Supporters of Israel who describe President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry as anti-Israel, even anti-Semitic, sharply diminish their credibility in discussions about the Mideast conflict. Anyone who heard Kerry’s lengthy explanation of why the United States abstained on the UN Security Council vote on Israeli settlements could see that he was sincere in talking about his warm personal feelings about Israel and his concern that Jerusalem is moving away from the possibility of a two-state solution. He and many others, including a significant percentage of Israelis, think that increased settlement activity will enrage Palestinians, further isolate Israel diplomatically, and force the country to choose between being a Jewish state and a democratic one.
Agree with Kerry or not, but his belief that the Jewish state is jeopardizing its long-term security by maintaining control over the lives of a large and increasingly hostile Palestinian population is real and should not be dismissed as anti-Israel sentiment.
President Obama, too, has spoken often of his deep commitment to protect the security of Israel, underscored, for example, by the joint partnership on the Iron Dome, which gave Israel a vital edge in its combat with Hamas, and the record $38 billion defense package recently signed between the United States and Israel. Anti-Semites and haters of Israel don’t act that way.
We, too, were deeply disappointed, though not surprised, with the Obama administration’s abstention at the UN, as noted here in detail last week (“The stain of abstaining”). The non-veto of a badly biased resolution was the culmination of eight years of the president misreading the crux of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, emphasizing the settlement issue rather than the fact that the Palestinians are not prepared to recognize Israel as a reality, a Jewish state in the region.
Israel has learned the hard way that withdrawing from disputed land does not bring peace. On the contrary, when the Israel Defense Forces withdrew unilaterally from Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah became a greater threat, emboldened to launch a war. When Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza in 2005, Hamas became a greater threat, emboldened to launch a war. And the terror attacks have never stopped.
The fact that despite such behavior the onus is placed on Israel for lack of progress on the peace front is beyond infuriating; it makes it more difficult for Israeli leaders to justify new rounds of negotiations.
We don’t have the answers; no one does. Those who see simple solutions, left or right, are being simplistic. Mideast life is complex, with overlays of dependence. The Palestinian Authority needs Israel to protect it from Hamas, which would swoop in and subsume the PA if not for the IDF. Israel needs the PA to protect it from the burden of taking over full responsibility for the Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank.
After a frustrating year spent trying to bring Jerusalem and Ramallah to the negotiating table in 2014, John Kerry should know better than anyone that achieving peace through a single, major initiative can’t happen. You can’t convince two deeply distrustful parties to agree on all major issues, including borders, right of return, security, end of violence, and Jerusalem — especially when only one party is asked to make deep and tangible sacrifices.
The Trump administration is preparing to take a refreshingly open and supportive stance for Israel from the outset, but humility trumps hubris in approaching Mideast affairs. We believe providing opportunities for incremental steps from both sides is the most logical alternative to a grand attempt at a final peace deal. It’s a way to build some semblance of trust, with tangible benefits along the path toward progress.