Despite the myriad and seemingly insurmountable challenges facing him, US Secretary of State John Kerry was remarkably upbeat as he swept through these parts over the weekend.
Kerry has managed singlehandedly and with prodigious exuberance to breathe life into what many thought was a hopeless undertaking – the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The gaps that separate the sides from compromise are immense. From the “right of return” for Palestinian “refugees” to the prospect of uprooting tens of thousands of Jews from Judea and Samaria, to the status of Jerusalem. Even the relatively “easy” issue of security has proved to be a major undertaking threatening to torpedo talks before the allotted nine-month period runs out in April. All along, Kerry has provided the requisite optimism needed to plod forward, as both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have grown increasingly skeptical.
Exacerbating an already complicated situation is the political climate inside Netanyahu’s Likud Party. Not a single high-ranking Likud MK has been willing to argue publicly for the need to reach a negotiated two-state solution to the conflict – except, of course, for the prime minister.
Indeed, Netanyahu has become the most outspoken “dove” in the Likud. Adopting language not normally used on the Right, Netanyahu has on several occasions expressed his fears that the demographic threat presented by controlling the West Bank with its substantial Palestinian population (2.5 million, according to Palestinians and Israeli demographers, 1.5 million according to Yoram Ettinger’s American-Israel Demographic Research Group, which advocates a one-state solution) would turn Israel into a bi-national state.
He said as much as early as April 2012. And in June of this year, about a month before the present round of talks began, he told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, “If we go into direct negotiations, it is likely to be very hard, but the alternative of a bi-national state is one we do not want.” And although Netanyahu has in the past opposed sharing Jerusalem as a capital with the Palestinians, he has been conspicuously silent on the matter since last January.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman recently presented Kerry with his own plan for a two-state solution that includes population swaps.
For years opinion polls have consistently shown that a strong majority of Israelis and Palestinians supports a two-state solution. A survey published last week, conducted by the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, found that 63% of Israelis and 53% of Palestinians still do. There is also a majority in the Knesset that would support a two-state solution.
Yet, what is obvious to the prime minister and to the foreign minister, to a majority of Israelis and to a majority of Knesset lawmakers is not, apparently, obvious to an increasingly vocal group of high-ranking Likud MKs and deputy ministers calling to either annex Area C, which makes up about 60% of the West Bank, or annex the entire West Bank. Meanwhile, Likud ministers have refrained from publicly supporting Kerry’s and Netanyahu’s efforts, though they were willing to vote last week in favor of a bill calling to annex the Jordan Valley.
Besides representing a demographic threat to Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people, annexation would perpetuate Israel’s conflict with the Arab world. It would maintain an uneasy and ultimately unsustainable status quo in which Israel is forced to use to coercive methods to rule over a people seeking national self-determination and would probably precipitate widespread civil disobedience on the West Bank, as well as a deterioration of relations with the international community.
A clear message must be conveyed now by the US and Israel to the Palestinians that Israel’s security is of paramount importance, and violence against Israel as it seeks to reach a peace agreement will not be tolerated. Israel’s security apparatus must quash terrorist attacks and any other attempts to thwart peace efforts forcefully and without hesitation.
With all the difficulties involved in reaching a negotiated two-state solution – including the many security dangers posed by the establishment of an unstable Palestinian state alongside Israel – the endeavor is ultimately worthwhile.
Kerry’s indefatigable efforts deserve to be praised and supported.
He is working for an agreement that, if attained, would serve Israelis’ cardinal interests – ensuring that the State of Israel remains both Jewish and democratic, and paving the way to peaceful relations not only with the Palestinians, but with all its Arab neighbors.