Two States

Why Does Kerry Think He Has Only Two Years To Make Peace?

04.17.13 10:15 PM ET

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking today to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, explained why he’s going about his Israeli-Palestinian shuttle diplomacy with such a sense of urgency. He believes the two-state solution will die within two years, if Israel and Palestine can’t come to an agreement before then. As Haaretz reported:

"I can guarantee you that I am committed to this because I believe the window for a two-state solution is shutting," Kerry told lawmakers. "I think we have some period of time, a year to year-and-a-half to two years, or it's over."

"Everybody I talk to in the region and all of the supporters globally who care want us to move forward on a peace effort," he added. "They're all worried about the timing here. So there's an urgency to this, in my mind, and I intend on behalf of the president's instructions to honor that urgency and see what we can do to move forward."

Kerry did not spell out why he believes so little time is left for an agreement that would establish an independent Palestine existing alongside a Jewish state recognized by its neighbors.

Kerry may not have spelled it out, but, frankly, it shouldn’t be that much of a head-scratcher. In fact, yesterday’s news may have spelled it out for him. Though the Haaretz article goes on to gesture vaguely in the direction of “the growing numbers and political strength of Israel's settlers,” it neglects to connect Kerry’s statement to an announcement issued by Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel less than 24 hours earlier. Speaking at an Independence Day event, Ariel said that “in another year and a half apartments will be built in E1,” referring to the highly controversial E1 area of the West Bank. He added that it is “our right and our obligation to build here.”

So, in a year and a half, settlement construction in E1 will become a reality. As Lara Friedman and Ali Gharib have explained in these pages, there’s a reason why so many people have called E1 settlement activity the final nail in the coffin of the two-state solution: it will effectively cut the West Bank in half, severing a future Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem from the West Bank. And, as Emily Hauser has noted, it’s delusional to think Palestinians will ever give up on the dream of a capital in East Jerusalem. As far as they’re concerned, then, Ariel's plan means the two-state solution will be, beyond the shadow of a doubt, dead in a year and a half.

Now, take the numbers in Kerry’s prognostication, grab the median, and lo and behold: you’ve got a year and a half. Coincidence?

Of course, this is not to say that Kerry was purposefully alluding to yesterday’s E1 announcement, or even that he had that announcement specifically in mind. But even without imputing allusions to Kerry, it seems clear that the year-and-a-half expiry date is pretty well agreed-upon, and that that’s not least because of Israel’s plans for E1.

All of which raises the question: If Kerry really believes the window for a two-state solution is shutting—and if the Administration believes it enough to send him, and President Obama, and now Defense Secretary Hagel, to the region—what does he think can be done to keep it propped open, if not taking the necessary measures to show Israel that the U.S. won’t countenance its ongoing settlement expansion a moment longer?