Tonight’s news is yet another in those series of wacky ‘flyers’ that Israeli-Arab peace negotiators sometimes take in order to bridge insurmountable divides. After intensive negotiations with both the Israeli and Palestinian sides, Kerry has determined that Israel must be recognized as “the state of the Jewish people.” In case anyone has any question why Martin Indyk was appointed Kerry’s deputy, it’s precisely due to moments like this. When it’s crunch time, the Lobby wants to be sure its man has his finger on the levers of power.
Kerry, no doubt at Indyk’s urging, has determined that the Palestinians are the weaker party and therefore must give up the most to satisfy Israel. Netanyahu’s game is to insist, before signing any agreement, that Palestinians will renounce any formal Right of Return. To do so, he must enshrine Israel as a Jewish state, rather than a democratic state of all its citizens.
Here is how a Palestinian media outlet phrased Kerry’s formulation:
Kerry is looking into the possibility of changing the Arab Peace Initiative so that it would include “recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, without prejudice to the civil rights of Israeli Arabs.”
That’s like saying a woman is partly-pregnant. You simply can’t have a Jewish state in which the rights of the minority are not abrogated in significant ways. While I can appreciate the desperation of Kerry in trying to do such diplomatic acrobatics in order to bridge serious gaps between the parties–you simply can’t turn a camel into a horse by claiming the humps are pommels.
This concept is an absolute non-starter, not just for Palestinians, but for all Arabs and even for some Jewish supporters of Israel like myself. Israel is a state. Not a Jewish state. Just a state. It has a Jewish majority, but a sizable non-Jewish minority. Every citizen must have equal rights if Israel is to be a true democracy. Of course, the Jewish majority in this democracy will have commensurate political power to ensure its position. But that does not give it the right to deny status to the minority. Just as a possible future Arab/Palestinian majority should be forbidden from impinging on the rights of a possible Jewish minority.
But if Israel is to be a Jewish state with superior rights for Jews and a permanent majority guaranteed by hook or by crook, then Israel can kiss any thought of democracy good-bye. It will become yet another in a long line of ethnocracies which privilege the ethnic minority and subordinate the minority. It could be even worse. Such ethnocracies have led to genocide in places like Kosovo and Rwanda. It’s not unthinkable that such wholesale violence could emerge in Israel-Palestine at some future date.
There is absolutely no reason Israeli Jews cannot create and participate in a state which reflects their religious and ethnic traditions without it being a supremacist state. So Kerry is asking the impossible. No Palestinian can give Israel what is claims. No Arab autocrat can speak for Palestine or tell it to disclaim its birthright. The very idea that a bunch of paunchy, bearded strongmen with no political constituency or mandate should pressure Palestinians, is offensive.
There is, of course, one other possibility, which would be quite Machiavellian of Kerry, were it true. He may know in advance that this is a non-starter. He may know the outcome to expect from the Jordanian and Saudi kings. He may be going through the motions so he can come back to Bibi claiming that he tried his best, but that he ultimately came up short. Then either Bibi will scream bloody murder and turn around and sign a deal; or he will turn in disgust and walk out on the proceedings. Either way, Kerry can be said to have discharged his duties fully and the U.S. could not be blamed by either party.
It’s important to note that the radical settlers groups, who understand that their interests are normally well-protected by this Israeli government, are stirring at the prospect of a peace deal. The settler-Haredi movement behind Arutz Sheva has revived the Komemiyut Party. It’s created a website specifically to smear Israeli leaders like Tzipi Livni leading the peace process, and Kerry and Indyk. Their cry is: “Oslo 3 is already here!” A different group created a parody video featuring an actor supposedly looking like Kerry offering increasingly unhelpful solutions to a poor, hapless Israeli schnook: among them, a porcupine to wipe his ass (pardon my language, but the very concept of the video itself is coarse). I’m not sure who these videos are meant to influence or persuade. They’re beyond lame. Perhaps they’re just meant to assuage the fears of their settler followers who don’t care about the awful production values or lame storylines.
There have been other weird stirrings in the Israeli body politic. The far-right caucus of the Likud, attempting to out-Bibi Bibi, has taken up the mantra that the Jordan Valley is an invaluable strategic asset from which Israel can’t be parted. Bibi has even had the chutzpah to claim that retaining the Valley would be necessary to prevent non-existent “infiltration and weapons smuggling from the east.” Meir Dagan, former Mossad chief, and prickly thorn in Bibi’s side, has derided the notion that there is any particular strategic value in this territory.
Bibi has also put forward the odd notion that settlements outside the major settlement blocs (which Israeli expects to retain in any settlement) like Hebron and Beit El must be forever Israeli because of their “deep connection” to the Jewish people. To which I respond: what about Vilna, Granada, Kiev and Odessa? Or ancient Egypt and Babylonia (now Iraq)? These too are jewels of the Jewish people in various points of its existence. Why not take up a claim to them as well? How can we possibly part with them?
Avigdor Lieberman, not one to be left out of the game, has offered his own helpful suggestion to Kerry. He’s revived his modified ethnic cleansing proposal to move the border so that the Israeli-Palestinian villages known as the Northern Triangle, become officially Palestinian and no longer Israeli. This would remove a substantial portion of Israeli Palestinians from Israel and gerrymander an almost permanent Jewish majority–at least for decades to come. It’s what might be called a “green” version of ethnic cleansing: neat, tidy. It doesn’t involve anything as nasty as forcibly expelling Palestinians as happened in Nakba. This is simply a few lines on a map moved discretely so as to remove a thorny problem for Israeli Jewish nationalists.
Hard to know what all of this ultra-nationalist bloviating means. Either they’re pandering to their right-wing constituency before a deal is struck which the latter will hate. Or they’re trying to incite the Palestinians to do something equally provocative and stupid, so that all of them can throw up their hands and give up.
I do have a suggestion for Bibi if he runs out of ways to provoke the Palestinians to abandon the talks: he can insist that any deal has to end with the Palestinians singing HaTikvah in front of the Israeli flag. That should go over big!
At any rate, I give this Kerry campaign about a 5% chance of success if that. If the Palestinians do accede to the Jewish state formulation, there will be all hell to pay and things should get very “interesting” (in the Chinese proverb’s sense of that word) for the coming months.