SECRETARY KERRY: “There are other countries in the UN who believe it is our job to dictate the terms of a solution in the Security Council. Others want us to simply recognize a Palestinian state, absent an agreement. But I want to make clear today, these are not the choices that we will make.”
QUESTION: Will the U.S. allow others to make these choices?
I hesitated before weighing in on the flurry of activity taking place around Israel and Palestine after the U.S. seems to have finally decided to act. I felt that all that needs to be said has been written and rewritten ad infinitum, including by me. That now at the eleventh hour the U.S. seems to be waking up to the reality Israel has created on the ground with unfettered U.S. support over seven decades, struck me at first as anticlimactic. But on deeper reflection and seeing the continuous flow of commentary, I notice that no one has yet mentioned one important and potentially game-changing way of framing this latest development.
During the past two years, U.S. government officials have been meeting with everyone willing to meet with them to explore what the Obama Administration can do, given the dangerous state of affairs in the Israeli militarily occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip. Jerusalem-based U.S. Consulate staff, Washington D.C.-based State Department staff, researchers with the Congressional Research Service, numerous Inside the Beltway think tank experts, and many more were dispatched to Palestine and Israel to gain insights on possible ways forward.
Three possible options were floated: having the Administration take UN action at the Security Council against Israeli settlement building; making a policy speech which lays outs the Administration’s understanding of the parameters for a resolution of the conflict; or recognizing the State of Palestine, as over 130 countries have already done. I repeatedly made the case for the recognition of Palestine, which I believe is the only policy action possible at this late hour that would have irrevocably binding legal ramifications, not to mention being a real step forward to preserve the two-state solution.
I want to believe—with zero expectations—that President Obama did not choose one of these options, but rather all three. What we have witnessed thus far with the unanimous passing of UN Security Council Resolution 2334 against Israeli settlements and Secretary of State John Kerry’s policy speech about preserving the two-state scenario may be only two acts of a three-act Greek tragedy playing out on the global political theater. The only remaining act is that of recognizing the State of Palestine, something Secretary Kerry explicitly stated was not a choice that the U.S. would make. The question that begs for an answer is, will the U.S. allow the international community collectively to make such a decision, as they allowed it to unanimously stand against Israel’s settlement enterprise?
Given the uproar Secretary Kerry’s rather mundane but still bold and courageous speech has generated, I’d like to suggest that President Obama deliver the following sequel, much more concise and honest, before January 15, when France will host over 70 counties in a conference to discuss Palestine and Israel.
Ladies and Gentleman,
I stand before you today, only a few days after I instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to present my Administration’s outright disgust concerning the Palestine-Israel conflict. I had hoped that Secretary Kerry’s personal commitment, exhaustive experience, mastery of the diplomatic lexicon, and utter frustration would serve to clear the air about exactly where the U.S. stands on this issue. Evidently, we failed to achieve the desired clarity. So, please allow me to present my Administration’s outgoing message, unfettered by diplomatic jargon. Prime Minister Netanyahu, please take notes.
Secretary Kerry said we needed to engage in an “honest, clear-eyed conversation about the uncomfortable truths and difficult choices.” He was absolutely correct, but then tactfully went on to present known truths and choices we already know Israel refuses. That was misleading. Let me explain, point by point:
“The two-state solution is now in serious jeopardy.” Of course it is! You did not need Secretary Kerry to tell you that, we have been saying it from day one of my Administration, not to mention it being said by every single prior Administration. As the U.S. has been talking the talk of two states, however, we have continued to fund, arm and diplomatically cover Israeli actions which brought us to where we are today. The U.S. is part of the problem. All the while, Israeli leaders have said over and over again that they have zero appetite for a Palestinian state to emerge between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Even the Israeli Prime Minister’s Likud party platform rejects a two-state solution. Thank God the media is not giving attention to the CNN interview by Jake Tapper with prominent settler Minister Naftali Bennett immediately following Secretary Kerry’s speech. The U.S. can no longer pretend to be deaf, dumb and blind as the region collapses into utter mayhem.
“The truth is that trends on the ground […] are combining to destroy hopes for peace on both sides and increasingly cementing an irreversible one-state reality…” Although this is totally true, what we avoided saying outright was that the Palestinians, albeit weak from the standpoint of their internal political affairs, are making tremendous strides on creating their state. The majority of the world’s countries have recognized the State of Palestine and 138 countries upgraded the Palestinians status at the UN with a UN General Assembly resolution that passed on November 29, 2012. I’ve read this UN resolution a thousand times; it is 100% aligned with long-standing U.S. policy: two states based on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem being the capital of both Israel and Palestine. When the U.S. voted “No” to this resolution we found ourselves in the company of only eight other countries: Israel, Czech Republic, Canada, Panama and the tiny states of the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau and Micronesia. For the world’s superpower to stand under the spotlight of world attention alongside these microscopic Pacific Island states is insane and cannot continue. To persist in blocking Palestine from its rightful place among the community of nations is becoming extremely embarrassing. In a local paper in D.C. over a year ago, the case for recognition was made jointly by an Israeli Jew, an American Jew and a Palestinian American. The State of Palestine has become a positive, forward-looking rallying call and I feel we are missing the boat by acquiescing to Israeli intransigence.
“No one thinking seriously about peace can ignore the reality of what the settlements pose to that peace.” We tried to shift all the attention to the settlements, but it’s not working. The international community is seeing right through us. Israel is a colonial project, par excellence, and no screaming about illegal settlements is going to change that. Israel, I’ve always assumed we’ve supported you for this long because our own history is just like yours, but your native Palestinian population refuses to buckle in the face of your brute force. Native Americans being regulated to impoverished reservations worked for us once upon a time, but your modern day equivalent in the form of Palestinian Bantustans, infamously called Areas A in the Oslo Accords, is clearly failing.
Israel, Secretary Kerry lied. It’s not a choice about Israel being “Jewish” or “democratic,” because you are neither and never have been. This is about your sheer existence, plain and simple. You definitely do not operate on central virtues and principles in Jewish ethics, such as "What is hateful to you, do not do unto others." (Talmud) or what Rabbi Simeon ben Gamaliel taught: "The world rests on three things: justice, truth, and peace" (Avot 1:18) or the three passages in the Book of Genesis telling us that all people are made “B'tzelem Elohim” (in the divine image) and hence the humanity in all people—including Palestinians--must be valued equally.
Likewise, your democracy is highly flawed. One only needs to read our annual State Department Human Rights Reports to see that we have already acknowledged, on the record, your institutional and structured discrimination against your Christian, Muslim, and Druze citizens who make up nearly 20% of your population.
So what Secretary Kerry said in his speech, and our abstention to the UN Security Council resolution against settlements, are not outgoing expressions of frustration, but a last-ditch effort to save Israel from itself. I hope that Secretary Kerry’s and my words here become inputs to the upcoming French-sponsored international conference to be held in January. We had to state our opinions now, Israel, because thanks to your pro-Israel lobby in the U.S., our domestic political system has been hijacked on this issue, so in this case we can’t act in our strategic interests in the proper venues.
Lastly, Israel, we do not appreciate your ferocious attacks after we have stood by you more thoroughly and reliably than any other Administration in the history of your existence. As Henry Siegman, the former head of the American Jewish Congress and the Synagogue Council of America, so pointedly wrote, “If there has been a betrayal in this latest chapter of America’s relations with Israel, it is [you] Netanyahu who has betrayed [me].”
God bless the United States for Israel, oops, I mean, of America.
Back to reality. The Palestinian leadership first submitted their bid for full membership in the UN to the Security Council in 2011. When the U.S. threatened to veto the request if it came to a vote, the Palestinians strategically requested that it be sent to a UN Security Council committee for further deliberations pending a more opportune timing. This is where it currently resides. If the international conference planned for mid-January in France can acknowledge that there is nothing further to be gained by making yet another statement about the threat of losing the two-state paradigm or the risk posed by illegal Israeli settlements, the only serious political act would be to produce a second UN Security Council resolution to recognize the State of Palestine. This one is easy since it’s already in committee. The U.S. can abstain, or better yet vote in the affirmative. This is what would preserve the two-state solution; otherwise, we can fasten our seatbelts as Maestro Trump steps onto to the stage, picks up the baton, and perhaps unrolls a version of Zionism in its rawest form.
Sam Bahour is a policy adviser to Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network; Chairman of Americans for a Vibrant Palestinian Economy; Director at a Palestinian bank, Secretariat member of the Palestine Strategy Group, and Co-editor of HOMELAND: Oral History of Palestine and Palestinians (Olive Branch Press). He blogs at www.epalestine.com. @SamBahour