Speech Neglects Israeli Efforts to Achieve Peace; Prejudging Outcome Disincentivizes Prospect for Direct Negotiations
This morning, United States Secretary of State John Kerry made a speech on settlements and peace in the Middle East. It is unlikely to be helpful considering that it immediately followed the U.S. enablement, through abstention, of a United Nations Security Council resolution that wrongly condemns Israeli settlements.
Kerry unfairly suggested, by focusing heavily on them, that settlements are the primary obstacle to peace. This sort of detailed foreign policy prescription on the eve of the start of a new U.S. administration, and while Palestinians continue to reject direct peace talks and compromise, is counterproductive. Indeed, the combination of the UNSC resolution and the Kerry proposals serve only to disincentivize Palestinian participation in direct negotiations.
Kerry recognized that any future Palestinian state must be non-militarized, that progress cannot be made through further U.N. resolutions or unilateral altering of the Palestinians' status, and that a two-state solution necessarily includes Israel as a Jewish state, something that Kerry failed to insist that the Palestinian leadership recognize. He also presented a skewed understanding of the legality of Jewish communities in Palestinian-claimed areas, and did not acknowledge painful past Israeli withdrawals, or extensive offers of withdrawals, from such settlements.
Additionally, he prejudged final negotiations by weighing in on the status of Jerusalem as well as the nature of any land swaps between the parties. Finally, he unwisely amplified, rather than rebuked, frequent Palestinian threats to dissolve their autonomous administration, and employed a straw-man assertion that regular criticism of Israel is often maligned as anti-Semitic. As he knows well, the extraordinary demonization of and discrimination against Israel in international forums is real, destructive and morally indefensible.
We value the various ways in which a succession of U.S. administrations have over the years, reflecting the bipartisan values of the American people, helped support and better protect the people of Israel. This said, Kerry's speech, at times suggesting equivalence between the Israelis and Palestinians, neglected to describe all the ways in which the U.S.-Israel alliance is deeply in America's national interest. We regret that the final weeks of the current administration have been overshadowed by unnecessary strain in this relationship, and urge that no further action be taken to weaken it, whether at an upcoming political conference in Paris or at the U.N. in New York.