U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s valiant effort to save the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is about to end in failure. Though achieving a substantive settlement always had a very high probability of being a pipe dream, this latest disappointment will render the United States unable to preserve even the facade of a “peace process” that has been all process and no peace. And that might not be such a bad thing.
The negotiations are failing for several reasons, beginning with Israel’s continued colonization of lands that it occupied during the Arab-Israeli war of June 1967, despite opposition from the international community, including the United States. If anything, Israel has accelerated settlement construction since the latest round of talks began, while escalating its demands, especially regarding the stationing of Israeli troops in the Jordan Valley. Releasing a few dozen Palestinian prisoners is no substitute for genuine concessions on these contentious issues.
Making matters worse, the United States has continually refrained from using its substantial leverage to compel Israel to change course, owing to the domestic political strength of the pro-Israel lobby, especially the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Tellingly, Kerry appointed Martin Indyk – a British-born Australian citizen, who began his political career in the United States working for AIPAC in the early 1980s – as the principal U.S. facilitator in the process.
Another obstacle to a peace agreement has been the division between the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and the Fatah-controlled West Bank. This, too, is rooted in American and Israeli intransigence – specifically, their refusal to accept Hamas’ victory in the 2006 legislative elections and recognize the group as the legitimate Palestinian representative. This policy encouraged Fatah not to cede any power to Hamas in the West Bank, engendering the split in occupied Palestine.
In the latest round of negotiations, however, this division has not been a major obstacle, because Hamas has remained on the sidelines – neither participating nor seeking to play a spoiler role. This decision may have stemmed from an assumption that the talks would collapse, and in that way discredit the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority. Regardless of why Hamas made this decision, the division among the Palestinian groups cannot be blamed for the failure of the talks this time around.
This brings us back to Israel’s continued colonization of Palestinian land, which all but excludes the possibility of arriving at a two-state solution. Add to this the fact that the Israeli right has insisted that no concessions are possible on territorial issues, the future of Jerusalem or the Palestinians’ right of return, and it is clear that Kerry never really had a chance.
Perhaps the clearest indication of Israel’s obstinacy came from its economy minister, Naftali Bennett, last July. “The idea that a Palestinian state should be established within the Land of Israel has reached a dead end,” he declared. “The most important thing for the Land of Israel is to build and build and build [Jewish settlements].”
Paradoxically, the discerning Palestinian observer may find comfort in America’s failure to stop Israel from expanding its settlements (and thus effectively annexing a growing share of Palestinian land), for it ends the charade on which the peace process has been based. The most likely outcome now is the establishment of a single unified country within the borders of the 1922 British Mandate for Palestine, including all of present-day Israel and the occupied territories.
In other words, Israel and Palestine are moving inexorably toward the establishment of a binational state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Such a state will be based on one of two mutually exclusive principles: equal rights for all of its inhabitants or some form of apartheid, characterized by Jewish control and Palestinian subordination.
The problem for Palestinians is that Jewish Israelis would have more clout in directing the development of this unified state, and they are unlikely to choose equality on their own. After all, granting equal political and civil rights to all citizens would diminish the country’s exclusivist Jewish character, reversing Zionist goals and achievements – an outcome that most of Israel’s Jewish population would reject. Calling the country “Israel” would be inadequate to moderate this resistance.
The international community would probably respond to the emergence of an apartheid state with opprobrium and ostracize Israel, regardless of American protests. Moreover, conflict within such a country would be bound to spill over its borders, possibly sparking a major regional conflagration. This would have serious consequences for the United States and other staunch Western supporters of Israel that have major strategic and economic interests in the region.
It is time, therefore, for the United States to rethink its policy toward the Israel-Palestine conflict. Instead of pursuing the mirage of a two-state solution, Washington should use its leverage in the region to clear the way for the emergence of a binational, democratic state that guarantees full political and civil equality for all of its inhabitants. This may not be an ideal solution for any of the parties to the Israel-Palestine conflict, but it is far better than the alternative: an apartheid state that is likely to further destabilize the Middle East and lead to a never-ending cycle of conflict in the region.
Mohammed Ayoob is a professor of international relations at Michigan State University and an adjunct scholar at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with Project Syndicate © (www.project-syndicate.org).