Lame-duck Secretary of State John Kerry blasted the Israeli government at the State Department on Wednesday, and attempted to defend the Obama administration’s decision to let an anti-Israel resolution pass at the UN Security Council last week.
Kerry delivered his remarks in the midst of a diplomatic fight with Israel, in which President Barack Obama stands accused of working with Palestinians secretly to undermine Israeli security, overturning decades of American foreign policy precedent in the process.
Kerry began by reassuring “President Obama has been deeply committed to Israel and its security.” He then declared: “The two-state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.” He resisted, he said, the idea that support for Israel meant accepting any Israeli policy.
Responding to Israel’s claim that the U.S. had abandoned the two countries’ shared values in allowing the resolution to pass, Kerry said, “I am compelled to respond today that the United States did vote in accordance with our values,” claiming the UN vote “was about preserving the two-state solution … Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state … that is what we are trying to preserve, for our sake and theirs.”
He went on to claim the Obama administration has been “Israel’s greatest friend and supporter,” adding that “No American administration has done more for Israel’s security than Barack Obama’s … Time and again, we have demonstrated that we have Israel’s back.”
(Responding to that claim earlier this week, former Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz — a prominent supporter of Obama and of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as a critic of Israeli settlements — said: “I didn’t realize what [Obama] meant is that he would have [their] back to stab them in the back, and he just stabbed them in the back.”)
Kerry did not mention the Iran nuclear deal, which the Israeli government called a “historic mistake” that merely postpones Iran’s emergence as a nuclear power rather than preventing it. Nor did he mention numerous disagreements between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that had emerged over eight years — including the Obama administration’s numerous snubs and its repeated attempts to frustrate Israeli war efforts against the Hamas terror organization in Gaza.
Kerry recounted his many visits to Israel, including historic and religious sites, and the Holocaust memorial of Yad Vashem. He said that had sensitized him to the security concerns of ordinary Israelis. But he said that the “fundamental reality” was that “Israel can either be Jewish or it can be democratic, but it cannot be both.”
Kerry seemed to be referring to exaggerated and debunked population statistics that predicted Arabs would overtake Jews in the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. As Caroline Glick and others have pointed out, Palestinian demographic statistics have been inflated for political reasons, and if Israel were to annex the West Bank today, Jews would still likely be two-thirds of the population.
Kerry said “both sides” played to each other’s worst fears and stereotypes, placing Israel and the Palestinians on equal moral footing, even though the Palestinian Authority officially promotes terrorism and antisemitism. There is no analogous rhetoric — at least not on an official level — in Israel, whose population is one-fifth Arab and where Arabs have equal rights.
Later, Kerry complained about Netanyahu’s democratically-elected government — which the Obama administration did its best to defeat in 2015 by using American taxpayers’ money to fund left-wing political efforts during the Israeli election — “His current coalition is the most right-wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by the most extreme elements.”
Kerry admitted that settlements were not the primary cause of the conflict. “Of course they are not.” He also admitted that peace would not result if all of the settlements were removed, and acknowledged that “certain settlements would become part of Israel” in a peace agreement.
He did not attempt to square those statements with the text of last week’s UN resolution.
Last Friday, the U.S. abstained from UN Security Council Resolution 2334, allowing it to pass, after vetoing a similar resolution in 2011. Resolution 2334 declares the Israeli presence in areas won from Jordan in the defensive Six Day War in 1967 — including the Old City of Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) — to be illegal. Effectively, it denies Jewish claims to historical and religious sites that have been holy to, and inhabited by, Jews for millennia.
A similar resolution in 1979, UN Security Council Resolution 446 — from which then-President Jimmy Carter also abstained, allowing it to pass — declared that settlements in the West Bank “have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.” However, Resolution 2334 goes further, specifically including “East Jerusalem” as a “settlement,” and calling settlements “a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace” (emphasis added).
Yet Kerry claimed, falsely, that there was “absolutely nothing new” in UN Security Council Resolution 2334.
The original framework for negotiations over the future of the West Bank is regarded as UN Security Council Resolution 242, approved in 1967, which called, in principle, for “withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” The term “territories” was deliberately included without the direct article, i.e. “the territories,” to allow for future negotiations over the precise boundaries. Israel regarded the old boundaries — which were not international borders, but mere armistice lines at the end of Israel’s 1948-9 War of Independence — as a provocation to future attacks by Arab states. In one area, the 1949 armistice lines left Israel merely nine miles wide between the West Bank and the Mediterranean coast.
Kerry said that it was wrong to allow the continued expansion of Israeli settlements, and the “proliferation” of settlement outposts that are even illegal under Israeli law. He objected to a proposed law in the Israeli Knesset that would extend Israeli military law to cover seizure of civilian land — a law that proponents argue is aimed at bolstering Palestinian property rights — and launched into a comprehensive attack on Israeli policy toward the settlements. “No one who is thinking serious about peace can ignore the reality of what the settlements pose to that peace,” he said.
Kerry ignored the fact that the Netanyahu government observed a “freeze” on new settlements, at Obama’s behest, but the Palestinians still refused to negotiate. Nearly his entire address was devoted to Israel’s perceived misdeeds. Kerry made a few perfunctory criticism of Palestinian terrorism and incitement, but reserved his passion — and vitriol — for perceived Israeli misdeeds.
The Obama administration, he said, had warned Israel that the Palestinians intended to take the settlement issue to the UN Security Council, but that Israel did not listen. Accordingly, he said, the U.S. did not oppose the resolution, he said, because it would not be expected for any nation “to vote against its own policies.” He did not explain the numerous ways in which the resolution violates previous U.S. policies, especially the idea that the Security Council was not the forum for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that the status of the West Bank and Jerusalem would be subject to future bilateral negotiation.
Like others who have defended the Obama administration, Kerry cited past examples of cases in which the U.S. — including under Republican presidents — had allowed resolutions that Israel had opposed. But he did not acknowledge the way in which UN Security Council Resolution 2334 went further than previous resolutions and undermined an existing peace process.
It was settlements, not the UN Security Council resolution, Kerry argued, that isolated Israel from the world.
Kerry also rejected as untrue that the Obama had been the “driving force.” The U.S. did not “draft or originate this resolution, nor did we put forward,” he said. He did not say whether — as Israel has charged — the U.S. had encouraged the resolution and coordinated with the Palestinians and with several UN Security Council members on producing a resolution to be posed in the president’s lame-duck days. While the U.S. did not agree with “every word,” Kerry said, the U.S. “could not” veto the resolution.
The speech had been billed as Kerry’s attempt to introduce a “plan for Mideast peace.” But Kerry was mostly focused on a blistering attack on the Israeli government and on Israeli policies, and offered relatively few details about plans to advance the peace process.
He said that the two sides “have not yet been able to resume talks,” ignoring the fact that Israel has been open to talks for years, which the Palestinians have refused.
Kerry concluded by recounting a potted history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as perceived by each side — at least, as he perceived the two sides’ perspectives. He downplayed Palestinian terrorism and Israeli attempts to achieve peace.
He outlined basic principles for a peace agreement creating two states, including territorial compromise based on the “1967 lines” (the 1949 armistice lines), with land swaps to “reflect practical realities on the ground.” He said that Palestinians and Israelis should provide “full, equal rights for all of their citizens,” and that the issue of Palestinian refugees should be resolved in a way that preserved Israel as a Jewish state, including financial compensation and resettlement elsewhere. He said that peace required a non-militarized Palestinian state, with a full end to Israeli military occupation, and normalization of Israel’s relations with its neighbors.
Controversially, Kerry’s peace plan also includes Jerusalem as the capital of “the two states” — an outcome that Israel has not accepted, except in the peace terms offered at Camp David in 2000, which the Palestinians rejected.
Kerry ended by reminiscing about the late Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who passed away earlier this year. He recalled Peres standing on the White House lawn during the signing of the Oslo peace accords — and ignored the fact that UN Security Council Resolution 2334 violates the American promises that allowed Israel to make those compromises. Those guarantees included the understanding that the U.S. would protect Israel at the United Nations from unilateral changes imposed by its enemies.
Update: According to CNN correspondent Oren Liebermann, Israeli networks did not carry Kerry’s speech live. If Kerry was aiming to reach the Israeli public, Liebermann said, he “missed the mark.”
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. His new book, See No Evil: 19 Hard Truths the Left Can’t Handle, is available from Regnery through Amazon. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.