Outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry delivered some of the harshest criticism ever heard from a US official of Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank, in a closely watched speech in Washington on Wednesday.
But whether he intended it or not, Kerry also delivered a eulogy for the two-state solution and set the stage for the emergence of the one-state solution as the most realistic path to justice and peace in historic Palestine.
Speaking for more than an hour, Kerry defended the US decision to abstain in last Friday’s UN Security Council vote, thereby allowing the body to pass a resolution that for the first time in years demanded that Israel halt settlement construction. (video)
“The vote in the UN was about preserving the two-state solution,” Kerry said. “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.”
“Let’s be clear: settlement expansion has nothing to do with Israel’s security,” Kerry said, arguing that the land grabs are motivated by “ideological imperatives,” including preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state.
“The two-state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” Kerry insisted.
But in attempting to make that case, Kerry proved the opposite. He described in detail how Israel’s settlements are “increasingly cementing an irreversible one-state reality.”
“Today … there are a similar number of Jews and Palestinians living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea,” Kerry said, referring to the land that makes up present-day Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“They can choose to live together in one state, or they can separate into two states. But here is a fundamental reality: if the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic – it cannot be both – and it won’t ever really be at peace.”
Kerry’s insistence that a one-state solution would be a disaster is supposedly self-evident conventional wisdom. But it ignores the ideas that many Palestinian, Israeli and other writers and scholars, including this one, have discussed and developed over many years, based on lessons drawn from South Africa, Ireland and other places.
“If there is only one state,” Kerry warned, “you would have millions of Palestinians permanently living in segregated enclaves in the middle of the West Bank, with no real political rights, separate legal, education and transportation systems, vast income disparities, under a permanent military occupation that deprives of them of the most basic freedoms. Separate and unequal is what you would have.”
This powerfully evokes the language of US segregation and the civil rights struggle against it. But what Kerry was describing is already the reality in historic Palestine. His two-state solution would cosmetically repackage this injustice as Palestinian “independence,” without fundamentally altering it.
What he offers Palestinians is a demilitarized bantustan with the singular pupose of preserving an all-powerful Israel as a racist state with a permanent Jewish majority.
Kerry’s parameters for a two-state solution make clear that its goal is ethnic gerrymandering: it would have to include Palestinian “recognition of Israel as a Jewish state,” which means, in effect, recognizing Israel’s right to discriminate against Palestinians and anyone else who is not Jewish.
Kerry called for “a just, agreed, fair and realistic solution to the Palestinian refugee issue.” But he made clear that “the solution must be consistent with two states for two peoples, and cannot affect the fundamental character of Israel.”
In plain English, this means that Palestinian refugees would not be allowed to go home, solely because they are not Jews. There is nothing just or democratic about that. It is raw racism that tramples universal human rights.
By contrast, the US-brokered 1995 Dayton peace agreement that ended the war in Bosnia guaranteed the right of refugees to return to their homes, even if they were in areas ruled by authorities dominated by a different ethnic community – that is as it should be.
Kerry posed the following scenario under the supposedly nightmarish one-state reality: “How would Israel respond to a growing civil rights movement from Palestinians, demanding a right to vote, or widespread protests and unrest across the West Bank?”
A better question is, how should Israel respond?
If Israel actually held democratic ideals, the obvious answer would be for everyone to have the right to vote in a decolonized, nonsectarian state.
Instead of urging Israel to move in that direction, Kerry called for “advancing the process of separation now” – another term for that would be apartheid.
In the American civil rights struggle that Kerry invoked, the position of those holding democratic ideals was for the US to end all forms of legalized racial discrimination, to grant the vote to every person and to guarantee full and equal citizenship.
It was white supremacists who used the cover of “states’ rights” to argue that they should be allowed to continue segregation and other racist policies that guaranteed their power and privilege in Alabama, Mississippi or Georgia.
Today it is still white supremacists, including Nazi sympathizers like “Alt-Right” leader Richard Spencer, who argue that the United States should be partitioned so that there can be an “ethno-state that would be a gathering point for all Europeans.”
Spencer even has a name for this ideology: White Zionism.
Kerry and President Barack Obama, as good liberals, would certainly reject these ideas for Americans. But their two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians is just another form of segregation.
After the two-state solution
In any case, the US vision of two states is dead and the Obama administration helped bury it.
As Kerry confessed, the outgoing administration has done everything in its power to provide Israel with unconditional support and to frustrate any initiative to hold it accountable.
“We have strongly opposed boycotts, divestment campaigns and sanctions targeting Israel in international fora,” Kerry boasted, adding that the Obama administration recently signed a $38 billion arms giveaway to Israel that “exceeds any military assistance package the US has provided to any country, at any time.”
Things are not about to get any brighter for those who still believe in the two-state fantasy.
Unsurprisingly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ministers have angrily rejected Kerry’s speech.
Even before the Secretary of State spoke, President-elect Donald Trump tweeted that “We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect” as the Obama administration supposedly has. “Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching,” Trump urged.
The reality is this: Israel cannot be sweet-talked into ending its brutal regime of occupation, apartheid and settler-colonialism.
Like apartheid South Africa, it must be placed under increasing isolation and pressure until it is compelled to change.