John Kerry Tells The Truth … Therefore He Has To Apologize, Ctd

The above tweet is not exactly atypical of many supporters of Greater Israel. And David Harsanyi rightly bemoans its absurdly broad brush. But then, rather than responding to the substance of my post on John Kerry’s truth-telling at the Trilateral Commission, he insinuates that I am also anti-Semitic and even links to the poisonous and deranged screed that Leon Wieseltier maliciously penned about me.

Sigh. Harsanyi disputes the term ethnic cleansing to describe what happened in 1948. Maybe that term, along with the invocation of the a-word, inflames more than it enlightens. But it remains true that around 700,000 of the 1.2 million inhabitants of Palestine were either evicted from their homes or fled during the war of independence for Israel. All of them were Arab. In 1946, the Jewish share of the population of Israel was 30 percent. In 1950, it was closer to 50 percent. By the 1970s, it was over 80 percent.

Now we can debate for ever the nuances of this, who was to blame, etc. (and the Arab world definitely shares that responsibility, by its intransigent and violent stand against a Jewish state). But that’s a massive demographic shift along religious and ethnic lines. If today, 700,000 inhabitants of a country were expelled or fled to make way for a population of a different ethnicity, and if the ethnic/religious majority was changed in a matter of a few years, I don’t think we would be debating the question of ethnic cleansing. And it is that history that hangs over the ethnic engineering Israel is attempting on the West Bank. On that occupied land, Israel is settling hundreds of thousands of Jewish Israelis, in order to shift the demography some more. It is my contention that this further act of colonization is completely incompatible with any short- or long-term two-state solution; and that the Israeli refusal to stop it – even during negotiations – is the essential obstacle to any possible peace agreement. And using Occam’s razor, I cannot see any reason for it other than a longstanding commitment to build the Jewish state with a Jewish majority over the entire territory in dispute.

Harsanyi says I single out only Israel for censure. Of course that’s untrue. The very day I wrote that post, we also covered the appalling regime in Egypt. We covered the foul regime in Iran obsessively in 2009. We haven’t shied from the gruesome human toll in Syria, even as I oppose deeper intervention there as well. So to Harsanyi’s point, I favor ending aid to Egypt as well as to Israel, and I’ve written so several times. My own view is that the US should do what it can to get out of meddling in the entire Middle East. It’s a mug’s game, in which the eternal loser is the US.

Harsanyi further insinuates that I regard the Greater Israel lobby as the only force for Israel’s interests vis-a-vis America’s in American politics. Again not true. Yes, the lobby is ferocious and intransigent and disciplined and, in my view, has actively worsened Israel’s global position in the last decade. But it would not have that clout without overwhelming American identification with Israel as opposed to Palestine’s Arabs, or indeed anywhere in the Arab world.

The trouble is that that emotional support can, in my view, prevent Israel from taking necessary steps to salvage its reputation, its morality, and its survival as a Jewish state.

Max Fisher rightly points out that the apartheid metaphor could lead some to infer that a Jewish state should be abolished just as the Afrikaner state was. That’s not my view at all. My view is motivated primarily by frustration at Israeli extremism but also by a view that a Jewish state must survive and prosper as a moral cause. Because I’m so harsh on Israel’s policies right now, that might seem surprising to some. But if I weren’t committed to a Jewish state in existence as a safe harbor for the Jewish people, I wouldn’t even be writing about this much at all. My view – shared, for example, by the current Israeli ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer – is that a Jewish state permanently disenfranchising a hefty proportion of the people it controls is immoral and self-destructive and toxic to the entire enterprise and unworthy of the great civilization that the Jewish people, against hideous odds, have constructed over the centuries. And no amount of insinuation or name-calling is going to make me change my mind.

John Kerry Tells The Truth … And Therefore Has To Apologize, Ctd

A reader notes that the chorus of indignation at John Kerry’s use of the term “apartheid state” to refer to Greater Israel’s destiny never actually engages the substance of his statement. So Ted Cruz, calling for Kerry’s resignation:

The fact that Secretary Kerry sees nothing wrong with making such a statement on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day demonstrates a shocking lack of sensitivity to the incendiary and damaging nature of his rhetoric.

Whatever else this is, it is not an argument that Israel is not an apartheid state or on its way to becoming so. On the left, we have this from Barbara Boxer:

Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and any linkage between Israel and apartheid is nonsensical and ridiculous.

But what about those under Israeli control who have no right to vote at all? It doesn’t occur to Boxer that the apartheid-like regime on the West Bank is actually a function of Israeli democracy, since a majority of Israelis support it. But, of course, AIPAC created the template all these lemmings follow and its statement is the purest of them all:

Any suggestion that Israel is, or is at risk of becoming, an apartheid state is offensive and inappropriate.

But is it true? That’s the question AIPAC never wants debated. So it polices the American discourse to prevent it. Since the observation is of the bleeding obvious, this can be hard. Jeffrey Goldberg, my old sparring partner on matters of Israel, wrote this a decade ago:

A de-facto apartheid already exists in the West Bank. Inside the borders of Israel proper, Arabs and Jews are judged by the same set of laws in the same courtrooms; across the Green Line, Jews live under Israeli civil law as well, but their Arab neighbors — people who live, in some cases, just yards away — fall under a different, and substantially undemocratic, set of laws, administered by the Israeli Army. The system is neither as elaborate nor as pervasive as South African apartheid, and it is, officially, temporary. It is nevertheless a form of apartheid, because two different ethnic groups living in the same territory are judged by two separate sets of laws.

Here’s Ehud Barak, former prime minister of Israel, making the exact same argument:

“The simple truth is, if there is one state” including Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, “it will have to be either binational or undemocratic. … if this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.”

Here’s Tzipi Livni:

The time has come for the same youth to ask, to what kind of state do they want to leave the gas reserves? To a Jewish democratic Israel? Or to a binational Arab state? Or to an apartheid state? It is impossible to deal with economic issues and to ignore the important diplomatic issues related to two states for two peoples.

Here’s another former prime minister, Ehud Ohlmert:

If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished.

Of course, Kerry could be criticized for speaking an undiplomatic truth in a meeting he considered off the record. But the peace talks are at a dead end anyway, and it’s perfectly appropriate for a US secretary of state to explain why such a failure is a dreadful portent for the future of Israel. It’s a truth that the Israelis need to hear from Americans just as much as they need to hear it from their own leaders.

The real question is: why do some want this fact deemed off-limits in America when it sure isn’t in Israel? And the answer is obvious: AIPAC has no interest in a two-state solution and wants no impediment to the permanent establishment of Greater Israel, even if that means keeping half or more than half of the country in undemocratic bantustans for ever. That’s another truth no one is allowed to say out loud. But man does it sit there right in front of our noses.

John Kerry Tells The Truth … Therefore He Must Apologize

The state of Israel controls a large amount of neighboring territory, seized in war, in which the inhabitants are divided by ethnicity, with one group, the original inhabitants of the land or refugees from ethnic cleansing, are systematically disadvantaged compared with the other. They are penned into eight distinct areas from which they have to get through checkpoints to move around. They have no right to vote for the government that controls their lives. This arrangement has now lasted a year longer than the apartheid regime in South Africa – and, unlike John Kerry Makes Statement On Ukraine At U.S. State Departmentthat regime, looks set to continue indefinitely. It also comprises a massive project of ethnic and social engineering in which the dominant ethnic group continues to settle the occupied territory in an attempt – forbidden by the Geneva Conventions – to change its demographic nature.

None of this is in dispute. But when an American secretary of state explains this in private he is forced to recant publicly. And that surreal kabuki dance is an almost perfect symbol of why US engagement with Israel-Palestine is, at this juncture, such an enormous waste of time. The US is barred from telling the truth, which makes a real negotiation impossible. The Israelis know that they will never be subject to real US pressure, because the US Congress stands ever-ready to do whatever Israel asks. And so the beat goes on.

You can, of course, debate for ever who bears the blame for the Israel-Palestine clusterfuck at any specific point in history, and for a while the Palestinians were the more serious obstacle to any kind of settlement. They bear some real responsibility for the nightmare they now live in. You can also point to various moments before and after the violent establishment of the Jewish state when something better might have been achieved, and both sides bear the blame at various junctures. The launching of the second Intifada and the assassination of Rabin, for example, were fateful moments – when extremists seized the initiative. You can also (rightly) note that the occupation of the West Bank Two Palestinian activists sit inside asbegan as a defensive maneuver, and therefore should not be regarded as some kind of naked colonial enterprise, but as a matter of self-preservation. You can also rightly note that, compared with all its neighbors, Israel’s rambunctious democracy is a beacon – if only it weren’t also the means for the permanent suppression and humiliation of an entire people, whose land and homes were taken from them by force of arms.

But what you cannot argue, it seems to me, is that continued American financial and military support for the maintenance of this mess makes any sense at all, and that continued American diplomatic engagement is in any way a rational policy. The US president simply does not have the power to force Israel to stop its illegal, immoral and foul settlement of the West Bank – because the Israel lobby controls this aspect of foreign policy through the Congress, whoever is in the White House; and so we are committed indefinitely to supporting a de facto apartheid regime in perpetuity. That support drives a stake through any attempt to repair relations with the Muslim world, and establish a better diplomatic position with which to isolate and pre-empt Islamist terror. And so we remain trapped in this nightmare – held responsible for everything Israel does (with good reason) and yet unable to stop or affect any of it. If your marriage were like this, your best bet would be a divorce. And it’s coming to the point where America needs to do the same thing with Israel.

My view is that we should therefore end any and all government aid to the Jewish state, and stop using our UN veto to protect it from appropriate international censure.

We should withdraw from any direct negotiating role between the two parties, and try and make the broader international situation more conducive to Israeli withdrawal and Palestinian moderation. At the same time, we should support Palestinian efforts to join international organizations, and be willing to be part of any international force that could police an eventual two-state solution. We should attempt to create a great power coalition, like the one pressuring Iran, to come up with a proposed territorial solution.

Is this an attack on Israel, a Jewish state many of us support in principle but find increasingly difficult in practice? I’d argue not. I’d argue that the dysfunctional relationship between Israel and the US Congress makes American attempts to be an honest broker in the dispute a farce and helps sustain the intolerable occupation indefinitely. The US alienates the Israelis and the Palestinians by this relationship, and the Meeting of Vladimir Putin with Benjamin Netanyahu in Kremlinrest of the world increasingly sees the US as simply an obedient and very powerful poodle for the Israeli government. By disengaging, we at least free ourselves from a lose-lose position, which hobbles US foreign policy in other ways. For Israel to seek both to annex the West Bank permanently and also be allied with the West is not something the West can reciprocate indefinitely without abandoning core democratic values.

No doubt these arguments will mean I will be accused of anti-Semitism or anti-Zionism. I’m resigned to that. That too is part of the dead-end. For my part, I still believe in the dream of a free and Jewish state in the ancestral homeland, democratic and prosperous, and have nothing but profound admiration for its achievements and tenacity and acts of benevolence and entrepreneurship around the world. I just do not believe a friend allows a friend to spiral into self-destruction and the abandonment of its ethical core. I think we’ve done about all we can to help achieve a settlement through direct diplomacy – but the Obama years have proven irrefutably that, at this late stage, it’s worse than useless.

It’s time for a divorce. Which is the only thing that could make a functional relationship with Israel possible again.

(Photos: John Kerry by Alex Wong/Getty; Netanyahu and Putin by Dmitri Azarov/Kommersant via Getty Images; Two Palestinian activists sit inside an Israeli bus as it rides between a bus stop outside the West Bank Jewish settlement of Migron, near Ramallah, and a checkpoint leading to Jerusalem, on November 15, 2011. By Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty; Netanyahu and Putin by Dmitri Azarov/Kommersant via Getty Images.)

John Kerry Tells The Truth

John Kerry Makes Statement On Ukraine At U.S. State Department

The tectonic plates beneath the US-Israel co-dependent relationship have begun to shift in the last few years. One obvious reason is that the traditional notion of the US trying to broker a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine has now become a target of deserved ridicule. I’ve begun to find myself halting even to use the words “peace process” to describe Israel’s relentless de facto annexation of the West Bank. It seems increasingly like an abuse of the English language and a fiction that no honest observer can really attest to as reality.

From George W. Bush’s “road map” onward, the Israeli government has played the US to the point of absurdity. It first waged a brutal air war on Gaza with impunity. Then it resumed its aggressive and relentless expansion of colonial settlements and settlers on the West Bank. Netanyahu has recently shown he’d rather release murderous terrorists from jail than give up an inch of Greater Israel. The Israeli public has no interest or belief in compromise, as the hard right strengthens its grip on the country’s politics and as the settler faction maintains a stranglehold on the central government. The Israeli economy can continue to flourish even as the the Arab subjects of Greater Israel remain mired in a vast de facto holding pattern, without dignity, without a vote, without any leverage in any peace process. They are behind the wall, and kept in fences. And this is perfectly sustainable for the indefinite future with enough force of arms and economic growth, as the indispensable Roger Cohen recently argued.

The Kerry initiative – his frenetic, relentless attempt to make some progress – reveals merely, I’m afraid, that there is no progress to be made. The entire trajectory of Israel’s founding to today, as John Judis has ably demonstrated, has been the continuous resolution to create a Jewish state all across Palestine, and to slowly punish and immiserate any Palestinians caught on the wrong side of the line, in the hope that they will leave. It would be great to believe that this were not so, but that would require wiping the last decade from our collective memory. I used to believe that Israel was desperate for peace and that the main sticking point was Palestinian intransigence. You could plausibly have held that view a decade and a half ago, but surely not any more.

Palestinians on the West Bank remain as they long have been, kept in tightly controlled areas with checkpoints in between, denied the right to vote for the government that controls their every move, and subject to financial and economic leverage from the Israeli state. Meanwhile, privileged Jewish settlers are given incentives to colonize the Palestinian land, and Israel barrels ahead to make sure no part of Jerusalem could ever be the capital of Palestine. I don’t know of any US ally that behaves this way. I don’t know of any ally that keeps whole populations under its control without a right to vote, and does so on ethnic and religious lines. The last one that did so was South Africa.

If we are talking definitions of words, this is of relevance:

According to the 1998 Rome Statute, the “crime of apartheid” is defined as “inhumane acts… committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”

How does that not describe the West Bank and Gaza? It may offend some to think of the Jewish state as increasingly like the old South African one. But that, alas, is solely because the the hopes of the past still occlude the ugly reality of the present. It seems to me important that if the United States has no real power to change that brutal unending reality, it can at least call it what it is.

(Photo: Alex Wong/Getty)