Derek Davison is a Washington-based researcher and writer on international affairs and American politics. He conducted an interview with two eminent intellectuals: historian Andrew Bacevich of Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies and political scientist John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago.
The interview’s focus was US policy in the Middle East. Click here to read Part I of the interview in full. Below are excerpts of the discussions related to Palestine and Israel.
Derek Davison: I’d like to talk about the Obama administration’s Israel-Palestine policy, especially in light of the recent UN Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements and Secretary Kerry’s remarks in justifying the decision not to veto it. Earlier, Professor Bacevich brought up President Eisenhower’s speech on the Military-Industrial Complex as an example of an administration waiting until it was nearly out of office to finally level with the public, and Kerry’s speech struck me as another example of the same phenomenon. How do you view the administration’s Israel-Palestine policy overall and these recent actions in particular?
Andrew Bacevich: Obama himself hasn’t been much of a believer in the so-called peace process, but certainly Kerry was. We now have a long tradition of administrations committing themselves to advancing the peace process and failing. What’s different in this case is that Kerry’s end-of-tour speech amounts to an admission that the peace process is all but dead. I think it actually has been dead for quite some period of time, but the foreign policy establishment has wished to maintain the fiction that success is right around the corner. It’s not. I think Kerry’s judgment is correct. It may not be true that settlement expansion offers the primary explanation for why we don’t have peace. But the expansion of Israeli settlements certainly makes the prospect of a two-state solution ever more remote. I think we’ve gotten to the point where it’s so remote that it’s simply not plausible anymore. [Kerry] had the temerity to say that out loud. I don’t know that the speech is going to change anything, but I do believe that there are times when candid expressions of truth can be helpful. We’ll see if that turns out to be the case in this instance.
John Mearsheimer: My take on this is that Obama, from the very beginning, was deeply committed to getting an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians that would lead to a two-state solution. However, I think this was evidence of his naivety. The fact is that over the past few decades, Israel has become an increasingly hawkish country. Its political center of gravity has been steadily moving to the right, and will continue to do so in the years ahead. Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been Israel’s prime minister for many years, has no interest in a two-state solution. That meant that Obama would have to directly challenge him, which he did. In 2009, 2010, 2011, and even in his second term, Obama went head-to-head with Netanyahu, and he lost every time, because of the power of the Israel lobby in the United States.
Bacevich: He didn’t lose on the Iran nuclear deal.
Mearsheimer: That’s correct. When the issue at stake involves something other than the Palestinians, a U.S. president stands a reasonable chance of winning. President Reagan won against the lobby on the Saudi arms deal in the 1980s, and there’s no question President Obama won on the Iran nuclear deal. But when it comes to the Palestinians, and the issue of the two-state solution, it’s impossible for any president to take on the Israelis and win. I think Obama was naïve in thinking he could push Israel to give the Palestinians a viable state. So was John Kerry, who dedicated a great deal of time and effort to getting a two-state solution. But he failed. I think what you see happening now—with Obama allowing a UN resolution critical of Israel to pass, and Kerry giving a speech criticizing Israeli policy on settlements—is the Obama administration’s deep frustration with Israel coming to the fore.
The question one has to ask is: where is Israel headed? I think that we’re going to end up with a Greater Israel, which means an Israel that controls both Gaza and the West Bank. I agree with Andy that hardly anybody believes that a two-state solution is possible anymore. When you look at all the settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, it’s hard to see how it’s possible to create a viable Palestinian state. But more importantly, the political center of gravity in Israel is moving to the right, and therefore you don’t have any real constituency in Israel that supports creating a viable Palestinian state on Israel’s borders. That means you’re going to have a Greater Israel, which is going to be an apartheid state. In fact, more and more people are saying just that. Israeli leaders have been saying it for a long time—Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, both former Israeli prime ministers, have said that if you don’t get a two-state solution and you end up with a Greater Israel it will be an apartheid state. Kerry has said this, as has Obama.
So that’s where we’re headed. This is going to be a huge problem for Israel, and for the United States as well, because we are joined at the hip with Israel. What Israel does and how Israel evolves matters greatly for America’s reputation. This is why President Obama, and President George W. Bush before him, and President Clinton before him, went to great lengths to get a two-state solution. They all understood that it was in the American national interest. They also felt it was in Israel’s national interest, which I think is correct. But all three of them failed; indeed they never even came close to getting an agreement, and at this point there’s virtually no hope. So, as far as relations between Israel and the United States are concerned, things are pretty much going to stay the same for the foreseeable future, which is bad news for both countries.