John Kerry’s Farewell Stab at Israel

A fitting conclusion to a disastrous tenure as secretary of state.

On December 28th, outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a rambling truth-challenged defense of the Obama administration’s scandalous decision allowing the United Nations Security Council to pass its most egregious anti-Israel resolution yet. Security Council Resolution 2334, which was adopted last Friday, denounced Israel’s settlements activities as illegal and destructive to the prospects of a two-state solution. Kerry concluded his 73 minute speech by outlining six principles to guide direct negotiations of a final status agreement on all outstanding issues, giving some indication that the Obama administration does not intend to use the Security Council to impose complete parameters for a final agreement or to unilaterally recognize a state of Palestine before a final agreement between the parties is reached. However, given President Obama’s animus toward Israel, and particularly Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama may still have something up his sleeve to further hurt Israel.

Prime Minister Netanyahu said in reaction to Kerry’s speech that it was “as unbalanced as the anti-Israel resolution passed [at the United Nations] last week.” Indeed, the Obama administration destroyed all prospects for good faith negotiations directly between the Israelis and Palestinians by facilitating the Palestinians’ lawfare strategy executed through the United Nations. The anti-Israel Security Council resolution Kerry called “balanced” prejudges all the major issues against Israel under the patina of international law. 

Kerry began his speech by declaring, in response to Israeli criticisms of the Obama administration’s abstention on Security Council Resolution 2334, “Friends need to tell each other the hard truths.”  Kerry would not know the truth if it hit him in the face. Kerry omitted and misrepresented key facts about the resolution itself and the root cause of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He recited Palestinian talking points in lecturing Israel for expanding settlements where he said they do not belong, including in so-called “East Jerusalem.” He went so far as to accuse Israeli leaders, whom he called “the most right-wing in Israeli history,” of deliberately setting about to systematically take over the West Bank, with policies leading toward one state under Israeli rule.

Kerry claimed that the final text of Security Council Resolution 2334 was “balanced” and that it was consistent with long-standing U.S. policy. Nothing could be further from the truth. The resolution was virtually all about condemning Israeli settlements and declaring them to be illegal under international law. 

Kerry said in his speech, “We have called for the Palestinians to do everything in their power to stop violence and incitement, including publicly and consistently condemning acts of terrorism and stopping the glorification of violence.” However, all of Kerry’s references in his speech to such wrongdoing, which he claimed he had raised with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to no avail, failed to make it into the resolution itself.  A truly balanced resolution would have cited Hamas and the Palestinian Authority by name for incitement to genocide against Jews and committing or condoning random attacks on civilians, in violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and international humanitarian law. 

The anti-Israel settlements resolution did not limit its condemnation of Israeli settlements to the far-flung outposts in the middle of the West Bank that Kerry focused attention on in his speech. To the contrary, the resolution, which Kerry tried to defend, declared that the “establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law.” (Emphasis added.)

In consenting to wording declaring that all Israeli settlements since 1967 have “no legal validity” from their inception, the Obama administration sharply departed from the position of past administrations, as well as its own position when it vetoed a similar resolution in 2011.

Kerry, just like UN Ambassador Samantha Power in her remarks to the Security Council following the vote on Resolution 2334, invoked Ronald Reagan’s name to justify the Obama administration’s betrayal of Israel. True, Ronald Reagan did criticize Israel’s expansion of its settlements on policy grounds. However, neither he nor any other U.S. president did what President Obama decided to do – effectively use the United Nations Security Council as an instrument to outlaw retroactively all Israeli settlements built since 1967, including apartment dwellings in the Old City of Jerusalem.  Indeed, to the contrary, President Reagan had said in 1981 that Israel’s settlements were “not illegal.” 

Kerry also attempted to justify the Obama administration’s abstention on Resolution 2334 by citing the Reagan administration decision to abstain on UN Security Council Resolution 605,passed on December 22, 1987 by a 14-0 vote, as a precedent. Resolution 605 had criticized Israel for its actions in what was referred to as ”occupied” territories, including in Jerusalem. There are some superficial similarities. Both resolutions did refer to the Geneva Convention as being applicable to the Palestinian and other Arab territories said to be occupied by Israel since 1967, including in Jerusalem. Like Resolution 2334, Resolution 605 deemed Israel as the “occupier” of the artificially divided portion of Jerusalem that Jordan had illegally invaded and attempted to ethnically cleanse until Israel re-unified all of Jerusalem after winning a defensive war against Jordan in 1967.  However, there is a big difference between the two resolutions that Kerry chose to gloss over. The resolution on which the Reagan administration abstained did not question the legality of the settlements, in Jerusalem or anywhere else. It said simply that Israel was obliged under the Geneva Convention as the “occupying power” to limit its use of force against “defenceless Palestinian civilians.” The resolution on which the Obama administration abstained, on the other hand, effectively declared any Israeli residences or building activities in the Old City of Jerusalem, which is in the eastern portion of Jerusalem and includes the Western Wall, as illegal per se under international law. 

Kerry doubled down on prejudging that Jerusalem needs to be artificially re-divided and the eastern portion handed over to the Palestinians as the capital of their new state. This would effectively ratify Jordan’s original illegal aggressive occupation and de-Judaizing of the Old City, which would certainly resume if the Palestinians were to assume control.  

Kerry made a couple of pronouncements in his speech recognizing Israeli concerns about terrorism and its concerns about preserving its legitimacy as a Jewish state. However, the Security Council resolution he defended worsens Israel’s situation in both of these areas.

Kerry said “we all understand that Israel faces very serious threats in a very tough neighborhood. Israelis are rightfully concerned about making sure that there is not a new terrorist haven right next door to them, often referencing what’s happened with Gaza.” Yet what the resolution has done in declaring all Israeli settlements established since 1967 to be illegal is to provide Palestinians with justification for couching their acts of terrorism in the garb of “legitimate” resistance against “illegal” occupation and settlements. 

Kerry also said “Israelis are fully justified in decrying attempts to…question the right of a Jewish state to exist.” He cited the intent of General Assembly Resolution 181, the 1947 partition resolution accepted by the Jewish residents but rejected by the Palestinians and their Arab supporters, “to create two states for two peoples, one Jewish, one Arab; to realize the national aspirations of both Jews and Palestinians.” He referenced the PLO’s self-proclaimed “Declaration of Independence,” which stated that Resolution 181 “provides those conditions of international legitimacy that ensure the right of the Palestinian Arab people to sovereignty.” Yet Abbas has repeatedly rejected the very idea of a _Jewish_state existing in peace alongside a Palestinian state, for which Resolution 181 also provided the “conditions of international legitimacy.” If Resolution 2334 was intended to preserve the goal of “two states for two peoples, one Jewish, one Arab,” as Kerry claimed, why did he not insist that the words “Jewish state of Israel” appear at least once in the resolution? At least the resolution that Abbas is now demanding be followed as the basis for any future negotiations would give one point to Israel. 

John Kerry’s speech defending the Obama administration’s decision to allow the UN Security Council to condemn Israeli settlements and declare them to be illegal has been described as his farewell speech. The best advice to give to Kerry after his disastrous tenure as Secretary of State is “don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”