The World This Week: John Kerry Tells Hard Truths to Israel

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US Secretary of State John Kerry © Andy Katz

In a historic speech, John Kerry all but admits that the most right-wing government in Israeli history has buried his cherished two-state solution.

Even as the world rung in the New Year, attacks in Baghdad and Istanbul left many dead. An elected representative in the United States who likes to fly the Confederate flag of the pro-slavery American South has been accused of beating his wife. A Bangladeshi member of parliament was shot dead at his home. A cursory reading of headlines might cause alarm and fear, but there are good reasons to cheer.

First, the French have won the “right to disconnect” from emails when they are not at work. For a growing number, emails have become the bane of their lives and have blurred the distinction between work and leisure to such a degree that the latter does not exist. The French with their joie de vivre might be setting a precedent for others, though it is unlikely that bankers in Hong Kong or lawyers in New York will be able to turn off their emails anytime soon.

Second, China is banning all domestic trade in ivory. Xinhua reports that the ban will affect “34 processing enterprises and 143 designated trading venues” and dozens will be closed by the end of March. China’s decision is historic. Since the days of the Song dynasty, intricately carved ivory has been a status symbol in the Middle Kingdom. As China has got richer since the 1980s, demand for this status symbol has exploded.

As per the Science for Nature and People Partnership (SNAPP), 35,000 elephants are killed every year to slake China’s insatiable thirst for ivory. Such demand drives ivory prices as high as $1,100 per kilogram. This makes all efforts to control supply by protecting elephants a Sisyphean task for poor African states and these majestic animals are tragically dying out like far too many other species. It is little surprise that many are hailing China’s decision as a “game changer” for Africa’s endangered elephant because it will dramatically reduce the global demand for ivory.

Third, there is a new ceasefire deal in Syria. This time, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are guaranteeing the ceasefire. Many a false dawn has come and gone. So, it remains to be seen if the ceasefire will stick. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has backed the deal and peace talks are planned in Kazakhstan with Russia, Turkey and, most crucially, Iran.

This is promising but this author would like to point out that we have been here before. In the February 28, 2016 edition of The World This Week, this author damned the agreement on the cessation of hostilities in Syria. That agreement was based on flawed assumptions and wishful thinking. Neither Turkey nor Iran was really involved. Therefore, it did not take a genius to predict that the agreement would not work. In the aftermath of a terrible tragedy at Aleppo, one hopes some lessons have been learnt and that there is a mitigation of violence even if peace proves elusive.

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John Kerry on Israel

Yet what takes center stage this week is a magisterial speech by US Secretary of State John Kerry. In the middle of holiday week, Kerry shared his candid thoughts for well over an hour on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s coalition government and its policies on Palestine. Kerry argued that while Bibi publicly supports a two-state solution, his coalition is “the most right wing in Israeli history” and damned it for putting the two-state solution in “serious jeopardy.”

Kerry’s speech follows the UNSC resolution on December 23, 2016, that condemned all Israeli measures “aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, including, inter alia, the construction and expansion of settlements, transfer of Israeli settlers, confiscation of land, demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians, in violation of international humanitarian law and relevant resolutions.”

For the first time in President Barack Obama’s term, the US allowed a resolution against Israel to pass. Until now, as Kerry pointed out, the Obama administration had been the only one “since 1967 that had not allowed any resolution to pass that Israel opposed.”

The resolution pleased few. Gary Grappo, a distinguished US diplomat who once served as head of mission of the Office of the Quartet Representative in Jerusalem for Tony Blair, concluded in an article at Fair Observer that the resolution changed nothing. He found the entire exercise absurd if not risible in the light of US and UNSC inaction “to stem the mayhem, death and destruction of Aleppo.” Grappo went on to damn Obama for learning “little from his eight years wrestling with the hydra-headed monster of the Middle East.” In his judgment, the tragic conflict will not end through intervention by outsiders, but after protracted negotiations and painful compromises by Israelis and Palestinians.

Zaid Jilani of The Intercept found the resolution toothless and meaningless. It imposed no sanctions on Israel for violating international law, which prohibits the barrier in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israeli settlements in the West Bank. He pointed out what Kerry himself went on to say in his speech. Of all US presidents, Obama has been the most supportive of Israel. Under George W. Bush, the UNSC passed six resolutions that Israel opposed. Under George H.W. Bush, the UNSC did so nine times.

Even under Ronald Reagan, a great Republican god today, the UNSC passed resolutions against Israel. As Kerry pointed out, the resolution passed on December 22, 1987, strongly deplored Israel’s handling of the disturbances in the Occupied Territories, including Jerusalem. He went on to say that more than 50% of the “entire global Foreign Military Financing goes to Israel.” Both Jilani and Kerry highlighted the most recent $38 billion US military aid package for Israel, despite persistent bad behavior by Bibi who delights in rubbing Obama’s nose in the dirt.

donate to nonprofit media organizationsJilani’s fundamental point is that US has become more blindly supportive of Israel over the last three decades. Both Republican President-Elect Donald Trump and Democrat Senator Chuck Schumer opposed the Obama administration’s decision not to veto the latest UNSC resolution. Jilani takes a different view to Grappo and argues that peace is only possible when the US uses its “economic, military and diplomatic ties” to pressure Israel to respect international law.

This author finds Jilani more persuasive than Grappo. Israel was created when the United Nations passed a resolution in 1948 while Europe was wallowing in guilt after the horror of the Holocaust. Those who lived in Palestine were never asked if they agreed with the idea of Israel. In fact, at that time, the US had reservations about the creation of Israel. Instead, it recommended “the creation of a United Nations trusteeship with limits on Jewish immigration and a division of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab provinces but not states.” Israel is by far the most important US ally and, among others, Ross Douthat portrays it as the modern counterpart of a Crusader kingdom for Uncle Sam.

It is certainly indubitably true that the US has moved ever closer to Israel over the years. In 2012, trade between the two countries reached $45 billion. The same year, foreign direct investment (FDI) from the US was $19.7 billion, 26.5% of the total FDI in Israel. Another $9 billion came from the Cayman Islands, of which a significant amount probably originated in the US. Investors from the US are also putting their money into startups, high tech and offshore gas, and foreign investment in Israel has nearly tripled to a record high. Israel is, economically and culturally, incredibly interconnected to the US. It seems that Jilani might have a point.

Grappo rightly lambasts the Palestinian leadership as Procrustean. It is certainly corrupt, nepotistic and failing to serve ordinary Palestinians. Leonie Ben-Simon who believes god gave Jews the Holy Land also has a point when she declares that Palestine may not be a state but is already a failure. She is correct to say that Palestine has no economy of its own and lives off charity, some of which comes from much reviled Israel. As per this narrative, Palestinians are their own worst enemies who refuse to make peace time and again, achieving, in the words of Abba Eban, to “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

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The Bloody Saga

Like many seemingly convincing narratives, this is a touch too simplistic to be entirely true. In 2014, this author delved into the past to examine the bloody saga of Israel and Palestine. It turns out that there were only “a handful of Jews” in the Holy Land before 1859. In 1920, this number had risen to 76,000, nearly 11% of a total population of 700,000, thanks to Jews fleeing Russian persecution. As Secretary Kerry acknowledges, the formation of Israel led to Nakba, Arabic for catastrophe. An estimated 700,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled their homes in 1948 to become refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

The formation of Israel and the Arab defeat of 1967 have caused Palestinians much suffering. In his speech, Kerry spoke of meeting people “struggling for basic freedom and dignity amidst the occupation.” He described passing “by military checkpoints that can make even the most routine daily trips to work or school an ordeal.” He described speaking to “business leaders who could not get the permits” to set up shop and to “families who have struggled to secure permission just to travel for needed medical care.”

More importantly, Kerry has put into focus Israel’s relentless seizure of Palestinian land that is going on in the West Bank. Bibi’s loony reactionary coalition has gotten away with much oppression because the carnage in Iraq and Syria has put Palestine into the shadows. Yet all is not well in the only democracy in an admittedly tough neighborhood.

Ayelet Shaked, the glamorous justice minister, has proposed Orwellian censorship, kicked out Africans from Israel, opposed the two-state solution and insinuated genocide of the Palestinians. Avigdor Lieberman, the Soviet-born and Putin-admiring defense minister, has argued for assassinating leaders of Hamas, dodged numerous allegations of venal corruption and evoked disgust among Israel’s most senior generals. Bibi himself told Foreign Minister Murray McCully of New Zealand that he would view Kiwi promotion of the UNSC resolution as a “declaration of war.”

Kerry’s courageous speech states what many like Yuval Diskin, the former chief of Israel’s internal security service Shin Bet, have been saying publicly. In an interview with Der Spiegel in 2014, Diskin expressed concern that religious Zionists were ascending to top positions in politics and military. He also remarked that Jewish terrorism was going unpunished. Killing Palestinians and hiding their bodies under rocks or pouring oil into their lungs and setting them on fire are now facts on the ground. Yet it is very hard for Israeli prosecutors to bring Jewish terrorists to justice.

In Diskin’s words, military rule is applied to Palestinians in the West Bank while civilian rule applies to settlers. This means the burden of proof to convict a Jewish settler is much higher than for a Palestinian stone thrower. Besides, Israeli courts are “very strict with Shin Bet when the defendants are Jewish.”

In East Jerusalem and the West Bank, Israel’s policies are nothing short of apartheid. Yet the narrative peddled by Shaked, Lieberman and a delusional Bibi is that Palestinians are hell bent on ethnic cleansing. The truth is that Israeli settlers are gobbling the little land left with Palestinians. In Kerry’s words, “The number of settlers in the roughly 130 Israeli settlements east of the 1967 lines has steadily grown. The settler population in the West Bank alone, not including East Jerusalem, has increased by nearly 270,000 since Oslo, including 100,000 just since 2009.”

Nearly 90,000 of these settlers, as Kerry points out, are east of the West Bank barrier, and a major new settlement is popping up closer to Jordan than to Israel. Strategically, this does not make sense. It stretches Israeli security forces that are already overextended. Senior figures in the Israeli military and intelligence publicly and privately bemoan this trend as Yael Aranoff’s recent book reveals.

Some argue that this is the logical culmination of Zionism. Miko Peled, the author of The General’s Son, points out how the mythic Jewish right of return trumped the rights of those actually living in the Holy Land. In Peled’s words, the more organized white immigrants from Europe have carried out a “systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing” since 1947. Settlements are just old wine in a new bottle. The two-state solution was always a mirage. Israel was never serious about it and Palestinians never found it acceptable. It was a sop to keep Palestinians from turning totally desperate and exploding in another intifada (uprising) or turning to the Islamic State (IS). Now, this solution is dead. Kerry’s speech is only an ode that to its burial six feet under.

The Israeli Lobby in America

Even before finishing his speech, Kerry was under fire. Jennifer Rubin savaged him for alienating the closest of friends in The Washington Post. Fox News went apoplectic at Kerry’s betrayal of Israel. Even Theresa May, the British prime minister, had harsh words to say. Presumably, she is hoping to win the good graces of Donald Trump who makes a song and dance of supporting Israel come hell or high water. He has told the Jewish state to “stay strong” until he is inaugurated on January 20.

So, what is the point of Kerry’s speech when Trump is about to jump into the saddle? Is it Obama’s petty revenge for Bibi’s incessant insults as Eli Lake suggests on Bloomberg? Or is it foolish moral grandstanding by an “obsessive and messianic” Kerry?

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Secretary Kerry’s speech is important because it sets a precedent. Blind support by the US has certainly encouraged Israel to turn increasingly intransigent. Events have reached a point where, in Kerry’s words, “Israel can either be Jewish or democratic—it cannot be both—and it won’t ever really be at peace.”

Kerry’s words are the most honest admission of facts on the ground by any politician in the US. As Bibi realizes, they will subtly change the narrative in the US about Israel.

The Jewish minority in the US is miniscule in numbers but gargantuan in influence. Two of the three civil rights workers killed by the Ku Klux Klan in Neshoba County in 1964 and immortalized in Mississippi Burning were Jewish. So is the current darling of the left, Bernie Sanders. A disproportionate number of this minority are professors at Harvard Law School and columnists at The New York Times. The same is true when it comes to Hollywood and Wall Street.

The wealthier members of this minority have created The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which calls itself “America’s pro-Israel lobby.” For far too long, congressmen and senators have feared AIPAC because of its financial clout and domination of discourse. Even when they sympathize with Palestinians, they act as cheerleaders for Israel to avoid AIPAC’s wrath.

AIPAC is not alone in cementing ties between the US and Israel. Organizations like Birthright Israel “strengthen Jewish identity, Jewish communities and solidarity with Israel by providing a 10-day trip to Israel for young Jewish people.” Pro-Israel donors like Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire casino owner who backed Trump, can quite literally buy political support for the Jewish state.

Obama and Kerry are not going to be running for office again. Their party was trounced in the elections. They have nothing to lose but their souls. With Trump in the saddle, the two-state solution is history. Obama and Kerry are now setting out their stall for the annals of time.

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UN Resolution on Israel Changes Nothing

West Bank news, Israel news, Israeli news, Palestine news, Palestinian news, Benjamin Netanyahu news, Mahmoud Abbas news, Israeli-Palestinian conflict news, United Nations news, UN news

Bethlehem © GA161076

The UN Security Council resolution is just one more fruitless international effort to address a conflict that refuses to end.

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) vote on December 23 is a fitting end to the Obama administration and, of a different sort, to the term of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The vote—on a resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem—will achieve nothing.

The resolution is rendered all the more absurd, if not risible, by the inaction of the US administration and the UNSC to stem the mayhem, death and destruction of Aleppo, one of the world’s most historic cities. Subject to unrelenting and indiscriminate bombing by Russia and the paltry-numbered forces of its Syrian puppet, President Bashar al-Assad, for more than 18 months, the city finally fell to Syrian forces and their Iranian overlords and Shia mercenaries only days before the UNSC vote on West Bank settlements. The UNSC, neutralized by… Read more


Birthplace of the United Arab Emirates

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Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates © Extreme-Photographer

The year is 1959, and one in every two babies is dying in childbirth in the present-day UAE.

When you think of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) today, you may imagine the world’s tallest skyscrapers, metropolitan cities bustling with 203 nationalities and fast-moving business. This present-day reality is made even more extraordinary in context.

In 1959 in Al Ain, a district of Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE—at the time, the United Arab Emirates had not united yet, and it was still called the Trucial States—the population was in crisis. One in every two children and one in every three mothers were dying in childbirth. Formal health care was virtually nonexistent and traditional practices were common. One such practice was wasim, or the practice of heating metal and applying it to parts of the ailing body to seal or disinfect wounds. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan and his brother Sheikh Shakhbut had visited Christian mission… Read more


Now is the Time for Obama to Recognize Palestine

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Jerusalem © SilverJohn

Just as he established diplomatic ties with Cuba, Obama should do the same with Palestine.

I’d like to return today to an argument I made two years ago in The Nation, which is that President Barack Obama should recognize Palestine before he leaves office. For different but related reasons, Jimmy Carter made a similar plea in November 2016.

One of the arguments often heard is that Israel cannot survive as a Jewish state if it annexes all of the West Bank, since it will ultimately acquire 4 million Palestinians (West Bank and Gaza residents) as citizens in that case. I don’t really care whether Israel has a Jewish majority, just as I don’t care if Egypt has a Sunni Muslim one or if Germany has a German one. In the tradition of the French Revolution, I think states should be civil states, for the people of the republic, whoever they may be. In 1789, the United States was… Read more


Turkey Faces Uphill Battle to Defeat Terrorism

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Istanbul, Turkey © Filadendron

Internal conflicts and external interests have created the conditions for violence in Turkey.

In the last 18 months or so, there have been around 30 terrorist attacks in Turkey, killing over 1,000 people. From a country that was seen as having determined the perfect balance between Islam, capitalism and democracy, in July 2016 a failed coup rocked the nation, leaving in its wake up to 350 dead with countless injured and considerable damage to physical infrastructure.

In the space of a few short years, the bridge of civilizations has become the focal point for the intersection of different ethnic, political and ideological conflicts, regularly erupting into instances of violence and terrorism. What has led to this malaise, and what are the implications for the nation as it continues to straddle one of the most important strategic geopolitical fault lines in in the world? Democracy is always an evolving concept in any environment, but especially so in the context… Read more


Two Prospective Legacies of Brexit

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Brexit © Delpixart

The UK has to build its own engine from scratch, and decide in which direction it wants the new car to go.

A recent article by Andrew Duff, a former member of the European Parliament (MEP), draws on the House of Lords reports on the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union (EU) to illustrate how complicated the Brexit negotiations must inevitably become. After 40 years of interdependence and common rule-making, the UK is now setting out to reconstruct the entire apparatus of a separate nation state, with separate rules and separate rule-making and adjudication systems. This is how British Prime Minister Theresa May has chosen to interpret the referendum result, by ruling out any jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

A nation state apparatus that would have sufficed in the 1960s will not suffice for the 2020s, however, because the world is much more interdependent, more interconnected and faster moving—now than ever. The exercise… Read more

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Andy Katz

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