Israel News for December 29, 2016

Kerry Speaks
US Secretary of State John Kerry gave the Israeli government a thorough beating as part of his speech to lay out US parameters for a two-state solution. He castigated the government, which he categorized as the most extreme ever, for thwarting peace by attempting to impose a one state solution through an aggressive and illegal settlement policy.

Kerry set the tone for his address at the outset by saying, “Some seem to believe that the U.S. friendship means the U.S. must accept any policy, regardless of our own interests, our own positions, our own words, our own principles — even after urging again and again that the policy must change. Friends need to tell each other the hard truths, and friendships require mutual respect.”

He went on to give a lengthy description of the Israeli Palestinian crisis in which he equated Palestinian and Hamas terror with Israeli settlements as being obstacles to peace. He claimed that US policy has consistently considered settlement building in “occupied territories” to be illegal and that the Republican administrations of Reagan and Bush (the first) both allowed UN Security Council resolutions similar to the recent one to pass.

Kerry said that based on its policy and values, the US could not in good conscious veto the resolution. He also reiterated that the Obama administration has done more for Israel than any other administration (yup, he said that).

Kerry then laid out the Obama administration’s parameters for a two state solution, non of which are new.

1. A “secure and recognized border between Israel and a viable and contiguous Palestine,” based on Israel withdrawing from territory captured in 1967, along with land swaps to “reflect practical realities on the ground.”

2. Creation of a Palestinian state.

3. A “fair and realistic solution to the Palestinian refugee issue,” which would include compensation and resettlement. Kerry implied that the international community would fund the compensation, but he wasn’t clear as to where the refugees would be resettled. He did not make reference to a “right of return”, which would allow refugees to settle in Israel. [No mention was made of compensation for the hundreds of thousands of Jews forced to leave Arab countries after 1948.]

4. Jerusalem to be capital for both states.

5. An agreement to satisfy Israel’s security needs while ending its military occupation of Palestinian territories.

Finally, Kerry said that both sides must end the conflict and all outstanding claims, enabling all normal relations, “To bring closure to this conflict, so that everyone can move ahead to a peaceful future.”

To watch Kerry’s entire speech click here.

Let’s assume that Kerry is right about Israeli settlement policy eroding the possibility of a two state solution and that vetoing the UN security council resolution would have gone against American policy and beliefs. Given that the current administration has less than a month remaining, couldn’t the US have just postponed the vote until after January 20th and avoid having to veto or abstain?

Whether or not the US was involved in creating and pushing forward the resolution (as Israel claims), there is no doubt that if the US requested a postponement, it would have sent a clear signal to the council not to force the vote and it would have most likely been postponed.

Clearly the Obama administration wanted to use the venue of the Security Council to make its point and take a final swipe at the Netanyahu government. But what purpose did it serve, just weeks before a new president will take office? Why did Obama wait until his final days to make the statement he’s been wanting to make for eight years? Judging by the strong bipartisan reaction to the move, its clear that he would not have been able to survive as president had he done so during his substantive time in office.

As Kerry clearly stated in his speech, there are already similar resolutions “on the books” against settlements, and this latest one will most likely not change anything in practice. So the only thing gained was an opportunity for Obama to take his parting shot at Israel and stain his legacy in the minds of many Americans.

Response to Kerry
PM Netanyahu lashed out at Kerry’s speech, calling it biased against Israel and blaming Kerry for blaming the failure of the peace process primarily on Israel. The PM said, “Israel does not need to be lectured about peace by foreign leaders.”

Netanyahu also said, “The entire Middle East is going up in flames, entire countries are toppling, terrorism is raging and for an entire hour the secretary of state attacks the only democracy in the Middle East. Maybe Kerry did not notice that Israel is the only place in the Middle East where Christmas can be celebrated in peace and security. Sadly, none of this interests the secretary of state.”

PA President Mahmoud Abbas responded to Mr. Kerry’s speech by calling on Israel to freeze housing construction in order to restart negotiations. He said, “The minute the Israeli government agrees to cease all settlement activities, including in and around occupied East Jerusalem, and agree to implement the signed agreements on the basis of mutual reciprocity, the Palestinian leadership stands ready to resume permanent status negotiations.”

Republican and Democratic members of Congress criticized Kerry’s speech and displayed strong bipartisan support for Israel.

Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona said, “Secretary Kerry’s speech today was at best a pointless tirade in the waning days of an outgoing administration. At worst, it was another dangerous outburst that will further Israel’s diplomatic isolation and embolden its enemies.”

Democratic Representative Eliot L. Engel of New York, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called Mr. Kerry’s speech “gratuitous” and “wrong” and said, “There doesn’t seem any purpose to this other than to embarrass Israel. It just pained me to watch it.”

Germany, France and Great Britain all praised the speech. What a surprise.

Reaction from the Arab world can be summed up by a statement from Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a professor of political science in the United Arab Emirates, who said, “At the last five minutes of the hour, apparently Kerry and Obama are showing some courage to stand up to Israel, but it is coming too late in the game. It is after the fact. They should have shown this amount of political courage four years ago, if not eight years ago.”

To watch PM Netanyahu’s full response to the Kerry speech click here.

Oh No
In a much more disturbing development, Gap stores will be closing in Israel. Apparently, the prices were just a bit too high for Israeli tastes. No, the closings have nothing to do with Obama, the UN resolution or John Kerry’s speech.

For further reading click here.

Video Clip
To watch PM Netanyahu giving a Hanukkah lesson to the young children of employees of the Prime Minister’s Office click here.