Kerry Speaks Out On Israel

In the last days of the Obama administration, after presiding over eight years of counterproductive “nation building”, a very surprising series of events unfolded over the Christmas / new-year holidays. First, on December 23rd, we had a UN resolution (number 2334) on Palestine, one critical of recent Israeli policy, and yet not vetoed by the USA.

Amongst other things this resolution:

“1.   Reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace;

“2.   Reiterates its demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and that it fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard;

“3.   Underlines that it will not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations;

“4.   Stresses that the cessation of all Israeli settlement activities is essential for salvaging the two-State solution, and calls for affirmative steps to be taken immediately to reverse the negative trends on the ground that are imperilling the two-State solution;

“5.   Calls upon all States, bearing in mind paragraph 1 of this resolution, to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967;

The reaction in Israel was one of shock for the most part; there were also screams of betrayal.

Immediately, in the security council chamber we had this from Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon:

This is a dark day for this Council. The resolution you just voted on is the peak of hypocrisy. While thousands are being massacred in Syria, this Council wasted valuable time and efforts, condemning the democratic State of Israel for building homes in the historic homeland of the Jewish people.

Reaction followed from Israeli press and political establishment, there was rage:

Obama’s back-stab – and the lickspittles who wielded his knife

BENEATH the shock-horror-revulsion of America’s assassination of Israel, erevHanukkah at the UN Security Council, there was an ominous inevitability about Barack Obama’s back-stab, because the writing was on the wall from Day #1 of his White House tenure. Surrounded by a clique of gobby black radicals – Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Louis Farrakhan et al – all of whom harbored only bitter enmity towards Jews in general and Israel in particular, anyone who could make four out of two plus two should have long ago realized the 44th US President had little love for the Jewish state. Sure, he went through the hypocritical motions of wooing gullible Jewish liberals, programmed by default setting to vote Democrat, but usually with a nuanced sting in his words whenever Israel blipped on his radar, as it regularly did.

There was anxiety:

How does the UN Security Council resolution declaring Israel’s settlements and buildings in the West Bank and east Jerusalem as illegal impact International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s decision about whether to dive deeper into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

There was retribution:

Israel will suspend a significant portion of its annual contributions to the United Nations for 2017 in the aftermath of Security Council resolution 2334 condemning Israeli settlement activity, the Israeli mission to the UN informed the international body on Friday.

It was against this frenzied backdrop that John Kerry, US Secretary of state made his long (73 minute) speech on 28th December. It is worth the effort to watch it in full:

A full transcript is also available.

In this speech Kerry outlined the nature of the current situation, and the effects of the on-going settlement activity for a two state solution. He listed six principles for a final settlement. He further laid out the six principles that the US State department believes will underpin any final peace. Haaretz explored these in detail. They were as follows:

Principle number one: Provide for secure and recognized international borders between Israel and a viable and contiguous Palestine, negotiated based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed equivalent swaps.

Principle two: Fulfill the vision of the UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of two states for two peoples, one Jewish and one Arab, with mutual recognition and full equal rights for all their respective citizens.

Principle number three: Provide for a just, agreed, fair, and realistic solution to the Palestinian refugee issue, with international assistance, that includes compensation, options and assistance in finding permanent homes, acknowledgment of suffering, and other measures necessary for a comprehensive resolution consistent with two states for two peoples.

Principle four: Provide an agreed resolution for Jerusalem as the internationally recognized capital of the two states, and protect and assure freedom of access to the holy sites consistent with the established status quo.

Principle five: Satisfy Israel’s security needs and bring a full end, ultimately, to the occupation, while ensuring that Israel can defend itself effectively and that Palestine can provide security for its people in a sovereign and non-militarized state.

Principle six: End the conflict and all outstanding claims, enabling normalized relations and enhanced regional security for all as envisaged by the Arab Peace Initiative. It is essential for both sides that the final status agreement resolves all the outstanding issues and finally brings closure to this conflict, so that everyone can move ahead to a new era of peaceful coexistence and cooperation. For Israel, this must also bring broader peace with all of its Arab neighbors.

The reaction in Israel was mixed and confused.

It was seen as positive but late:

Kerry's Speech Was Superbly Zionist, pro-Israel, and Three Years Too Late

The outline presented by Kerry could have pushed Israel and Palestinians into an agreement, if he had put it on the table in 2014. But Netanyahu and Abbas' hypocritical responses showed why his peace efforts failed.

It was seen as behind the times:

The Two-state Solution Is Already Dead

Supporters of a two-state solution respond aggressively to anyone who tries to undermine their magical faith in a miracle that what is dead will somehow be resurrected.

It was seen as a final warning:

In Historic Address, Kerry Tells Israelis They're Committing Suicide

In a typical Anglo-Saxon speech there’s always a villain. In John Kerry's it was Netanyahu's kingdom of evil.

As soon as John Kerry started talking it was clear that this would be a historic speech. In simple words and plain logic, he laid out the systematic way Israel is turning itself into an apartheid binational state. He provided data and described the reality: In the West Bank an Israeli occupation deprives Palestinians of basic human rights, expropriates their land and sentences them to a life of misery and poverty.

This last comment was the most clear-sighted summary of John Kerry’s message. He was after-all quite explicit:

Today, there are a similar number of Jews and Palestinians living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. They have a choice. They can choose to live together in one state, or they can separate into two states. But here is a fundamental reality: if the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic – it cannot be both – and it won’t ever really be at peace.

He made this point and the corresponding observation that a viable Palestinian state is daily becoming less viable due to the creeping advance of Jewish settlement. The conclusion is inevitable and logical – we are headed for a one-state solution. He further correctly states that such a state cannot be similar to the Israel of post 1949 recent history. It cannot be both Jewish and Democratic. His message is that ongoing land-grabs mean that the Israel he knows is signing its own death warrant.

This is in part an example of the Jewish lack of long term thinking and paucity of strategic ideas. This issue was most fully examined by Gilad Atzmon in his book, “The Wandering Who?

Giland Atzmon - The Wandering Who?

Gilad discussed the issue of intertemporality – the relationship between past present and future events and the particular Jewish blindspot to the effects of current actions on future prospects with me during the recent Insight Vox. The unique blind-spot of contemporary Jewish culture and politics is an inability to see just such future effects of present policies which are of short term national advantage.

While John Kerry nailed this issue, there were of course many he avoided as too difficult, divisive or insoluble. The 1967 borders let us remember are the lines of exhaustion at the end of the 1947-49 war. This was a civil war and like all such was vicious, nasty and targeted the weak in preference to the strong. Those borders have no long-standing significance, no geographic presence, in places run through cities and towns and have only limited (and artificial) ethnic concreteness. The matter is most pressing in the case of Jerusalem, a city holy to the three great faiths which first arose in the middle-east. From 1947 until 1967, Jerusalem was a divided city. The remains of the barbed wire can still be seen on the old division line. But half a century of infrastructure and housing development have been orchestrated to obliterate that dividing line and ensure it can never be re-established by force. Today in Silwan / The City of David a slow Judaification advances house by house. Throughout the city, ownership has strategic and national, not merely personal significance. Real estate is politics, purchase and sale is advance and retreat, victory and capitulation.

In the larger settlement blocks, some of the best dual carriageway roads in the whole country link the settlement to the coastal strip and Tel Aviv. It has the feeling of permanence, of a claim. Most certainly it is a fact on the ground.

The 1967 line can also be seen as artificial when looking at any map, road system or other essential infrastructure. Palestine, as governed under the British Mandate and since has one road system, one water supply, one electricity grid. It is in many practical ways one country. It is also home to two peoples who cannot or will not live together. That is its great tragedy. 

It must also be noted that the Palestinian Liberation Organisation was founded BEFORE 1967. What Palestine did they seek to liberate? It could not be the land beyond the 1967 borders. No; it was the land lost in the ethnic cleansing of 1948 when 700,000 Arabs were expelled by violence or the threat of violence and the land occupied by the Jewish state. That the 1967 green line represents the basis for an agreement is an example of the scale of the problem and the low expectations. It seems to aim at a balance of injustice as the basis of a lasting peace. This is a dying hope. Perhaps the John Kerry speech, as eloquent as it was will soon be seen as the end of this chapter. What lies ahead will be tumultuous.