The recent speech by outgoing US Secretary of State John Kerry represents a missed opportunity by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Kerry dedicated his end-of-term speech to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an issue he vowed to make a breakthrough in since entering office. Multiple resources and intensive shuttle diplomacy were dedicated to realizing this goal, but he ultimately failed.
Kerry could have adopted a ‘plague on both of their houses’ approach, but instead delivered his speech as a final act, genuinely believing in the importance of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, and emphasizing the critical time element.
Alarmed by proposals made by the Israeli right that call for annexing the territories, Kerry approached the position believing himself to be a true friend of Israel, concerned by the possibility of a bi-national reality and its implications for The Jewish State, which he firmly supports.
If the six principles he laid out in his address are examined closely, one finds that some almost completely mirror Netanyahu’s own positions. These same principles have, in the past, been rejected by the Palestinians.
Yet strangely, the speech was dismissed and trivialized by decision-makers in Israel, without receiving the due, in-depth analysis it deserves. A closer look reveals that it is much closer to Israel’s stance than that of the Palestinians, and that the US Secretary of State adopted the majority of Netanyahu’s own declared diplomatic principles.
These include: Two states for two people, recognizing Israel as the Jewish nation state, and a strong emphasis on the Jewish bond to the land of Israel and to Jerusalem. Kerry also stressed that the Palestinian so-called right of return will be regionally and financially solved, and not realized by changing the demographic nature of the Jewish state. Furthermore, Kerry said that the Palestinian state must be demilitarized, a key principle in the Israeli view of any future Palestinian state.
The speech did dwell on settlements, which would not have been pleasant for Netanyahu to hear, and even less so for Education Minister Naftali Bennet. Kerry’s focus on this issue was due to his understanding of the changing demographic reality in the West bank – a reality that he envisaged may well eliminate the option of two states in the not too distant future . Yet even he called for settlement blocs to remain under Israeli sovereignty, with land swaps as an option.
Finally, Kerry emphasized the opportunity to recruit the moderate Arab world to the cause – the same Arab states that Netanyahu himself says have changed their stance, and are engaged in quiet dialogue with Israel, based on joint strategic interests.
It is therefore no surprise that PA President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinians have rejected Kerry’s proposals. Yet the question of why Netanyahu did not adopt some of Kerry’s stances remains unanswered. Netanyahu’s diplomatic analytic abilities are renown. He understands better than all that in the diplomatic world, a reply of ‘yes but’ is superior to a direct ‘no.’ The question is why the prime minister did not use this opportunity to adopt positive aspects of the speech that are beneficial for Israel?
Does it mean that Netanyahu has withdrawn from his two-state position, maintained over the years? This is unlikely to be the case.
It remains unclear whether the ongoing police investigations have influenced Netanyahu’s response, or whether he has simply reached the conclusion that securing his political survival means swerving right and edging ideologically closer to coalition partner Naftali Bennet and his Jewish Home party.
Either way, the correct policy should be to underline helpful aspects in Kerry’s speech, and seek to anchor them in the international agenda. Since this has not occurred, Israel has no reply to the ongoing Palestinian attempt to dictate the international agenda. In a span of just a few weeks, there were three significant developments revolving around the Israeli-Palestinian issue:
* The adoption of UN resolution 2334
* The Kerry Speech
* The recent International Conference meeting in Paris, which ironically enough, was held in the absence of both the Israelis and the Palestinians.
The most alarming lesson that arises from these three events is that Netanyahu and Israel are lacking in any desire or ability to initiate. There is a necessity for fresh ideas and new initiatives. If Israel does not bring them to the table; somebody else will.
Not only have all three of these events failed to advance peace – they have caused significant damage. The Palestinians have been strengthened, and are acting in the belief that the world will impose a fait accompli on Israel. The Palestinians also believe they will not have to commit to the necessary obligations and compromises. Such illusions hold the potential for danger.
Counting on US President Elect Donald Trump to save the day is not advisable either. Trump has had very little knowledge or interest in these issues before running for president, and is clearly unpredictable. Furthermore, even if he does provide a powerful tailwind to Netanyahu – Trump’s era will end one day too.
Israel should set its long-term policies in line with its own concrete national interests, and those include dodging the risk of a bi-national state.
Edited By Yaakov Lappin
Co-Edited By Benjamin Anthony
Notice: The views expressed above do not represent the views of the IDF or the Foreign Ministry. They are reflective solely of the views of the author.