I don’t believe that John Kerry’s mission will accomplish anything other than finally proving that the United States is unable to be an honest broker in the Israel-Palestine dispute and should drop the charade. Even if the secretary of state forces Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas into a framework agreement, it will be a sham, a short-lived sop to American power rather than a sign of true intent on the part of either leader.
Nevertheless, in compelling the Israeli government to confront issues that it would much rather avoid, Kerry’s persistence has done some good. As the mission comes down to the wire, Israel has been forced into ridiculous posturing and inane sloganeering that only highlight just how hidebound the country really is, how stuck we are in 100 years of lies, bombast and self-delusion without the slightest idea of how to move forward.
Netanyahu’s statement to the Likud Knesset faction on Sunday that he has “no solution” to the so-called Palestinian problem was an astounding admission. Almost 68 years after the founding of the state, 46 years after the occupation of the West Bank and 18 years after Netanyahu first became prime minister, Israel still has no clue about how to handle the Palestinian issue. Astounding, but not exactly surprising.
What have we been doing all that time? What have all the air miles logged by American mediators been for if we haven’t even been able to come up with a plan? What about the thousands of lives wasted, the families destroyed, the billions of dollars expended on the military? Surely, given all that time, effort and money, intelligent people would have come up with something. A teeny-weeny plan even?
The reality, of course, is that Israel does have a solution. It’s just that it’s difficult to talk about it with a straight face. Israel’s solution, ever since the time of Yitzhak Shamir, if not long before, is to do nothing. That’s the solution: not-so-benign neglect. Or, to put a more positive spin on it, to play for time. To hope that, given enough time, something will happen that will get us out of this mess.
Perhaps the Palestinians will decide on their own volition to get up and leave. And, if they don’t decide that, perhaps hedging them in with settlements, stealing their land and making their lives miserable will persuade them to do so. Maybe the West will suffer mass amnesia and leave us alone, maybe a nifty little earthquake will demolish the mosques on the Temple Mount or some deadly bacterium will only target Palestinians. Anything can happen – and we intend to be in possession of the land when it does.
Don’t get me wrong, we’re not talking about vague hopes. It’s a concrete approach. Messianic settlers and die-hard annexationists are absolutely certain that deliverance will come. They just don’t know exactly when or what form it will take. Give us one more generation, they say, or two at the most. It’s going to happen.
The government’s job therefore is to buy time, to appear sane, rational and accommodating, while never giving an inch. To negotiate as much as possible – negotiations waste a lot of time – without ever reaching a solution. In the meantime, the settlements, landgrabs and oppression continue. God can be relied on to do what’s necessary when he’s good and ready, but there’s no reason not to help him along a bit.
Kerry has been a pain in the ass. Normally, we manage to repulse peace missions long before they get as far as Kerry has. Now, playing for time means rolling out all the old canards and shibboleths, the naked clichés, that might have worked once but are simply embarrassing in this day and age. Things like “Israel needs the Jordan Valley for strategic depth,” or “we can’t negotiate while the other side incites,” or “Beit El and Hebron are important to the Jewish people.”
This is crude, emotional and untrue stuff that might have worked in the ‘70s but is really showing its age in 2014. The tragedy is that military strength and Holocaust guilt were such effective palliatives, we never bothered to look for any other solution. It just never seemed necessary. And of course, there was always time – lots of time.
Roy Isacowitz is a journalist and writer living in Tel Aviv.
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