Analysis: Kerry leaves stage locked into failed assumptions

The six principles that Kerry set down as the way to move forward were predictable, and not much different from the parameters President Bill Clinton issued before he left office 16 years ago.

By
December 28, 2016 23:01
4 minute read.

John Kerry lays out Mideast peace vision

John Kerry lays out Mideast peace vision

 
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Long.

That is likely how many will remember US Secretary of State John Kerry's more than hour-long speech on the Middle East delivered Wednesday, less than a month before he leaves the world's stage.

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Long, and without many new elements in it. What a tired-looking, hoarse Kerry did for more than an hour was pretty much compile the “greatest hits” from numerous speeches he and US President Barack Obama have given over the last number of years on the Mideast.

He talked about the detrimental effects of the settlements; how Israel needs to chose whether it wants two states or one state, meaning it can either be a Jewish state or a democratic one, but not both; and how the settlements are making a two state-solution impossible.

All of this has been said multiple times before by the Administration, no surprises there. A good part of the speech, however, was devoted to defending the US' abstention at the UN last week – a sign that the harsh criticism by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's, ambassador to the US Ron Dermer and other government ministers had unnerved him a bit.

Kerry's speech is a momentary snapshot of where the world stands on the issue right now, because just as the Security Council hall erupted in applause after Friday's resolution was passed, so too it is fair to say that the vast majority of the international community agrees wholeheartedly with the sentiments Kerry expressed about the settlements.

That is now. But things may change. If President-elect Trump comes into office and questions the two-state orthodoxy that Kerry pledged allegiance to,  that could have a trickle down effect to other countries as well.

The six principles that Kerry set down as the way to move forward were predictable, and not much different from the parameters President Bill Clinton issued before he left office 16 years ago. 

Nevertheless, two elements of the speech were striking.

The first was the insistence that the only solution to the conflict is either two-states,  or one. This is the mantra that has been repeated for so long, that it has become axiomatic. But it also drowns out any possibility of creatively looking at other options, a different way.

If the efforts to negotiate two states has failed for so long, perhaps it is time to consider whether there may be other options that might bring Egypt and Jordan into the equation. Perhaps what is needed is a reassessment of all the the assumptions over the last 23 years that have ended in the current stalemate -- first and foremost that the only option is two states from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River.

For instance, in 2010 former National Security Council Giora Eiland spelled out a plan for a Jordanian-Palestinian federation, in which the West Bank and Gaza would be states in an expanded Jordanian kingdom.

Another idea would see the establishment of a Palestinian state, but it would be based on land swaps between Egypt, Israel and a future Palestinian entity that would significantly expand the size of Gaza, allow Israel to retain a good percentage of the the West Bank, and provide Egypt with a land link to Jordan.

These ideas are too often dismissed as unrealistic, something that the Palestinians would never accept. Kerry reinforces that way of thinking with his stating as truth that it is either two states or one state.

The Kerry speech was also telling in that it included a call for Israel to withdraw from the territories and uproot settlements. This is a demand for Israel to make huge compromises.  There was, however, no comparable demand for compromise on the Palestinian side.

Kerry called, and says that the US has done so on innumerable occasions,  for the Palestinians to stop the terrorism and the incitement, and to build up good governing institutions. But those are not compromises.

A Palestinian compromise would be to recognize that -- given everything going on in the Middle East --  Israel must retain security control of the Jordan Valley. A compromise would be for the Palestinians to state that they are giving up on the “right of return,” and that they recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish state.

“Recognition of Israel as a Jewish state has been the US position for years,” Kerry said. “And based on my conversations in these last months, I am absolutely convinced that many others are prepared to accept it as well, provided as well that the need for a Palestinian state is also addressed.”

So there's the deal: Israel withdraws, uproots settlements, and then based on Kerry’s conversation in recent weeks, “many others” may be prepared to recognize Israel as a Jewish state that has the right to exist as well.

That type of gamble is not going to find much resonance with Israelis, who have to live with the consequences.

Throughout his career, both in the senate and as secretary of state, Kerry's speeches on Israel give the listener a sense that he knows what is better for Israel, its future, and security than the Israelis themselves. His speech Wednesday night was true to that rather patronizing form.

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