Rather than write up my take on the Kerry announcement (I’m basically with Harvard’s Steve Walt and Jewish Voice for Peace’s Sydney Levy ), I would rather answer the question, “Why will this round of peace talks be different from previous rounds – if they actually take place?”
The answer is that we have now entered into era of governmental BDS against Israel, I mean the European Union’s decision not to advance funding, grants, and financial instruments to Israeli individuals or institutions that have locations on territories captured by Israel in 1967. (I was told that Hebrew University, which has a campus on Mt. Scopus on territory that it owned (at least some of it) in the pre-state period is exempt. But I didn’t see that in the EU’s guidelines)
Some have suggested that the EU’s guidelines weighed heavily on Israel’s decision to join the peace talks, or that it emboldened the PA. I really have no way to determine whether that is true. I can say, as somebody who followed Israel’s rather hysterical reaction to the EU’s statement, that we now have a rather big governmental entity – the European Union – that has jumped on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions bandwagon – without the US as so much offering a peep of protest.
I should make it clear that neither the EU, much less its member statements, are formally boycotting Israel. As Daniel Levy correctly pointed out in the New York Times, the actual financial impact of the guidelines will be probably rather small. But the psychological impact has been huge. For one thing the EU guidelines bring back the Green Line, without any talk of settlement blocs, greater Jerusalem, or land swaps. The Jerusalem suburbs of Gilo and much of Ramot are over the Green Line – so an Israeli company with branches in those Jerusalem suburbs are potentially affected. For another, I haven’t heard anybody object to the EU guidelines outside of Israel, certainly nobody in the US government seems upset about them.
For years the US brokered peace process not only failed – it served the interests of Israeli expansionism. Many reasons can be given for this failure, but surely one of the most important has been the failure of the US to act as anything but, in Aaron David Miller’s oft-quoted phrase, Israel’s lawyer. He was referring to Dennis Ross, whose way of encouraging the Israelis was throwing at them huge military hardware, which they often turned down. Ross’s motto appears to have been “All carrots, all the time.” Now, perhaps, there will be a division of labor with the Europeans playing the Bad Cop and the US the Good Cop (for the Israelis, of course.)
Will there be progress? That depends on what you think progress consists of. I hope the US peace process fails because the Clinton parameters on which it has been based represent a rotten compromise that sacrifices the Palestinian people’s legitimate dreams and aspirations to be a free people in their land. But the peace process, if it gets off the ground, will give the BDS movement needed time to continue to gather steam. It brings the Israel-Palestine issue back into the public spotlight, exactly where the criminals who steal Palestinian land don’t want it to be. The era of the governmental sanctions against Israel settlements has begun. As an American, I am sorry that the US didn’t take the lead. But at least the US, because of its interest in the peace process, is smart enough to let the bad cop Europe do its work.
Rabin famously said that Israel should fight terror as if there was no peace process, and continue the peace process as if there were no terror. We will now have BDS as if there is no peace process and the peace process as if there is no BDS. Much to Israel’s chagrin, the linkage between the peace process and protection from BDS has been broken. Or perhaps the linkage between the peace process and BDS has been established. Call me an optimist, but that’s got to be good news.