US Secretary of State John Kerry is clearly concerned about Israel’s future. “Without resolving the Palestinian question,” Kerry said in his valedictory speech from the US State Department on Thursday, “there is no way to maintain both a democracy and a Jewish state.
“The status quo is leading toward one state, or perpetual occupation,” he continued. “The only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state” is the two-state solution.
Many here in Israel – particularly on the Right – were far from appreciative of his concern.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seemed to feel Kerry’s warnings were misguided.
“For a full hour, the secretary of state attacked the only democracy in the Middle East, that preserves the stability in the Middle East, not only for our citizens – Jews and Arabs alike – but also contributes to the stability and security in our region, and for many, many of our neighbors,” Netanyahu said.
The prime minister said that he was “surprised” that this was what the secretary of state of the biggest power on Earth decided to focus on for an hour, considering the present state of the Middle East.
We agree with Netanyahu and other critics that many elements were missing from Kerry’s speech. Not enough emphasis was put on the role of Palestinian incitement, intransigence and support for terrorism in preventing headway in peace talks.
Little credit was given to Israel for attempting time and again and at great risk to negotiate a peace deal with the Palestinians. Prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert made far-reaching concessions on issues such as Jerusalem, borders, settlements and refugees that were rejected by Yasser Arafat and by Mahmoud Abbas. In the case of Arafat the offer was met with the most deadly wave of terrorist attacks in Israel’s history.
Kerry also failed to acknowledge his own failures as a peace broker.
Nevertheless, many of the points raised by Kerry were valid and must be addressed. Israel has for nearly half a century been facing an impossible choice: negotiating some form of a two-state solution with a splintered Palestinian political leadership that exposes Israel to a myriad of dangers, or formalizing a one-state solution that threatens to undermine either the Jewish or the democratic dimensions of Israel’s statehood.
It might be convenient for Netanyahu to deflect Kerry’s criticism of Israel’s policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians by accusing him of obsessively dealing with settlements or failing to acknowledge Palestinian rejection of a Jewish state within any borders. But even if Kerry had never made his “unbalanced” speech, Israel’s political leadership would still have to grapple with the points he raised, albeit in his flawed way.
The prime minister has an obligation to articulate his vision for the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations and not just maintain the status quo indefinitely. Netanyahu has mastered political survival. But a true leader must do more than just tread water.
If Netanyahu still believes that a two-state solution is the only way to defuse the Palestinian demographic time bomb that threatens Israel’s democracy, he needs to present a credible plan of action for separating the populations. If on the other hand Netanyahu is convinced, like many of the ministers in his government and his constituents in the Likud, that a two-state solution is neither viable nor advisable, he should make his case for a one-state arrangement that addresses the concerns raised by Kerry.
After nearly 50 years of Israeli control in the West Bank, the Israeli public has a right to know what this government plans to do with this land and the Palestinian population that lives there.
The Trump administration is expected to be supportive of Israel’s democratically elected right-wing government.
Paradoxically, this complicates matters because for the first time, Netanyahu will have to articulate what precisely he wants the US to support. We are waiting to see what it will be.