U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before their working dinner in Jerusalem on March 23, 2013 (State Department Photo)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is outwardly going through the motions of supporting peace negotiations but demands preconditions and no cessation of expanding Israeli colonies in Palestine. Netanyahu knows how to play the U.S. government like a harp. He talks about negotiations for peace, but remains intransigent.
Back in 1996, he told an applauding joint session of Congress that Israel's mature economy would no longer need U.S. foreign aid. Today, Israel is a prosperous, bigger economy but is still receiving U.S. foreign aid.
Kerry's trump card is recognizing the long neglected specific peace offer by the 22-member Arab league in 2002. These Arab countries have renewed and updated their proposal to make it easier for Israel to accept. It includes a comprehensive peace treaty with all Arab nations and Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, with minor land swaps. Netanyahu has given this offer the back of his hand despite its highly-publicized reiteration in the ensuing years. But this year, Israeli President (an honorific post) Shimon Peres highlighted the verbal Israeli government endorsement of a two-state solution and urged that "a broad structure of support be created for making progress."
The problem is that almost nobody in Israel -- hawks, peace advocates, or those in the middle -- believes anything will come out of Kerry's shuttle diplomacy.
Here are some reasons why. There is no pressure on Netanyahu's governing coalition to wage peace. As Ethan Bronner, long-time The New York Times reporter in Israel, wrote this past Sunday: "Israel has never been richer, safer, more culturally productive or dynamic." He might have added that, with huge natural gas finds offshore, Israel is about to be both self-sufficient in fossil fuels and a net exporter.
Nor is there any pressure that Netanyahu recognizes from the Palestinian/Arab side. Palestinians are continually subjugated, impoverished, divided internally and on the losing end of the casualty toll by a ratio exceeding 400 to 1. Israel can strike targets in Palestine at will.
Arab nations are internally preoccupied with civil wars, sectarian conflicts and, except for the Gulf countries, weak economies. Israel, with the most modern military, heavily furnished by the United States, and scores of ready nuclear bombs, stands astride the Middle East as a giant colossus.
The main reality in Israeli domestic politics is that, if it weren't for external threats, however exaggerated, the Israeli government and society would have to face very deep divisions inside Israel between secular and ultra-orthodox populations. From expanding the colonies in Palestine to strict religious rituals and social mores, exemptions from military service, the place of women, and the treatment of the Israeli Arabs, there are two Israels that are ready to erupt were peace to break out with Palestine and Arab neighbors. (See a letter here.)
Faced with this harrowing prospect of domestic civil strife, Netanyahu's government feels no urgency for peace, according to Bronner. The regional status quo is under control of its iron fist.
Many out-of-power Israeli politicians, such as former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and former Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, have all argued for vigorously pursuing a two-state solution to head off Israel becoming a state that, in a few decades, contains more Palestinians than Israelis. The militarists, however, are the ones running the government.
Moreover, Kerry cannot expect any pressure from Washington on the Israeli government, because Washington, especially Congress, always goes along with the Israeli government, to such a degree that it astonishes opposition parties in the Israeli Knesset.
Make no mistake about Netanyahu. He is, and has long been, a vintage extreme hardliner against any Palestinian sovereignty. In 1989, after the Tiananmen Square massacre in China, Netanyahu, then Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister, told students at Bar Ilan University that: "Israel should have exploited the repression of the demonstrations in China, when world attention focused on that country, to carry out mass expulsions among the Arabs of the territories."
Eviction and the expropriation of what is left of the original Palestine has long been the dogma of Israeli militarists and leaders of the expansionist Likud Party, including Ariel Sharon.
The award-winning Israeli documentary "The Gatekeepers" presents six retired leaders of the Shin Bit -- the Israeli FBI -- speaking with remarkable candor about how rational actions, including those toward peace, were continually overruled by politicians who exploited the Israeli-Arab conflict for their own domestic advantage.
So, what is our Secretary of State to do? Kerry should propose that these men and other prominent retired outspoken leaders from the military, security, and elected political leaders, together with well-known writers and scholars, testify at length before the U.S. House and Senate. AIPAC cannot stop them from testifying. Congress and the American people will be given an opportunity to hear these experienced, persuasive voices for a peace settlement.
After all, peace in the Middle East is more in the U.S. national interest and security than ever before. Americans are paying too hefty a human and financial price to allow a muzzled Congress to stay on bended knee, supporting whatever the Israeli government wants.
Such a breakthrough on Capitol Hill will also enhance the Israeli peace and human rights movement which reflects the moral dimension for ending the occupation/colonization of Palestine.
In a recent pamphlet by Americans for Peace Now and its counterpart in Israel, Rabbi Michael Melchior, a former Israel deputy foreign minister and member of the Knesset, declared that "to occupy and control the lives of millions of Palestinians living in Judea and Samaria, and to negate their right to create their own state and future in peace, side by side with the State of Israel is not just, is not moral, and is not Judaism." (See info here.)
In May 2004, Senator Kerry told me "I have many friends in the Israeli peace movement." It is time for him to begin the mission for peace in his old haunt, the U.S. Congress, without which he will share the decades-long failure of those who came before him in both Republican and Democratic Administrations.