In perhaps the most disgraceful performance by a secretary of state in recent history, John Kerry devoted his last foreign policy address to assail America’s closest ally in the Middle East. For more than an hour of his scarce time, Kerry engaged in an undiplomatic attack on Israel, but he doesn’t have five minutes to denounce Iran, Russia and the Assad regime for genocide.
Kerry apparently is counting on the biased media (the New York Times immediately praised his speech) to back his rewriting of Middle East history. He simply ignores the fact that there has never been a Palestinian state in recorded history, that the Palestinians’ claims to the West Bank are no better (actually they’re weaker) than those of the Israelis and that the Palestinians have rejected opportunities for statehood in 1937, 1939, 1947, 1949-1967 (when Jordan occupied the West Bank and Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip and they never claimed the right to a state in either area), 1979, 1993, 2000, and 2008. Kerry also fails to acknowledge that settlements have never been the reason for Palestinian rejection and that settlement construction would have come to a halt if the Palestinians had taken advantage of any of these opportunities.
Obama has tried for his entire term to get the Palestinians to sit down with the Israelis and failed to do so. In fact, Kerry’s hypothesis that settlements are the problem was disproven in Obama’s first year when Israel agreed to a 10-month settlement freeze and the Palestinians still refused to negotiate. It has been a major embarrassment that the world’s greatest superpower has been defied by a Palestinian leader so powerless he is afraid to visit the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.
The reason the disreputable UN resolution became an issue in the first place is that Kerry and his predecessor allowed the Palestinians to believe they could circumvent negotiations by asking the international community to impose their terms on the Israelis. Instead of supporting Israel’s repeated calls for face-to-face talks, Kerry has now endorsed the Palestinian end run and invigorated their campaign to convince the world to bring Israel to heel.
The vote at the UN and Kerry’s comments also kept Palestinian hope alive of dividing Jerusalem and establishing their capital in the city. His suggestion that this was a continuation of existing policy was a lie. The Congress has made clear that it believes Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel. Furthermore, by labeling East Jerusalem “occupied,” Kerry disputes the right of Israelis, and the Jewish people, to their holy places. This reinforces Palestinian demands to control the Temple Mount, which is supported by the Western Wall – the two holiest places in Judaism. Kerry’s position made Trump’s promise to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem more urgent to disabuse the Palestinians of this idea.
Kerry claimed that Palestinians’ rights are being infringed by Israel. First, all Arab citizens of Israel enjoy equal rights with non-Arabs. Second, Israel has no obligation to treat Palestinians who are not citizens the same way (though in many cases, such as employment, they do). Third, the Palestinian Authority governs more than 90% of the Palestinians in the territories and it is their leaders who deny them freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, women’s rights or gay rights. Kerry had nothing to say about the denial of these rights by the Palestinian Authority or Hamas. Furthermore, while Kerry heaped scorn on Israeli democracy, he is silent while Mahmoud Abbas cancels elections and arrests, exiles or kills his opponents.
Kerry’s position is a continuation of the discredited views of officials in the State Department referred to as “Arabists.” These officials, who first tried to prevent the creation of Israel, then sought to undo its establishment, now maintain the fiction that Israeli policy is the root of all problems in the Middle East. Israelis did not have the good sense to allow the Arabs to drive them into the sea, but the Arabists, led by Kerry, argue they should now capitulate to Palestinian demands so they will once again become vulnerable and cease to be an irritant in Western relations with Arab states.
One Arabist mantra repeated by Kerry is that America has to save Israel from itself. He believes he knows what is best for Israel; the Israeli people are too stupid to know themselves, as evident by their ill-advised election of a prime minister he doesn’t like.
What impertinence and disrespect for democracy.
Kerry’s timing is particularly ironic given that the disastrous policies of his administration have alienated our Arab allies, who now find far more in common with Israel than the United States. Kerry acknowledged that Israel lives in a dangerous neighborhood but not the fact that he has made it far more perilous by, among other things, the failure to enforce Obama’s red line in Syria, and his catastrophic negotiations with Iran.
It is no surprise that Kerry is unable to work up the same disgust for the Iranians as they flout the nuclear agreement, expand their sponsorship of world terror, slaughter civilians in Syria and Yemen and threaten U.S. military personnel and American interests in the region. The Iranians are holding Kerry hostage by promising to renege on the nuclear deal – supposedly Obama’s one foreign policy achievement — if he does anything to upset them. Consequently, we do nothing to interfere with Iran’s hegemonic designs; worse, we facilitate them by providing billions of dollars for Tehran to use to advance its nefarious goals.
The shared concern about Iran has brought Israel and several Arab states closer together. Rather than take advantage of this opportunity and encourage more formal relations, Kerry seeks to do just the opposite. He regurgitated the Arabist lines about the Arab states all being so concerned about the Palestinians that they won’t improve relations with Israel unless the Palestinians get a state. Even Jimmy Carter proved this was a lie when he wrote in his memoirs that the Arab leaders he met didn’t care about Palestinian statehood. The Arab states care about their own survival, not the Palestinians, as evident by the lack of support they give them beyond trivial amounts of aid and rhetorical expressions of concern. The Arab states look down on Palestinians and treat them with disdain (e.g., they were expelled from Kuwait and are persecuted in Lebanon and Syria).
The world does not like settlements. Fine, but Israel has proven time and again it is prepared to make territorial sacrifices, including uprooting Jewish communities, in the interest of peace. Jews were evacuated from Sinai for peace with Egypt and from Gaza in the hope of peace with the Palestinians. In the first case, Egypt kept the peace. In the second, the Palestinians bombarded Israel with more than 10,000 rockets.
It is yet another sign of his naiveté that Kerry fails to see that Israelis are not prepared to make the same mistake in the West Bank. The Palestinians have to prove they are committed to peace. Instead, they continue to engage in terrorism and incitement, educate their youth to believe Israel has no right to exist and refuse to recognize Israel as the Jewish state or acknowledge that the Jewish people have a right to self-determination in their homeland.
Just this week, as Kerry was preparing to flog Israel, the ruling Fatah party celebrated on its Facebook page the “most outstanding” 20 terror attacks, which killed 78 adult civilians, 16 soldiers, and 22 children. Israelis see things as they are, not as Kerry wishes they could be, and that is why they elected Netanyahu.
Kerry’s myopia toward radical Islam – words he cannot even utter – also illustrates his misreading of the situation. The conflict was never just about two people fighting over one land. That is why the seemingly logical solution — the creation of two states — has failed. Kerry doesn’t understand the conflict has never simply been a matter of demography and geography; it has always had historical, psychological and, especially, religious dimensions. Today, the religious factor has become the dominant one as Palestinians have adopted the radical Islamic views championed by Hamas, which hold that Jews have no place on Islamic territory, except as a persecuted minority similar to their status during the Muslim Empire, and that it is inconceivable that Jews should rule over Muslims. These convictions, not Israeli settlements, are the true obstacle to a two-state solution.
The Obama administration’s failure to admit radical Islam is a threat, and to confront it, has endangered the entire world. Kerry can huff and puff at Israel, which is far easier than facing the real problem, but it will not bring peace any closer. In fact, the policies of the last eight years has made the chances for peace more remote than ever, which is reason to cheer that Kerry’s address was his last.
Dr. Mitchell Bard is the author/editor of 24 books including the 2017 edition of Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict; The Arab Lobby, and the novel After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.