The straw that broke the camel’s back (or Kerry’s latest blunder)

No-one should doubt US Secretary of State John Kerry’s seriousness and dedication in attempting to bring Israeli-Palestinian peace.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry  (photo credit: Reuters)
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
(photo credit: Reuters)
No-one can or should doubt the deep, firm and everlasting friendship between Israel and the US, and the latter’s genuine commitment to assisting Israel and the Palestinians in the process of achieving peace between them.
Similarly, no-one should doubt Secretary of State John Kerry’s seriousness and dedication in attempting to bring the two sides to an agreement.
However, Secretary Kerry’s recent one-sided statement to Congress in which he criticized as “a mistake” one of Israel’s most fundamental negotiating premises, which calls for acknowledgment of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, was ill-advised, went beyond his mandate as convener of the negotiations and, in fact, misrepresented the historic record.
Sometimes it is necessary to tell our friends that they are wrong.
Following is my letter to Secretary Kerry: The Hon. John Kerry, US Secretary of State, The State Department, Washington DC March 19, 2014 Dear Secretary Kerry, I refer to your recent statement to House Foreign Affairs Committee in Congress, dated March 13, 2014 , in which you defined “as a mistake” Israel’s central and principled requirement in the negotiations with the Palestinians, calling for acknowledgement of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish People.
You justified your dismissing this requirement by claiming, and reiterating Palestinian propaganda statements, that the “Jewish state issue” had been “sufficiently addressed by UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of 1947, which recommended the establishment of independent Arab and Jewish states in Palestine.”
You recalled in that respect “more than 30-40 mentions of a ‘Jewish state’” in the 1947 General Assembly resolution, and added that the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had “confirmed that he agreed it [Israel] would be a Jewish state” in 1988 and in 2004.
Your attempt to represent these events, before Congress and to the world at large, as definitive proof that the Palestinian leadership has already recognized Israel as the Jewish state, and hence should not be required to acknowledge this in the present negotiating context, is both a distortion of the historic record and an unfortunate misreading of the issue.
To seriously presume that the 1947 UN General Assembly partition resolution – rejected by the Arab states because it had the gall to refer to a Jewish state – together with an ambiguous, unwilling and artificial reference by Arafat to “Israel in brackets”, given in an utterly different context which itself was deemed insufficient by the then US administration, could, in any way or form constitute an acceptable alternative to a clear, unequivocal acknowledgement by the present Palestinian leadership of its acceptance of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish People, is incomprehensible to say the least, and openly deceptive at the most.
It belies any understanding on your part as to the importance and centrality of Israel’s requirement in the present negotiating context.
Israel’s leaders have repeatedly stressed this centrality since Israel’s April 2003 official response to the Quartet-sponsored “Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict”, according to which: “....declared references must be made to Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and to the waiver of any right of return for Palestinian refugees to the State of Israel.”
Mr. Secretary, one might have expected, in light your position and function as convenor and mediator in the present Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, that you would refrain from making more public value judgments as to whether Israel’s position is, or is not “a mistake.”
While clearly you are entitled to maintain your own opinion, you have no right to express this in such one-sided and prejudicial terms, thereby undermining the very integrity of the negotiating table and selectively prejudging a substantive issue.
Alan Baker, Attorney, Ambassador (ret’), Nachi Eyal
Head, International Action Division, Director-General
Ambassador (ret’) Alan Baker served as legal advisor to Israel’s Foreign Ministry and Ambassador to Canada. He wrote this letter as head of the International Action Division of the Legal Forum for Israel.