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Could Kerry Failure Turn Israel Into 'Pariah' State?

The deadline of John Kerry's diplomacy efforts are coming. What is going to happen if he returns to Washington humiliated? Calcalist founder Yoel Esteron's pessimistic outlook for Mideast peace.

A Palestinian woman argues with an Israeli soldier in the West Bank village of Awarta
A Palestinian woman argues with an Israeli soldier in the West Bank village of Awarta
Yoel Esteron

TEL AVIV — In December 1987 I went to the United States with Yitzhak Rabin. When the news came of the violence that had erupted in the territories, Rabin did not rush to cut his visit short. Instead, he just offered a hand gesture as if he was trying to swat away an annoying fly. The date was December 9th, and the First Intifada had just erupted.

December has just passed again, and we are witnessing many small and isolated security incidents, which makes it important to mention the final month of 1987. We hear too many serious commentators saying that there won’t be another intifada, but at the same time there is no good negotiating partner among the Palestinians either.

I do not know if we have a partner. But the real question is do they have one? If the territories rise up in flames again and the terror returns, it is easy to guess what will happen: all those convinced that they we don’t have a partner, will see their opinions confirmed, and all those who believed that there was a chance to achieve an agreement will drown in despair.

But what will we do if the violence does not erupt in 2014, and there isn't another intifada? What is waiting for us in 2014 if the tense calm persists? If the current situation lasts, and I hope it will, and with it and in spite of it, the negotiations fail, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry returns humiliated to Washington, Israel might find itself isolated, both economically and politically like never before in living memory.

This isn’t a new warning. We have heard in the past predictions that never came to pass. For years Israel hasn't been able to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, deepening its position in the West Bank territories, and continuing to irritate the world, ignoring the threats to its boycott.

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Kerry and Netanyahu last April (US Embassy, Tel Aviv)

Despite all that, Israel continues its development. The economy is growing, exports are solid, the strong security alliance with the United States somehow remains, and even the unhappy countries in Europe are not rushing to hurt relations.

In fact, in 2013, the Israeli economy did not suffer from the political isolation more than it did in previous years. Maybe this is thanks to the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu’s government agreed to participate in the political process led by the American Secretary of State.

And yet still, even the — heroic or pathetic, you decide — efforts of Kerry have an expiration date in the coming months of 2014.

Israel is not South Africa

Even the most cynical people in the government and their supporters are saying — let’s continue with the process forever, until the end of time; let chief negotiator Tzipi Livni be unsettled until she is simply fed up, this way we won’t have to pay the price. To this, I have two words: South Africa.

There is a pressing need for true moderation — the comparison between Israel and South Africa are obscene and outrageous. The differences are huge. The historical background is completely different. In many cases the comparison is made simply out of hatred towards Israel.

And yet it is relevant to mention South Africa in only one context: what happens when international pressure crosses a certain line. There was a time when the intensifying international outrage toward South Africa grew to such a critical point that the country was suddenly turned into a pariah state.

It wasn’t after the Soweto uprising in 1976 when more than 1,000 people were killed, but after the unsuccessful attempt of the white-led government to find a ‘compromise’ in the 1980s: a shaky constitution according to which there was a parliament for the whites and one for non-whites. And failure was predicted from the beginning. The world did not buy the bluff, and stiffened sanctions against South Africa on the road to complete isolation.

Sadly for us, even though the comparisons between Israel and South Africa are not fair — there are many people, organizations and governments around the world that make the comparisons.

In 2013 we saw another set of boycotts on Israel. Here a producers boycott, there an academic boycott. But there still is no big flood; deeper isolation still looks to be far down the road. I still feel confident that Israel will not become a pariah state in 2014, but do we really want to play with fire?

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