In 2009, when Prime Minster Netanyahu and President Obama first met at the White House, instead of discussing the pressing nuclear capabilities of Iran, Obama spent most of the two-hour session rebuking Netanyahu on settlements. Later that year, Obama skipped Israel on his first trip abroad to the Middle East, and then publicly called for Israel to freeze all settlement expansion as a pre-condition to negotiations with the Palestinians. In a leap of faith, Prime Minster Netanyahu gave Obama the benefit of the doubt and froze settlement expansion for 10 months in order to kick start negotiations.
Unfortunately, and predictably, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas still refused to come to the negotiating table, because a peace deal is not predicated on the settlements, despite what Obama and John Kerry have inexplicably maintained these past two weeks. Within the first year of Obama’s presidency of hope and change, he had already destroyed the peace process for the rest of his term by losing Israel’s trust, a trust that will be necessary to conclude any sort of peace deal. Obama killed any chance for peace during his term and he is unwittingly doing the same for the foreseeable future.
I’m personally not a supporter of the settlements or the settler movement, and like the majority of people, I want to see a two state solution happen as soon as possible with a viable Palestinian state living next door, peacefully, to a secure Israel. The question is, how do we get there? Is this UN resolution and this speech going to help achieve that? Of course not, and anybody that thinks that it will, has a complete lack of understanding of the politics involved here. There is nothing in these actions that pushes the Palestinians, and they are ones that refuse to negotiate and who keep turning down a state of their own. The settlements are an issue, I unequivocally concede, but they are not THE issue.
In Kerry’s speech, he made no mention of the fact that the Palestinians have been offered a full-fledged state on at least three separate occasions. What did the settlements have to do with anything when the Palestinian’s didn’t accept a state in 1948, 2000 and 2008? Settlements were not the issue then and they are not the impediment to a deal now. In fact, Israel even in practice uprooted settlements in Gaza when they turned that territory over to the Palestinians.
Where is the pressure on the Palestinian leaders? They are unwilling to give up the right of return and are unwilling to accept the right of Israel to exist as a land of the Jewish people; that is the stumbling block. That is why Arafat in 2000 and Abbas in 2008 both turned down deals. They don’t want a two state solution; they want a one state solution as they did in 1948, when they turned down a state of their own offered to them by the United Nations.
Here is a brief excerpt, in part, from President Bill Clinton’s autobiography in reference to the 2000 deal, now you decide if the settlements or the Palestinian leadership was the issue:
“On the twenty-seventh, (Israeli Prime Minister Ehud) Barak’s cabinet endorsed the parameters …It was historic: an Israeli government had said that to get peace, there would be a Palestinian state in roughly 97% of the West Bank, counting the swap (of certain lands), and all of Gaza where Israel also had settlements. The ball was in Arafat’s court.”
“I was calling other Arab leaders daily to urge them to pressure Arafat to say yes. They were all impressed with Israel’s acceptance and told me they believed Arafat should take the deal. I still didn’t believe Arafat would make such a colossal mistake.”
“Arafat was also trying to wiggle out of giving up the right of return. He knew he had to but was afraid of the criticism he would get. I reminded him that Israel had promised to take some of the refugees from Lebanon whose families had lived in what was now northern Israel for hundreds of years, but that no Israeli leader would ever let in so many Palestinians that the Jewish character of the state could be threatened in a few decades by the higher Palestinian birthrate. There were not going to be two majority-Arab states in the Holy Land; Arafat had acknowledged that by signing the 1993 peace agreement with its implicit two-state solution. Besides, the agreement had to be approved by Israeli citizens in a referendum. The right of return was a deal breaker. I wouldn’t think of asking the Israelis to vote for it.”
“Arafat’s rejection of my proposal after Barak accepted it was an error of historic proportions. Someday peace will come, and when it does, the final agreement will look a lot like the proposals that came out of Camp David and the six long months that followed.”
Kerry’s speech and this UN resolution do not achieve peace. Rather it focuses on one issue of the peace process and clearly not the one that is the main impediment. Kerry insists that time is running out on Israel, but do you know who time is really running out on? The Palestinians. The expansion of the settlements should scare them to no end and is a reason they should be anxious and eager to get a deal done immediately. Like 16 years ago immediately.
So instead of pressing just Israel with a speech and at the UN, and making the settlements the issue, Kerry should have spent just as much time, if not more, rebuking the Palestinians. Kerry should have added something like this to his speech:
“Abbas, you better return to the negotiating table immediately without pre-conditions, because facts are being created on the ground and you are only hurting your people. You have been offered a state on at least three occasions, in 1948, 2000 and 2008 and you turned it down every time because you refused to give up the right of return, because you refused in practice to allow the Jewish state of Israel to exist. You are blocking peace by demanding this. You have stalled the peace process because of this. You have done your people and the region a disservice by doing this.
There should already be a viable Palestinian state, but you refuse to give and only want to get. All the settlements that have been built since 2000 rest on your head, you are complicit in their construction by your inaction and your refusal to accept the State of Israel in fact, and not just in words. Just like Israel has a right wing government in power, the Palestinians have an ineffective one. This must change if you truly want peace. Right now you have done nothing to prove to the world that you truly want a two state solution, that your intention really isn’t to try and force Israel into being an “apartheid” state so you can control all the land from the Jordan to the Mediterranean. You need to prove with actions that you want peace with Israel and that you want a two state solution, because for the past eight years you hold just as much, if not more, blame for the lack of movement towards a peace deal.”
UK Prime Minster Theresa May understands this. That is why despite voting in favor of the UN resolution, since she does view the settlements as illegal, she also rebuked John Kerry for giving his speech, with her government stating that: “We do not believe that the way to negotiate peace is by focusing on only one issue, in this cases 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.”
So why did Obama push for this vote in the UN now? Why didn’t he have Kerry make this speech years ago instead of three weeks before leaving office? Because of ego. Because Obama is more concerned about his legacy than focusing on any real issues that could help American’s in his final weeks in office. Obama wants the record to state that he opposed the settlements and supported the Palestinians in addition to providing (contingent) military aid to the Israeli’s. Like he has done for much of his presidency, he refuses to go all in and instead shuffles the line, leading to failed results.
He did this with Obamacare by not putting a cap on the amount premiums on existing policies could be raised. He did this with Libya where he helped take out Gaddafi but refused to help the country stand on its own as Hillary Clinton urged. He did this in Syria where he drew a red line, just to backtrack when it came time to take action. He did this in Egypt where he refused to back a long time ally and instead supported the Muslim Brotherhood. He did this with Russia when they invaded Ukraine, a country America swore to protect after giving up their nuclear arms. The list goes on and on. In fact, Kerry’s 6 principles are merely a rehash of the principals already worked out by President Bill Clinton 16 years ago. Obama just wants his position documented for history and for future negotiations to be along the “Obama Principals” instead of the Clinton ones. Once again, these actions were about his legacy, and history will be the judge of what that legacy really is.