Palestine Forsaken- US SECRETARY of State John Kerry’s Long Speech
0 comments | by A.G. Noorani
US SECRETARY of State John Kerry’s long speech on peace between Israelis and Palestinians offered the wronged party (the Palestinians) little, and is unlikely to win support either in the US or in Israel, to whom it was really addressed. It was a futile effort to defend the US’ abstention on UNSC Resolution 2334, which was adopted on Dec 23, 2016.
Both the resolution and Kerry’s speech must be read in the context of a virtual end to the peace process and the much-vaunted two-tale solution. Israeli settlements on the West Bank have so radically altered the status quo as to reduce the idea to a teasing illusion.
The resolution questions the legality of the settlements. The International Court of Justice had ruled on precisely that in 2014 with greater authority. The resolution’s rejection of “acquisition of territory by force” will be inconsequential as its reference to “two democratic States, Israel and Palestine” living in peace “within secure and recognised borders”.
The US long knew that settlements threatened a two-state solution.
The 1.7 million Arabs inside Israel have a different experience. In the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, over 4.5m Palestinians live under military occupation in humiliating conditions — and without a vote. The 600,000 Israeli settlers there are a privileged class. There are around 130 Israeli settlements east of the 1967 lines, often located on private Palestinian land and strategically placed.
The main theme of Kerry’s speech was that Israeli settlements must stop, else “the two-state solution is now in serious jeopardy”. If Israel opts for a one-state solution and annexes the West Bank, it would cease to be democratic (if Palestinians are denied a vote) or Jewish (if they become full citizens, as they would be the largest demographic).
Kerry recalled that a prominent Israeli minister had boasted that “the era of the two-state solution is over”. This has been said before — repeatedly. In Tel Aviv last October, The New York Times’ Roger Cohen reported that he “found virtually nobody from either side (Arab or Israeli) prepared to offer anything but a negative assessment of the two-state idea”.
The US already knew this all too well, even as it ignored the spread of Israeli settlements over time. It acquiesced in this outrage for its own reasons — one was domestic, for fear of alienating the powerful Jewish lobby; the other was to keep on the right side of its ally, Israel.
The set of principles Kerry propounded was an old hat with a relatively new ribbon — agreed changes to the 1967 lines; equal rights for all citizens; solution to the refugee problem; accord on Jerusalem; respect for “Israel’s security needs” after it ends its occupation; and peace with “all of its [Israel’s] Arab neighbours” in a regional security framework.
In the last decade or so, Israel made two new demands — its recognition as a Jewish state by the Arabs and an end to any question of its legitimacy. Kerry endorsed both in his speech. Prime Minister Netanyahu first raised this demand. The latter was inspired by Henry A. Kissinger — do not question Israel’s legitimacy, ie the illegitimacy of its birth. Israel was established not only by force but also by the systematic ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Arabs.
Kerry himself acknowledged that, when Israel celebrates its 70th anniversary in 2018, Palestinians will mark a different anniversary: 70 years “since what they call the Nakba, or catastrophe”. The demand that Palestinians renounce their perception of history comes, strangely, from those who would criminalise any questioning of the Holocaust. It is an insult to the Palestinian’s pride and self-respect. But, then, to Kerry, as to most Americans, Israel is “a special country”.
At the end of this process, the state of Palestine will emerge as an Israeli protectorate, a kind of Bantustan. In Kerry’s words, it will be a “non-militarised state” that will somehow provide protection for their population even “without a military of their own”. It is perfectly acceptable to the US and its allies that Israel should be a nuclear weapons state — a right denied to Iran and Arab states. The architect of Israel’s military might and nuclear programme was Shimon Peres. Kerry quoted him, approvingly, as saying shortly before his death last year that “the original mandate gave the Palestinians 48pc; now it is down to 22pc. I think 78pc is enough for us”.
Palestinians find themselves forsaken by those on whose support it has legitimate claims — Egypt, Jordan and, after the Iran nuclear accord, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Their leverage has weakened disastrously. Israel’s cruelties have increased steeply. A conference on peace in the Middle East, due to be held in Paris on Jan 15, will change nothing.
The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.