Kerry Uses Arabs to Bully Palestinians

Kerry said that the best way to give the talks a chance was to keep them 'private'. (Photo: WAFA)

By Nicola Nasser

A new tactic by US Secretary of State John Kerry is causing a split within the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) ranks regarding further talks with Israel. Kerry is apparently using the Arab League’s Follow-Up Committee on the Arab Peace Initiative (FCAPI) to bully the Palestinians into accepting new ground rules for the talks to which they had objected in the past.

In his sixth tour of the region as secretary of state, Kerry did something unusual. Instead of visiting Israel, as he always does, he left it out of his itinerary, deciding instead to hold most of the talks in the Jordanian capital Amman. While there, he conferred with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as well as members of the FCAPI. As the talks progressed, it became clear that Kerry was no longer focusing on Israel, the country that has torpedoed all previous attempts at peace, but on the PLO. His aim is to get the latter to offer more concessions than any they have accepted in the past.

In order to do this, Kerry wanted to get the FCAPI to accept these concessions on behalf of the Palestinians, a new tactic that may or may not be working but that so far has succeeded in causing divisions and widespread consternation in Palestinian circles. The tactic is not totally new, for it resonates with the manner in which US diplomats have used the Arab League to justify foreign intervention for the sake of regime change in countries such as Iraq and Libya in the past.

Speaking after a meeting with Kerry in Amman, FCAPI diplomats voiced their “great support” for Kerry’s efforts to revive the talks. Their remarks were seen as a “victory” for Kerry, said the Associated Press. It was a “success” for his diplomacy, added The New York Times. Kerry, for his part, announced that the gap was “narrowing” between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and that all that was needed now was to “iron out” a few kinks.

For the Palestinians, ironing out these kinks is going to be a quite a job, however. PLO chief negotiator Saeb Ereikat is said to have had a “stormy” meeting with the PLO leadership concerning Kerry’s proposals. The PLO, its back to the wall, is now forming a working committee to decide what to do about the talks.

All of this is unprecedented. In the past, the FCAPI used to take its cue from the Palestinians. When the Palestinians were faced with demands for concessions they were reluctant to give, they politely said they needed to consult with the FCAPI, which was a courteous way of turning down unacceptable proposals. Now the FCAPI is getting them into trouble by agreeing to concessions before the Palestinians even have time to discuss them at length.

In the absence of FCAPI support for the PLO negotiators, the latter had no option but to play along with Kerry’s proposals. On Friday, the US secretary of state declared his satisfaction with the current plans to get the Palestinians and the Israelis talking again about a “final status” deal. He has invited the PLO and Israel to send negotiators to Washington soon to work out details of the agreement. PLO senior officials told the French news agency AFP that Kerry was determined to declare the resumption of the talks before leaving the region.

US Department of State spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters that unless progress was made on Kerry’s sixth visit to the region, he would not be returning for more visits. If anything, this sounds like an unveiled threat aiming to put pressure on Abbas and his chief negotiator and force their cooperation.

During this round of talks, Kerry also left Abbas no chance to play for time. Instead of waiting for Abbas to go to talk with the FCAPI, Kerry brought the Arab League diplomats to Amman and had them agree to his proposals without prior consultation with the PLO.

In Amman, members of the FCAPI issued a statement saying that Kerry’s ideas for the resumption of talks were a “suitable foundation” for further negotiations. The FCAPI stamp of approval placed the PLO in a difficult position. Abbas, unable to wiggle free from this diplomatic ordeal, remained silent. But his silence, as the saying goes in Arabic, was seen as a “sign of approval”.

Yet, the situation is likely to spark resentment back home, where most of the PLO leaders are opposed to Kerry’s proposals. However, they know that a blunt rejection of these proposals may invoke an unpleasant US reaction, if not sanctions.

Abbas is waiting to give his answer following consultations with the PLO leadership. In all likelihood, the latter will have to agree, despite its deep reservations about Kerry’s proposals.

As a result of all this, the FCAPI has let down the Palestinians, and it is not the first time that this has happened. On 29 April, a Qatari-led FCAPI delegation offered Kerry what amounted to its consent to a land swap at a meeting in Washington. Critics of the FCAPI correctly noted that the step was extraordinary, for the FCAPI is not empowered to make such concessions. Only the Arab summit, which issued the Arab Peace Initiative, is entitled to make any amendment to this initiative. As a mere follow-up committee, the FCAPI had exceeded its mandate.

Israel, of course, is pleased to see the FCAPI offer concessions that the Palestinians do not seem willing to make. Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister at the time, described the FCAPI statement as “good news.”

Lebanese analyst Ziad Al-Sayegh recently wrote that “after the failure of the internationalization of the talks [through the Quartet], we are now going through a regionalization of the talks [through the Arab League].” One symptom of this regionalization is that the land swap, overwhelmingly rejected by the Palestinians, is now getting the Arab League’s stamp of approval.

Last Thursday, the Jordanian news agency Petra cited the Arab League chief, Nabil Al-Arabi, as saying that the “US plan concerning the peace process is based on three axes; political, economic and security-related”. The Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot then offered an interesting interpretation of this statement. The political axis, it said, was the resumption of talks. The security axis was going to be left to the US top brass to decide. And the economic axis would mean a lot more aid to the Palestinian Authority.

During his last tour of the region, Kerry made no reference to the Israeli settlements. Nor did he object when Israel declared plans to build 732 new settlement units in the settlement of Modi’in Illit in west Jerusalem. For him, this was not even a kink worthy of ironing out. Even worse, the FCAPI has not seemed interested in Israel’s active settlement-building program, and it did not even mention that future talks should focus on a two-state deal based on the 1967 borders.

Last Friday, Kerry said that the best way to give the talks a chance was to keep them “private”. He declined to reveal the details of his plan as a result, and the FCAPI had nothing to say. For now, the PLO leadership is also keeping its cards close to its chest.

– Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: nassernicola@ymail.com. (This article was first published and translated from Arabic by the Al-Ahram Weekly.)

8 Comments

  1. “…unless progress was made on Kerry’s sixth visit to the region, he would not be returning for more visits”.

    Good. Kerry is the latest in a long line of US tricksters. The correct first step on the path to peace is enforcement of international law and implementation of UN resolutions, using the proper agencies. Why is the PLO still dithering? Allowing the US to build a bypass around justice is fatal. Negotiations come later – if there’s anything left to talk about.

  2. Nicola seems to be saying most of the preliminaries are independent of proper authority, that ‘agreements’ are being made for the Palestinians by others, not part of either HAMAS or PA.
    One conclusion is that such short term arrangements will be terribly insecure in the long run – in fact, extending all the dangers visible nowadays.

    The ‘negotiations’ have the unsurprising character of being appearances rather than substance, the quality US foreign policy, NOT, in even the vaguest sense, a suitable basis for a decent, stable future in the M.E.

  3. To an external observer who was around when the UN acted to create Israel, it seems likely that Palestinians would be better off by becoming an independent state with no designs on its most important neighbor, than they have been/are at present. The IRA saw the light and Ireland thrives.

  4. There is an air of disrepute around those that seem to exact secretive end runs to ensure strong arms tactics will make sure the Palestinians pay an even more terrible price. Remembering the history in the thirties as to the classification of Palestinians as simply people that existed on the land. Rather like the native populations of many countries where superior forces were determined to steal land and thus countries. Pathetic and telling. I have no respect for any so called negotiations that are done in secret —why aren’t questions being asked as ‘if what is being done is honest and above board then—-no need for secrecy. Or to other ‘if you have nothing to hide why any secrecy?

  5. I wonder just how much Kerry really knows about the Palestinian siituation? If he has been briefed by the USA State Department he will have the Zionist bias. The State Dept is infested with Zionists and their Jewish interns. Most of the USA soldiers fighting in Vietnam never had a clue why they were there – hence the dive in morale. They were fighting ‘Gooks’ but they didn’t grasp why and for whose benefit.The USA sells the lives of its soldiers very cheaply. Except for their own non combattant children.
    It looks as though the USA is going to embark on another bargain sale of its mostly black troops to keep Israel safe. Fox News has a lot to answer for.

  6. I’ am an American who cannot stand bias. Martin Indyk is Jewish and former member of Aipac. I don’t know what President Abbas is doing negotiating in the peace process when the odds are two against one. Livni and Indyk against the Palestinian. Its time to for a vote of no confidence against Abbas for allowing this type of unfair negotiations.

  7. This charade will end badly for the PALESTINIANS. KERRY has chosen MATIN INDYK
    as Chief Negotiator for the U.S. side. This Person is a dovout supporter of the Jewish state and supports the displacement of Palestinians, the destruction of their homes and
    the infinite detention of Palestinian activist. INDYK is a JEW who will help Israel get everything it want and more. The Palestinian PEOPLE will be forced into
    a worse situations then their in now.

  8. I think both sides have to keep the cards close to their chest. Israel is certainly split between those wanting a just peace and those a Greater Israel. I sense a growing mass of Jews outside Israel beginning to voice their concerns that chasing the dream of a Greater Israel is dangerous, and exposure of cruelty is much more open now. I think that many Jews are over the fear which extreme Zionists try to inflict upon them, and more truths are coming out from the new historians and others about how extreme Zionists altered history to their liking. What if the occupied territories are handed back including Jewish settlements in Palestine. Facts like that are best kept secret until agreed upon

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