No one familiar with Secretary of State John Kerry’s many years of service to the nation would dare underestimate his intelligence or diplomatic skills. Yet no one familiar with the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the failure of half a century of negotiations to produce anything other than Israeli measures intended to create irreversible facts on the ground in order to prevent a two-state outcome, can believe that the peace process Kerry managed to relaunch against all odds can succeed.
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The reason failure is foreordained is painfully obvious, if unacknowledged. Previous peace initiatives did not fail because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict uniquely defies solution. They failed because the overriding strategic goal of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and of most previous Israeli heads of state, has been and continues to be Israel’s permanent control of all of Palestine.
There have been reports that members of Kerry’s team have detected changes in Netanyahu’s attitude toward the emerging danger of Israel’s international isolation and toward his legacy as a peacemaker. But that is the height of wishful thinking. The only “legacy” aspired to by the man who opposed every peace initiative supported by his predecessors in office, including the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal of settlements from Gaza, is to be remembered as the Israeli leader who secured Greater Israel.
Why else would Netanyahu have rejected every measure urged by Kerry to help assure the resumed peace talks' success, including acceptance of Israel’s internationally recognized 1967 border as the starting point for these talks, or a freeze on further settlement construction? Would that not have helped assure popular Israeli support for the change of course he was allegedly contemplating?
Instead of addressing the reality of Netanyahu's opposition to Palestinian statehood the resumed peace talks continue to be based on the illusion that Netanyahu is committed to a two-state solution, and that U.S. “mediation” is needed only to help the parties fashion compromises that will help them reach their shared goal. Given Netanyahu’s repeatedly demonstrated intention to drive the settlement project to its intended conclusion, including his recent announcement of massive new construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, negotiations over the permanent status issues could not be more irrelevant.
While compromises could have been reached over every one of the permanent status issues, there can be no compromising Netanyahu’s lifelong determination never to allow the “independent, viable, sovereign” Palestinian state called for in the Roadmap for Middle East Peace. It most certainly cannot happen within the framework of a peace process that is based on the lie that he seeks a two-state solution and on the pretense (for domestic political reasons) that the U.S. believes him.
Netanyahu has added to his previous demands - for Palestinian territorial concessions and for security arrangements that would empty the Palestinian state of every vestige of sovereignty - a new demand to which no Palestinian leader could accede. He is now insisting that Palestinians not only yield to Israeli control of major parts of the West Bank, including the entire Jordan Valley, and of all of the Palestinian state’s borders with the outside world, but that Palestinians also affirm the Zionist principle that Palestine is the historic national homeland of the Jewish people.
The transparent purpose of this new demand is to enable Netanyahu to blame Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas for the failure of the renewed talks that Netanyahu is so methodically orchestrating. What is not so self-evident is the hypocrisy of this latest demand. For if Palestinians were to accede to it, Netanyahu would have to reciprocate by affirming the legitimacy of those parts of the West Bank constituting the Palestinian state as the historic home of the Palestinian nation. No conceivable inducement could wring such an affirmation out of Netanyahu’s mouth.
Speaking of hypocrisy, in his address to the Jewish Federations of North America earlier this week Netanyahu declared that just as he has stood up and recognized the Palestinian right to a state, Abbas must stand up and similarly say "I accept the Jewish state." I have news for Netanyahu. Abbas will gladly stand up and make that statement if like Netanyahu he too can confiscate large parts of territory beyond his country’s internationally recognized borders for the establishment of Palestinian settlements.
The imminent failure of the resumed peace talks will not be just another setback in the long history of such failures. The despair caused by the ever-increasing disenfranchisement and dispossession of Palestinians and by the newest Israeli encroachments just announced for East Jerusalem and the West Bank, in combination with demographics that will create an Arab majority in the de facto Greater Israel, is changing Israel in ways that are making the country no longer recognizable to many of its own citizens and to much of world Jewry, as well as to the international community.
Israel is increasingly seen not as a democracy but as an anachronistic ethnocracy, not much different from the Serbs during their war in Bosnia whose politicians and generals were received with adulation by Serbian Orthodox clergy when they returned from the carnage they inflicted on Bosnia's Muslim population in Sarajevo and other cities.
Israel’s public seems anesthetized to a disaster in the making, foolishly relying on their country’s vast military superiority over the Palestinians to preserve the status quo. But it is only a matter of time before Palestinians engage in a struggle to undo that status quo, one that will undoubtedly entail prolonged upheaval and suffering for their people as well as for Israel’s population.
But in the end, having been denied even a pathetic statelet of their own, Palestinians will have their state, and it will encompass all of Palestine. For in this day and age, the State of Israel that started out as a democracy but has evolved into an ethnocracy (with a Prime Minister’s Office on Conversions that sponsors religious conversions to Judaism as a path to Israeli citizenship) cannot prevail over a majority of its population that insists on its dignity and its rights.
How sad that a people that produces so disproportionate a number of Nobel laureates cannot grasp so simple a truth.
Henry Siegman is the president of the U.S./Middle East Project. He served as a Senior Fellow on the Middle East at the Council on Foreign Relations and as a non-resident research professor at the Sir Joseph Hotung Middle East Program, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.