December 14, 2018

Kerry questions how much longer U.S. can support Israel under status quo

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fter years of built-up personal frustration, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a lengthy critique of Israeli and Palestinian leaders during a speech at the State Department on Dec. 28, a mere 23 days before leaving office. 

Assailing the current status quo, America’s top diplomat emphasized, “If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic, it cannot be both and it will not ever live in peace.” 

In the speech, Kerry criticized Palestinian actions as well. “The murderers of innocents are still glorified on Fatah websites, including showing attackers next to Palestinian leaders following attacks,” Kerry noted.

Kerry has invested hundreds of hours mediating between the parties and responded somewhat defensively to criticism from Israeli leaders and members of Congress in recent days during the 70-minute address. 

“They fail to recognize that this friend, the United States of America, that has done more to support Israel than any other country, this friend that has blocked countless efforts to delegitimize Israel, cannot be true to our own values — or even the stated democratic values of Israel — and we cannot properly defend and protect Israel if we allow a viable two-state solution to be destroyed before our own eyes,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a response carried live by CNN, blasted Kerry’s speech as a “big disappointment” while calling the focus on settlements as “obsessive.” “Israelis do not need to be lectured about the importance of peace by world leaders,” Netanyahu declared. 

Netanyahu accused the outgoing secretary of state of paying “lip service to the unremitting campaign of terrorism that has been waged by the Palestinians against the Jewish state for nearly a century.”

From Ramallah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated past comments that he would be ready to begin negotiations if Israel were to freeze settlement construction and referenced United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, adopted Dec. 23, condemning Israeli settlements.

“The speech was replete with paternalistic, arrogant lecturing,” Abraham Foxman, former national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), told Jewish Insider. “The threats to peace and the implementation of a two-state solution are not Israeli settlements, but the non-recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, Palestinian incitement and violence.”

Incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) also criticized Kerry for focusing on the settlements while ignoring the fact that Hamas continued launching rockets into Israel after Israel forced settlers to withdraw from all settlements in the Gaza Strip. 

Others recommended Israelis take a hard look at the substance of the secretary of state’s remarks.

“It’s an important speech for those who support the two-state solution and do not want to see Israel’s Jewish and democratic nature being undermined,” Dan Arbell, former deputy chief of Israel’s embassy in Washington, D.C., told Jewish Insider. 

Hussein Ibish, a senior scholar at the Arab Gulf Institute in Washington, said, “I think it’s probably the most sympathetic (speech) to the Palestinian cause given by a major American official.” However, Ibish found the timing of the speech problematic. The address “could have been really meaningful if it had been given two or three years ago and backed up with actual policies with real consequences. But at this point, with a couple of weeks left, it’s almost pointless.”

President-elect Donald Trump indicated last week that he will indeed look to make up for the damage done by the outgoing administration over the weekend. “We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect. They used to have a great friend in the U.S., but not anymore,” Trump tweeted hours before Kerry’s speech. “Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!”