The rumors of separate diplomacy by former top officials hint at significant tension within Washington’s halls of power over how best to continue propping up the tattered image of U.S. leadership in the so-called Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
LONDON — The Trump administration’s announcement that it would relocate the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has resulted in an absolute breakdown in ties between Washington and the Palestinian Authority based in Ramallah. According to a recent report, however, the government of President Mahmoud Abbas may be enjoying support from an unlikely quarter: the top diplomat of the previous U.S. administration.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Israelis’ exclusive claim to the illegally-held city has emboldened the hardline, Likud-led coalition government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while inflaming the people of Palestine and the broader Middle East.
However, Trump has also faced opposition within the U.S. establishment from “moderate” supporters of the Israeli occupation. And according to a new article by centrist Israeli daily Maariv – reported in English by the Jerusalem Post – former Secretary of State John Kerry held a recent, lengthy meeting in London with Hussein Agha, a Lebanese scholar and seasoned top-ranking negotiator for the PA who is also a close confidant of Palestinian President Abbas.
Agha and Kerry had previously worked together from 2010 to 2013, during secret back-channel peace negotiations with the Israelis known as the “London Track,” but the talks led to an impasse after it was clear that Agha lacked a mandate from Abbas.
Since Washington’s Jerusalem decision, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called Trump’s unequivocal support of Netanyahu “the slap of the century,” as PA officials have made clear that it would be taken as a U.S. abandonment of its role in the so-called “peace process” meant to pave the way toward a two-state solution. The move has also faced overwhelming rejection by the United Nations General Assembly, with the exception of nations either keen on currying Trump’s favor or countries like Honduras that are historically unable to break from Washington’s policy dictates.
During the reported meeting, Kerry reportedly advised Agha on a range of issues related to U.S. politics in a bid to revive the moribund diplomatic process between Tel Aviv and Ramallah.
Kerry: Tell Abbas to Ignore the $#!&($
The JPost report, if true, reflects a strong bid to preserve the two-state track as calls increase for “a movement toward a one-state arrangement with equal rights for everyone” in the whole of historic Palestine, a stance the Palestinian Ambassador to Washington, Husam Zomlot, threatened in an interview with Haaretz. The “one-state solution” is seen as a nightmare for Tel Aviv, as it calls a multi-ethnic Israel rather than the current apartheid “Jewish state” existing alongside a Palestinian statelet — which would be a de facto Israeli-dominated canton whose existence would be contingent on the PA’s compliance with Tel Aviv’s uncompromising demands.
Kerry allegedly told Agha, a veteran negotiator in watershed talks surrounding the occupation of Palestine, to pass a message to Abbas “that he should stay strong in his spirit and play for time, that he will not break and will not yield to President Trump’s demands.”
Using colorful language in reference to Trump, described as “highly derogatory” by JPost, Kerry also urged that Abbas abstain from attacking the U.S. or the White House. The former official continued to hint that Trump is held with little regard in Washington, where the U.S. intelligence community, as well as the president’s own Republican Party, see him as feckless and self-destructive.
“Maybe it is time for the Palestinians to define their peace principles and present a positive plan,” Kerry added, noting that he would be happy to play a role in renewing the diplomatic track with the support of European, Arab, and international officials.
Appearing animated and highly excited – “crazy about things,” Agha reportedly claimed – Kerry even said that the chance exists that Trump could leave office within a year.
Kerry also allegedly suggested that he was considering a presidential run in 2020, 16 years after his failed 2004 bid against then-President George W. Bush.
AIPAC Republicans and U.S. Zionists Sound the Alarm
Conservative pro-Zionist outlets in the United States excoriated the “shocking” reports, with Minnesota-based blog Powerline running a breathless commentary titled “JOHN KERRY STABS AMERICA IN THE BACK.”
“If a Republican did this the Democrats would say it was treasonous,” wrote the author, John Hinderaker. “I don’t know about that, but it is hard to imagine anything more contemptible. Or delusional.”
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Kerry knows as a former secretary of state, a former U.S. senator, that kind of advice would be stunningly unpatriotic, and I don’t think John Kerry would do something like that … I hope he wouldn’t. I would be very, very surprised if a former secretary of state, a former U.S. senator would have said anything that was that overtly anti-American.”
The New American observed that the meeting, if confirmed, would be a felony offense under the Logan Act, which outlaws any unauthorized talks by U.S. citizens with foreign officials for the purpose of influencing “the measures or conduct of any foreign government” in a dispute with the U.S. or “to defeat the measures of the United States.”
The obscure Logan Act has seldom seen usage in U.S. history, with the only two indictments under the act failing to result in convictions. The act is now being deployed as a rhetorical bludgeon by both sides in partisan debates.
Partisan double-standards and the elephant in the room
The Logan Act has garnered attention in recent months amid continued calls for the U.S. to punish those involved in the so-called “Russiagate” scandal. Last month, an opinion piece in the The New York Times argued that its violation by disgraced Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn at the direction of Jared Kushner should result in jail time for the two officials and potential impeachment proceedings. On Kushner’s orders, Flynn met with Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak in December 2016 while serving on the president-elect’s transition team.
According to the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Flynn’s contact with Kislyak was a result of pressure by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, requesting that the incoming Trump team undertake a “vigorous diplomatic bid” to undercut President Barack Obama’s endorsement of a UN Security Council resolution condemning illegal Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian West Bank. The abstention vote subsequently cast on the resolution by the outgoing Obama team was the first and only time his administration failed to veto a UN resolution censuring Tel Aviv for its blatantly illegal settlement expansions.
Of course, illegal collusion with hard right-wing Zionist Likudniks is an entirely forgivable offense in U.S. politics. This point was driven home by media tycoon and Clinton campaign financier Haim Saban at a meeting last month of the Saban Forum, where Senior White House Adviser Kushner was guest of honor: “To be honest with you, as far as I know, nothing illegal there,” the Democratic Party mega-donor and Israeli-American media oligarch told Kushner before an adoring audience at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
“But I think that this crowd and myself want to thank you for making that effort, so thank you very much,” he added to applause.
Kerry’s denials and the fading mirage of U.S. leadership in the Arab world
The White House didn’t respond to requests by Fox News for comment, while the State Department explicitly said it would not comment on the alleged meeting. The administration’s silence perhaps belies a recognition of the partisan double-standards surrounding the Logan Act, as well as of its officials’ own offenses against it.
Reports have suggested that even Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — despite his dutiful repetition of the administration’s hardline talking points following Trump’s Jerusalem policy announcement — had leaned toward the long-standing pro-Oslo Accords consensus in Washington.
On Friday, however, the Kerry camp issued a strong denial of the claims, telling Fox News that the comments were uncharacteristic of the former secretary’s views:
The original story wasn’t accurate, and I’ve read that Mr. Agha himself has made that clear. These are neither Secretary Kerry’s views nor anything he would say.”
Kerry’s spokesman also denied claims that the Democratic Party veteran would be seeking a presidential run in the next election cycle, citing past statements “that he’s not thinking of it … nothing’s changed.”
Regardless of whether the Israeli media reports’ specific details are fully credited, the rumors of separate diplomacy by former top officials hint at significant tension within Washington’s halls of power over how best to continue propping up the tattered image of U.S. leadership in the so-called Israeli-Palestinian “peace process.”
No doubt the internal debate will continue, raging on over how best to manage the issue which lies at the heart of U.S. legitimacy, or lack thereof, in the Arab world and the Middle East.
Top Photo | U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, leans in to begin his meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Nov. 24, 2015. (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
Elliott Gabriel is a former staff writer for teleSUR English and a MintPress News contributor based in Quito, Ecuador. He has taken extensive part in advocacy and organizing in the pro-labor, migrant justice and police accountability movements of Southern California and the state’s Central Coast.