For Israel's sake, the US must act
For the first time after long months of valiant and patient shuttling in our region, Secretary of State John Kerry is more optimistic about a possible resumption of negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians. At a press conference in Amman Wednesday, he stated that he had managed to reduce considerably the gaps between the two sides.
This, in itself, is a significant step forward in view of the long stalemate in the peace process. This stalemate, in turn, has convinced Israeli public opinion that peace with the Palestinians though desirable, is not possible. So much so that this long-debated question played almost no role in Israel's recent elections in January. Instead, domestic issues, the high cost of living, the lack of affordable housing, preoccupy the Israeli public more than the future of the Palestinian people and its territories.
The question, of course, is what are Kerry's chances to succeed this time.
True, Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeated on a good number of occasions his support for the two-state solution. But even if his position today seems more serious than in the past, there still is a wide gap between support and commitment. At the heart of this gap are the frequently repeated statements of leading cabinet ministers who express their opposition to Palestinian independence, underscoring that the two state solution is not the Government's policy. And indeed, no such resolution was adopted to date by the current coalition government.
Furthermore, more and more voices advocating annexation of the territories have been heard lately within the leadership of Netanyahu's own party, against the background of the deafening silence of Israel's majority. It is no secret that Netanyahu's fellow travelers, Likud members, religious nationalists and settlers, value territory more than peace, or believe that they do not need to choose between the two because they can have both.
In this respect, the European Union's recent resolution to make further agreements with Israel conditional upon Israel's commitment not to extend them to territories beyond the 1967 borders may come as a welcome wake-up call. It has managed to shake Israel's basic indifference to international criticism and its belief that the occupation can go on undisturbed, with no consequences. Warnings of growing isolation in the world have gone unheeded so far. Israel has been living in a bubble, self absorbed and little moved by the events shaking our neighborhood. This resolution has placed a mirror in front of our faces, and the image we see is far from encouraging. Jerusalem's reaction has been to threaten that it will hamper Kerry's efforts to resume the peace talks. The contrary may in fact be true – the resolution could probably signal that Israel has something to lose, and move it to the negotiating table.
The Palestinians, for their part, are also unhappy with Kerry's plan to resume negotiations, stating they want changes made.
Regrettably, repeated American efforts to persuade Israeli governments to heed international standards have failed. This is because successive administrations in Washington have not had the courage to inform those governments that their behavior carries consequences. Time and again, even during times of crises in Israel-US relations, the administration has continued to defend Israel's annexationist policies at the UN and in other international forums.
If negotiations are to succeed this time – even partially – Washington must act boldly and with more determination. The life insurance policy extended to Israel that the US will always defend Israel's "interests" irrespective of its behavior or acts, will only guarantee a prolonged stalemate.
This is precisely why America must act this time on what it considers Israel's best interest : the creation of a peaceful, independent Palestinian State alongside Israel, before it's too late
Colette Avital is a former Israeli ambassador and former member of Knesset