A few weeks after his defeat in the 2004 US presidential election, John Kerry arrived in Israel and met at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem with a group of Israeli and Palestinian journalists in an effort to understand the situation on the ground. Those were the toughest days of the Al Aqsa Intifada, with suicide bombers blowing themselves up in the heart of Israeli cities, and the IDF working full force to put a stop to it. Still, at this meeting there was an air of hope and optimism.
The Palestinian leadership had just been replaced, and Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) had been elected as Palestinian president in place of Yasser Arafat. Unlike his predecessor, Abbas was known as a pragmatist who supported the two-state solution and eschewed violence and terrorism. Back then, Kerry heard from us — Palestinians and Israelis — on how we viewed the possible resolution of the conflict and especially what we saw as the obstacles to reaching a peace agreement.
On Wednesday, I listened attentively to Secretary of State Kerry’s speech. What he presented were the same ideas he heard back then, ideas that were already familiar well before then to anyone dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There were no surprises. Kerry set out principles that any reasonable person who wishes to reach a two-state solution understands and knows will form the basis for any future negotiations between the parties. Or, as Fadi Elsalameen, a Palestinian who lives in Washington and is known as a sharp critic of Mahmoud Abbas, put it, “the speech was based on facts, made perfect sense and had zero political relevance.”
And that’s the real problem (for me) with this speech. What made Kerry remember now, just three weeks before he leaves his post, to preach to the Israeli public on the danger of settlements? About how continued construction in the settlements is inconsistent with two-state solution?
In 2004 a two-state solution was still alive — battered, wounded, dying perhaps, but somehow it had survived the intifada
In contrast to many on the Israeli side, I welcomed Kerry’s unceasing attempts in recent years to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The alternative was to not try, and to let the two-state solution fade from history. But at some point, Kerry did indeed give up. Perhaps it was Benjamin Netanyahu who broke his spirit, perhaps Abbas. Maybe both. But Kerry and the US government raised the white flag and decided to focus obsessively on one issue: the nuclear deal with Iran. They abandoned Syria to Russia and allowed a genocide. They gave up trying to bring the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government to the negotiating table. Instead, they did everything possible to promote a nuclear deal — a deal that could have been worse, but certainly wasn’t good.
So where were you till now, Mr. Secretary? Why the sudden decision to come out now with a fire and brimstone speech against Israel’s government, the settlements, Palestinian incitement, etc., when these words come too little, too late? Is that what’s going to stop the Regulation Law? Yes, Mr. Secretary, your words served as a painful reminder for those of us living here in Israel of where this country is heading. But might not your timing and that of the US administration be based on personal motives, like taking revenge on Netanyahu, rather than on concerns for the future relations between the Israelis and the Palestinians? Because if not, why did you hold off until the your words weren’t worth the paper they were written on?
The Israeli public hasn’t exactly been moving to the left in recent years, and its support for a two-state solution has declined. Most Israelis are on the right, and support Netanyahu’s policies — that is, not to withdraw from Judea and Samaria and enable the establishment of a Palestinian state. As for the Palestinian public, 65% hold that the two-state solution is irrelevant in view of construction in the settlements (according to a survey by Khalil Shikaki). The number of settlers in the West Bank (not including East Jerusalem) is estimated at around 400,000. You’re absolutely right, Mr. Kerry. Some Israeli government ministers, such as Naftali Bennett, say openly that the two-state solution is over — with all the implications that carries for the vision of a democratic Jewish state. Netanyahu prefers to sell us stories about how he still supports this solution.
But in 2004, Mr. Kerry, a two-state solution was still alive — battered, wounded, dying perhaps, but somehow it had survived the intifada, despite the brutal terrorism and violence. Twelve years later, the two-state solution is dead. It is no longer realistic. It’s over. Because of Israel, because of the Palestinians, and, yes, because of a US administration that preferred to deal with Iran and not to push the parties to engage in serious peace negotiations. Settlements became a huge obstacle to such a solution. So, too, the Hamas regime in Gaza and the Palestinian public’s growing hatred of Israel.
If you tried to convene a group of Israeli and Palestinian journalists today, in Jerusalem or anywhere else, it’s doubtful you’d succeed because so many of our Palestinian colleagues are now boycotting Israeli journalists. Maybe it’s time to try and think of a different creative solution to the conflict. Two-states is no longer a realistic option, and one state evidently will not work here. .
It’s time to think out of the box — but that’s something that you over there in the Obama administration never managed to do.