Friday, 30 December 2016

Liberal opinion in Israel welcomes Kerry's speech

It is a pity that BBC reports only the views of the extremes in Israel. The Palestinian activists' welcoming of the parts of US Secretary of State Kerry's recent speech which aided their cause was reported, after prominence being given to ultra-conservative PM Netanyahu's sour and hypocritical* response to the US representative's permitting a UN motion critical of Israel's illegal settlements to pass.

But balance in news and current affairs is more than showing the ends of a seesaw. Time and space should also be given to the liberal and to the moderate conservative centre grounds. I was struck by the detailed examination of these matters given by Israel's Haaretz newspaper. Their consensus was that:
Kerry’s address was a superbly Zionist and pro-Israel speech. Anyone who truly supports the two-state solution and a Jewish and democratic Israel should welcome his remarks and support them.

The Haaretz analyst stressed Kerry's qualifications, of his:
personal connection to Israel since his first visit as a young senator 30 years ago. He told of climbing up Masada, swimming in the Dead Sea, going from one biblical city to another, seeing the Holocaust atrocities at Yad Vashem, and even told of how he piloted an air force plane over Israel to understand its security needs. There aren’t too many other American politicians who know Israel the way John Kerry does. There isn’t a single serving American politician who has delved as deeply into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has invested in studying and trying to resolve it as John Kerry. These things were clearly reflected in his speech. The secretary of state gave a cogent analysis of where things stand in the peace process these days. He noted the deep distrust between the parties, the despair, anger and frustration on the Palestinian side, and the isolation and indifference on the Israeli side.

He goes on:
When you read Kerry’s words, you see immediately that he accepted a significant number of Israel’s demands, first and foremost the demand that any future peace agreement include Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Kerry also stated that a solution to the refugee problem would have to be just and practical, one that would not undermine the State of Israel’s character. He said that any future border would be based on leaving the large settlement blocs in Israel’s hands; he clarified that the permanent arrangement must constitute an end to the conflict and preclude any further Palestinian demands, and stressed security arrangements as a central component of any agreement. At the same time, Kerry’s outline includes a series of compromises that Israel would be required to make, first and foremost allowing Jerusalem to serve as the capital of both states. Kerry clarified that the borders of the Palestinian state would have to be based on the 1967 lines with agreed land swaps of equivalent size, and that Israel must recognize the suffering of the Palestinian refugees.

The main problem with Kerry’s outline is that he presented it too late. He knows that he made a mistake when in March 2014 he did not officially put his framework document, with the same principles that he enumerated in his speech, on the table. His senior advisers admit that if he could go back 33 months in time, Kerry would have presented his peace outline to both sides and summoned them to negotiate on its basis.  Such a “take it or leave it” move at that time would have forced both sides to make strategic decisions. Such a move would also have established the Kerry outline as the basis for all future talks. Its presentation only three weeks before Donald Trump enters the White House, as important as it is, gives it only symbolic worth.

*since the legitimacy of the state of Israel derives largely from a resolution of the United Nations, Netanyahu's use of such words as "disrespectful"  was particularly objectionable.

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