Today, Secretary of State John Kerry gave a speech on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This speech was given only a few days after the United Nations passed a resolution that urged Israel to cease the establishment of settlements in the West Bank.
In this vote, 14 nations voted against Israel. The United States under President Barack Obama abstained from the vote, which allowed the resolution to pass. It was the first time the United States didn’t vote for Israel on a United Nations resolution.
In his speech, John Kerry defended the President’s decision to abstain from the vote. He urged Israel to work harder for a two-state solution. According to Kerry the abstention was an effort to save Israel from “the most extreme elements” in Israel’s government.
In his speech, John Kerry stated the following:
“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,”
As you can already imagine, this speech has elicited a myriad of reactions from Democrats and Republicans. This post will discuss some of the issues that the Secretary of State addressed in his speech.
Impediments To The Peace Process
In his speech, Kerry blamed both the Israelis and the Palestinians for impeding the peace process. He stated that the Palestinians have hampered the peace process by attempting to “delegitimize” Israel and refusing to control Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations.
However, the Secretary of State focused most of his criticism on Israel, saying that the Israeli government has not been willing to work towards a two-state solution.
“Policies of this government — which the prime minister himself just described as ‘more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history’ — are leading in the opposite direction, towards one state.”
Kerry implied that Israel’s unwillingness to compromise on the issue of settlements, and other issues is a major obstacle in finding a peaceful solution.
However, history doesn’t agree with John Kerry. In 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered to give over 90% of the disputed territories to the Palestinians. His proposal would have given Palestinians land swamps that would increase the amount of land that they would own. Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Fatah party rejected the deal.
There are other instances where the Israeli government offered more land in exchange for peace. In each of these instances, it was the Palestinians who rejected the peace deal. In 2009, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered to impose a moratorium on the establishment of settlements. The Palestinians rejected his offer.
n residents while also giving them local control of their governance without a national vote.
On The Settlements
One of the issues Kerry raised in his speech was the Israeli settlements. The recent U.N. resolution states that Israel’s settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal. The Obama administration believes these settlements are an obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
In his speech, Kerry said:
“Virtually every country in the world opposes the settlements besides Israel.”
The settlements have been a huge source of contention between the two parties. The popular belief is that the building of Israeli settlements in disputed territories are illegal. However, this isn’t necessarily true. According to the Washington Post,
“The West Bank, taken by Israel in 1967 in a war of self-defense, is occupied territory. It also is, as the authors of the relevant U.N. Security Council Resolution, 242, noted, disputed territory. Sovereignty over it remains to be negotiated. Meanwhile, both Jews and Arabs have claims there.”
The land that Israel now occupies was never an actual nation. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip were administered by Jordan and Egypt respectively. When these nations attacked Israel in 1967, they lost possession of these lands. According to U.N. Resolution 242, Israel is not in violation of international law.
But, even though Israeli occupation might be legal, there are many who argue that it’s an impediment to the peace process. It’s been argued that if Israel would stop building settlements, it would be easier to work towards a peaceful solution.
However, this has not historically been the case. Before Israel occupied these territories, there was aggression on the part of its neighbors. Not only that, under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Israel completely pulled out of the Gaza Strip, turning it over to the Palestinians. Since then, Hamas has taken over this territory and used it to launch terrorist attacks against Israel.
Moving Towards Peace?
Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech was basically a reiteration of the Obama administration’s stance on the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It was almost completely one-sided.
Instead of calling on both parties to work towards peace, Kerry placed the onus almost completely on Israel while largely ignoring the responsibility of the Palestinians.
Kerry said that the Obama administration’s decision to abstain from the recent U.N. vote was a way to send a message to the “right wing” of Israel’s government. Of course, no similar message was sent to terrorist organization Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip.
Today, the Obama administration made its final statement on its view of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. But on January 10th, 2017, President-elect Donald Trump will take over as president. While these events were taking place, Trump assured Israel that they can look forward to a different approach from the United States when he is in office.