Secretary Kerry’s speech was pointless at a time when it is simply too little too late.
Timing is perhaps the most crucial part of diplomacy and international relations. It is in this context that we must view the latest flurry of anti-Israel activity, as shown by United Nations Security Council resolution and the speech by US Secretary of State John Kerry. Although, the word speech may itself be misleading here as it was no more than a rant by a frustrated politician looking for scapegoats to explain his failures, rather than engaging in a thought provoking analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israeli settlements in the disputed territories have been a subject of discussion and controversy for the last 50 years, when these lands were taken over by Israel in the 1967 conflict, which was a just war in the manner of self-defense. Exactly 50 years later, when it is obvious that there cannot and will not be a wholesale evacuation of hundreds of thousands of Israelis from their homes, it is simply an exercise in futility for the Security Council to dwell on the issue—as if this is the key to solving the conflict.
Thousands of Israelis were removed from the Sinai in 1982, something that greatly facilitated the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. Eight thousand Jews were removed from Gaza in 2005, but that did not lead to peace with Hamas. In fact, the opposite happened. Three rounds of fighting occurred at a time when there wasn’t even a single “settler” in the Gaza Strip.
Two important conclusions can be drawn here. First, it is possible to remove 8,000 people but not around 600,000. Second, peace depends on both sides to the conflict agreeing to make it, wishing to make it and, more importantly, when they are determined to make it in order to settle their differences. All three ingredients are lacking here, and it is primarily due to the Palestinian refusal to accept these simple principles as the basis for any peace deal.
The one agreement that was achieved, the Oslo Accords of 1993, makes hardly any mention of Israeli settlements and clearly leaves this issue to the permanent status discussions. In fact, the very existence of settlements may have been the incentive for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to sign the Oslo Accords in the first place. Yes, there are more Jews today in the disputed territories than there were back in 1993, but it’s still the case that nearly half of them live in neighborhoods of Jerusalem, areas that will not be surrendered by Israel under any circumstances.
That said, Israel cannot wash its hands of the problem by arguing that Jews have a right to live everywhere in the disputed territories—much the same as Arab Israeli citizens have the right to live everywhere in Israel—as well as maintaining that it is not against international law to have Jews live in these territories.
Israel would be advised to realize international realities—though based on double-standards and hypocrisy—and stop expanding existing settlements and constructing new ones, if not for any other reason then for the sake of proving the fallacy of the claim that it is because of settlements that there is no peace. In 2009, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to a complete settlement freeze of 10 months in response to a demand from the Obama administration. Yet no serious negotiations followed. Instead, terrorism against Israeli civilians continued and even intensified.
Relevance of Kerry’s Speech
With that in mind, we can turn to the outburst by Secretary Kerry. There are those who argue that it is better late than never and so the Obama administration finally said what it should have a long time ago. If that is the case, then it is a very strong indication of the poor state of US diplomacy and international standing under President Barack Obama. He had eight years to say and do whatever it is that he had in mind about settlements. Yet he didn’t because it wasn’t really that important to him. When something was important to him—like the Iran nuclear deal—he acted and yet still achieved the wrong result. But at least he flexed his political muscles.
Here is the irrelevance of Kerry’s speech in sum: too late to achieve anything, an indication of weakness and, above all, on January 20 a new US president will throw this speech into the dustbin of history.
Peace between Palestinians and Israelis—and the wider Arab world—remains a goal to be endlessly pursued. But with the profound intricacies and complexities of such a conflict, it is grossly presumptuous and sadly unrealistic to expect one speech, even from the top US diplomat, to be anything more than just a historical footnote.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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