We are of a mind to tell U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry not to bother. That is not the usual attitude of this page, which has repeatedly spoken out in favor of the two-state solution and a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, brokered by the United States with the help of any other country in the region. That is, we continue to believe, the only way to ensure that Israel remains a democratic, Jewish and secure country next to a Palestine that is independent and viable.
But the sight of yet another well-meaning, seasoned and serious American diplomat trying vainly to persuade Israelis and Palestinians to talk to each other and receiving only empty rhetoric in return is almost enough for us to say: Never mind. This is humiliating. America doesn’t deserve this. Kerry may have more luck with the Taliban.
Our dour, cynical attitude only echoes the refrain heard commonly now on both sides of the Green Line. While the Israeli public continues to tell pollsters that it favors a two-state solution — as does the Palestinian public — there is no political pressure from either side to do anything about it. Israelis are focused on whether to draft the Haredim into the military and how to respond to the growing economic inequality that is even affecting the hip, happy bubble known as Tel Aviv. Leaders in the ruling coalition are allowed to make outlandish, contradictory statements that only reinforce the sense that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has no guiding strategy whatsoever.
And the fact that Israel, founded on soaring democratic principles, continues to occupy another people rarely penetrates everyday consciousness. Terrorism has largely ceased, except from Gaza. For most Jewish Israelis, occupation is no more than a distant inconvenience.
The Palestinians seem equally uninterested and even more dysfunctional. Their government is a mess — the successor to Salam Fayyad (who never should have been allowed to resign as prime minister) has already quit, and President Mahmoud Abbas doesn’t have the political strength to call long-delayed elections. Unity with the Hamas government in Gaza remains a pipe dream. Sections of Ramallah are gleaming as the economy there booms for the elite, but life for ordinary Palestinians remains tenuous. Yes, their economy is strangled by the occupation, but then why not negotiate? Why not call Netanyahu’s bluff? The demand that settlement construction cease before talks can commence is only delaying the process — and permitting settlements to expand. It’s an unvirtuous cycle.
The Palestinians seem to be betting that continued international isolation and approbrium will eventually force Israel to shift its stance, and they are employing whatever gains they achieve from the United Nations statehood bid to further that goal. Honestly, it’s hard to discern what the Netanyahu government is waiting for: a Gandhi in Ramallah? The next election? The next suicide attack?
Only one thing is clear: Israel’s future as a democratic state with a Jewish majority depends on disentangling itself from much of the land it occupies and helping to create a secular Palestinian state while there is still time. Most of Israel’s military and security establishment agrees with the urgency of this task. Moreover, it is in America’s best interests to help secure Israel, free Palestinians and neutralize the ostensible cause for so much terrorism and brutality in the region.
Both sides may wish for better partners, but they are stuck with the ones they have. That is why, even though it is tempting to suggest that Kerry stay home, he cannot. He somehow has to convert a Sisyphean mission into a global game changer, even if the parties themselves don’t wish to realize that their national lives may, truly, depend on Kerry’s success.
Should Kerry Bother?