Everybody, including John Kerry, is trying to save Israel from itself. Except for the Israeli establishment, which occasionally speaks with a forked tongue, but in reality pursues a policy that has put to rest all prospects of a two-state solution. This policy was summed up three years ago by British-Israeli historian Avi Shlaim with reference to Israel’s continuing colonization of the West Bank in the following words: “Netanyahu is like a man who, while negotiating the division of a pizza, continues to eat it”.
Why is it then that US Secretary of State John Kerry is so eager to push both parties into another set of negotiations that are highly likely to be not only unproductive but counterproductive, by fuelling Palestinian anger by their failure and thus bringing us a step closer to the inevitable third intifada?
Moreover, despite Netanyahu’s lip-service to the concept of two states, some of the most influential figures in the Israeli cabinet have made it clear that the two-state solution is dead. Naftali Bennet, head of the Jewish Home Party and a senior member of the current Netanyahu cabinet, has made clear that “The idea that a Palestinian state should be established within the Land of Israel has reached a dead end… The most important thing for the Land of Israel is to build, and build, and build [Jewish settlements]”.
Dann Dannon, the deputy defence minister and a leading member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, has similarly stated that Israel should declare sovereignty over the Jewish settlements and empty areas of the West Bank and that the fate of Palestinian “blocks” should be “determined in an agreement with Jordan”. This harks back to the Allon Plan of the 1970s, except that the Palestinian “blocks” now will be much smaller and much more disconnected from each other than envisioned in the earlier plan.
Dore Gold, former foreign affairs advisor to the prime minister, a former ambassador to the United Nations, and influential public intellectual in Israel, has not only ruled out the 1967 borders but also ruled out ceding East Jerusalem to a future Palestinian state. He insists that there cannot be a two-state solution without Israel retaining military control of the Jordan Valley – a derogation of sovereignty that even the most pliable Palestinian interlocutors, such as Mahmoud Abbas and Saeb Erakat, are bound to reject.
Why is it then that US Secretary of State John Kerry is so eager to push both parties into another set of negotiations that are highly likely to be not only unproductive but counterproductive, by fuelling Palestinian anger by their failure and thus bringing us a step closer to the inevitable third intifada? The answer is simple. The United States needs Israel and the Palestinian Authority to start negotiations for the sake of negotiations well before the UN General Assembly convenes in September so that it can be spared another major embarrassment on the issue of Palestinian statehood when the General Assembly convenes. If Kerry can demonstrate that an American-sponsored peace process is underway he can forestall criticism both of Israel and of the United States in the General Assembly for lack of progress toward Palestinian statehood.
The primary reason for the Kerry initiative is to deflect international criticism of the United States for its failure to stop Israeli colonisation of the West Bank which is rendering Palestinian statehood impossible. It has become increasingly clear to seasoned observers of the Middle East that Washington’s inability to make a dent in Israel’s settlement policy is not only a question of the tail wagging the dog; it demonstrates that on the Palestine issue the dog and the tail have switched roles.
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Paradoxically, the American failure to stop Israel from establishing and expanding Jewish settlements and de facto annexation of more and more Palestinian land may appear comforting to the discerning Palestinian observer for it is more than likely to lead to a re-unified Palestine within the borders of the British Mandate. This means that we are fast moving toward a situation, if we have not arrived there already, that, notwithstanding the on-going charade about reviving the peace process, there will be only one state between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea. Such a state will be based on one of two mutually exclusive principles: Equal rights for all its inhabitants or de facto apartheid.
The chances are that the dynamics of this state will be Jewish superiority and Palestinian inferiority amounting to apartheid. This is likely to be the case because the granting of equal political and civil rights to all its citizens would mean that the state, even if it continues to be called Israel, will lose its exclusivist Jewish character, reversing Zionist goals and achievements, an outcome that will not be acceptable to the large majority of Israel’s Jewish population. An apartheid state such as the one envisaged above, which is likely to be the end result of the present trajectory of Israeli policies, will be a recipe for perpetual conflict between the two peoples inhabiting the territory between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea.
Even a seasoned US Army General, John Mattis, head of the US Central Command until his retirement two months ago, warned in a recent interview that the present situation is “unsustainable”. According to him, without a separation of the populations, “either [Israel] ceases to be a Jewish state or you say the Arabs don’t get to vote – apartheid. That didn’t work too well the last time I saw that practised in a country”. Moreover, the US “paid a military security price [for Israel’s policy] every day… because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel”.
The emergence of an apartheid state is likely to be accompanied by international opprobrium as well as global ostracism of Israel – an outcome that even the United States will be unable to prevent despite its veto power in the United Nations Security Council that it has used so many times to such good effect in preventing resolutions critical of Israel from being passed by that august body.
What is more, conflict within a bi-national but apartheid Israelis bound to spill over its borders triggering off one or a series of major regional conflagrations. If this scenario unfolds, and given present indications it is likely that it will within the next decade or two, it will have extremely deleterious consequences for the United States and other Western powers that have major strategic and economic interests in the region but are seen as staunch supporters of Israel.
Mr Kerry’s shuttle diplomacy and the reconvening of talks between a discredited Palestinian Authority and a less than honest Israeli government are unlikely to stop this future from unfolding.
Mohammed Ayoob is a University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations at Michigan State University.