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Kerry’s Last-Ditch Effort As Quixotic As Ever

On the eve of John Kerry’s fifth visit to Israel-Palestine this year, prospects for a two-state solution to the conflict remain dim.

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On the eve of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s fifth trip of the year to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, little has changed. Despite Kerry’s entreaties not only to both parties but also to Jewish-Americans to come into his “Tent of the Peace Process,” every indication on the ground is, at best, more of the same. The only changes have made it more obvious than ever that the two-state solution, as previously conceived, is dead.

In advance of delaying this trip in order to consult with the rest of the administration’s leadership on increasing military aid to the Syrian rebels, Kerry spoke to the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) annual meeting in early June. He entreated the audience to speak out in a voice that the Israeli leadership could hear in support of the moribund two-state solution.

Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, widely regarded as the government’s “fig leaf” whose role is to mask the rejectionism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, echoed Kerry’s call. And the AJC, along with other Jewish-American organizations, got an immediate chance to respond. Yet that very opportunity demonstrated the futility of Kerry’s and Livni’s efforts.

First, Netanyahu’s Deputy Defense Minister, Danny Danon, of Netanyahu’s own Likud Coalition, declared that “if there will be a move to promote a two-state solution, you will see forces blocking it within the [Likud] party and the government.” Danon accurately pointed out that “the majority of Likud ministers, along with the Jewish Home [party], will be against it.” Indeed, Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, an outspoken opponent of a Palestinian state who advocates Israeli annexation of more than 60% of the West Bank, followed up Danon’s remarks by saying that the two-state solution is dead and “We need to build, build, build.”

Netanyahu tried to distance himself from the comments, but most understood that Danon and Bennett were simply being straightforward about the Israeli government’s makeup and direction. Indeed, it was telling that, just a few days before Kerry was due to arrive for his latest visit, Netanyahu attended the dedication of a school named after his father in the West Bank settlement of Barkan. While his aides insisted that Netanyahu did not mean to make a political statement with his appearance, his words at the school say otherwise. “The most important thing is to deepen our roots, because all the rest grows from there,” Netanyahu said. “We are here today to deepen our roots.”

The Palestinian Authority has responded to all of this by pointing out that Israel is acting against the two-state solution. “Every time Kerry comes, [Netanyahu] does something to undermine the possibility of a Palestinian state,” said Palestinian lead negotiator, Saeb Erekat. “It’s more than provocative, it’s devastating. This government’s policies are disastrous for Palestinians, Israelis and the region. I don’t know what purpose it serves to undermine the two-state solution.”

Yet the Palestinians continue to be divided, and not just between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. Rockets launched from Gaza Sunday night are believed to have been fired by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza. The act was reported to have been undertaken to spite Hamas, which had killed an Islamic Jihad operative while ostensibly arresting him.

The continuing divisions, especially the constantly sputtering reunification process between Hamas and Fatah is yet another reason why the two-state solution as previously conceived is, in fact, inconceivable now, no matter how much wishful thinking Kerry engages in. While indications remain that both Israelis and Palestinians support the creation of a Palestinian state, the positive answers to that abstract question may not even reflect the scope of public opinion.

In December 2012, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research asked Palestinians about the two-state solution. The majority supporting the proposal was still there, though it was down to only 52%. But when asked about a demilitarized state, only 28% supported that idea, while a robust 71% opposed it. This can hardly be surprising. After all, a Palestinian state would not only be neighboring the country that has occupied it for 46 years, but there is also the flux in which the neighboring countries — Syria, Jordan, Egypt — find themselves today. If a threat did materialize against a fledgling Palestinian state, it is hard to imagine that Israel would put its soldiers in jeopardy to defend the neighbors they regard as untrustworthy and frankly, distasteful.

But such a state is a sine qua non for Israel, and not only for reluctant “peacemakers” like Netanyahu. A demilitarized Palestinian state was clearly the vision of Netanyahu’s predecessors, to the extent they would agree to a Palestinian state at all. And, in Israeli political discourse, the so-called peace camp — including such parties as Labor, Yesh Atid, Kadima and even the most left-wing Zionist party, Meretz — is unanimous in calling for a demilitarized state.

It is said that this is Kerry’s last-ditch effort. If the Israelis and Palestinians move no closer on this trip, Kerry is prepared to abandon his shuttle diplomacy to focus his efforts on issues that may prove more malleable. The Israelis would certainly like to see negotiations resume, as this takes pressure off of Israel in the international arena, especially with Europe. This explains why Naftali Bennett, who is so hostile to peace with the Palestinians, states that he would not “veto” talks.

But political realities dictate something very different. Bennett, and indeed Netanyahu, may want to see talks resume, but they do not want them concluded with a Palestinian state. The Palestinians themselves cannot present a united front; the Palestinian Authority does not represent all of the population nor do its positions align with any but a small minority of the Palestinian people. And the United States is not prepared to insist on results. That is why so many say the two-state solution is dead. Kerry should learn the obvious lesson and either re-think his policy approach or, as he is threatening, turn his attention elsewhere.

LobeLog contributor Mitchell Plitnick is a former U.S. director of B’Tselem and  a past Director of Education and Policy for Jewish Voice for Peace.

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