Throughout his tenure as Secretary of State, John Kerry has repeatedly explained his commitment to an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement partly in terms of what could happen in the absence of such an agreement. Speaking Saturday at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum, Kerry offered his starkest warning yet over where the situation is headed:
I ask people to answer this question as honestly as possible. And this is not an abstract issue that you can put off for some distant day. The status quo is simply not sustainable. And the fact is that current trends including violence, settlement activity, demolitions, are imperiling the viability of a two-state solution. And that trend has to be reversed in order to prevent this untenable one-state reality from taking hold. I can’t stress this enough. The terrorist attacks are devastating the hopes of Israelis who want to believe that peace is possible, and the violence must stop. Yes.
But Palestinian hopes are also being dashed by what they see happening every day. They’re focused on a reality that few others see, that the transition to greater Palestinian civil authority contemplated by the Oslo process has in many ways been reversed. In fact, nearly all of Area C which comprises 60 percent of the West Bank is effectively restricted for any Palestinian development, much of it claimed for Israeli state land or for settlement councils. We understand there was only one Palestinian building permit granted for all of Area C all of last year. And settler outposts are regularly being legalized while demolition of the Palestinian structures is increasing. You get it? At the same time the settler population in the West Bank has increased by tens of thousands over just the past five years including many in remote areas.
This is a reality that has been pretty clear to U.S. and EU officials for years, but the first time that a U.S. official has stated it so clearly: The Israeli government is pursuing a series of policies in the West Bank that reverse the Oslo process. As Kerry importantly clarifies, this is not in any sense an excuse for violence, but it is important to understand how it creates the environment from which violence arises: Hopelessness, humiliation, weakening of Palestinian voices favoring non-violence and diplomacy, no opportunity for economic development, and no realistic prospect of it ever really changing.
Which raises the question: Why should we expect it to change? Kerry’s description of the current reality is welcome, but he and other U.S. officials, including President Obama, have offered similar warnings before, to little effect. It’s not hard to understand why. In the absence of any consequences for Israel’s efforts to roll back Oslo, why should they cease those efforts? Having repeatedly stated that a two-state solution is in the U.S. interest, what steps is the U.S. willing to take to create real disincentives for policies that threaten — indeed, are designed — to foreclose that solution? If the answer is “none,” then we shouldn’t expect much to change.