John Kerry’s Tricky Bid

LONDON – In Why You Lose at Bridge (the funniest book about bridge ever written), my uncle, S. J. Simon, advised players to aim “not for the best possible result, but the best result possible” with the partner you have. This advice applies to the long-stalled Israel-Palestine peace process, newly revived by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

The United Nations spelled out the “best possible result” in 1947: Palestine – then a British mandate – was to be partitioned into two states of approximately equal size. Israel accepted this, but the Palestinians did not, so the Palestinian state was never established. In successive wars, Israel seized all the land allocated to Palestine, mainly the West Bank of the Jordan River and Gaza, now swarming with millions of Palestinian refugees.

Since the Oslo Accords of 1993, which envisaged a Palestinian state on the West Bank and in Gaza, “facts on the ground” have whittled down the putative Palestinian state still further. Part of the West Bank has been annexed outright by Israel or seized by Israeli settlers. The Palestinian Authority has been given limited autonomy over 25% of it, in non-contiguous parcels.

Kerry’s formidable task is to persuade the Palestinians to accept a smaller state than they want and the Israelis to accept a smaller state than they have. But, with the security situation in the “occupied territories” under control, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government is content with the status quo. So Kerry’s blandishments are directed toward the Palestinians. His strategy seems to be to bribe them with $4 billion to accept a (temporary) “bantustan” solution (so named for the nominally autonomous states to which South Africa’s apartheid regime confined most of the country’s black majority).