US Secretary of State John Kerry summed up the international consensus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Wednesday, when he enunciated the Obama administration’s principles for a peace settlement during a speech in Washington.
Of the western countries, only the UK begged to differ from Kerry’s prescription, and that was more about emphasis than essence. And Australia was unable to stop itself from poking its neighbor and perennial rival New Zealand in the eye. But the rest of Europe, China, Russia and even the Sunni Arab states went along with Kerry’s approach.
Trump is likely to put a speedbump in the road of US Middle Eastern diplomacy, which Israel will rush through with alacrity and glee. More damage will be done; more lives wasted. But Trump, too, will eventually come up against the immovable reality of the conflict and return to the traditional approach.
The fact remains that there has rarely, if ever, been such global consensus on a local issue, albeit one with tremendous emotional and geopolitical impact.
But what if the world is wrong?
After all, it has happened before. Slavery, colonialism and even communism were once global endeavors, supported at one time or another by the current western powers and wide swathes of people around the world. Yet they eventually became anathema. It is entirely reasonable to at least ponder whether the world is not on the wrong path this time as well.
There are probably numerous grounds on which the Kerry doctrine can be questioned, but the three keys ones are a) whether Israel’s position is valid, b) whether the two-state solution as proposed by Kerry is fair, and c) whether it is viable.
I don’t doubt the importance of the land to many Israelis and even Jews who don’t live in Israel, but colonial occupation of a land and its people and the resulting brutality, oppression and denial of rights that are necessary to sustain that occupation are not, and can never be, a solution to the conflict. Israel has had 50 years to come up with a plan, but it hasn’t done so. And the simple reason is that there is no way it can both control the land and do justice by the people. Fifty years of occupation and settlement put Israel in the wrong.
Secondly, is the Kerry doctrine fair? Clearly not. Security Council Resolution 181 (from 1947), which Kerry quoted in his speech as the unavoidable basis of a solution, actually went a lot further than Kerry let on. For instance, the resolution allotted some 43% of Mandatory Palestine to the Palestinians (excluding Jerusalem, which was to be shared); the Kerry doctrine gives them only 22%.
It also envisages the Palestinian state as being demilitarized, while Israel would retain its army. And it includes land swaps, in which the Palestinians will have to give away some of their best land. Not to mention that the creation of the state will only follow a transitional period; the Oslo Accords taught us all we need to know about Israel and transitional periods. Needless to say, Israeli sovereignty would not be contingent on a transitional period. The Kerry doctrine doesn’t meet the test of fairness.
Which leave us with the viability of the two state solution. The US, the European Union and much of the rest of the world believes that the establishment of two sides living side-by-side in peace is the only rational and fair solution. The Palestinian Authority is officially committed to the two-state solution and even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is on record as saying that it his preferred goal, though he is doing everything in his power to ensure that it never comes about.
But the two-state solution will not solve the problem and is therefore not viable.
To understand why the two-state solution will not solve the problem, we first need to understand the problem itself. For a world that is tired of the conflict and wants to move on – a world that has been trying to stop Palestinians and Jews from killing each other for 50, 70 or even 100 years, take your pick – the two state solution is a godsend. It determines the starting date and place of the problem – June 1967, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – and attempts to solve the problem as so defined in place and time by reverting to the status quo ante. Presumably that will make everyone happy.
But it won’t. The first reason is that the territorial dispute did not begin in 1967. It didn’t even begin in 1948, though that was the year of the greatest upheaval. The dispute began when the first Zionist settlers arrived in Palestine with the goal of acquiring land on which to build the future Jewish state. That was over 100 years ago. Since then, Jews and Arabs have been locked in a struggle for the land, with much bloody water flowing under the bridge long before the 1967 war.
Nor did the problem begin in the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinians don’t commemorate the Nakba (the expulsions of 1948) just because they know it pisses off the Israelis. They remember it because it left some 700,000 Palestinians as refugees and over 400 villages as rubble – all of the latter in the area defined as Israeli in the Kerry doctrine. And there’s really not much point in debating whether the refugees were expelled or fled. The salient point is that they weren’t allowed back. The fledgling state of Israel prevented the return of the Palestinian refugees to their land and homes as deliberate policy, creating a body of refugees and their descendants that today numbers in the region of five million.
Israel also dynamited and covered over most of the villages and towns from which the refugees had fled, just for good measure.
Kicking the Israeli settlers out of the West Bank and returning to the so-called ’67 lines won’t solve the problem of the refugees. It won’t even tickle it. And without a solution to the refugee problem, there will never be peace. It is far too essential a part of the dispute to be ignored. Nor will it resolve the dispute over the land, much of which was seized or otherwise acquired by the Jews before 1967.
The second reason why the two-state solution won’t make everyone happy is that it ignores national aspirations which, like the refugee problem, are too dominant to be ignored. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Jews regard the West Bank as being the heartland of the territory promised to the Jews by God and are unwilling to see it under foreign, never mind Palestinian, sovereignty.
Personally, I don’t believe in God or the bible, so depriving messianic Jews of their heartland is no skin off my own nose. But I recognize their belief as an insurmountable problem to any peace effort that doesn’t take their national aspirations into account.
Likewise, many Palestinians are just as determined as the messianic Jews to return to their previous homes, lands and “national sanctuary” within the so-called ’67 borders. Kerry spoke vaguely and without much enthusiasm of “compensation,” but what precisely does he have in mind? Jews are not the only ethnic group or nation attached to a specific piece of land. Few of them would be satisfied with monetary compensation and the same goes for the Palestinians.
The unfortunate fact is that both Palestinians and Jews are attached, emotionally, religiously and as former owners, to land on both sides of what Kerry would like to see as the border between the two. A separation agreement will only exacerbate those attachments. It certainly won’t stop true believers on both sides from trying to return to land they regard as their own.
The final reason why not everybody will be happy with the two-state solution is more prosaic. There are too many Jews now living in the West Bank and they are too well connected politically and too much part of the Jewish-Israeli mainstream for it to be feasible to move them. And even if Israel were to maintain the settlement blocs, as they are called, the large and militant settler community simply won’t accept the evacuation of God-given territory, irrespective of whether or not they live on it
It will mean civil war and no conceivable Israeli leader will take that risk. It was traumatic enough when Ben-Gurion fired on a few hundred militants, crew members and passengers on the Altalena. Doing the same to a sizeable chunk of the population, with its emissaries in every Israeli institution, including in the senior echelons of the army, is simply not on the cards.
I don’t have any easy solution to offer, but it’s perfectly clear to me that the two-state solution as enunciated by Kerry doesn’t even begin to deal with the real core issues – Israel’s colonial history, the Palestinian refugees of 1948 and the national aspirations of both Jews and Palestinians. If the two-state solution were ever implemented, it would be only a finger in the dyke. Trouble will begin rushing through soon enough, because neither side will give up on its claims or aspirations to what’s on the other side.
The place to start is in acknowledging reality and understanding the true nature of the problem. The Kerry doctrine, by treating June 1967 as Day Zero, doesn’t do that. It mistakes only part of the problem for the whole. It’s a real pity that smart and well-meaning people like Obama and Kerry are so blind.