In this post-factual era, no misstatement of facts should surprise us.
Yet the demonization of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry as anti-Israel by right-wing politicians in Jerusalem is a gross perversion of reality. The charge follows a U.S. abstention on a U.N. Security Council resolution that condemned Israeli settlement building in occupied West Bank by a 14-0 vote.
Never mind that Obama had recently concluded a historic 10-year, $38 billion military aid deal for Israel that exceeds any such package ever offered to any other U.S. ally. Never mind that Obama has been more protective of Israel at the United Nations than any other U.S. president in the last half century, vetoing any Security Council resolution critical of Israel until this one. In contrast, Ronald Reagan let 21 such critical resolutions pass, George H.W. Bush nine and George W. Bush six.
Let’s get to the reason for the abstention. As Kerry laid out in a passionate speech, it was certainly not to undermine Israel. On the contrary. It was an effort to preserve a way forward for Israel’s survival as a secure, Jewish, democratic state. The expansion of networks of Jewish settlements on the West Bank under Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reaching the point where they will rule out the possibility of a two-state solution in any future Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
No one, Kerry included, sees the possibility (or advisability) of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel in the near term, in this era of Mideast chaos. But what Kerry grasped is this: Once the possibility of two states living peacefully side by side is ruled out forever – even in theory – the consequences become dangerous for Israel.
At that point, Israel is headed toward a one-state solution, in which the number of Palestinian Arabs will ultimately outnumber the Jews.
That prospect confronts Jerusalem with two fraught choices. Option One: Rule permanently over millions of bitter, disenfranchised Palestinians living in Bantustan-like enclaves, Or, Option Two, give political rights to 2.75 million Palestinians on the West Bank. Add that to 1.7 million Palestinians in Israel and you already have a substantial Arab minority alongside 6.3 million Israel Jews in Greater Israel – and those figures ignore an additional 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza.
If Israel chooses Option One – permanent control over the Palestinians – it will no longer be a democracy. If it chooses Option Two – giving Palestinians the vote – it will lose its Jewish character (and, given Mideast realities, it will hardly become a happy bi-national state).
You get the picture: a one-state solution portends disaster. But that’s where things are headed.
Why worry about this now, Kerry’s critics ask, especially when Syria is burning and there are so many other problems in the world? Why not leave the question of settlements open until the (unlikely) day when there are new peace talks? The answer: Netanyahu’s agenda is driven by his hard-right coalition partners who want to annex part or all of the West Bank as soon as possible. They are pursuing a rapid expansion of settlements in the heart of the West Bank in places that would make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible.
Their settlements and roads separate the Palestinians into disconnected enclaves like the holes in a Swiss cheese.
Although Netanyahu claims to support the concept of two states, he describes his government as “more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history”; he has endorsed legislation that would legalize scores of settlement outposts on private Palestinian land that were formally considered illegal by Israel’s courts.
Keep this in mind: The settlements – especially those beyond the barrier fence that Israel set up to secure its pre-1967 territory – have nothing to do with Israel’s security. They are being established in order to cement Israel’s permanent control over the West Bank.
Which brings us back to the vote in the United Nations.
As Kerry said, it “was about preserving the two-state solution. That’s what we were standing up for: Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, living side by side in peace and security with its neighbors. That’s what we are trying to preserve for our sake and theirs.”
Mind you, the resolution was symbolic and said little that hadn’t been said in previous U.N. resolutions, or by previous U.S. administrations. It has no enforcement mechanism. And the Obama administration – whose peace efforts came to naught – is on the way out. Yet the resolution offers a sobering warning. The death of the two-state idea comes with heavy costs to Israel.
If Netanyahu had curbed his extreme settlers, he could have headed off the U.N. resolution. He could have bought time until the Mideast violence calms and, hopefully, permits new negotiating ideas.
Most countries understand it is too dangerous for Israel to relinquish control of the West Bank right now. But the open endorsement of annexation by the settler movement has soured even Israel’s allies against the Netanyahu government.
They know the West Bank status quo can’t hold forever and violence is likely to reoccur once the idea of two states is buried.
This is a lesson President-elect Donald Trump should ponder, having chosen a U.S. ambassador to Israel who backs settler extremists and compares Jews who favor a two-state solution to Nazis. Such dangerous nonsense will only propel Israel down a self-destructive path.
Trudy Rubin is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
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