John Kerry’s tough-love speech to a pro-Israel gathering on Saturday suggesting that an “untenable one-state reality” is taking hold in Israel and Palestine represents a new rhetorical step for the quasi-outspoken secretary of state. The speech follows Kerry’s statement from a year ago that Israel could become an “apartheid state” and the White House statement two years ago that Israel faces a “tsunami” of boycott threats if it can’t take steps to create a Palestinian state.
Kerry is getting a lot of criticism in Israel for a number of assertions in the speech: that Israeli “occupation” and settlement construction have “reversed” the promise of Oslo and thereby fostered terrorism, that the Palestinian Authority may collapse, that many in the Israeli government are opposed to a two-state solution, that the “Arab street” will rise up if Palestinians don’t get a state, and that Israel will cease to be a Jewish state in that one-state reality.
And he seemed to challenge the US press when he said, “Palestinian hopes are also being dashed by what they see happening every day. They’re focused on a reality that few others see.”
Here are excerpts of the Kerry speech:
The Palestinians believe this Israeli government will never give them a state and that their land is being systematically taken away and the daily indignations of occupation will never end and that there is impunity for attacks against Palestinians. That’s what they believe.
Here’s what I know: The Israeli and Palestinian people deserve better, but the current path is not leading to a more peaceful future. I am concerned that unless significant efforts are made to change the dynamic – and I mean significant – it will only bring more violence, more heartbreak, and more despair. That’s a fear, not a threat….
This brings us to a broader question. If there is a risk that the PA could collapse, and it is in Israel’s interest for it to in fact survive, as the prime minister suggested, should more therefore not be done to help sustain it? This really goes to the heart of a bigger debate, because the truth is that many of those arguing against the PA simply don’t believe in two states. The prime minister has been clear that he does not want a bi-national state and that he remains committed to the vision of two states for two peoples. But at the same time, many current Israeli ministers have been equally clear that they oppose a Palestinian state – not just now but ever.
So my friends, we’ve got to be clear-eyed about this. We can’t come to a forum like this, we can’t have meetings, we can’t go back and forth and maintain the norms of diplomacy and pretend. We have to be honest about what a one-state solution actually looks like. First, nobody should be lulled into a forced complacency that the PA would still be there under those circumstances. In fact, the chances that it would collapse increase over time every day now, let alone what would happen if that were the direction you’re moving in. And it would collapse sooner rather than later under those circumstances along with all of the risks and worst outcomes.
Let’s focus on a few other critical questions that that approach raises. I’m just asking questions. How does Israel possibly maintain its character as a Jewish and democratic state when from the river to the sea there would not even be a Jewish majority? Then next question: Would millions of Palestinians be given the basic rights of Israeli citizens including the right to vote, or would they be relegated to a permanent underclass? Would the Israelis and Palestinians living in such close quarters have segregated roads and transportation systems with different laws applying in the Palestinian enclaves? Would anyone really believe they were being treated equally? What would the international response be to that, my friends, or to a decision by Israel to unilaterally annex large portions of the West Bank? How could Israel ever have true peace with its neighbors, as the Arab Peace Initiative promises and as every Arab leader I have met with in the last year reinforces to me as recently as in the last month that they are prepared to do?
But how will they do that if there is no chance for a two-state solution? How will the Arab street in today’s world let that go by? And wouldn’t Israel risk being in perpetual conflict with millions of Palestinian living in the middle of a state? I think the answers ought to make it clear to all the one-state solution is no solution at all for a secure Jewish democratic Israel living in peace. It is simply not a viable option. And no less a statesman and one of the men I admire the most in the world, one of the most eloquent people that I’ve ever heard talk and one of the great warriors for peace as Shimon Peres put it himself: Anyone who rejects the two-state solution won’t bring a one-state solution; they will instead bring one war, not one state.
So my friends, that again brings us to a broader question. If the two-state solution is the only real option, what more can actually be done to advance it? These are important questions for all of us who care deeply about Israel, and I do care deeply. I had a 100 percent voting record over 28-plus years and I remember fondly every visit I’ve ever made over there and I have great friends, great friends.
But I ask people to answer this question as honestly as possible. And this is not an abstract issue that you can put off for some distant day. The status quo is simply not sustainable. And the fact is that current trends including violence, settlement activity, demolitions, are imperiling the viability of a two-state solution. And that trend has to be reversed in order to prevent this untenable one-state reality from taking hold. I can’t stress this enough. The terrorist attacks are devastating the hopes of Israelis who want to believe that peace is possible, and the violence must stop. Yes.
But Palestinian hopes are also being dashed by what they see happening every day. They’re focused on a reality that few others see, that the transition to greater Palestinian civil authority contemplated by the Oslo process has in many ways been reversed. In fact, nearly all of Area C which comprises 60 percent of the West Bank is effectively restricted for any Palestinian development, much of it claimed for Israeli state land or for settlement councils. We understand there was only one Palestinian building permit granted for all of Area C all of last year. And settler outposts are regularly being legalized while demolition of the Palestinian structures is increasing. You get it? At the same time the settler population in the West Bank has increased by tens of thousands over just the past five years including many in remote areas.
Settlements are absolutely no excuse for violence. No, they’re not. And we are clear about that. But the continued settlement growth raises honest questions about Israel’s long-term intentions and will only make separating from the Palestinians much more difficult. There are no easy answers, but we can’t stop trying to find solutions that move us closer to peace. And that is why President Obama has called on both sides to demonstrate with actions and policies a genuine commitment to a two-state solution. The Quartet has suggested steps on the ground that would reverse current trends and resume the Oslo transition in ways that do not affect Israel’s security at all. And I want to stress that point. Increasing Palestinian civil authority does not happen at the expense of Israeli security. In fact, strengthening the Palestinian economy will enhance security for Israelis and Palestinians alike. And the Palestinians must also meet their commitments including combatting violence and incitement, improving governance, and building their institutions..
But right now, you’ve got a lot of young people growing up in the West Bank who don’t have jobs, who aren’t – they don’t see a future. And the question is: What choices are they going to make? I think Israel has a vital national security interest in wanting to do more, and I believe – I say this nicely, but I believe there are people within the security establishment of Israel who believe just what I said and who would like to see more done to strengthen the Palestinians…
So what I’m trying to persuade people is you have to go a little further to indicate to the Palestinians a political horizon, something that begins to say to them, “Yes, you can have a state. There is a way to get there. Here’s what you have to do.” And begin to open up some opportunities in the Area C for them to build, to have some agriculture, do some business, and begin to strengthen themselves.
That would begin to send a very different message. And it doesn’t mean you have a big negotiation. It’s not opening up a whole new set of promises for some outcome you can’t produce. But it’s real and tangible in terms of the transition to Oslo and to rights….
Kerry’s comments are especially interesting when you consider Yousef Munayyer’s repeated challenge to the New America Foundation and Peter Beinart last June: the one-state reality is upon us and we must try to imagine just divisions of power under it. Kerry wants none of that. At Harvard in October, he polled the crowd for two-state-believers and said that those who don’t believe in a two-state future aren’t allowed in the U.S. conversation.
Some hands are not being raised. How many of you support – don’t support a two-state solution? Well, you just didn’t vote. You’re opting out. (Laughter.) You’re not allowed to opt out. You cannot go to Harvard and opt out, okay?
Kerry is certainly out of touch with the American street. Shibley Telhami at Brookings reports on his latest poll:
Those who advocate a one-state solution, 31%, are now comparable to those who advocate a two-state solution, 35%.
Also, another sign of the discursive crisis that is upon us, on Sunday in Washington, Hillary Clinton took issue with Kerry by refusing to say a word about occupation and putting the burden on Arab leaders to reup the Arab Peace Initiative– though Kerry said that every Arab leader he meets is behind it already. Clinton:
Right now Arab leaders could send a powerful message by reviving and updating the Arab peace initiative and laying out a process for normalizing relations with Israel and accepting it as a Jewish state alongside an independent Palestine. And Israel could seize the opportunity to directly respond to such an initiative. There’s no magic wand, but there’s a real strategic opportunity worth exploring.
Thanks to Max Blumenthal.