By Alex Mollohan, Operations Director
On Wednesday, December 28th, Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a speech outlining what he saw as the necessary steps to be taken to ensure a lasting a durable peace between Israel and their Arab neighbors. This speech outlines the decision of the United States to abstain from the December 23rd United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements; a serious break from the established US policy of protecting Israel from the UN. This action has ignited a firestorm on the highest levels of diplomacy, infuriating the Israeli government (to the point where they have broken off relations with many of the countries that voted for the resolution) and sparking an intense debate about the future of Israel-Palestine. It is worth examining Secretary Kerry’s six points, and weighing them against the reality of the situation on the ground.
1) A two state-solution based on 1967 borders
This has been the standard position of the United States government since Israel captured the Palestinian territories in the Six Day War. It has been the basis of the ossified peace process started in Oslo a generation ago. Thus, reaffirming this was to be expected from an American administration. This is not a bad idea in theory but in practice it would leave tens of thousands of Jews in Palestine. These Jews would need to be evacuated, a grim prospect for a nation that still remembers the pain of the Gaza disengagement a little over a decade ago. I worry that an evacuation of this magnitude would lead to major civil strife in Israeli society: a frightening prospect for all those who care about Israel.
2) Mutual recognition, and rights for all citizens of both nations
Nice in theory, will never happen in practice. While Israel gives full rights to its Arab citizens, it is difficult to imagine the Jews who stay in the future Palestine either respecting their new Palestinian rulers or having their rights respected in return. There is simply too much mutual animosity between the settlers and their Palestinian neighbors. The fact that Palestinians have stated that their nation must be judenrein as a precondition for statehood only reinforces the emptiness of calls for mutual respect. While I do not like to admit this, the Palestinian demand to remove all the settlers isn’t particularly unreasonable. But, the settlers of Judea and Samaria barely listen to the IDF, and would represent an existentially dangerous fifth column to a demilitarized Palestinian state.
3) A realistic solution for Palestinian refugees
This is a tricky issue. Israelis will never accept the demand for a full right of return, as that would spell the end for Israel, and render the Jews a minority in their homeland. Reparations are also a tricky subject as most Israelis are likely unwilling to admit wrongdoing on their part (a position I happen to share, but that's another article in and of itself). A full right of return to Palestine will probably be the best solution here, but that is contingent on the Palestinian leadership swallowing their pride, something which they have had difficulty doing in the past.
4) Jerusalem as the capital city for both states
A symbolic issue, but one I take a hard line on. Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people, one which cannot be divided or lost again. The entire Jewish faith is centered around Jerusalem and the connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem is one of the most intense on Earth. Beyond this personal motive, divided cities are always a recipe for disaster, and the divided Jerusalem would certainly be a flashpoint for future conflict. On a practical level, Israel already allows total freedom of worship in Jerusalem, and it is difficult to imagine the Palestinians (who riot at the idea of Jews approaching the Temple Mount) keeping any promises on freedom of worship. The simplest solution here would be a referendum on the status of East Jerusalem, where the inhabitants vote on whether they wish to remain a part of Israel or become the capital of Palestine.
5) End the occupation in a manner which meets Israeli security needs
Difficult, considering that whenever Israel withdraws from occupied territory, they are rewarded with rockets. Herein rests the biggest issue on the ground, the simple fact that the Palestinians cannot be trusted as good faith actors regarding Israel’s security. So long they glorify martyrdom and name their streets after suicide bombers, it is hard to imagine the security concerns of Israel being respected. How can Israelis sleep comfortably knowing that a potentially genocidal foe controls the West Bank’s strategic highlands, capable of raining rockets on any part of their nation at a moment's notice?
6) End territorial claims and normalize relations with all sides
This issue undergirds all of the above problems. As long as the entirety of Israel is viewed as occupied territory by the Palestinians, peace will be impossible. The territorial claims on Israel provide Palestinian militant groups the motivation to attack Israel, which in turns strengthens the Israeli conviction that military occupation is necessary. Relinquishing claims to Israel-proper and ensuring that this change is reflected in Palestinian society is the most important step in the peace process. I am extremely pessimistic about the odds of this happening. Palestine was born in opposition to Israel, and the only thing which really holds the notoriously fractious Palestinians together is a mutual hatred of Israel (and even then, it’s no silver bullet).
Had Hillary Clinton won in November, we would not be having this debate as Clinton would almost certainly stay the course on Israel policy, something Trump simply cannot be trusted to do. With his appointment of David Friedman, a man who would not be out of place in the Israeli Jewish Home Party (a pro-settlement party to the right of Netanyahu), it is clear that the Trump administration plans to cast its lot with the Israeli hard-right. While meant to save the moribund peace process, the Obama administration’s move falls right into the hands of this same hard-right fringe. The resolution amplifies the sense of siege and proves to some that the world is indeed against Israel. In the wake of this announcement, Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home, announced plans to bring a bill annexing large settlement blocs to the floor of the Knesset.
With essentially carte blanche from the Trump administration and the eyes of the world focused on the broader conflagration in the Middle East, it is hard to see the Obama administration's actions in the U.N. Security Council as anything more than a desperate, symbolic effort to save a peace process that died long ago. It is a move that constrains Israel as it fights to survive in the most dangerous region on Earth against enemies who would wipe it out were they to gain the upper hand. Knowingly or not, the Obama administration has aided and abetted the death of the Oslo accords, ushering in an uncertain chapter in the ever-fraught diplomacy of Israel-Palestine.