Originally published in Tikkun Daily
One of Israel's most influential journalists, Nahum Barnea, has written a groundbreaking interview in which U.S. officials blame the Israeli government for the recent, and expected, collapse of peace talks led by Secretary of State John Kerry.
This interview is a comprehensive indictment by the Obama administration of Israel’s handling of the peace talks, and an exoneration of the Palestinians’ conduct. The Americans won’t act on it, of course, but they have set the record straight, they’ve injected a megadose of truth into the story of Israel’s domination over the Palestinians, and thus strengthened the fight to end it.Indeed, the interview is historic. For unnamed U.S. officials have articulated, in ways never previously before seen, how Israel's actions and geo-political policies are primary impediments to achieving peace in the region. It is also historic because U.S. officials transparently deflect the blame they know America must own, saying, If only we would have known, we would have done things differently.
This is a really big deal. Witness what U.S. officials say about America dropping its demand that Israel freeze settlement construction:
"We didn’t understand that Netanyahu uses these announcements of settlement construction plans to ensure the survival of his government. We didn’t understand that the continuation of settlement construction allows his cabinet ministers to very effectively sabotage the negotiations. There are a lot of other reasons for the failure of the effort, but people in Israel must not avoid seeing the bitter truth – the biggest land mine was the settlements. The Palestinians don’t believe that Israel genuinely intends to let them create a state when it is building settlements on the land earmarked for that state.”
During the Kerry-led peace talks, Israel doubled the pace of its settlement construction, and Kerry himself stated in early April that this effectively sank the peace talks. However, what Kerry didn't say is that the Netanyahu government used such construction to intentionally sabotage the peace negotiations.
Now, U.S. officials' supposed naivete should not be believed, nor taken at face value here. Of course those close to the talks understood the reasons for, and the effects of, continued settlement construction. What they really mean to say is this: there's nothing we could have done, because our political hands were tied by an Obama administration unwilling to force a settlement freeze.
This is code by those who were close to, and invested in, the peace talks: an admittance that the U.S. royally screwed up by "not understanding" that the settlements would sabotage the talks.
This is a big deal.
Barnea's piece also has American officials being quite blunt about how Israel's domination of, and disregard for, Palestinians continues to be an impediment to peace:
"In the 20 years since Oslo, a number of facts and rules of the game have become deeply entrenched. This reality is very difficult for the Palestinians and very comfortable for Israel. … One of the Palestinians in the talks said to one of the Israelis: ‘You don’t see us. We’re invisible, we’re hollow.’ There was something to that. After the second intifada ended and the separation barrier was completed, the Palestinians became ghosts as far as Israelis are concerned – they don’t see them anymore.”Barnea's interview goes on to cover a number of areas, from Palestinian concessions and frustrations to Israeli intransigence. But one takeaway is this: U.S. officials have publicly noted that Israel's culpability is real, and that this culpability must be confronted by the Israeli public and the U.S. community.
Another takeaway: U.S. officials also blamed American naivete, meaning American policy, meaning America.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, just out from Oneworld Publications.