Avi Shamir

The score sheet on Kerry’s speech and how to rewrite it

The advocates of Israel’s settlement policy, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and all the rest, say that US Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech last week was “one-sided” and “biased against Israel.” Their brash assessment of Kerry’s message to Israel and the Palestinians couldn’t be further from the truth.

A review of the key words in the text read by John Kerry reveals that he is well aware of the main obstacles that stand in the way of the two-state solution: Israeli settlements and Palestinian terrorism, not necessarily in that order. One feeds off the other, one makes the other much worse, neither one justifies the other.

The score sheet on the text of the speech can be broken down as follows: John Kerry used the word “settlement” forty-two times, “settler” fifteen times, “occupation” thirteen times, “checkpoints” twice and “illegal” once. The last was in reference to “outposts,” which appears in the text five times. Notably, the misleading buzz word “apartheid” was not included in Kerry’s speech. In total, Kerry’s “anti-settlement” column totals seventy-nine entries of the dreaded key words.

To balance things out, Kerry used “terrorism” and “terrorist” seven times each, ” violence” fifteen times, “incitement” nine times, “condemn” seven times, “delegitimize” four times, “Hamas” four times, “extremist” three times and “hatred” once. All the above references to terrorism, terror, extremists, hatred and of course Hamas were used in a Palestinian context. “Incitement” was used only with regard to Palestinian provocation against Israel and “delegitimize” as Palestinian rejection and non-recognition of Israel. “Condemn” was used expressly in reference to the Palestinian Authority’s failure to denounce the incitement, violence and terror against Israel. To split hairs, “violence” was used fourteen times in a purely Palestinian context and once with respect to the hostility between the Palestinians and settlers. So, to be fair, let’s split that last mention of “violence” between the two columns. The final tally: seventy-nine anti-settlement and fifty anti-terrorist renderings.

Note that the catchphrase “Israel’s security” also appears nine times. In keeping with the spirit of Kerry’s speech, both terrorists and settlers are regarded by the Secretary of State as security headaches, so I omitted this stat from the score sheet. Even if I were to include it in the anti-terror column, a final tally of 79-59 would still be “slanted” against the settlements. Note that the settlers and their supporters, who haven’t stopped whining about the speech, didn’t bother mentioning its anti-terror key words, which would of course take the bite out of their allegations that Kerry sold out Israel.

The breakdown of Kerry’s speech is no substitute for reading it. All claims of anti-Israel bias do not match the tone of the speech, which is pro-Israel, pro-Palestine and, for the purpose of an ultimate political agreement between them, both anti-terrorist and anti-settlement. But seriously, even if the terrorists and settlers came out fifty-fifty on the score sheet, there is no way that Jewish residents of Kiryat Arba, for example, would share the blame for Israel’s lack of security with the likes of Hamas.

If John Kerry has one last surprise speech up his sleeve – and indeed, some pro-settlement Israelis fear what he still might say and do, I suggest he keep things more focused on the terrorists. He can get the same points across and aim for the same goals with a radical change in focus, content and tone, by laying the blame for the conflict squarely on the shoulders of the terrorists, using no less that 100 terror-related key words and mentioning settlements only once at the end.

If I were Kerry’s speech writer, here is how I would go about achieving this 100-1 ratio: Start off by mentioning the 3,759 Israeli victims of Palestinian terrorism from 1920 through 2016. Review Palestinian aggression from the Hebron massacre in 1929 to the random stabbing of innocent Israelis in the recent intifada. Mention horrific terrorist attacks such as the murder of women and children in Maalot, repulsive terrorists like Samir Kuntar who bashed in the head of a four year old girl with the butt of his rifle, and ill-fated victims like the wheelchair-bound Leon Klinghoffer who was pushed overboard in the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro. Stress that the conflict is rooted in the Palestinians’ refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist and perpetuated by their evil terror forces. Use phraseology like “horrible atrocities” and “crimes against the Jewish people,” show terrorism for all its inhumane cruelty, leave no doubt that Palestinian terror-mongers are criminals and the Israelis, settlers and just plain citizens, are blameless victims of their foul deeds.

Then conclude with a statement like: To our great regret, the settlement movement in Biblical Judea and Samaria is no answer to terrorism, provides absolutely no security for Israelis, exacerbates an already volatile situation, offers no hope for reconciliation with the Palestinians and is inadvertently leading to a disastrous one-state hybrid creation that will be eternally at war with itself and no solution at all.

The problem with this imaginary farewell speech is that as soon as the settlers and their supporters hear John Kerry’s name they go straight into attack mode. Whatever he or President Obama or anyone else associated with the outgoing US administration or hated UN has left to say about settlements means bupkus to them and is automatically discredited. The countdown to Trump resonates with their very heartbeat. In their skewed worldview our bloody real estate dispute with the Palestinians can go on forever as long as they will not have to dismantle a single outpost on a remote stony hilltop. Many Greater Israel devotees are saying openly that the two-state solution is dead. The expansion of the settlements is all that matters to them. No one can stop them now. And the mainstream Israelis they’ve been leading by the nose for fifty years can’t even imagine what comes next.

About the Author
Avi Shamir is a freelance writer, editor, translator and the author of "Saving the Game," a novel about baseball. A Brooklyn College graduate with a BA in English, Avi has contributed to the Jerusalem Post, The Nation, Israel Scene, In English and The World Zionist Press Service.