Monday, February 3, 2014

How Much Will Kerry’s Peace Cost?

by Tom Wilson

It doesn’t take a great deal of investigation to discover that neither Palestinians nor Israelis are particularly enthusiastic about the latest U.S.-backed peace initiative. Neither side has been subtle about making known precisely what they think of Secretary of State John Kerry’s suggestions for a final-status framework. Perhaps Israelis and Palestinians can be forgiven for being inclined toward cynicism on this matter. Yet, Kerry seems not to detect the mood and plows on regardless.

This attitude, that the Israelis and Palestinians are going to have a peace agreement whether they like it or not, would appear not to be Kerry’s alone. Despite even President Obama warning that third parties can’t want peace more than the two sides themselves, world diplomats are now gathering to set about doing just that.

On Saturday Kerry and the EU’s Foreign Affairs representative, Baroness Ashton, are convening the Quartet (the U.S., the EU, the UN, and Russia) to discuss how they can best help implement John Kerry’s peace plan. Also present for the meeting will be UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the Quartet’s Middle East envoy Tony Blair. The fact that the Palestinians have dragged their feet through this entire process, or that the Israelis clearly have about as much confidence in the Palestinians standing by their commitments as they do in Kerry’s ability to make them do so, appears to have been simply disregarded by those rushing to be part of Ashton and Kerry’s feel-good peace extravaganza. Where will the Israelis and Palestinians be amidst this high-profile standing-room-only diplomatic photo opportunity? Who knows, who cares? Onwards anyway. 

The State Department’s chief negotiator Martin Indyk has already revealed roughly what Kerry’s final-status parameters will look like, which both sides are going to be expected to accept shortly. The problem is that there’s barely a single point in the parameters outlined by Indyk that isn’t still being fiercely and publicly disputed by one side or the other. Indeed, for this very reason we are told that the parameters will be vague on Jerusalem. Yet, they are also incredibly vague on the fate of the future of Israelis living in the West Bank, with no decision on whether Jews will be allowed to stay behind in a Palestinian state.

Allegedly 75-85 percent of these Israelis are in settlements that would be annexed to Israel. However, what isn’t clear is whether the State Department considers Jews living in suburbs of Jerusalem to be settlers. If they do, then it has been suggested that these parameters may actually mean the forcible evacuation of 150,000 Jews from their homes. In this way, the Quartet meeting, which is to be held in Munich, will in part be about how to facilitate the transfer of huge numbers of West Bank Jews from their communities.

Perhaps the delegates will find this whole event a little more sobering when they discover how much all of this will cost and how much they may be asked to contribute to cover these costs. For, increasingly Kerry’s efforts are looking like an exercise in bribing each side into submission. The Palestinians have long been promised astronomical levels of investment in the event that they agree to accept statehood. Then the Israeli evacuation from the West Bank alone is estimated to come with a price tag running into the billions of dollars. Once Israeli settlers have been evacuated, re-housed, and compensated, the parameters also make provision for the compensation of both Palestinian refugees and for Jews who were forced out of Arab lands. In both cases the descendants of these refugees now number into the millions. Israel is also being told that under Kerry’s parameters it would have to leave the strategically vital Jordan Valley, but that someone else will foot the bill for all manner of unmanned high-tech security paraphernalia to take the place of actual Israeli troops.
Anyone looking to rain on Ashton and Kerry’s peace parade in Munich this Saturday need only mention even a low estimate for how much all of this is going to cost. 

Tom Wilson


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