In the New Republic, Ben Birnbaum and Amir Tibon offer an astonishing work of reporting, narrating the demise of John Kerry’s last-ditch attempt to broker a final agreement between Israel and Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority. Rich in detail and elegantly written, it is very worth your time.
But let’s face it, it’s a big world full of crises this summer, from the South China Sea to eastern Ukraine. And people are busy. So, just in case you don’t get around to it, here are my three takeaways from the report.
1. The Palestinian side cared more about their preconditions for negotiations than about the negotiations themselves.
The Palestinian side insisted on a price to join these talks, and the price on which they settled was the release of 104 convicted murderers plus another 400 prisoners convicted for lesser crimes. Birnbaum and Tibon quote the disdainful comment of the Israeli negotiator Tzipi Livni: “These are your heroes. I don’t know why they are your heroes.” The Palestinian side pressed harder and longer for the releases than it did on any of the big issues supposedly at stake in the talks. Birnbaum and Tibon quote the injunction of President Obama directly to the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas: “Don’t quibble with this detail or that detail. The occupation will end. You will get a Palestinian state. You will never have an administration as committed to that as this one.” The quibbling, however, did not stop, provoking National Security Adviser Susan Rice (regarded by the Palestinian side as their best friend in the administration) to snap, “You Palestinians can never see the fucking big picture."