Kerry Admonishes Israel's Illegal Settlements

December 29, 2016

Photo by Scott Campbell (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Photo by Scott Campbell (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This week, Secretary of State John Kerry issued blistering criticism against Benjamin Netanyahu that the Israeli government was undermining any hope of a two-state solution to its decades-long conflict with the Palestinians. He spoke with clear frustration about Netanyahu’s continued support and building of settlements “strategically placed in locations that make two states impossible.”

Since the Reagan administration, US foreign policy has consistently made it clear that Israeli settlements are illegal. What some have described as “facts on the ground,” Israeli settlements make it impossible to create a contiguous Palestinian state on what is now occupied territory in the West Bank.

Kerry’s hour-long speech was a response to Israeli criticism that the United States had abandoned and betrayed its closest ally in the Middle East after it allowed the UN Security Council to pass a resolution condemning the settlement activity.

The Fading Two-State Solution

For years, Sec. Kerry has been trying to find a peaceful two-state solution to the conflict, and yet the only constant that remained was an increase in Israeli settlements. The reality, however, is that time is running out on a two-state solution, and more Palestinians are now promoting a one-state solution which provides equal rights and citizenship for both Israelis and Palestinians. Israel regards that option as existentially destructive.

“Friends need to tell each other the hard truths and friendships require mutual respect,” Kerry said. “If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic. It cannot be both. And it won’t ever really be at peace.” In fact, this summer the editorial board of Israeli newspaper Haaretz opined that the only solution to ending violence on the ground is by ending the occupation.

Kerry finally said what was already decades-long US policy. He backed the US position to abstain on a UN Security Council resolution passed unanimously to deem Israeli settlements illegal.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein supported President Obama’s action: “Ending settlement activity is an absolute necessity if we’re ever to achieve a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.” Former President Jimmy Carter urged President Obama to recognize the state of Palestine before leaving office as a means of countering the one-state reality now facing Israel.

Despite the international condemnation of the illegal settlements, Israel is still planning to install 5,600 new homes on the Palestinian territory of East Jerusalem.

Trump the Deal Maker?

President-elect Trump took to Twitter to scold President Obama and to reaffirm his commitment to Israel. A president-elect typically remains silent on current affairs until he takes the oath of office. This creates enormous problems when world powers look to the US but see a president-elect undermining the sitting president.

An adviser to Trump on Israeli issues said that Trump will significantly increase military aid to Israel which part of is used to sustain the military occupation of Palestinians. Trump intends to appoint a close adviser and outspoken supporter of Israel’s settlements, New York lawyer David Friedman, as ambassador to Israel. Trump’s words and actions have emboldened Netanyahu and right-wing voices to legalize settlements on Palestinian land.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be a litmus test for Trump, a self-described deal maker. But his blind, unilateral opposition to Palestinian human rights contradicts his broker title in negotiating a deal between Israel and Palestinians.

More Palestinians will have to endure more suffering in the future, but the voices for social justice on Palestine are becoming louder and clearer as an American human rights issue, exemplified by a sitting US president articulating a principled stand that reinforces genuine American international interests.



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