John Kerry will leave the State Department in six weeks, the Times of Israel points out, and will almost certainly spend the next several months on his memoirs. When it comes to the chapter on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the newspaper suggests a title based on his latest speech at the Saban Forum in Washington: It’s Bibi’s Fault.
He wore reading glasses, sat rather than stood, and cited facts, figures and maps from a thick binder. And he delivered a thesis — not explicitly, but repeatedly: The United States had failed in its mission because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unwilling to demonstrate the kind of leadership shown by his predecessors.
Kerry was at pains to stress his engagement with the prime minister. He noted that he had spoken to Netanyahu over 375 times in the past four years for a total of 130 hours. He had traveled to Israel over 40 times, and met with the premier in a number of other countries as well, he noted. But to no avail. …
He described Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as a leader “committed to non-violence,” and detailed US General John Allen’s near-forgotten attempts to negotiate Israeli security presence in the Jordan Valley.
But time and time again in his talk, Kerry alluded to a lack of leadership, an inability or unwillingness to surmount the risks of coalition politics for a greater end.
Not once did he take the last step and offer the sentence that he said in myriad ways: Netanyahu was not the bold leader necessary to achieve our goals in the region. The point, however, was clear.
How clear? Kerry explicitly praised the leadership of every Israeli prime minister since Menachem Begin except for Netanyahu and Yitzhak Shamir, whose omission appears to be an oversight. Kerry blamed the expansion of settlements in the West Bank for undermining efforts to reach a comprehensive two-state solution to the decades-old conflict. He also took severe exception to statements from at least one minister in the Netanyahu government that all but celebrate the exit of Kerry and Barack Obama from US leadership:
But I also cannot accept the notion that they [settlements] don’t affect the peace process, that they aren’t a barrier to the capacity to have peace. And I’ll tell you why I know that: because the left in Israel is telling everybody they are a barrier to peace, and the right that supports it openly supports it because they don’t want peace. They believe it’s the greater Israel. They are pursuing a policy of greater Judeo Samaria building out into the West Bank because they believe it belongs to them. And they want it to block the peace because they want those places to belong to Israel. That’s the history of the settler movement, my friends.
So all I can say to you is here that out of the mouths of ministers in the current government have come profoundly disturbing statements publicly. To wit, Naftali Bennett said a few days ago, weeks ago, this represents the end of the era of the two-state solution. And more than 50 percent of the ministers in the current government have publicly stated they are opposed to a Palestinian state and there will be no Palestinian state. So this is the predicament. This is where we find ourselves.
Kerry also hinted that the Obama administration might let Israel twist in the wind at the United Nations to emphasize the point before he and Barack Obama exit the stage:
MR GOLDBERG: Before I go to our last question from Ilana Dayan, I just want to ask you: You have six weeks or so left. There’s a lot of talk about laying down of new parameters, there’s been a lot of talk of laying down new parameters, possibly action in the Security Council. Can you give us any insight about where your thinking is on that, or has the election of Donald Trump changed this so radically that we’re not going to see any further action on this file from the Obama Administration?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me make it clear at the outset that, as I said earlier, we have always stood against any imposition of a, quote, “final status solution,” and against any resolution that is unfair and biased against Israel, and we will continue. We don’t support that. And there’s been no decision made about any kind of step that may or may not be taken in that regard.
There are, however, other people out there who, because of this building frustration, you need to know they are any number of countries talking about bringing resolutions to the United Nations, (inaudible) the United Nations.
MR GOLDBERG: Will you try to stop the French if they do it?
SECRETARY KERRY: If it’s a biased and unfair and a resolution calculated to delegitimize Israel, we’ll oppose it. Obviously, we will. We always have. But it’s getting more complicated now because there is a building sense of what I’ve been saying to you today, which some people can shake their heads, say, well, it’s unfair. Look, I want to be – I said earlier there is – there are real imperfections and problems within Fatah. We all know that. And we have been adamant to Palestinians about incitement and adamant to the Palestinians about their need to deal with their education system and to change the things kids are taught and to try to lead by example with respect to the nonviolence and so forth.
And so all of that needs to happen. I’m not suggesting we’re dealing in this easy place. But I’ll tell you what I do know, and I’ve spent a lot of time looking at this thing. I mean, my first trip to Israel was in 1986 and I have probably been more times than any secretary of state. I’ve been everywhere in Israel. I love Israel. I’ve had great engagements with so many friends there. But I do believe that Israel, because of decisions that are being made on a daily basis quietly and without a lot of people seeing them or fully processing the consequences, is heading to a place of danger.
The Hill and Breitbart are among the very few news outlets that have picked up on that not-so-nuanced nuance. Kerry’s answer borders on the incoherent anyway, so it’s not entirely clear what kind of resolution the US would allow to pass at the UN Security Council. Practically everything the UN does pass aims at delegitimizing Israel and especially Netanyahu. He’s especially incoherent on Fatah. Earlier in the speech he’s praising Mahmoud Abbas as a man “committed to nonviolence,” but in this answer, he admits that Abbas hasn’t done anything to stop teaching Palestinian students to commit violence, or to stop inciting violence directly.
Needless to say, though, a parting shot at Israel with a UN Security Council resolution will only emphasize the reason why Israeli ministers will be happy to see Obama and Kerry retire. Don’t forget that part of the resistance this present government in Israel has to the current administration comes from its attempts to interfere in Netanyahu’s re-election effort almost two years ago. A Senate investigation concluded this summer that Kerry’s State Department knowingly funded those efforts to boost the Israeli opposition. Kerry’s cries that Netanyahu didn’t trust the Obama administration on the two-state solution amount to crocodile tears. Perhaps the outgoing Secretary of State should be looking in the mirror.
A US endorsement of a UN attack on Israel, even tacit, should prompt some consideration for pro-Israeli voters here in the US. If Democrats decide to put Keith Ellison in charge of the party, they should really ask themselves which party should get their loyalty.