- In a recording, former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has criticized Israel for impeding peace efforts
- He has also praised Palestinian commitment to nonviolence, warning of a change of tactics with future leadership
- Kerry’s comments have been called a “distortion of the facts” by Israelis
- Most of what he said stands up to scrutiny of the facts, however
In the comments published by Israel’s Channel 10, and reported in English-language Israeli media, Kerry also praised Palestinian commitment to nonviolence in the West Bank.
America’s former top diplomat apparently made the remarks at a closed conference in Dubai during the past year. It was reportedly attended among others by Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List, a coalition of Arab-majority parties in Israel’s parliament.
Kerry’s views have been slammed in Israel since their broadcast and characterized as a “distortion of the facts.”
The office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he "will continue to take a firm stance on the security and national interests of the State of Israel, even if those who tried to push him into making dangerous concessions, and failed, don't like it."
“The reason why there is no peace is first and foremost the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel at any borders. Even now they are suing the British government over the Balfour Declaration. It's unfortunate that John Kerry has not yet understood this,” the statement added.
Former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon also tweeted his rejection of Kerry’s comments.
“To blame the Israeli government for torpedoing the process, when Abbas never even entered negotiations and slammed the door in Kerry and Obama's face - that's a damaging distortion of the facts!”
But is that really the case?
In this recording, once out of office, and speaking to an apparently Palestinian-sympathizing audience, Kerry has blamed Israeli “leaders who don’t want to make peace” for the stalemate in negotiations.
Responding to the ex-Secretary of State’s words, Israelis on Twitter have emphasized that “Israel offered peace more than 6 times” and instead used the oft-repeated claim that Palestinian officials offer “no partner for peace.”
In Dubai, @johnkerry told a receptive audience that Palestinians want peace but Israelis do not. Fortunately, Kerry is relegated to the past.— rebutantiIsrael (@rebutantiIsrael) November 8, 2017
So, who is right?
As Secretary of State, Kerry had launched nine months of ambitious peace talks in July 2013, with the lofty aim of reaching a final-status agreement.
After the deadline in April the following year, however, talks collapsed after Israel pulled out over a Palestinian deal to form a unity government with Hamas, which later failed.
In a sign that nothing has changed, following the recent reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, Israel again said that it “will not hold political talks with a Palestinian government that is supported by Hamas.”
While the U.S. State Department said following the 2014 collapse of talks that “both sides did things that were incredibly unhelpful,” many analysts pointed in particular to continued Israeli settlement expansion.
English-language Israeli site Ynet News at the time quoted what they said was a “senior American official” involved in the process, who said:
"There are a lot of reasons for the peace effort's failure, but people in Israel shouldn't ignore the bitter truth - the primary sabotage came from the settlements.”
“The Palestinians don't believe that Israel really intends to let them found a state when, at the same time, it is building settlements on the territory meant for that state,” the unnamed figure continued.
In the newly released comments, Kerry also criticized Netanyahu’s government for “publicly declaring they are not ever for a Palestinian state.”
That is not an outlandish statement to make. In February this year, for instance a member of the cabinet, Gilad Erdan said: "I think all members of the security cabinet, and foremost the prime minister, oppose a Palestinian state."
In fact, Kerry had already made clear in a December 2016 speech days before the Trump administration took over that he felt the Israeli government was obstructing peace and Palestinian statehood through its settlement policies.
“Despite our best efforts, over the years, the two state solution is now in serious jeopardy."
“The truth is that trends on the ground, violence, terrorism, incitement (ph), settlement expansion and the seemingly endless occupation, they are combining to destroy hopes for peace on both sides and increasingly cementing an irreversible one state reality that most people do not actually want.”
He said that while Netanyahu publicly backed a two-state solution, his government “the most right-wing in Israel history” and its commitment to settlements was “leading to one state.”
Kerry asked then: “Does anyone seriously think that if they just stay where they are, you could still have a viable Palestinian state?”
Reflecting this sudden shift in policy in the twilight of Obama’s presidency, the same month the U.S. allowed a U.N. security council resolution condemning the settlements to pass, abstaining from voting.
Another claim by Kerry in the newly released recording that was labeled “fake news” by Israelis online was the Palestinian commitment to nonviolence.
“The Palestinians have done an extraordinary job of remaining committed to nonviolence. And in fact when the intifada took place they delivered non-violence in the West Bank,” he said.
“If you see 40,000 kids marching up to the wall everyday with signs saying ‘give us our rights,’ I mean, I don’t think Palestine is going to be immune forever to the civil rights movements that have swept other nations in the world,” Kerry added.
“I’ll be amazed if within the next 10 years if we don’t see some young [Palestinian] leader come along who says we have tried non-violence for the last 30 years and look, it hasn’t gotten us anything.”
With non-violence like that, who needs violence?— Judean Peoples Front (@JudeanPF) November 8, 2017
The Israeli media took Kerry’s comments here to refer to the period since 2015, and what has been termed the “knife intifada” due to the preponderance of stabbing attacks on security forces.
You do not have to look far to identify the imbalance of violence during that period between the Israeli state and Palestinian civilians, usually acting with no affiliation.
In 2016, Human Rights Watch reported, “Israeli security forces used lethal force against suspected attackers in more than 150 cases, including in circumstances that suggest excessive force and at times extrajudicial executions”
“Overall, between January 1 and October 31, 2016, Palestinians killed at least 11 Israelis, including 2 security officers.”
“Israeli security forces killed at least 94 Palestinians and injured at least 3,203 Palestinians.”
Peaceful protesters continued to be met with brutality by Israeli security forces, including live fire.
While Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas remains committed to nonviolence, he was criticized by some for not condemning the stabbing attacks in stronger terms.
He called them “justified popular uprising . . . driven by despair that a two-state solution is not coming.”
Israelis have tried to characterize Kerry’s remarks as a “distortion of the facts,” however what he said largely holds up to scrutiny of the details.
The question that remains to be asked is why he did not make such bold statements while secretary of state, and publicly.
It further begs the question of why the recording was released now, in a week when suggestions of a Saudi-Israeli alliance against Hezbollah and Iran have emerged.
In fact, Channel 10 itself released a cable on Monday apparently asking Israeli diplomats to lobby for Saudi Arabia against Hezbollah.
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