John Kerry’s Eureka Moment

Mouin Rabbani

It has been a bizarre week for US policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On 23 December, the Obama administration narrowly avoided becoming the first since Harry Truman’s to leave office without a single United Nations Security Council resolution censuring Israel to its credit. Washington has spent the past eight years shielding what John Kerry on 28 December called ‘the most right-wing [government] in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements’ from international scrutiny.

As the United States neither supported nor vetoed Resolution 2334, the Security Council unanimously confirmed that all Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and constitute ‘a flagrant violation under international law’. It was a rare victory for an international community that has been consistently thwarted by Barack Obama’s indulgence of Binyamin Netanyahu’s appetite for Palestinian land.

The Security Council additionally called on member states ‘to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967’. With that single phrase, half a century of Israeli efforts to normalise the occupation by way of countless faits accomplis and legitimise its presence beyond the Green Line vanished.

It is unlikely that those who, unlike the US, voted for the resolution will ignore it, especially since Netanyahu responded by petulantly announcing that his government would continue to violate the ban on settlement expansion, and Donald Trump is preparing to douse the fire with gasoline.

Then, on 28 December, Kerry delivered a seventy-minute address on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For all its obligatory political correctness, replete with condemnations of Palestinians for refusing to be passively and silently occupied, it included the harshest words directed at Israel by a US secretary of state since James Baker in 1990 questioned its willingness to make peace with the Palestinians. To his credit, Kerry openly used the emotive phrase ‘separate but unequal’ – albeit to describe a dystopian future rather than the very real present – and, in an apparent first for a serving US official, referred to the nakba and explained that it is Palestinian for ‘catastrophe’.

But where Baker demonstrated seriousness of purpose by reducing the flow of American aid to Israel and effectively forcing Yitzhak Shamir into retirement, Kerry bragged about his administration’s unprecedented generosity to ‘the most right wing [government] in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements’. Attempting to sound more like an interested spectator than the chief diplomat of the state whose acts of commission and omission over the past half century have perpetuated the crisis, he resorted to the tired saw that Washington cannot want peace more than the occupiers it enables or the occupied who don’t have a choice in the matter.

Kerry concluded by enumerating six principles that Washington believes should guide the search for peace. They are broadly consistent with the long-standing US interpretation of a two-state settlement, even if they include an update here and an elaboration there. Which raises three questions.

Since there is effectively nothing new in Kerry’s principles, and Israel’s attitude towards them must have been known to him since his ‘first trip to Israel as a young senator in 1986’ about which he waxed so sentimentally, why did he do nothing to force ‘the most right wing [government] in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements’ to accept them during the past four years, and refrain from criticising the government that rejected them until the final days of his tenure?

Why were we instead forced to put up with the charade of negotiations he sponsored, whose only purpose was as diplomatic cover for the further expansion of illegal settlements which according to Kerry himself not only ‘have nothing to do with Israel’s security’ but are there for the express purpose of turning the occupied territories into ‘small parcels that could never constitute a real state’?

If, on the contrary, Kerry’s eureka moment arrived only this Christmas, and he felt the need to speak out in order to preserve the two-state framework from the assaults not only of Israel’s extremists but also of those in America waiting in the wings to detonate America’s Middle East diplomacy, why refrain from the obvious step of recognising Palestinian statehood?


  • 30 December 2016 at 9:33pm
    kadinsky says:
    The most embarrassing thing about it is that Kerry somehow believed he'd be taken seriously.

    • 30 December 2016 at 11:10pm
      F. N. Noyes says: @ kadinsky
      He didn't, just for the record.

    • 31 December 2016 at 8:21am
      kadinsky says: @ F. N. Noyes
      He did, just for the record.

    • 31 December 2016 at 10:49am
      Graucho says: @ kadinsky
      Oh yes he did - Oh no he didn't . Panto is off to a good start this season. Happy New Year all.

  • 1 January 2017 at 9:03pm
    Walter10065 says:
    What's really interesting is the apparently bottomless appetite among LRB readers for pro-Palestinian propaganda. You'd think thoughtful anti-Zionists would at least have some curiosity about this astonishing inability of the Palestinian State and its many allies to do anything at all to alleviate the misery of its long-suffering population. It's like the Occupied Terrirories are a vast prison camp. We know why Israel keeps things that way, but why do the other neighboring countries not do something? LOL it's such a joke.

    • 2 January 2017 at 3:17pm
      manchegauche says: @ Walter10065
      "You’d think thoughtful anti-Zionists would at least have some curiosity about this astonishing inability of the Palestinian State and its many allies to do anything at all to alleviate the misery of its long-suffering population."

      Perhaps, I don't really know, it might be something to do with the Israeli embargo and frequent murderous assaults on the Palestinian population.

      You'd think that thoughtful Tel-Aviv apologists would have some curiosity about their astonishing inability to get anything right about the whole war crime that is the illegal occupation of Palestine.

    • 2 January 2017 at 3:44pm
      Fred Skolnik says: @ manchegauche
      You are ranting. The murderous assaults come from the barbaric Arab terrorists and there is of course no embargo on anything other than war materials. Any supply ship can dock at Ashdod, have its cargo inspected and then transshipped to Gaza via the Israeli crossing points. Of course Hamas has never utilized more than 50% of their capacity for the simple reason that their leaders make more money shaking down the smugglers using the Egyptian tunnels - not money to give the Gazans a better life but kickbacks to support the extravagant lifestyles of these leaders. And by the way, about 40% of Gaza's annual budget goes to building its attack tunnels - easily over 2 billion dollars. And for what, to murder a few dozen Israeli civilians when they could be using this money again to give the Gazans a better life.

  • 2 January 2017 at 3:50pm
    Graucho says:
    What is absolutely mind boggling is the ability of the state of Israel to drag the rest of the world into problems of its own making. South Africa is the nearest parallel one can think of in recent history.

    • 2 January 2017 at 4:09pm
      Fred Skolnik says: @ Graucho
      Only people like yourself pretend that there is a parallel of this kind. It is the Arabs who created the problems, and if this hasn't sunk in yet, I'll be happy to recapitulate the history of the conflict.

    • 2 January 2017 at 6:35pm
      Graucho says: @ Fred Skolnik
      I keep forgetting that the Arabs created the state of Israel and evicted themselves from their own homes. Thanks for the correction.

    • 2 January 2017 at 6:56pm
      Fred Skolnik says: @ Graucho
      No, they didn't create the State of Israel They invaded the State of Israel.

      "We will smash the country with our guns and obliterate every place the Jews seek shelter in. The Arabs should conduct their wives and children to safe areas until the fighting has died down" (Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri)

      And if evictions and dispacements trouble you, start investigating what happened to Jews in Arab countries during the war period.

    • 2 January 2017 at 9:11pm
      Graucho says: @ Fred Skolnik
      Indeed. How the Arabs could fail to see that the Irgun and the Stern Gang had their best interests at heart is as much a mystery to me as it is to you.

    • 2 January 2017 at 9:37pm
      Fred Skolnik says: @ Graucho
      What the Arabs saw was a sovereign non-Muslim state that they were intent on conquering in the name of Allah, just as they had conquered Spain and Persia in the days of their imperial glory. That's what they told us themselves before the UN vote. Why don't you listen. Hanging on to the Irgun for dear life neither magnifies its role nor mitigates the Arab determination to destroy the Jewish state.

    • 3 January 2017 at 8:16am
      Graucho says: @ Fred Skolnik
      There was I thinking that the Israeli electorate were hanging onto the Irgun by putting their political wing, the Likud, into power. I stand corrected. Anyway, we appear to be talking at cross purposes. I quite agree that the destruction of Israel is what its opponents desire. Logically there are only three possible outcomes in the long run. The one state solution, the two state solution and the no state solution. With the Likud joined at the hip with the settler movement the second option isn't going to happen so it's going to be one or three. My bemused observation is why, for example, our Prime Minister felt it necessary to throw her sixpence worth into the debate.

    • 3 January 2017 at 7:53pm
      Walter10065 says: @ Graucho
      yeah, those goddam Jews, thanks to them now the whole world has to take off its shoes to get on an airplane, not to mention watch out when it goes to a discotheque, walks through a market or rides a bus. Damn.

      The great thing about John Berger's 2003 text on Ramallah, referenced nearby -- comments on his death notice are prematurely closed, for some reason (Fred it's your fault!) -- is not its political analysis, since it has none, despite his supposed Marxist frame of thinking. Rather, its his sympathy with those everyday Arab humans, including two barefoot young boys (wow), whose situation is both Edenic and dystopian, the latter thanks to the Jews. A reader of that text now would be excused for exclaiming Jesus Christ what's the matter with those guys that its been 14 years and they still can fix things for themselves! The anti-zionist Brits -- such meddlers, arent they, especially regarding Palestine? -- blame Netanyahu, Kerry, I don't know, John Stewart, but say nothing about those failed Palestinian leaders, whomever they are, whatever kind of state they would establish, and how they might actually act as the agents for their own people, who they force to live in their mutually assured hell. It's so stupid, isn't it? So, Brits, dragged into this thing, you should in fact be the ones who know how to fix it -- how did you get the IRA to stop bombing civilians in London, anyway?>

    • 3 January 2017 at 9:15pm
      Graucho says: @ Walter10065
      "how did you get the IRA to stop bombing civilians in London" well by having a serious negotiation and conceding meaningful political power as I recall.
      As a Londoner I lived through the terror campaigns of the 70's 80's and 90's when our Irish friends murdered over 2,000 people including several MPs, a senior diplomat, a person close to the royal family, nearly assasinated a British cabinet, mortar bombed number 10, caused horrific life changing injuries to thousands and ran up a bill for damages not worth thinking about.
      In spite of all these provocations I never recall HMG calling in air strikes on the bog side or shelling the catholic areas of Belfast. I do not remember stone throwers having their hands broken or the family homes of terrorist supects being bulldozed as a collective punishment. I certainly don't recall large numbers of new housing estates being built to house an influx of protestant imigrants in order to tighten the UK's hold on the province. Even though terrorists were using the republic as a refuge and receiving arms and support from there, I don't remember the UK invading the place, trashing Dublin and the British army holding the ring so that para militaries could invade catholic homes and murder the women and children. In fact the one serious mistep that took place was bloody Sunday and everyone, especially the army top brass admitted that it was the stupidest thing they ever did.
      But, hey, Israel is your country and you should do things your way. Said it often enough, you've made your bed and the rest of us would do well to leave you to lie on it.

    • 4 January 2017 at 9:49am
      stettiner says: @ Graucho
      So, after hundreds of years of occupation, massacres and famines, London finally had " a serious negotiation" with the Irish...

      Great! As in Great Britain...

    • 4 January 2017 at 6:55pm
      Graucho says: @ Graucho
      Exactly, and wise men would do well to learn from our mistakes.

  • 3 January 2017 at 8:29pm
    fbkun says:
    I see the pro-Zionist troll factory is working full steam...

    • 4 January 2017 at 12:32am
      Walter10065 says: @ fbkun
      Who me an Israeli? Oh no I call the Utopia of New York my home. I know nothing of the Middle East nor do I care save for what I read in these pages. It's mad repetitive, as you show here, suggesting that Hebrew forbearance is key. Well, I doubt Gerry Adams would accept the utterly passive role you give the IRA. But really just say it outright -- Oh those goddam Jews....

  • 3 January 2017 at 9:16pm
    Fred Skolnik says:
    Not nearly as hard as the haters.

  • 3 January 2017 at 9:44pm
    Fred Skolnik says:
    That's quite a mouthful but you are ranting again. The Israeli army does not invade Arab homes and murder women and children and it attacks rocket launching sites. The last time Britain was subjected to massive bombardments, it leveled Dresden, among other civilian targets, killing up to 100,000 people, so don't get overly pious. I have mentioned more than once that Israel hatred is a pathological condition, but hey, that's your problem.

    • 3 January 2017 at 11:20pm
      Adam_Morris says: @ Fred Skolnik
      I’m sorry, but all the facts are against you. Look at any independent report and you’ll see a massively disproportionate rate of casualties in the Occupied Territories compared to Israel. Israel uses illegal phosphorous bombs, Hamas home-made rockets. Israel is armed to the teeth with high-tech weaponry (and a nuclear arsenal). Settlers shoot kids for throwing stones. Before you rant about Dresden, perhaps you should watch ‘The Promise’ by Peter Kosminsky, a Channel 4 drama about Britain’s role in the founding of Israel.

    • 4 January 2017 at 5:26am
      Fred Skolnik says: @ Adam_Morris
      We all appreciate Britain's role, for better or for worse, including the abstention on the partition vote, but what does this have to do with Dresden and what does this have to do with your moralizing about how Israel should defend its population while you sit around watching television? Settlers don't shoot children throwing stones and as long as Hamas fires rockets from the middle of residential areas, and prevents the civilian population from evacuating them after Israel gives advance notice of an attack, there are going to be casualties, though not as many as you caused in Kosovo and Iraq. In fact, to get back to Mr. Graucho's Dublin analogy, if 4,500 rockets had been fired from there at Britain's civilian population, and the government there had declared that the Republic of Ireland intended ultimately to destroy Great Britain (and of course massacre its population), you can be sure that a state of war would have been declared by Great Britain and the RAF would have responded accordingly with all its high-tech weaponry, and if those rockets had been fired from residential areas, you can be sure that civilian casualties would have been ten times higher than in Gaza.

    • 4 January 2017 at 11:52am
      Graucho says: @ Fred Skolnik
      Actually it was the invasion of Lebanon that I had in mind, not Gaza.

  • 4 January 2017 at 1:31pm
    Fred Skolnik says:
    It's a common mistake among people like yourslf who get all their information about the Middle East from blogs and the telly. You see, they're shaped alike, but if look at a map you'll see that they're spelled differently.

  • 5 January 2017 at 7:02am
    lordarsenal says:
    As for me, I care not for the endless struggle between Zionism and it's detractors. They've all turned this misbegotten part of the world into hell on earth. Here's my complaint, for what it's worth. As an American taxpayer, I wonder how long my tax dollars are going to be used to subsidize this folly. Why should I put up with the likes of Israel's chief punk, Netanyahu, slobbering over the UN abstention, while his grubby hands are in my pocket? The hutzpah is truly astonishing. My suggestion is for Israel to find another tit to suck. I'm sick of paying out.

    • 5 January 2017 at 7:55am
      Fred Skolnik says: @ lordarsenal
      You'll be paying out a lot more if Muslim extremists take over the Middle East, because that's just the beginning, of which 9/11 was a foretaste. America gives aid to Israel because they are allies fighting a common enemy, just as America gave aid to the Allies in World War II.

      Your choice of language and obvious hostility makes me think that you do care, only for the wrong reasons.

    • 5 January 2017 at 9:01am
      sol_adelman says: @ Fred Skolnik
      Don't be silly. The US taxpayer hasn't subsidized Israel because it's preventing Muslim extremists from taking over the mideast. Israel has done nothing to confront al-Quaeda or Isis, while its actions are the very reason why organisations like Hamas and Hezbollah came into being.

    • 5 January 2017 at 9:32am
      Fred Skolnik says: @ sol_adelman
      Israel with its military might is a rallying point for all the moderate Arab states in the area (Egypt, Jordan, etc.) with whom they cooperate very closely in security matters. Certainly the United States sees these countries as a brake against the spread of radical Islam as well as against the spread of Russia's influence in the Middle East. Or maybe you're not familiar with American thinking, flawed or not. And of course there is also a natural affinity between the two countries and a natural response to the Arab threat to destroy Israel and massacre its population, which has been regularly pronounced for 70 years now.

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