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Has the Obama-Kerry charm offensive failed?

June 15, 2013 5:48 P.M. (Updated: June 17, 2013 12:04 P.M.)
By: Daoud Kuttab
US President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry say they are determined to solve the intractable Palestinian-Israeli conflict. They are using the carrot to do it, no stick.

It began with Obama's gushing visit and endless compliments of Israel, where he said all the right words, like "Jewish state", visited all the places, like Yad Vashem and the Iron Dome, and offered even more money to Israel than the record $3.1 billion annually.

This week, Congress approved a further half-a-billion dollars to Israel for missile research.

Kerry has also turned on the charm offensive, accepting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s approach to peace -- by promoting "economic peace" -- and refusing to make public any demands that Israel should carry out international commitments regarding illegal settlement activities.

Despite all this charm, the Israeli government has yet to discuss, let alone vote on, a simple question. Does Israel accept the two-state solution?

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Danny Danon said that if it came to a vote, the majority of the ministers would vote against the internationally agreed concept of a two-state solution.

No one knows what solution the Israeli Cabinet would support to address the ongoing illegal occupation of Palestinian lands and the military control of the lives of millions of Palestinians.

When Kerry postponed his unprecedented fifth visit to the region in almost as many months, few were willing to say that the Obama-Kerry plan had failed. While the US leadership has clearly failed to produce the most basic of breakthroughs — getting the parties to agree on the reason for talks — the second Obama administration is still in its early days and one should not, at this stage, talk about his administration throwing in the towel.

But even if it is too early for Washington to declare its failure in helping restart peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, this should provide Kerry and his team sometime to reflect on the overall mechanism of reaching the goal of resolving the conflict.

Kerry seems to have a three-prong strategy. Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said that Kerry’s plan stands on three legs: security, economics and politics.

On security, the US dispatched a former officer from Afghanistan, General John Allen, to help address Israel's security needs. On the economic front, Kerry announced at the World Economic Forum a plan that will pump into the Palestinian areas some $4 billion in investment and economic aid.

And politically, Kerry and team have been working hard both on the Jewish-American front and with Netanyahu to produce a formula that will allow for the resumption of face-to-face talks.

Any observer of the tone and language the US is using with the Israelis will be left with the feeling that the Americans are basically begging the Israelis to agree to talks.

There is no hint, in the talks or body language, to the fact that Israel is the aggressor now and for the past 46 years, and that the consensus of the world community is that Israel must change its political course.

The Europeans, who are trying to help without appearing to be replacing the Americans, have focused on the need to invest in the Jordan Valley and other Area C lands. They are also pushing hard for a separate labeling process that will end the forgery of products made in settlements in occupied Palestine, claiming that they are made in Israel and thus getting a preferential treatment based on EU-Israel agreements.

Americans are refusing to apply any pressure on the Israelis. There are no carrots and sticks in Washington's plan. It is all carrots and the Israelis are enjoying every last penny of the "generosity" of the American taxpayer.

US interests in the region are not limited to Israel. A time will come when Americans will wake up to this simple fact. The sooner they do the better it will be for all concerned.

Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and former professor of journalism at Princeton University.
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