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opinion | Ori Nir

Israel, US breaking up over two-state solution

“The only thing that can ‘save’ us is for John Kerry to win his Nobel Prize and leave us alone,” Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon was quoted as saying in an Israeli newspaper.
“The only thing that can ‘save’ us is for John Kerry to win his Nobel Prize and leave us alone,” Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon was quoted as saying in an Israeli newspaper.(EPA/file)

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has come to epitomize the Israeli school of thought that dismisses peace with the Palestinians as being not only impossible but undesirable.

Ya’alon laid out his worldview last week during a four-day visit to the United States. He has become the most salient spokesperson for those in Israel who think that the only way for Israel to conduct its relations with its neighbors is through periodic wars and counterterrorism campaigns, referred to in Israeli security jargon as “mowing the lawn.” In short, he believes in conflict management rather than conflict resolution.

An hour with Charlie Rose and a lengthy interview with National Public Radio introduced the American public to a glib, cynical, ultra-hawk who seems nonchalantly unperturbed by Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its impact on his country’s standing internationally.

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In those interviews, Ya’alon laid out the following argument: The Palestinian leadership doesn’t want a two-state peace agreement with Israel based on the 1967 lines. What they want is all of Palestine, and they will therefore continue to militarily fight Israel. Speaking of the Palestinians’ rejection of previous peace agreements, Ya’alon told Rose, “They rejected all of it because their aim is not to have a Palestinian state of 1967 lines, but to destruct the Jewish state.”

Therefore, Ya’alon’s argument went, the Palestinians don’t deserve to have an independent state, which they are incapable of sustaining anyway. All they deserve — all they ever will have is a limited autonomy. Because they already have such an autonomy, both in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, continued Ya’alon, there is nothing Israel should do to change its relationship with the Palestinians, and there is no reason to hold Israel responsible for the consequences of the perpetuation of the status quo.

“No deal is better than a bad deal,” Ya’alon told NPR. What’s more, anyone who thinks or argues differently is delusional or “messianic,” including the leaders of Israel’s chief international ally — the United States.

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One problem with Ya’alon’s construct is that it rests on wrong “facts,” such as the assertion that Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has never committed to the 1967 lines as being an “end to claims,” or that the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza enjoy “political independence.” These assertions do not present an honest picture of what is happening on the ground.

Yet the most troubling issue is that Ya’alon’s reasoning neglects to take into consideration the long-term impact of the status quo on Israel. You can dismiss the talk about occupation. You can ridicule Palestinian national aspirations by saying that Palestinians can call their limited autonomy a “Palestinian empire,” as Ya’alon repeatedly did to Charlie Rose. You can accuse your best and strongest allies of being detached from reality. You can lay the blame at the door of Palestinian education. But at the end of your cynical rant, you are left with a Palestinian population that will fight for real freedom, and with an international community that will not tolerate Israel’s propaganda. These are real facts that Ya’alon has yet to come to terms with.

When President Obama and Secretary Kerry tell Israeli leaders that the status quo is not sustainable and warn of international isolation, they are not volunteering their analysis as aloof pundits. What they are saying is that Israel’s government must not rely on Americans to sustain a damaging situation — damaging to Israelis, to Americans, to US interests and allies in the region and worldwide.

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Indeed, Ya’alon’s visit to the United States only underscored the deepening rift that he and his allies in the Israeli government are causing in Israel’s relations with Washington, a rift on full display this weekby The Atlantic in an article that laid bare the Obama White House’s resentment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — his policies and style.

Ya’alon met with his counterpart Chuck Hagel but failed to secure a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry, Vice President Biden, or national security chief Susan Rice. The reason, reportedly, was a series of offensive public comments by Ya’alon, ridiculing the Obama administration’s efforts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

“The only thing that can ‘save’ us is for John Kerry to win his Nobel Prize and leave us alone,” the defense minister was quoted as saying in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.

Earlier this year, Ya’alon downplayed US military support of Israel, saying in a speech that “it isn’t a favor America is doing, it’s in their interest.”

During his recent trip to the United States, Ya’alon put on a friendlier face and spoke about joint Israeli-American interests in opposing radical Islamists in the Middle East. This talk rang hollow, however, given his public contempt for American diplomacy in the region.

Ori Nir is director of communications and public engagement for Americans for Peace Now. He previously covered Washington as well as Israeli-Palestinian relations for Israel’s Haaretz newspaper.