John Kerry and the Two-State Solution

John Kerry, like many Secretaries of State and other diplomats who came before him, was not able to achieve a two-state solution.  He thinks he knows why: the current government of Israel does not want to reach such a solution; it would rather expand settlements in the West Bank.  Secretary Kerry is mistaken.
The reason a two-state solution is so difficult has nothing to do with Israeli reluctance.  Under any such solution, both Israel and Palestine would each receive certain positive benefits and also would have to accept certain negative costs.  The Palestinians, however, would receive the bulk of their benefits (1) at the outset of the agreement, from (2) an Israeli government and an international community that are manifestly capable of supplying those benefits to the Palestinians; in contrast, the Israelis would receive the bulk of their benefits (3) over a period of time extending indefinitely into the future, from (4) a Palestinian government and an international community that, at present, are manifestly incapable of supplying the benefits to the Israelis. 

There is, therefore, a mismatch of both the timing of benefits to be provided by a two-state solution and the likelihood that those benefits will ever materialize.  Consider, first, the mismatch of timing.  What does Palestine get from a two-state solution?  First of all, it gets universal recognition as a fully fledged state.  That will happen immediately upon the consummation of an agreement.  It will gain access to all the various international forums that states are permitted to join.  It will get greater control over its territories, borders, air space, territorial waters, etc. than it has at present (although it is true that this control might, under the terms of the agreement, also increase over time).  All of these benefits will accrue immediately upon consummation of an agreement.

From the Israeli side, the main benefit is peace and security.  This of course does not mean peace and security for one single instant; it means peace and security into the indefinite future.  It means, in fact, peace and security between the two states as long as they continue to coexist side-by-side.  Thus, the main benefit for Israel must be delivered over an indefinitely long period of time.

Now consider the likelihood of actually receiving the promised benefits.  There is no doubt that the government of Israel and the international community will both be able to deliver to Palestine all the benefits of the agreement.  To the extent the agreement requires Israel to extract settlers from land that will be part of the new state, history demonstrates that Israeli governments have been able to deliver.  We all know that settlers in Gaza were removed, some of them forcibly, before Gaza was left to the Palestinians.  There is no good reason to doubt that any Israeli government could perform similarly today.

In contrast, it is clear that the new state of Palestine would be incapable of providing peace and security to Israel.  The Palestinian Authority, which would become the government of the new state, has had no control over Gaza since 2007, when Hamas violently expelled the PA from Gaza, killing many PA officials in the process.  Hamas is an Islamist terrorist organization; its members sincerely believe that they have a religious obligation to kill Israeli Jews and ultimately eradicate Israel.  Mahmoud Abbas, the putative president of the PA (who will in January be commencing the twelfth year of his four-year term as president of the PA) has never set foot in Gaza since the 2007 putsch.

The government of the PA was unable to stop Hamas from killing PA officials in 2007 and has been unable to recapture control of Gaza to this day.  How, then, will that same government, purportedly governing the new state of Palestine, prevent Hamas and other Islamist terrorist groups in Gaza from firing rockets into Israel, and lobbing mortar shells into Israel, and digging attack tunnels under Israel’s border?  Clearly, it would be impossible for the new government, as presently constituted, to accomplish any of those tasks.
s and until the government headed by Mr. Abbas is willing and able to wrest control of Gaza from Hamas and render Hamas impotent as a military force, it would be suicidal for Israel to enter into a two-state solution.  I believe that the great majorities of Israelis truly want to be at peace with Palestinians, but they do not want it to be the peace of the grave.

Secretary Kerry repeatedly insists that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are obstacles or barriers to a two-state solution.  It is certainly true that one of the topics that would have to be dealt with in a peace agreement is which settlements would be retained by Israel in land swaps, and which would simply be removed.  But those matters are precisely what would naturally be addressed in such an agreement.  And, again, there is no reason to doubt that an Israeli government could remove the settlements it had agreed to remove.  In contrast, the new state of Palestine would be promising to live in peace beside Israel.  As long Hamas controls Gaza, there is absolutely no reason to believe that the new state could deliver on its promise.

Instead of wringing his hands over every new apartment in an Israeli settlement, Secretary Kerry might want to consider a more pertinent, more fundamental issue: how could there possibly be peace between Israel and Palestine if Hamas controls Gaza?  And, after considering that question, he might want to ask Mr. Abbas: what are your plans for wresting control of Gaza from Hamas and rendering that terrorist organization impotent as a military force?  No one can reasonably expect Israel to accept a two-state solution until Mr. Abbas and his government bring Hamas to heel.