US Secretary of State John Kerry left Israel this morning sounding optimistic about prospects for Israeli-Arab peace. On his 10th visit in less than a year, he held reportedly substantive discussions not only with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, but also the kings of Saudi Arabia and Jordan to shore up regional support for a deal.
Even Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who as recently as October said there was no point in pursuing negotiations with Mr. Abbas, expressed surprisingly strong support for Mr. Kerry’s efforts.
“Even with all of the doubts in my heart regarding the true intentions of the other side, dialogue between us is important. Even when we disagree, when we don’t really trust one another, the ability to engage in dialogue and live our joint lives in a reasonable way is of the utmost importance,” Mr. Lieberman told a meeting of Israeli ambassadors in Jerusalem, adding that Israel should accept Kerry’s proposal for a framework agreement because it was the best proposal Israel would receive from the international community.
But even as Kerry begins to win over skeptics on both sides of the conflict with his relentless shuttle diplomacy, he still faces significant resistance from influential quarters. Case in point on the Israeli side is a new settler campaign to discredit him as peddling impractical, damaging solutions.
A new website launched by three settler groups, MyIsrael, the Yesha Council, and the Binyamin regional council – “John Kerry Solutions, Ltd.: Because we need to do something” – is built around a satirical video mocking Kerry’s efforts.
The featured video opens with a man realizing his bathroom stall is out of toilet paper. A Kerry-esque figure approaches holding a porcupine, offering “porcu-shine” as a substitute. When the man takes his suggestion and then finds himself unable to walk without pain, “Kerry” suggests a tutu instead of pants, so he can “move freely around the office while cool air streams are refreshing your conflict zones.” Instead, the ridiculous outfit leads to snickers in the office, forcing the man to resign. He ends up as a beggar on the street – taking a few dollars of aid from the American diplomat who got him into the predicament in the first place.
"We don't have good solutions, but hey, we have to do something, right?" the Kerry imitator concludes.
The clip, available here with English subtitles, is meant to protest “John Kerry’s attempt to enforce an irrelevant, bad solution, simply since there is a need to find one,” says Miri Maoz-Ovadia, director of media relations at the Yesha Council, who adds that there are more videos on the way – though they are more general and do not target Kerry directly.
The website also includes other videos making historical arguments to support its opposition to US diplomacy across the region, as well as fake letters of appreciation from satisfied customers of John Kerry Solutions, Ltd.
One signed by “Farouz Hinawi,” says: “What a great life you brought us here on the shores of the Nile. Our whole government is in jail and we can do whatever we want. Come visit us in Tahrir Square, it’s a place to experience, to die for!”
While the Israeli settler campaign is meant to be humorous, those opposed to a two-state solution are quite serious. There are more than half a million Israelis living over the 1967 lines today, most of whom are in settlements in the West Bank deemed illegal by the international community. Though a minority in a country of about 7 million, settlers carry strong weight in the Israeli parliament and many oppose a two-state solution.
Palestinians, meanwhile, see ongoing settlement building – which has spiked dramatically since the 1993 Oslo Accords – as increasing Israeli claims on the land and jeopardizing a future peace agreement.
Just over a week ago, Israeli lawmaker Miri Regev of the right-wing Likud-Beiteinu bloc introduced a bill to annex the Jordan Valley – a key swath of the West Bank bordering Jordan. The bill cleared its first legislative hurdle, passing committee, before being put to the entire Knesset. Hilik Bar of the left-wing Labor party responded to the move by presenting a “two-state bill,” designed to prevent any unilateral annexation of territory that could undermine peace efforts, which goes before the Ministerial Committee on Legislation this Sunday.
“The final status of the territory will be determined only in the framework of an agreement that arranges ‘two states for two peoples’ between the State of Israel and the formal representatives of the Palestinian Authority," reads the bill. "The State of Israel shall not apply its sovereignty unilaterally to lands in the territory, except in such an agreement.”