Fed up with managing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations effectively on life support, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed his frustration by publicly warning the Israeli government of the consequences of failed negotiations. He cautioned, "If we do not find the way to find peace, there will be an increasing isolation of Israel, there will be an increasing campaign of delegitimization of Israel that has been taking place on an international basis." What Secretary Kerry failed to mention, however, is that such isolation will also likely include the United States if Washington continues to align itself with the intransigent policies of a fanatical Israeli government.
This process of isolation, in fact, has already begun. Just weeks ago, UNESCO suspended the voting rights of Israel and the United States, "two years after both countries stopped paying dues to the UN's cultural arm in protest over its granting full membership to the Palestinians." With even the most hopeful analysts predicting failure of the most recent Arab-Israeli negotiations, it seems Secretary Kerry will soon be forced to choose between protecting the interests of his country or facing isolation along with the Netanyahu government.
It is true that losing UNESCO membership may not mean much for Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. However, for a superpower like the United States, for which every diplomatic forum to manage global order amplifies diplomatic power, it would be a disaster to lose an international platform like UNESCO. National Security Advisor Susan Rice seems to feel the pressure of impending U.S. isolation. On her Twitter account, Rice wrote, "Shameful that US has lost its vote at UNESCO. Congress needs to fix this. Current law doesn't punish the Palestinians; it handicaps the US."
Secretary Kerry has serious cause for concern. The Netanyahu government will continue to push for the implementation of its colonial agenda, regardless of who pays the price - be it the Palestinians, the Americans, or both. This week, the Israeli government approved the construction of 800 new units in Israeli illegal settlements in the West Bank, despite global demands to freeze settlement building during negotiations. Kerry should not expect genuine cooperation from a government that tailors its policies to maintain ties with radicals like Naftali Bennett, who publicly admits, "I've killed lots of Arabs in my life and there's no problem with that." This same government's leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, even went so far as to defy President Obama in U.S. Congress after the American leader requested only a temporary freeze of settlement activities to restart negotiations.
Of course, this is not the first time Israel's reckless behavior has embarrassed the United States on the global stage. After US-supported Operation Cast Lead in 2008, the US had to answer to the global community over the findings of the Goldstone report, which accused Israel of committing war crimes in the Gaza Strip. Furthermore, the US found itself compelled to defend Israel over the ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) regarding the wall Israel built in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The ICJ ruled that the wall was illegal in a vote of 14 to one. The only judge who found Israel's actions to be legal was American. Of course, use of the veto over 40 times at the Security Council to protect Israeli practices in the Palestinian territories raises serious questions about whether U.S. diplomacy will continue to unconditionally protect what former Defense Secretary Robert Gates called "an ungrateful ally," which is "isolating Israel on a global level."
What makes Secretary Kerry even more nervous about the failure of ongoing negotiations is the fact that the Palestinians are beginning to use diplomatic escalation, or a "diplomatic intifada," which will place additional pressure on American diplomacy in the region. If the negotiations fail, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will have exhausted all available options to justify his commitment to an unsuccessful peace process. His negotiation team has already officially submitted their resignation in protest of Netanyahu's aggressive settlement policies. By insisting that he will abide by the nine-month negotiation time frame agreed upon with Secretary Kerry, Abbas would have a free hand to take any action he chooses after negotiations. If these negotiations fail, the Palestinians will go to the Security Council and International Criminal Court, among other world forums. They certainly have several issues to pursue, including the illegal wall that is built on their land, the war reports chronicled by the Goldstone report, and most recently the Swiss investigation of the death of Yasir Arafat. On top of that, a third intifada, as Kerry mentioned, could be an additional consequence of failure. This international campaign will simply become a diplomatic nightmare for Washington. Failing to take the right position over it will mean that suspension of UNESCO voting rights for Israel and the U.S. is only the harbinger of wider international isolation.
Despite the grim picture facing Secretary Kerry, he still has options to make the negotiations a success. Iran's nuclear deal proves that the international community is capable of working collaboratively to produce an agreement and avoid violence and isolation. Kerry should take note that the international community will support him and work with him when he decides to engage in serious negotiation with the Netanyahu government to ensure its compliance with the requirements for peace in the region. Producing a deal would be a remarkable win for the Obama Administration, given its failure to create a cohesive policy in the Middle East during the Arab Spring and specifically its ineptitude in dealing with the Syrian crisis. Kerry should keep in mind that working collaboratively with the international community will advance American interests as well peace and stability in the region. However, bowing to pressure from Netanyahu, Lieberman, and Naftali along with their colonial agenda, will lead to American isolation beyond UNESCO, which, at best, in Susan Rice's words, "handicaps" the nation's broader foreign policy. Kerry should remind his boss, President Obama, that "Yes, he can" - as he did with Iran's nuclear deal.
Ibrahim Sharqieh is a Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution's Doha Center and Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University in Qatar. Ghassan Shabaneh is an Associate Professor of International Studies at Marymount Manhattan College.
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