With less than thirty days left in tenure on Pennsylvania Avenue, President Obama’s Administration broke from the President’s own record to allow a resolution at the United Nations Security Council condemning Israeli settlements to pass. Quick to pass judgment, Israel advocacy groups here in the United States, coupled with large Jewish organizations, largely condemned this move, equating the American abstention from the vote to a betrayal of the US-Israeli relationship. Meanwhile, JStreet, the self-described Pro-Israel, Pro-Palestine advocacy group, praised the resolution, claiming that the resolution would lead to a brokered peace in accordance with international law.
On December 28th, Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a speech outlining the American position on Israeli settlements in the West Bank and categorized six points that will likely become known as the Kerry Parameters for dealing with the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations.
First, the Kerry plan would provide for secure borders between Israel and a contiguous Palestine, with a basis in the 1967 borders, with mutually agreed-upon land-swaps. The West Bank would become the heartland of a future Palestinian State, and it would be connected, by land, to Gaza, the current sea-based enclave. However, without the cessation of the Israeli south, including major cities such as Eilat and Beersheva, largely Jewish-majority cities, such a connection would not be possible. This point seems impossible, as any contiguous Palestine without the annexation of those two desert cities would result in a non-contiguous Israel.
Second, Secretary Kerry proposed a long-standing internationally accepted norm: Two states for two peoples. He said in a rather cliche (but awfully true) manner, that “Israel can either be Jewish or Democratic, it cannot be both” if it were to adopt a one-state solution. And he’s absolutely correct. Demographic trends are against the slowly growing Jewish population in Israel versus the quickly growing Arab population in the West Bank. The founding objective of the State of Israel was to provide a safe haven for Jews across the world as the only Jewish-Majority country. If it absorbed the entire Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza, it would become another Arab-majority state in the region within a matter of decades. The most important point that Secretary Kerry had here, however, was that both nations would respect the rights of their citizens. The total purge of settlements in the West Bank would result in a Jew-less Palestine, marking ethnic cleansing in the West Bank. If Israel were to recognize Palestinian sovereignty, which it eventually must to ensure its own long-term survival, a future Palestine must concurrently recognize the right of religious Jews to live in its own territory, such as the Jewish holy city of Hebron.
Third, Kerry would provide an adequate solution to the issue of Palestinian refugees. Palestinian refugees are the only global population that has the inheritable status of “refugee,” as the United Nations has preferred to continue ‘refugeehood’ for Palestinians rather than resettlement. Secretary Kerry is absolutely right here: the world must come together to find an adequate, fair, and just solution to the question of Palestinian refugees, whether than means resettlement in Jordan, Lebanon, the future State of Palestine, or even a limited amount in Israel.
Fourth, the holy city of Jerusalem would become a binational capital for both Israel and Palestine. It is difficult to imagine a future where Jerusalem, the holiest city for Jews and the third holiest city for Muslims, is divided as it once was from 1948 until 1967. Tourists of all faiths flock to the city as do religious pilgrims. The city is too important to arbitrarily divide along sectarian lines. Jewish-majority West Jerusalem could easily become the capital of Israel, while incorporating sections of the Old City, notably including the Western Wall plaza. At the same time, Arab majority East Jerusalem could become the capital of Palestine, sharing its prominence with the de facto capital of Ramallah. Jews and Arabs would find some way to share the city, marking it as a place of peace as opposed to one of eternal religious conflict.
Fifth, the Kerry plan would end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and provide for the security of Israel. In 2016, it seems almost nonsensical that a sovereign nation would have to militarily occupy the territory of another to provide for its own security. The Israeli occupation that disrupts the daily lives of Palestinian civilians who strive for their own self-determination must come to an end. At the same time, Israelis must find a way to live in peace without fear of terrorism at its borders. This balance can only be achieved through the empowerment of Palestinian security forces and further cooperation between the two nations-to-be.
Finally, all outstanding claims between Israel and its surrounding states must be resolved, allowing for normalization. Excepting the precarious situation surrounding the Syrian-claimed/Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, this point must be insisted upon. A modern Israel cannot exist without its neighbors recognizing its existence, especially with the rising threat from nearby nuclear-intentioned Iran.
I studied in Israel during the Summer 2014 conflict with Hamas and experienced the threat of Hamas and Iranian-funded terrorism in the south of Israel, reaching as far north as Tel Aviv, and even Jerusalem on one occasion. I am a pro-Israel Jewish Democrat. And I am concerned about the future existence of the Jewish State.
After nearly 70 years of strong existence, if Israel is to survive to its 100th, or even later, it must acquiesce to negotiations. I will tentatively support the general framework of the Kerry Parameters, and I’ll hope that Israeli and Palestinian leaders will as well. Secretary Kerry noted that “friends must be able to tell each other hard truths,” and he is correct. Peace in the Middle East is in America’s interest. It’s in Palestine’s interest and it is in Israel’s interest. Finding common ground in the Kerry Parameters might give way to lasting peace between Israel and Palestine.