Politics & Policy

John Kerry’s Indefensible Swipe at Israel

Kerry speaks at the State Department, December 28, 2016. (Reuters photo: James Lawler Duggan)

This morning John Kerry issued a long, meandering statement that served mainly to put an exclamation point on a failed foreign policy, one that still — after eight dreadful years — evinces a willful refusal to see the evident truths of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Instead, Kerry repeated Palestinian propaganda and defied both the facts and the conventions of international law to defend the indefensible.

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As an initial matter, it is important to state that there is one — and only one — true obstacle to peace in the Middle East: the persistent failure of Israel’s enemies to accept that it has a right to exist, as a Jewish state and within defensible borders. Israel’s enemies sought to exterminate it on the very day of its declaration of independence (when there were no settlements, and the West Bank and Gaza were in Arab hands), and they seek to exterminate it still today.

Twice in this young century Palestinians have been offered their own state in Gaza and the West Bank, with a capital in East Jerusalem, and twice they have refused. Twice Israel has offered to dismantle substantial numbers of settlements as the price of compromise, and twice the Palestinians have refused.

Now, increasingly, these offers are moot. Israel has no real partner in peace. In Gaza, Hamas rules with an iron grip, and Hamas will not recognize Israel under any circumstances. In the West Bank, Fatah maintains its own illegitimate one-party rule. Yet in the face of Palestinian violence and Palestinian dysfunction, the Obama administration vents its spleen at Israel, the only party that has proven its willingness to take meaningful risks for peace.

Moreover, Kerry’s reasoning is nonsensical even under its own terms. In his speech, he took specific aim at recent settlement activity that he claims makes a two-state solution less viable. Yet the resolution the United States allowed to pass the U.N. Security Council declares all settlement activity unlawful, even those “settlements” — like the suburbs of Israel’s capital, Jerusalem — that would doubtless become part of Israel under any meaningful peace agreement.

The Obama administration was angry at far-flung settlements, so it cast Jewish control of the Western Wall into doubt? That makes no sense, except as an exercise in pure spite.

Kerry seemed to grow angry when he said that the status quo is “leading toward one state, or perpetual occupation,” but the status quo that he decries is an artifact of ongoing Palestinian terror campaigns, not Israeli settlements. Jews have just as much right to live in the disputed territories as members of any other ethnic group, and Kerry’s condemnation of all Israeli “settlements” echoes Palestinian desires to force Jews to leave the West Bank.

Palestinians have learned once again that terrorism has its rewards. Israel has been reminded once again that its friends can be fickle.

The Obama administration loves to boast of its “values,” and today’s speech was no exception. Yet the “values” advanced in the administration’s recent actions are abhorrent. It has perverted international law, rewarded Palestinian violence, endorsed ethnic cleansing, and applied U.N.-created double standards that leave Israel as the most persecuted and most condemned state in U.N. history.

In his speech, Kerry acknowledged that the Obama administration’s policies have a short shelf life. The Trump administration has signaled that it intends to make welcome changes in American policy towards Israel, beginning with moving the American embassy to the nation’s actual capital. It has already condemned the Security Council resolution and will make no move to enforce it against Israel. The resolution’s effects, however, will live on beyond the Obama administration’s dismal time in office, and its legacy is likely to be violent.

Palestinians have learned once again that terrorism has its rewards. Israel has been reminded once again that its friends can be fickle. And no one believes that true peace is any closer than it was in the days before the administration’s betrayal. The Obama administration is leaving office as it entered, arrogant and willfully ignorant, refusing to see the plain truth of the Middle East — that Israel cannot make peace with “partners” that long for its death.

The Editors — The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.