US Officials To Israel: Palestine Will Be a Country, Get Used to It
Israel botched their latest attempt at coming to a peaceful resolution with Palestinians and the American officials involved in that process are not happy.
Speaking with an Israeli columnist, the officials (who requested to remain anonymous) said Israeli diplomats, and specifically Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were “largely to blame” for the lack of progress.
American Secretary of State John Kerry had spent nearly a year working towards bringing both sides of the conflict to the bargaining table and had hoped his efforts would be met with a permanent peace accord. It was a decidedly ambitious goal, but made even harder by Netanyahu’s unwillingness to budge on nearly any important issue.
In the last desperate months, Obama promised greater concessions to Israel (including releasing Jonathan Pollard, a former U.S. intelligence agent who was discovered to be a spy for Israel) in order to salvage the talks, but by the end of April, it appeared that nothing would save the negotiation. The U.S. team which had worked on the deal for nearly a year are to be disbanded later this month, nothing having been accomplished. For this reason, it may be understandable that when they were given the chance to tell their side of the story, they didn’t hold back.
Primarily, the issue of Israeli settlements in what are considered by many in the international community and in the minds of the Palestinians as Palestinian lands was crucial to any talks going forward. Israel would need to prove that they were trying to work with the Palestinians towards resolving the settlement disputes and halting their expansion. Instead, Netanyahu used the opportunity to score political points for himself and his party.
Netanyahu has tied his entire administration to keeping the settlements going, so by the time he got to the talks his hands were essentially already tied. Unless he wanted to lose his job for the sake of a shot at lasting peace, he wasn’t going to budge on the issue. That didn’t stop him from pretending that he was considering it.
“The negotiations had to start with a decision to freeze settlement construction. We thought that we couldn’t achieve that because of the current makeup of the Israeli government, so we gave up. We didn’t realize Netanyahu was using the announcements of tenders for settlement construction as a way to ensure the survival of his own government. We didn’t realize continuing construction allowed ministers in his government to very effectively sabotage the success of the talks.”[source]
In other words, while Israel feigned a willingness to discuss the halting of settlement construction at the negotiating table, contractors continued to build away. They knew this would spell disaster for the negotiation, but they didn’t care.
What’s most frustrating about this latest negotiation meltdown is that nearly everyone involved knows that Palestinians will eventually get a country. Support has lately been swinging away from Israel (they don’t make it very hard) and towards a two-state solution. During the interview, the U.S. officials talked about Palestine as if it was already a forgone conclusion. For most of the world, it is.
The Americans warned that, with the talks over, Israel might be facing “quite a problem. As of now, nothing is stopping the Palestinians from turning to the international community. The Palestinians are tired of the status quo. They will get their state in the end — whether through violence or by turning to international organizations.” [source]
So it isn’t whether or not Palestine gets their country, it’s how. The major fear is that the conflict will continue to devolve into greater and greater bloodshed on both sides as neither find working together plausible.
Of course, as tensions escalate, Israel will have all the more reason to ramp up military actions against Palestinians as well. It’s that dangerous scenario that prompted Kerry to warn that, “If there’s no two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict soon, Israel risks becoming “an apartheid state.”
That comment got him into a lot of trouble with those in America and Israel and he eventually apologized saying he wished he could “rewind the tape” on his comments, but that doesn’t change the veracity of his claim. While the situation is different than the one most famous example of apartheid which took place in South Africa, there are disturbing parallels. Here is Jeffrey Goldberg, a reporter who has covered Israel extensively:
A de-facto apartheid already exists in the West Bank. Inside the borders of Israel proper, Arabs and Jews are judged by the same set of laws in the same courtrooms; across the Green Line, Jews live under Israeli civil law as well, but their Arab neighbors — people who live, in some cases, just yards away — fall under a different, and substantially undemocratic, set of laws, administered by the Israeli Army. The system is neither as elaborate nor as pervasive as South African apartheid, and it is, officially, temporary. It is nevertheless a form of apartheid, because two different ethnic groups living in the same territory are judged by two separate sets of laws. [source]
And Goldberg isn’t some anti-Israel hack, he – like Kerry – is just willing to acknowledge what everyone else knows but won’t say: Israel treats Palestinians differently, and that won’t stop until a different kind of solution is found.
If Israel can’t come to terms with a two-state solution, there is the threat that the world they will help create will be altogether more violent and unstable. That cannot be their wish. But avoiding that reality means that they must be willing to give a little to the enemy. In any conflict, there is no other way.