Secretary of State John Kerry addressed the Palestinian-Israeli conflict today. The speech, which lasted more than an hour, made clear why President Barack Obama decided not to veto a United Nations resolution Friday condemning Israeli settlements. More than that, Kerry advocated strongly for a two-state solution, which Kerry said was “in jeopardy.”
Kerry’s first priority was to defend the US’s role in the Security Council vote. “The United States did in fact vote in accordance with our own values,” Kerry said. He illustrated this by reading from a New York Times article describing a UN resolution, which the US did not veto, which condemned settlement construction. That article was published on Dec. 23, 1987, during Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
Regardless, the Obama administration has faced harsh criticism from Israeli officials, with many accusing the US of “backstabbing.” Kerry refuted these charges, saying “no American administration has done more for Israeli security than Barack Obama’s.”
For evidence, Kerry pointed to the State Department’s continual opposition to the “Boycott, Sanction, Divest” movement and other attempts to de-legitimize Israel, as well as the financial support the US gives Israel. More than half of all the US’s global foreign military funding goes to Israel according to Kerry.
However, Kerry said, the US also has a right to vote in the United Nations in accordance with its own values.
“Some believe that the US friendship means the US must accept any policy regardless of our own interests,” Kerry said. “Friends need to tell each other the hard truths and friendships require mutual respect.”
Kerry said that settlement expansion also provides a barrier to peace. 270,000 additional Israelis have settled in the West Bank since the Oslo Accords were signed, evidence, Kerry said, that Israeli authorities are making the problem worse, not better.
As for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Kerry was less critical of him than of others in power.
“The Israeli Prime Minister publicly supports a two state solution but his current coalition is the most right-wing in Israeli history,” Kerry said. The result is “a government more committed to settlements than any in history.”
This is a problem because, if one rejects the idea that all the West Bank belongs to Israel, there is no defense of settlements.
“Settlement expansion has nothing to do with Israel’s security,” he said. “Many settlements actually increase the burden on the Israel Defense Forces.” They also decrease the likelihood of a two-state solution in the future since settlements make land separation and the transference of sovereignty more complicated.
Even more worrisome, Kerry said, was an overall trend, including but not limited to settlements, indicating “a comprehensive effort to take the west bank land for Israel and prevent any Palestinian development there.” He singled out Area C, which is theoretically part of a future Palestinian state but, in practice, being used for and by Israelis. Kerry said that only one land permit for Area C was given to a Palestinian in all of 2014 and 2015, versus the hundreds that were issued to Israelis during the same time. Meanwhile, Palestinian structures in the area are being demolished at historically high rates.
Still, Kerry was sensitive to criticism that focusing solely on the Israeli settlements is unfair.
“The settlements are not the whole or even the primary cause of this conflict,” he said. “Nor can you say that, were the settle removed…you’d have peace.”
Palestinian leadership, he said, should be held to account for sending mixed messages regarding terrorists, publicly condemning them while also naming streets in schools in their honor. Hamas, he said, is also a problem, referring to the terrorist organization which was voted to power in the Gaza Strip. “They have a one-state agenda of their own,” Kerry said.
In what may be the most important part of the speech for future administrations, Kerry laid out five principals for negotiations on a two-state solution:
- Secure and recognized international borders between Israel and a viable and contiguous Palestine based on pre-1967 lines, with withdrawal of occupied territories in exchange for peace. Land swaps would also be agreed to, in order to modify the old borders.
- Mutual recognition and full equal rights for all their respective citizens, with recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
- A “just, agreed, fair and realistic” solution to the Palestinian refugee situation, including compensation and assistance.
- Jerusalem as capital of both states, saying that ” The established status quo must be maintained” at the city’s important religious locations, ensuring continual access to both Jews and Muslims at the Temple Mount.
- Satisfaction of Israel’s security needs, as well as Palestine’s, assuming Palestine’s can be met by a “sovereign and non-militarized state.”
Of course, Kerry also recognized that the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump might not prioritize these same principals, or even a two-state solution. For instance, Trump’s pick for the US envoy to Israel, David Friedman, has indicated that he’d be far more encouraging to settlement development than Kerry has been.
“That is for them to decide,” Kerry said.