WASHINGTON — When has a secretary of state been involved in so many disastrous, self-initiated negotiations? First, John Kerry convenes — against all advice and holding no cards — Geneva negotiations to resolve the Syria conflict and supposedly remove Bashar al-Assad from power. The talks collapse in acrimony and confusion. Kerry’s response? A second Geneva conference that — surprise! — breaks up in acrimony and confusion.
Then, even as Russian special forces are taking over Crimea, Kerry goes chasing after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov — first to Paris, then Rome, then London — offering a diplomatic “offramp.” Lavrov shrugs him off. Russia annexes Crimea.
The crowning piece of diplomatic futility, however, is Kerry’s frantic effort to salvage the Arab-Israeli negotiations he launched, also against all odds and sentient advice. He’s made 12 trips to the region, aiming to produce a final Middle East peace within nine months.
It is month nine. The talks have gone nowhere. But this has been a fool’s errand from Day One. There never was any chance of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas concluding a final peace.
Now in the 10th year of a four-year term (there never was a re-election — he just stayed in office), Abbas doesn’t have the legitimacy. With half of Palestine (namely Gaza) controlled by his rejectionist mortal enemy Hamas, he doesn’t have the authority. And he doesn’t have the intention. Abbas openly refuses to (a) recognize Israel as a Jewish state, (b) yield the so-called right of return (that would flood Israel with millions of Palestinians, destroying the state demographically) and (c) ever sign any agreement that ends the conflict once and for all.
Any one of these refusals makes a final peace impossible. All three make the entire process ridiculous. Kerry has given up trying to get a final agreement. He’s given up on even getting a “framework agreement.” He’s reduced to simply trying to keep the moribund talks going. At a price, of course. For Israel. It is supposed to keep releasing imprisoned terrorists simply to keep the Palestinians at negotiations that they themselves say have achieved nothing.
Abbas wants to call off the farce so he can go to U.N. agencies for recognition — a strategy of achieving statehood without negotiations with Israel that contradicts every agreement the Palestinians have signed since the 1993 Oslo Accord.
The Israelis are tired of the diplomatic Ponzi scheme in which they are required to release terrorists to keep Abbas at the table. Until when? Until every murderer has been freed — at which point Abbas will go to the U.N. anyway? To keep stringing along the Israelis, some genius decided to dangle Jonathan Pollard. What’s he got to do with anything? Why is he being offered as an incentive for Israel to accept otherwise unacceptable conditions?
Normally, the United States facilitates agreements by offering Israel compensation for the security risks it takes upon giving up territory, because the Arabs either cannot or will not offer security guarantees. Thus the U.S. might try to re-establish the military balance with advanced weaponry or access to timely intelligence. But Pollard? He is an American traitor who is up for parole next year anyway. It has long been a mistake for Israel to agitate for his release. He disgracefully betrayed his country. What kind of corrupt and cynical quid pro quo is this?
One that Abbas is trying to make irrelevant. On Tuesday, he essentially turned over the negotiating table by signing on to 15 U.N. and international conventions as the “State of Palestine,” thus publicly undermining the essence of the U.S. peace process and humiliating the hapless secretary of state. Kerry will likely ignore the insult and carry on regardless. Uselessly.
Instead of trying to stave off Abbas’ U.N. bid with the release of Palestinian terrorists and an American spy, perhaps the administration could simply stop fighting Congress, which developed a far more effective method. Under law, any U.N. agency that recognizes “Palestine” has its U.S. funds cut off. The Obama administration keeps trying to restore funding for UNESCO, which in 2011 defied the U.S. in recognizing Palestine. What kind of signal is this to the rest of the world? Financial sanctions are precisely the kind of pressure that can support diplomacy. Yet this administration seems intent on removing sanctions that might thwart Palestinian moves toward unilateral statehood, the latest Palestinian strategy for getting land without offering peace.
After all, that would be diplomacy with teeth. So 19th century.
Charles Krauthammer is a Washington Post columnist. His email address is email@example.com.