UK, Australia rebuke Kerry: Quit blaming lack of progress entirely on settlements

Surprise! The Obama administration must have figured that their slap at Israel at the UN was so popular at the UN among our other allies that a follow-up rant by John Kerry would act as an encore. Instead, our most strategic partner has rebuked Kerry for his remarks, scolding him for criticizing the composition of Israel’s government — and taking the time to publicly remind the US that the issue of settlements is far from the only obstacle to peace:

While Britain voted for the UN resolution that so angered Netanyahu and says that settlements in the occupied territories are illegal, a spokesman for May said that it was clear that the settlements were far from the only problem in the conflict.

In an unusually sharp public rebuke of Obama’s top diplomat, May’s spokesman said that Israel had coped for too long with the threat of terrorism and that focusing only on the settlements was not the best way to achieve peace between Jew and Arab.

London also took particular issue with Kerry’s description of Netanyahu’s coalition as “the most right-wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements.”

“We do not believe that it is appropriate to attack the composition of the democratically-elected government of an ally,” May’s spokesman said when asked about Kerry 70-minute speech in the State Department’s auditorium.

The UK cast a vote in support of UN Security Council resolution 2334 which declared Israeli settlements illegal, an effort coached by the US. A spokesman for Theresa May explained that the UK’s position has been consistent on the point of settlements, but that Kerry’s speech was unbalanced and unrealistic:

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said: “We do not believe that the way to negotiate peace is by focusing on only one issue, in this case the construction of settlements, when clearly the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is so deeply complex.

“And we do not believe that it is appropriate to attack the composition of the democratically-elected government of an ally. The government believes that negotiations will only succeed when they are conducted between the two parties, supported by the international community.” …

“We continue to believe that the construction of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is illegal, which is why we supported UN Security Council Resolution 2334 last week. But we are also clear that the settlements are far from the only problem in this conflict. In particular, the people of Israel deserve to live free from the threat of terrorism, with which they have had to cope for too long.”

The State Department responded by calling itself “surprised” over May’s remarks. They cited rhetorical support from nine other countries — six of which are Sunni states, and three of those refuse to recognize Israel at all (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE). It’s not an impressive argument, and it ignores criticism from another usually steadfast American ally. Australia’s foreign minister reminded the press that it doesn’t have a seat on the Security Council, but never would have backed such a one-sided attack on Israel even if they had a vote to cast:

In a statement to the ABC, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop reiterated that the Australian Government remained “firmly committed to a two-state solution, where Israel and a Palestinian state exist side-by-side in peace and security, within internationally recognised borders”.

“Australia urges both sides to refrain from steps that damage the prospect for peace and to resume direct negotiations for a two-state solution as soon as possible,” the statement added.

Ms Bishop also noted that Australia was not currently a member of the Security Council and was not eligible to vote on the resolution, but indicated the Federal Government did not support the contentious move.

“In voting at the UN, the Coalition Government has consistently not supported one-sided resolutions targeting Israel,” the statement read.

In its report, Reuters characterizes the statement from May as a way to signal the incoming Trump administration that she wants to work with it on foreign policy. That’s an oddly facile take, especially given the UK’s yes vote at the UN. If May was really concerned about signaling Trump, she would have had the UK veto the resolution. At least through last week, May seemed more interested in working with the outgoing administration rather than in coordinating with Trump’s opposition to the UN resolution.

This looks more like Kerry and Barack Obama overplaying their hand. The UK was willing to go along on the settlement issue as long as the criticism was narrowly focused on a long-standing beef between Israel and its allies. When Kerry escalated it by attacking Israel itself — including the voters who elected the supposedly “far right” Netanyahu government (a ridiculous charge for anyone familiar with Israeli politics and its “center” in relation to the US), the US lost the UK and instead pushed it toward Trump rather than away from him.

Smart power. What was that Obama recently said about respect for America being at its zenith?