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The Middle East impasse

With no tricks up American sleeves, the Kerry negotiations break down

by Arthur Milner

7_Secretary_Kerry_Attends_World_Economic_Forum_(Pic_4) flickr large us department of stateAbout a year ago, the United States started pressuring Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) to restart peace negotiations. No one knows why. Israel had expressed no such desire. The Palestinians and everyone else thought: What’s the point? No one believed the Americans would ever pressure Israel sufficiently to get a reasonable compromise. Besides, no one was pushing the United States to get back into the ring. Presumably, Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama thought something could be achieved. Were they naive, or did they have a few aces up their sleeves?

With the negotiations at an end, we can now answer that question. There were no aces up American sleeves. Draw your own conclusions.

Obama had tried to get things going in his first term. In Cairo, he promised the Arab world a settlement freeze. But Israel paid no attention and, instead, announced new construction in the middle of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s official visit. When Obama stated that future negotiations would be based on the 1967 borders, Netanyahu got 42 standing ovations from the U.S. Congress for telling Obama to stuff himself.

The PA asked for a settlement freeze but got the release of prisoners instead. They agreed to enter negotiations. There is suspicion that a few high-profile Western boycotts of Israeli projects in the West Bank convinced Israel to comply.

The Jewish State

The basis of the Kerry negotiations, like all negotiations before, is the “two-state solution.” There is near-universal agreement on what that would look like: two states, based on the pre-1967 borders with mutually accepted land swaps; a shared or split Jerusalem; and some recognition of the rights of Palestinian refugees, including compensation and limited repatriation. This is Canada’s official position. The only significant groups that reject this plan are Israelis, evangelical Christians and Palestinian radicals and their supporters (see box). 

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About the Author

Arthur Milner
Arthur Milner is Inroads’ culture columnist and a member of its editorial board. He is a former artistic director of Ottawa’s Great Canadian Theatre Company.


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