One is torn between the opposing impulses to mock John Kerry for his futile Mideast shuttling or to lament his failure, which when eventually acknowledged will confirm the passing of the two state solution as a realistic outcome for the Israel-Palestine crisis. Mockery comes easily enough: Kerry, after days of shuttling back and forth between Abbas and Netanyhu, helicopter trips to Jordan and 3 AM sessions with Netanyahu, was unable to find sufficient common ground between the parties to begin final status negotiations. Nonetheless he expresses perennial optimism. To which Steve Walt tweets “Kerry sees progress in efforts to revive ME peace talks. Also sees leprechaun, hobbit and a big pink unicorn.”
In the State Department press room, Washington’s reluctance to do more than “express disappointment” with Israel’s blatant nose thumbing at its sole international ally and patron—the construction of new illegal Israeli settlements in Jerusalem were announced to greet Kerry’s arrival and his departure—is questioned derisively by reporters.
American mediation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become something of a joke. A mediator by definition has to be able to behave more or less even-handedly. But regardless of the actual sentiments of Obama, Kerry, or their various aides, it is understood that they could not express disapproval with Netanyahu or hint at reducing aid to Israel without producing a crisis in the President’s party and a debilitating open fight with the Israel lobby. Other politicians might take on that battle and win it, (Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush are two who came close), but it is an option Obama will never consider.
And yet absent a two-state solution, one that provides security guarantees for Israel and genuine Palestinian sovereignty over 22 percent of the Palestine mandate territory, an abyss stretches. What will happen as Israel, governed by coalitions animated by radical expansionists, faces a Palestinian population far more educated and politically engaged than the relatively passive villagers it drove from what is now Israel in 1948? At least half the population of Israel seems comfortable with an apartheid state—one where Israel rules over a Palestinian population roughly its own size possessing no meaningful political or civil rights. Regardless of what happens elsewhere in the Middle East, one can’t foresee this as an enduring or stable situation. And yet one wonders if the circumstances which allowed for a peaceful end of Jim Crow in America and apartheid in South Africa—which included the shaping of the principle antagonists on all sides by a common Christian educational culture—have parallels in the new Greater Israel.
Of course any amateur foreign affairs watcher will recognize the absurdity of Kerry’s timing: Syria is in the midst of civil war, Turkey in upheaval, and Egypt right this moment experiencing a second stage of a revolution. One wonders even whether the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are fully focused on Israel-Palestine, when no one else in the region is. Because Palestinian negotiators know that when they go into the room as representatives of a people under occupation (Uri Avnery wrote the other day that Netanyahu could send troops into Ramallah to arrest Abbas anytime he felt like it) they need a united Arab world behind them for diplomatic and moral support. And the Arab world is in no condition to provide such support now.
I would love to be mistaken, and see a hard edged centrist like Tzipi Livni take charge in Israel and decide unsentimentally that Israel won’t thrive as an apartheid state (yes, she used the “A” word herself over the weekend), acknowledge that the Palestinians lost far more than they would regain with the full restoral of the ’67 borders, and begin to make plans to live together as neighboring peoples with a shared connection to Jerusalem. But even Livni, whose party was the largest vote getter in the 2009 elections, seems almost passé in today’s Israel, outstripped by rising stars of a radicalized expansionist right.
Netanyahu has unambiguous twenty year old record of opposition to a Palestinian state, though he has given a pro-forma endorsement of the two-state formula, and is far from the most rigid member of Israel’s present government. Peter Beinart’s The Crisis of Zionism published polls which showed that young Israeli Jews were much more intolerant than their elders—a situation with no parallel among modern Western democracies, and probably non-Western non-democracies as well. Israel is becoming a thing unto itself. And America, through the magic of Israel lobby campaign contributions, is inexorably tied into a “special relationship” with it.