John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, has been engaged in intense shuttle diplomacy to bring about a peace settlement between Israel and Palestine. Even when at times he has found it annoying and frustrating to deal with the Israeli government’s negativity, he has persisted. During one of his recent diplomatic trips, he let go his frustration during a television interview when he said, “If you say you are working for peace [referring to Israel] and you want peace, and a Palestine that is a whole Palestine that belongs to the people who live there, how can you say we are planning to build [even more settlements] in the place that will eventually be Palestine?” However, the US will still not lean on Israel to insist that it stop annexing more Palestinian territory by building any number of new settlements. Still, it was refreshing to find a US leader — a rare occurrence — tell it to the Israelis the way they need to be told, and more often.
As Kerry has persisted with his shuttle diplomacy, he has tended to court Israel with a suitably modified approach even closer to the Israeli position, which led Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, to praise Kerry for his diplomatic efforts for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, urging his country to accept the deal being currently brokered by Washington for Palestinians to recognise Israel as a Jewish state. Besides, the US is willing to promote the idea of an Israeli security presence in the Jordan Valley, on the borders between the occupied West Bank and Jordan. No prize for guessing that the Palestinians are opposed to both. On the first point, they argue that it is for the Israelis to define or view themselves in whatever terms, and not for the Palestinians, the Arab world or the international community to expressly recognise that. Besides, any recognition of its Jewish character has the potential of expelling and/or treating as second class the country’s more than one million Arab citizens. On the question of stationing an Israeli security force within their territory, it is abhorrent on the face of it. What sort of a Palestinian state will it be when an important segment of it has Israeli troops stationed there? It will be tantamount to occupation in another guise.
Why is Israel insisting on its Jewish character? Are they not sure about who they are? And if they are, why do they need others to recognise their Jewishness? The vehemence with which Israel seeks recognition of its Jewish identity has more than one meaning. On one level, there is moral repugnance at the way Israel has been created with the expulsion and killings of Palestinians and the continuance of that process with more and more Jewish settlements. This repugnance is reinforced by the long and circuitous boundary wall further eating into Palestinian territory and reducing what is left of Palestine into Bantustans on the lines of the old South African apartheid state.
Israel is aware of the moral odiousness with which many people in the world regard its policies and politics. The UN has been disapproving of its relentless aggression into Palestinian territory, and its settlements are considered illegal but with powerful and rich friends like the US, it has been able to continue its aggression into Palestine without any effective action by the international community. By insisting on the prior recognition of its Jewish identity, Israel seeks to whitewash the moral stench of its policies.
Another aspect of prior recognition of Israel’s Jewish identity is designed to reinforce the Zionist narrative that Judea and Samaria (the Palestinian homeland) was part of the biblical Jewish homeland, and that Israel has a moral claim backed by antiquity. A formal acceptance of Jewish identity will, it hopes, lend credence to Israel’s otherwise morally dubious Zionist project. No wonder Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman was full of praise for John Kerry, saying, “It is the best proposal [the identity issue and the US willingness to consider an Israeli security force in the Jordan valley] we can get and we really appreciate the efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry. He has really put a lot of energy into the issue.”
If the Palestinians are not willing to accept the Jewish character of Israel, it will simply blame them for wrecking the peace process. This is precisely what they want — to wreck the peace process but blame it on the Palestinians. In this way, it keeps to hold and expand the occupied territories and force out the remaining Palestinians from their homeland. The most that they would like to entertain in the interim period, until the Palestinians are forced out entirely, is municipal administration of local affairs by Israeli-nominated Palestinians, with its security and control of finances under the Israeli government. This might have the effect of erasing the Palestinian identity. Indeed, Netanyahu and others like him have dismissed the idea of a Palestinian homeland and Palestinian identity. Any recognition of Israel’s Jewish identity by the Palestinians and the Arab world would simply hasten this process.
Some influential figures in the Israeli government are even unhappy with the US’s willingness to put recognition of Israel’s Jewish identity on the agenda for the peace process. Though Foreign Minister Lieberman has praised John Kerry for his efforts and the new initiative to incorporate Israel’s Jewish character as part of the peace agenda, Israel’s Defence Minister, Moshe Yaalon, let loose his annoyance and criticism of the US Secretary of State’s diplomatic blitz to broker a peace settlement between Israel and Palestine. Israel’s biggest selling newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth quoted him as saying, “Secretary of State John Kerry — who has come to us determined and acting out of an incomprehensible obsession and a messianic feeling — cannot teach me a single thing about the conflict with the Palestinians.” He added, “The only thing that can save us is if Kerry wins the Nobel Prize and leaves us alone.” Apparently, this is the view of the Israeli government and Yaalon’s only indiscretion is that he was caught saying it behind closed doors. Of course, this drew a sharp rebuke from the US State Department with its spokeswoman calling his remarks “offensive and inappropriate, especially given all that the US is doing to support Israel’s security needs.”
However, the US is so tied up with Israel and its tremendous lobbying power, it is unlikely to adversely affect their relationship. Yaalon did not even bother to apologise for his “offensive” remarks. He simply reiterated how important US was as an ally of Israel and said, “When there are disagreements, we work through them inside the room...including with Secretary of State Kerry.”
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