In about two hours, John Kerry will deliver a speech at the State Department to outline the Obama administration’s plan for a peace settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians. Needless to say, the Israelis aren’t happy about it, Republicans are furious about it — and even some Democrats want Kerry and the White House to shut up. Rep. Steny Hoyer, the House Democratic whip, lashed out at Kerry and the Obama administration for reversing decades of American policy on peace negotiations:
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the Democratic whip in the House of Representatives and the second- highest ranking Democrat in leadership, released a blistering statement Tuesday night calling on the Obama administration to cool it.
“Now, it is my understanding that Secretary Kerry, in the last few days of this Administration, intends to outline the parameters of an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. This flies in the face of the United States’s longstanding position that such a formulation should be reached only through negotiations by the parties and not by the United States, the United Nations, or any other third party,” Hoyer said.
“I urge Secretary Kerry and the Administration not to set forth a formula, which will inevitably disadvantage Israel in any negotiation,” Hoyer added.
Israeli Cabinet official Gilad Erdan mocked Kerry’s move as both “pathetic” and “un-democratic”:
In a radio interview, Erdan said Kerry’s speech was part of a broader effort to hinder the incoming administration of Donald Trump, who has signaled he will have much warmer relations with Israel.
“This step is a pathetic step. It is an anti-democratic step because it’s clear that the administration and Kerry’s intention is to chain President-elect Trump,” Erdan told Israel Army Radio.
Erdan, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party and inner Security Cabinet, said Obama administration officials are “pro-Palestinian” and “don’t understand what’s happening in the Middle East.”
In the meantime, though, Benjamin Netanyahu asked Jerusalem’s planning committee to hold off on approvals for building permits in East Jerusalem until after Kerry speaks:
With applications for 492 building permits in the urban settlements of Ramot and Ramat Shlomo on its agenda, members of Jerusalem city hall’s Planning and Building committee said a planned vote was cancelled at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request.
The panel’s chairman, Meir Turgeman, said at the session that Netanyahu was concerned approval would have given Kerry “ammunition before the speech”. …
“The prime minister said that while he supports construction in Jerusalem, we don’t have to inflame the situation any further,” Hanan Rubin, a member of the Jerusalem municipal committee told Reuters, citing Kerry’s upcoming speech.
The panel meets regularly and the building projects could come up for a vote at a future session.
Barack Obama came into office fumbling on the issue of settlements, and it looks like he’s determined to go out in the same manner. His unilateral demand to a halt in settlement building gave the Palestinians yet another excuse to demand concessions ahead of negotiations, which made it even more difficult for negotiations to even begin. Rather than recognize his error, Obama has spent the last eight years doubling down on it, going as far as to assert that Israel would have to return to its pre-1967 borders in any settlement — another statement that gave Mahmoud Abbas a concession ahead of the talks.
In this case, though, Kerry’s attempt to force Israel into Obama’s peace plan will be as pathetic as Erdan notes. The Obama team has spent all of its political capital in Israel after trying to rig their March 2015 election and then stabbing Israel in the back this month at the UN. Donald Trump will eclipse the Obama policies with those more supportive of Israel. The likeliest direct outcome of Kerry’s speech won’t be a new round of peace talks, but the shift of the US embassy to Jerusalem and the end of any pressure at all to stop settlement expansion. Beyond that, Kerry and Obama may have given Republicans the opening that they have long desired to reduce ties to the UN and focus on direct, bilateral diplomacy.
Don’t expect Kerry to take Hoyer’s advice, but also don’t expect anyone to really take Kerry and Obama seriously from now on either.
Update: It looks like Russia’s not happy about this either, according to Ha’aretz:
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov rejected U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s proposal that the Quartet – the United States, Russia, the UN and the European Union – adopt the principles he will present in his speech on the Israeli-Palestinian in Washington on Wednesday afternoon. …
“Lavrov warned against the impact of the U.S. domestic agenda on the Middle East Quartet and the UN Security Council,” the ministry stated. “He spotlighted harmful attempts to use these platforms for the Democrats’ and Republicans’ bickering.”
Lavrov’s statement echoed some of the fears that have been voiced in recent days by the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem that the Obama administration would likely make additional attempts to advance international steps on the Palestinian issue before Donald Trump becomes president on January 20.
Jeff Dunetz notes the strange-bedfellows aspect of this development:
It is a bit strange that Russia is protecting the Jewish State from anti-Israel actions by the American president and secretary of state.
The Russian foreign minister’s statement echoed the fears raised at Lidblog yesterday that Obama/Kerry will make additional attempts to cut Israel’s negotiating position and/or impose an unfavorable solution on the Jewish State before Donald Trump becomes president on January 20. …
Kerry is also expected to push back at Israel’s claims that last weeks UNSC resolution was planned by Kerry, despite Egyptian evidence that the claim is true.“ Kerry is also expected to claim will stress that the American move in the Security Council was not unprecedented and that the decision not to veto the resolution “did not blind side Israel.”
I doubt highly that he’ll mention that no other administration allowed a resolution to be passed claiming that the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem was Palestinian, and that all settlements are illegal.
It’s at least curious that Russia would object after voting to do essentially the same thing at the UN Security Council. Perhaps they’re just getting tired of the Obama administration’s temper tantrums, or maybe they realize the obvious — that this is going to make negotiations even more difficult than they already are. I’m betting, though, that Russia is actually playing for inside position as the “honest broker” at future Israeli-Palestinian peace talks at the expense of the US, an opening that Obama and Kerry are about to provide.