The most disturbing thing about the landmark speech that Secretary of State John Kerry just delivered is that the American political system is so dysfunctional that the truth could be spoken only after – not before – a national election, in the short period between the end of one Administration and the beginning of another.
Kerry delivered his “candid thoughts” about the Israeli Palestinian conflict in response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bitter and provocative criticism of the United States for not vetoing the UN resolution reaffirming the illegality of Israel’s settlement construction and expansion: “Friends don’t take friends to the Security Council.” Kerry’s rejoinder to the Israelis and the American people, publicly before the world, was that “friends need to tell each other the hard truths.”
These hard truths remained untold for eight years because of fear: fear by President Obama and the Administration that the Israeli lobby, big American Jewish donors, and the American Jewish community was not ready to hear them; fear that speaking the truth would endanger Obama’s re-election prospects, and then Hillary Clinton’s. As a result of such fear, candor could be heard only very late – when the Two State Solution (“2SS”) is already in the grave, and when the incoming Administration is apparently resolved not to hear the lessons Kerry took pains to articulate.
Nevertheless, the word must be heard and heeded by Israeli, American and World Jewry. We would be exceedingly unwise to ignore them. So Hear, O Israel, these parting truths – hard as they are for many of us — from the peacemakers who tried so hard to move it from its disastrous path:
You are running Israel and Judaism off the rails. Led by the most right wing leadership in history, you are taking them to a one-state reality — a Greater Israel, in the West Bank — for the sake of ideological and religious reasons utterly disconnected from Judaism’s values and Israel’s greater interests in security and its future peaceful integration into the Arab world. In your single-minded commitment to settlement construction and expansion, you have increasingly consolidated control over the West Bank for your own purposes, reversing the earlier goal of permitting Palestinians greater control over their own lives.
You have transferred into the West Bank, the future homeland of the Palestinian people, 270,000 Jewish settlers since the Oslo peace accords were signed on the White House lawn, 100,000 since the Obama Administration began in 2009. And you have located these settlers, deliberately and strategically, in places which have made it particularly difficult to envision separating the two peoples and transferring sovereignty to a new Palestinian state. Because you are not stupid, you must be doing this for a reason, and that is ultimately to prevent the establishment of a contiguous Palestinian state in which Palestinians could live in freedom and dignity, free of Israeli domination.
There is no use pretending that you are merely expanding settlement blocs because, not only are they in places that make a Palestinian state impossible, but you are legalizing more than 100 outposts and advancing legislation, sponsored by Jewish fundamentalists and the settler movement, which are leading inexorably toward annexation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (“OPT”). These settlers clearly do not intend to submit to Palestinian law and so they are a permanent obstacle to the 2 state solution. It is therefore obvious to any knowledgeable observer that you have embarked on a comprehensive effort to take West Bank lands for Israel and prevent any Palestinian development there. The entire Area C, constituting 60% of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, is off limits to Palestinian development. While Israeli farms flourish in the Jordan Valley and resorts line the Red Sea, while hundreds of Jewish settlement permits were approved, only one Palestinian building permit was approved in all of 2014 and 2015. Palestinian homes have been demolished at an historically high rate, displacing 1300 Palestinians (including 600 Palestinian children) in 2016 alone. The Israeli agenda is clear: putting in place a one-state reality over all of Israel-Palestine. The era of the 2SS is over.
What kind of Jewish vision is left, Kerry asks us. What kind of subjugation of Palestinians is consistent with Jewish religious and moral values? There are 2.75 million Palestinians living under Jewish military occupation, in the West Bank. They have limited autonomy. They cannot travel without approval. They are living in enclaves with no rights, under occupation that deprives them of basic freedoms. Palestinians live lives that are Separate But Unequal. While Kerry did not utter the word “apartheid,” the reference to American racial segregation was an unmistakable stand-in for it. Will Jewish military and police personnel police the streets of every Palestinian city and town? Will they administer the schools and hospitals? How will they deal with civil rights protests? Unspoken was the fact that Israeli troops and police have shot, killed and maimed Palestinians engaged in peaceful protests for years.
Because this one-state Greater Israel is not consonant with democratic ideals, Americans will not accept it, the world will not accept it, Kerry said. He is right, of course. This is the truth, obvious by the global consensus enunciated in resolutions like this one since 1967. The unspoken question to Jews the world over was, will the Jewish people accept it? Is that the legacy of the Holocaust? It was not enough for 6 million to have perished? We have to end up being oppressors of another people, millions of them, Arabs in an Arab world where we hope and expect to live for the next thousand years?
Friends do not let friends drive drunk. Israel is intoxicated by its military might, its economic success, and its historic American insulation from the pressures of the global consensus that what it is doing is dead wrong. This insulation threatens to continue for at least another four years. The proponents of such insulation are no friends of Israel’s, no friends of the Jews. I think Kerry is wrong about the continued viability of the two state solution, but he is clearly right that the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world will not make a secure and lasting peace with us until we give up the irredentist dream of “all Israel-Palestine for Jews” and agree to accommodate the legitimate national aspirations of the Palestinians.