Kudos to Secretary of State (SOS) John Kerry for trying to get the Israeli-Palestinian “final-status” talks started. The kudos is for the resolve to try, not for actually succeeding. It was always clear to me that anyone can get the talks started if they would only make an effort, but no one did. Which, as a side comment, shows how feckless and a time waste his predecessor was.

It is still incomprehensible to me how she could get such positive media for doing absolutely NOTHING in four years. She has ZERO achievements in her time as secretary of state, a significant number of failures, and yet she is considered by the blind and incompetent media as the best SOS the U.S. has ever had. Give me a BREAK!

Back to John Kerry, who showed what one can do with resolve and personal commitment. There are only two problems:

  • The talks are doomed to fail.
  • Even if they were to succeed, which they will not, they would NOT in any way have any positive effect on the rest of the Middle East’s problems.

The view that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the key to the problems in the Middle East is a naïve notion common amongst Western diplomats and politicians, and Kerry first and foremost amongst them. It is a losing proposition. If peace were to be achieved (which it won’t), it will only serve as a cause for militants to attack it and be more extreme in the guise of trying to “save” Islam, etc. If the talks were to fail, then the same extremists will use it to show again how Israel is the little devil and the U.S., in being complicit with it, is the big devil. This is the ultimate lose-lose proposition. By taking it on, Kerry has fallen into the same trap as so many former U.S. politicians who keep making the same mistake over and over again. They judge the Arabs using Western values and culture. They fail to understand that the Arabs are motivated differently.

This brings us back to the point that the talks are doomed to fail. The question is why? Because the Palestinian side has zero incentive to achieve success and indeed many incentives to fail.

If that is the case, why are the Palestinians entering into the talks in the first place? In order to avoid the U.S. calling them out as the reason for the failure. They will conduct the talks in bad faith, making sure that at the end, they can point the finger at Israel as the reason for the negotiations failing. They can achieve that very easily because there are few areas of the dispute that they know Israel simply cannot give up on:

  • The right of return.
  • Control of the borders of the Palestinian state and demilitarizing it.
  • Status of Jerusalem as a whole and the holy sites in particular.

Good-faith negotiations could have resolved all these issues. Clever negotiating tactics by Israel could even expose the bad-faith intention of the Palestinians by making them an offer they cannot refuse, knowing that they will refuse anyway. Such an offer should be made conditional upon pre-agreement with the U.S. that, should the Palestinians fail to accept it, they, the U.S., will call them up on it. It happened before. (See Bill Clinton’s famous press conference on July 25, 2000, following the failure of the Camp David summit.) Clinton said, amongst other things, that Ehud Barak, then-Israeli PM, “showed particular courage and vision and an understanding of the historical importance of the moment,” while Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Yasser Arafat “failed to demonstrate a flexibility or willingness to compromise his maximalist positions, particularly on Jerusalem.” In diplomatic language, that is unprecedented. Israel can achieve this again if they negotiate cleverly. Unfortunately that is very doubtful.

So why is it that the Palestinians have no incentives to make peace with Israel, and indeed they have incentives to not make peace?

To answer this question, one needs to go back thirteen years to Israel’s colossal geopolitical error. Tragically, that error was done by the same PM—Ehud Barak—because of his intention to pursue peace with the Palestinians with extreme vigor, which he did in the Camp David summit and failed because of this error.

Ehud Barak is a classic example of Peter’s Principle. For those of you who are not familiar with that principle, read about it.  It is an immensely prescient, clever, and many times correct principle. In short, it states that people tend to rise to their level of incompetence.

Ehud Barak was a brilliant commander of Israel’s elite commando unit. His real-life heroism and special-forces prowess put to shame many silver screen “heroes.” He was involved in a number of the most heroic special-forces activities that Israel has engaged in over the years, and more of which we do not know of. He should have stayed at that level. Everything he did post that was a failure. He was not good as the chief of staff of the IDF, and was terrible as a PM. He obviously is a great micro-detailed person, but terrible as a visionary and a leader.

So what did Barak do back in June 2000 that had such catastrophic consequences to the Israel-Palestinian conflict? He ordered and carried out the unilateral withdrawal, tail between the legs, of Israel from Lebanon. This shattered the view in the Middle East of Israel as an unassailable power. It showed Yasser Arafat, then the chairman of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority, that a small but determined force, Hezbollah, who was responsible for the defeatist action by Israel, can defeat Israel, which was until then the regional super-power. Hezbollah had only a few hundred fighters—HUNDREDS, not even in the thousands. But they were determined and resilient, and they, in the mind of most Middle Eastern observers, defeated the mighty Israel.

Israel was formed in 1947 by a UN resolution. On that night, SEVEN Arab countries declared war on the nascent little country in defiance of the UN resolution. In spite of amazing odds against its survival, the new nation of 700,000 people defeated the armies of these seven nations that had a total population of more than 100,000,000 Arabs. Thus Israel was created in a halo of a military victory against all odds. Its destruction of the huge Egyptian military force in the Sinai Peninsula in 1956 added to its image as a strong military power. Its remarkable military victory in June 1967 over the much larger armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan in the space of SIX DAYS (yes days, not weeks…), leaving all their countries defeated and held in disdain by all, established its reputation as a military super power—the only one in the Middle East.

Although the 1973 war made a slight dent in that reputation, the fact is that in spite of being attacked by the combined forces of Egypt and Syria and taken by surprise, Israel managed, after a few days of defense, to turn the tables, even establishing for the first time in 3,500 years a very strong beach head on Egyptian land on the WEST side of the Suez canal. Indeed only a few tens of miles from Cairo. In 1982, the meager showing of the Syrian air force in a futile effort defending Lebanon, which was being conquered by Israel (the Syrian air force was simply demolished in few hours), added to Israel’s reputation as unassailable.

Many terrorist acts and/or intifadas less or more violent later, and Israel still stood firm. It was this notion, the realization that Israel is here forever, that brought the PLO headed by Arafat to the negotiating table in 1993, in what is known as the Oslo agreement. The Oslo agreement established for the first time, in a clear way, the concept of two states living side-by-side in peace. During the next six years, the Israeli-Palestinian relationship was rocky. There were many disagreements followed by many accords. However, the bottom line was that things were quiet on that front. There was no need to bring them to a head. But Barak had a personal ambition to enter the history books as the one who brought peace to the Middle East. Maybe he felt that a Nobel Prize was something that he deserved. In many ways, Barak resembles Dr. Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory. He really believes that he is superior to everyone else, that he understands everything better. Yet he is socially awkward and unlikable. People say he has a very high IQ. Maybe. But he has close to zero EQ (emotional Intelligence).

The problem with the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon was twofold:

  • It burnished the reputation of Hezbollah, and more importantly,
  • It shattered the invincible image of Israel.

I will leave the final verdict to historians. What is clear already is that at the time, this move was very popular and earned Barak much credit from almost everyone (yours truly was one of the few exceptions to the majority, earning me much derision amongst my friends for my view that this was a big mistake). Yet within a few years, perceptions have changed dramatically. More is known today and that makes it clear that this withdrawal was a disaster.

It is today accepted that the 2006 Lebanon war, to a large extent, was the direct result of this unceremonious withdrawal. It is also well known that Arafat watched the Lebanon withdrawal of 2000 and had serious misgivings about his policy toward Israel. He concluded that, to his perception at least, Israel can be defeated over the long term, even by a small resistance force. Israel, according to this notion that has gained much track with Arafat and other Palestinians, is a weak, fat, Western civilization outpost in the hard, tough, reality of the Middle East. As history has shown before (see the Crusades), Western civilization is ill equipped to deal with the tough Middle East conditions. It does not have the staying power. So why do a deal with them? It is better for the Palestinians to wait the Israelis out. That was the conclusion that Arafat came to just before the July 2000 Camp David summit, and that is the reason for his complete lack of will to compromise during the summit.

Fast forward to 2013. That view of Israel still prevails in Palestinian circles and mostly leadership, as well as by Hezbollah and by many Arabs. Nothing that happened in the last thirteen years showed them otherwise and if anyone thinks that they view thirteen years as a long time, then you are wrong. It is a speck of dust in history, as far as the culture of the Middle East is concerned.

Having gone back in history, let’s come back to the present and analyze the incentives and motivations of the PA regarding the lack of incentives in favor of peace:

  • Clamoring for a deal from peace-loving people—zero, nada.

First, Palestine is NOT democratic. Abbas is in his tenth year as president of a four-year term. He was elected to a four-year term as the president of the PA after more-or-less free elections . . . TEN years ago. Since then, he governs by decrees and emergency declarations with no free media and no free public opinion. Thus, no real pressure to achieve peace. In addition, the Palestinian population is continuously poisoned by the PA to think of Israel as an enemy and as a transitory phenomenon. The message they are constantly hammering in is: Be patient, just wait, and then you will get Tel Aviv and Haifa. Suffer a little now and have it all in the future. Why settle now for the West Bank only when you can have all of Israel too in the future?

  • Economic progress that can come with peace—not for Abbas.

He is the president of one of the most corrupt countries. Cronyism, embezzlement, and theft are rife. Personally he enjoys the best possible standard of living. His life will not be improved and he cares nothing about his people. That is just not in the value system of Middle East authoritative regimes.

There are plenty of incentives against peace:

  • The strong belief that in the long term, Israel will be defeated.
  • The certainty that peace will bring with it derision, verbal attacks, and possibly even assassinations (see Sadat) from the extremists in the Arab world.
  • As long as he can maintain the mythology that Israel is to blame, he is a cause célèbre in the capitals of the worlds.

The moment there will be peace, he will have no more excuses for not having democracy and elections. For him, this means the loss of status and connection to the vain of riches that currently flows his way and to his associates.

Given that this is the equation, the negotiations will fail. The only questions are:

  • – Can Israel be clever about the way they fail?
  • – Is this U.S. administration honest enough to call it as it really is, as was Clinton in his time?

If not, Abbas’s intention of coming to the table in order to make sure the discussions fail and the blame goes on Israel will succeed.

I fear this will be the case. I am convinced that, in general, this administration lacks the political integrity to admit that their entire belief system is false. Specifically, in this case, they will point the finger at Israel. It is the easy target amongst this administration’s followers.