Last Monday, the Israeli Minister of Industry and Trade, Naftali Bennett, said what many observers of the Israel-Palestine conflict have believed for some time now: "The idea that a Palestinian state will be formed in the land of Israel has come to a dead end. Never in the annals of Israel have so many people expended so much energy on something so futile." Bennett, the leader of the far-right Jewish Home Party, currently enjoys broad support among Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and his party, as part of the ruling coalition, holds 16% of the seats in the Knesset. That is to say, he is not a marginal figure.
On cue, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu distanced himself from his fellow coalition member, saying, "foreign policy is shaped by the prime minister and my view is clear. I will seek a negotiated settlement where you'd have a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state." Netanyahu's stated position on the question of Palestine has certainly evolved since he was first elected to office in 2009. Back then, he advocated for an "economic solution," while rejecting the Oslo Accords specifically and a Palestinian State generally. His rhetoric has since moderated, as so often happens under a democracy.
A statement to the contrary notwithstanding, however, there is little evidence that Netanyahu's stance on the formation of a Palestinian State differs all that much from Bennett's. Since coming to office, Netanyahu has completely acquiesced to the settlers in the West Bank, by continuing unabated settlement expansion. Few things directly threaten prospects for peace more than expanding Israeli settlements on land that is supposedly being reserved for a future Palestinian state.
Netanyahu has also shown utter disdain for recognizing even the idea of a Palestinian state. When Mahmoud Abbas gained completely symbolic recognition in the UN for Palestine, his government immediately approved settlements in areas that effectively cut the West Bank in half. If Netanyahu's ultimate goal is a demilitarized Palestinian state, why did he so cynically seek revenge for a symbolic move that brings Palestinians closer to having a state?
This is not to say that Palestinians are blameless for the current depressing state of affairs. A common refrain from the Israeli side is they have no partner for peace. This may actually be true, but not for the reasons Israelis imply. Mahmoud Abbas currently leads a completely ineffectual and illegitimate government, recently suffering another blow when newly appointed (not elected) Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah resigned, two weeks after taking the job.
His resignation comes, however, amid a deeper crisis of power within the Palestinian Authority. Led by Fatah in the West Bank, it has had almost no legitimacy since staging a U.S.-supported coup (shortly after Palestinians, in the thitherto freest elections in the Arab world, chose the wrong party) against its democratically elected rivals in 2007. Now the PA represents little more than a massive security apparatus bankrolled by the U.S. to suppress Palestinian dissent. The vast majority of Palestinians would likely reject any peace agreement signed by Abbas and his cohorts, especially if it resembles the massive concessions revealed by the Palestine Papers.
It is in this environment, in which both sides hold fundamentally incompatible views on essentially every issue (East Jerusalem, right of return, land and water access, etc.), and have shown to be completely incapable or unwilling to make actual steps towards peace, that Secretary of State John Kerry has decided to renew efforts to bring the two parties to the table. What he actually hopes to accomplish by making a few high-profile speeches remains unclear. But as Stephen Walt unapologetically put it on Twitter:
Does any1--ANYONE--seriously think Kerry's efforts to revive ME peace process will work? Or lead anywhere? Show of hands?...I thought not.
— Stephen Walt (@StephenWalt) May 28, 2013
What politicians say while throwing caution to the wind can sometimes be the closest to the truth they come, and it seems Bennett is the latest to give a prescient, unguarded analysis of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
For more on Israel and Palestine, follow me on Twitter @kslindemann