Confidentiality in the world of international politics is not always sacred. There are times when hidden facts will surface and splash across the headlines. Still, some points or aspects will remain the subject of speculation and dispute, especially in cases where some claim to possess the “real” facts without actually substantiating this, while others counter with contradictory “proofs”. Netanyahu has just returned from Washington exultant over the blank cheque of support he just received from Trump with regard to a regional solution to the Palestinian question. The only thing clear about that “solution” is that it promises to put paid to the two-state formula and level everything back to ground zero with regard to the Palestinian rights that have been internationally recognised for that past quarter of a century as the basis for a diplomatic solution, namely the establishment of a sovereign and viable Palestinian state within pre-1967 borders in the West Bank and Gaza with its capital in Jerusalem.
Enter Haaretz to reveal that on 21 February 2016, which is to say exactly a year ago, a secret meeting was held in Jordan between former secretary of state Kerry and the leaders of Jordan, Egypt and Israel, to discuss a six-point plan proposed by Kerry. The plan listed prominent Israeli demands, such as the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state in exchange for a viable Palestinian state. Other points were that both states would have their capital in Jerusalem, that there could be population exchanges and that measures would be put into effect to protect the security and character of Israel. Negotiations would be kicked off in a regional conference attended by Arab powers, Gulf countries in particular and world powers. The US would energetically support and promote this formula when the Egyptian and Jordanian leaders begin to market it among other influential Arab forces. One understands from the article that the latter process never took place because Netanyahu rejected the plan out of hand.
In response to this leak, which has been attributed to members of the former Obama administration, Netanyahu claimed that he had originated the idea, not Kerry. By idea, the Israeli PM means a secret meeting with the Egyptian and Jordanian leaders, not the regional solution proposed by Kerry and rejected by Netanyahu, ostensibly because he would not be able to convince his extremist allies in his coalition government, as Kerry would subsequently explain as would Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas who had been kept in the loop about the meeting at the time.
The question is why Kerry or those around him would leak this information now? Why had he not made the plan public when he was still in office?
It is easy to speak of a link between the difficulties the Trump administration is facing and alleged Democratic designs to bring him down on the grounds that he is unfit to rule and, above all, because he is ignorant about the basic facts and issues regarding the key crises and concerns that the US has managed for decades in accordance with US short and long term interests.
With regard to leak about the secret summit in Jordan, the point was to expose the fact that the mysterious “regional solution” that Netanyahu and Trump were so jubilant about was actually the brainstorm of the previous US administration. Moreover, it was by no means ambiguous. The Kerry plan was detailed and filled with mutual obligations, and it was Netanyahu who — characteristically — turned it down. If anything, therefore, it seems that the leak also targets Netanyahu and the point is to expose him as a liar and unreliable and as someone prepared to jeopardise the national interests of the world power that has consistently done all in its might to protect and defend Israel.
But regardless of the bearings that the leak has on aspects of the domestic political contest in Washington and the true dynamics surrounding the peace plan, we cannot deny that the news about the secret summit requires more Egyptian, Jordanian and Palestinian explanations than those already given. The statement issued by the official spokesman for the presidency contained neither an explicit denial nor confirmation of the substance of the Haaretz report. The spokesman held that the report contained some misleading information, but at closer inspection, his remarks tend to support the contention that the summit did, indeed, take place. As for why President Al-Sisi and King Abdullah agreed to take part in it, that is open to conjecture, but it probably stems from their earnest desire to promote a just solution to the Palestinian cause.
Regardless of the explanation, we need to grapple with certain facts honestly and wisely. The most important is that regardless of the many inducements that regional and international powers offer Netanyahu to engage in serious negotiations with the PA, he will refuse and he will offer a thousand excuses for this. It makes no difference how firmly Washington stands behind Israel and its commitment to support and protract that state. If the Trump administration were truly keen on backing a viable peace plan, it would receive the same treatment from Netanyahu as the Obama administration. For the moment, however, it looks like Trump has given Netanyahu all the keys and is unwilling to do anything that might upset him.
Against the backdrop of current regional balances, which are heavily tilted against Arab interests collectively and individually, there is nothing to pressure Israel to offer any concessions. Indeed, in view of the prevalence of the extreme right there, the situation is likely to move in the opposite direction: More settlement construction and expansion, more abuses of Palestinian civil liberties and human rights, more restrictions on the movement of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and even in Israel proper. This brings us to the second important point: Any positive change in regional equations must begin with the Arabs and the Palestinians themselves. Unfortunately, there are no serious signs of the beginnings of such a process, especially given that priorities of the major Arab powers are more heavily focussed on the war with Iran to the detriment of focussing on the needs of the Palestinian cause.
The third fact we need to come to terms with has to do with the extent to which the Arabs can rely on the Trump administration to promote Arab interests, whether collectively or individually. In their forthcoming meetings with Trump in Washington, it would be wise for the Arabs to calibrate their approach carefully and to be prudent. Trump might agree with us on the need to confront terrorism and he might not be interested in meddling in the internal affairs of Arab countries or in engineering regime change, but nor has he demonstrated that he can be trusted. At the same time, as much as his focus on the “Iranian enemy” may please some Arab parties, it is equally capable of precipitating turmoil and eroding the last remaining foundations of regional stability. Moreover, an overemphasis of Iran may encourage Netanyahu and his government of right wing extremists to unleash another war against Gaza and/or Lebanon, thereby diverting attention from further settlement expansion and colonisation of Palestinian territory.