and move toward efforts in the United Nations.

For his part, Kerry strove to keep a thread of optimism alive, saying that Israeli-Palestinian peace was “not mission impossible.” But he closed by pointing to “tough choices in the coming weeks,” likely a message that the United States is reaching the limit of what it can do (or, more likely, what it is capable of doing, given domestic political constraints) and that success or failure of the process is now in the hands of Israelis and Palestinians.

Today, Kerry will be heading to Ramallah to meet with Abbas. The Secretary of State’s message is likely to be similar to the one he delivered in Israel. The smart money is on Abbas playing his own version of the blame game, but he has some options. Netanyahu cleverly postponed announcing yet another wave of new settlements until after Kerry leaves, but the plan is well known enough that Abbas can denounce it today if he so chooses. Or, he can try to take the high road and avoid the blame game, expressing a more hopeful sentiment.

Whichever course Abbas chooses, the apparent fact that the US has decided that an ongoing Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley (and possibly some other concessions to Israel regarding the pursuit and arrest of alleged terrorists) is not something he can concede. The trap for Abbas is clearly set, and he may not be able to escape it. The only question is whether or not Kerry and President Obama have learned enough from the disastrous results of Bill Clinton’s decision to break his promise and blame the failure of Camp David II 13 years ago solely on Yasir Arafat not to repeat that mistake today with Abbas. The track record of US leaders learning from history, however, is not promising.

Mitchell Plitnick

Mitchell Plitnick is a political analyst and writer. His previous positions include vice president at the Foundation for Middle East Peace, director of the US Office of B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and co-director of Jewish Voice for Peace. His writing has appeared in Ha’aretz, the New Republic, the Jordan Times, Middle East Report, the San Francisco Chronicle, +972 Magazine, Outlook, and other outlets. He was a columnist for Tikkun Magazine, Zeek Magazine and Souciant. He has spoken all over the country on Middle East politics, and has regularly offered commentary in a wide range of radio and television outlets including PBS News Hour, the O’Reilly Factor, i24 (Israel), Pacifica Radio, CNBC Asia and many other outlets, as well as at his own blog, Rethinking Foreign Policy, at You can find him on Twitter @MJPlitnick.



  1. Ah, the trap is set, well said Mr. Plitnick. Of course, no one thinks that the bus incident was collateral damage now, do they? What really makes this all a farce in my eyes, is the same old same old game that Netanyahoo plays, as if it were the first time. He writes the script, Kerry follows it. Have this administration so corrupt, that they can’t see the way to go? Perhaps I’m wrong, but didn’t Jr. say he was C.I.C., and didn’t he dame well do as he pleased? Where’s the “O” in this, or is he just too dame weak and timid to stand up for what he preaches? Also, why is Kerry allowing his legacy to be tarnished by Netanyahoo?

  2. After Israel’s occupation of the whole of historical Palestine, the Arab League Peace Initiative of 2002, endorsed not only by 22 members of the Arab League but also by all the 57 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation including Iran at the Riyadh Summit in 2007, called on Israel to keep about 78 per cent of Palestine, return to pre-1973 borders and allow a Palestinian state to be established on the remaining 22 per cent, with East Jerusalem as its capital. The initiative recognizes the state of Israel and its control over the areas that it occupied on top of the 1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine, dispenses with the right of return of some five million Palestinian refugees who were forced out of their homes, and in practice declares null and void the UN Security Council Resolutions 194 and 242, which stress the inadmissibility of occupation of other countries’ territories by force and call for the return of Palestinian refugees, and Resolution 338, which reconfirmed the provisions of earlier resolutions. Yet Netanyahu says, “there’s growing doubt in Israel that the Palestinians are committed to peace.” Part of the plan proposed by Secretary Kerry, as you state, allows Israel to maintain her forces in the West Bank even after the so-called “end of the occupation”. In other words, there will be a tiny Palestinian state full of Israeli settlements, and also under Israeli occupation. Some state, some independence!

  3. I think the numerous Aipac stooges in effect in effect will block a deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

  4. @Farhang – – One of the greatest acts of stupidity, by George W. Bush, was his abject failure to back the 2002 Saudi peace plan. And Condoleezze Rice was grossly incompetent on this score (and many others).

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