Resolution 2334: Why America Abstained
Part B: A Critique of John Kerry’s Analysis
On 28 December 2016, in the aftermath of the passsge of UN Security Council Resolution 2334, John Kerry shared his candid thoughts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Did Kerry offer any analysis of this complicated and truly dialectical history in his speech? None at all! Simplistic and misleading dichotomous thinking framed his talk. There were also factual errors. The opinion polls in Palestine now indicate minority support for a two-State solution, contrary to Kerry’s claims, though his interpretation was valid in a poll conducted at the end of 2013, four years ago. Even in Israel, support for a two-State solution had slipped to a bare majority, 51%, by mid-year of 2015. Now support for a two-State solution has also fallen to a minority there as well. Though most Israelis still believe in a two-State solution as a desirable goal, most have given up believing in such a solution as a realistic one. I think this is what Kerry was really trying to get at, but which he never articulated adequately so crowded was his text with clichés about beliefs that held little correspondence with reality.
But the basic error of Kerry’s analysis is that Kerry believes the “status quo is leading towards one state and perpetual occupation.” I do not believe this is accurate. The status quo is probably leading to the prospect of Israel consolidating its control over the Old City of Jerusalem and integrating Area C unilaterally into Israel without unilaterally transferring equivalent territory to the Palestinians. As an alternative, what chance is there that either side would accept Kerry’s Principle four, making Jerusalem “the internationally recognized capital of the two states, and protect and assure freedom of access to the holy sites consistent with the established status quo”?
This is now the crunch point of the dispute. Is it better to propose a solution which both sides oppose? Or is it better to sidestep that issue and consolidate a peace in all other areas of dispute? Kerry believes that, “It is essential for both sides that the final status agreement resolves all [my italics] the outstanding issues and finally brings closure to this conflict.” I am not so sure. I am inclined to believe that since the Jerusalem issue appears to be the one insoluble one, it may be better to sidestep it. In any case, Kerry gave no arguments to justify why all issues had to be resolved. They rarely are in peace agreements.
Kerry may be correct on another point. “The U.S. and our partners have encouraged Israel to resume the transfer of greater civil authority to the Palestinians in Area C, “but has that been “consistent with the transition that was called for by Oslo?” Only in one interpretation. And even if that is accepted, it may now be obsolete given the new facts on the ground that are indeed now irreversible. Israel will continue to exercise protective military control over the settlements not in Area C, but integrating them within quasi-Israeli borders still seems decades away. In the meanwhile, there is no sign of any diminution of Palestinian governance over Gaza and over the rest of the West Bank. That is a terrible scenario as far as I can evaluate. But it is far more realistic than the picture Kerry paints of the present and immanent danger and one that has allowed him to opt for mistaken policies and very weak defences of those policies.
While Kerry went into far greater detail in depicting the violence perpetrated by Palestinians than Samantha Powers did in her UN speech on 23 December 2016, a speech directly lauded by the Palestinian Authority, Kerry’s speech, which was indirectly praised by the PA, did not explain why the Palestinian violence alone that he described, and that was not depicted in the Resolution, did not offer sufficient reason for the U.S. vetoing that Resolution. After all, the Resolution deliberately avoided pointing out an agent behind Palestinian violence. The PA, as Kerry himself noted, only paid lip service to non-violence and cooperating with the Israeli authorities in repressing political organizations behind that violence, while they feted and honoured terrorists.
Kerry in his speech said that, “Israel has increasingly consolidated control over much of the West Bank for its own purposes, effectively reversing the transitions to greater Palestinian civil authority that were called for by the Oslo Accords.” The first part of this assertion is accurate. The second part is not. The transition to greater Palestinian authority in Areas A and B, not to speak of Gaza, has not been reversed.
The Oslo Accords, as we have said, divided the West Bank into three areas, A, B and C. “Land in populated areas (Areas A and B), including government and Al Waqf land, will come under the jurisdiction of the Council during the first phase of redeployment” and was referred to as the “populated areas.” Area C consisting of the areas of the West Bank outside Areas A and B. In Area A, the PA was responsible for both administration and internal security. It originally made up 3% of the whole area and now makes up 18% of the area under complete PA control. Area B consists of about 22% of the West Bank and is under Palestinian administrative jurisdiction, but joint Israeli-Palestinian internal security. There are NO Israeli settlements in Area B. Palestinian authority has been strengthened in Areas A and B, discounting the loss of legitimacy resulting from its own ineptness in governance.
Area C is the problem. It consists of just over 60% of the land area of the West Bank, but only 100,000-150,000 of the 2.75 million Palestinians living in the West Bank live there. The lower figure is closer to the number of Palestinians who now actually live there. The latter figure in the range refers to the number that lived there at the time the Accords were signed. Israeli policies have encouraged an out-movement. Israelis are notorious for NOT granting building permits to Palestinians in Area C. In contrast, the 110,000 Israelis who lived in Area C in 1993 has grown to almost 400,000. Demographics have been at odds with the requirement of Oslo that Area C “will be gradually transferred to Palestinian jurisdiction in accordance with this Agreement.”
Thus, the numbers cited by Kerry re settlements are more or less accurate and correspond to the figures for settlements that I cited. Does the strengthening of the settlements east of the security barrier point to a trend to eliminate Palestinian control over that territory? How can one expect 80,000 or 90,000 or even double that number, 150,000 settlers in that territory ever offset the huge disproportion of a Palestinian population of 2.75 million? Whatever Israel does to thicken those settlements, the likelihood of their being incorporated into Israel is remote. The most that can be realistically expected is that they will remain in a sovereign Palestinian authority just as there are Palestinian towns, villages and neighborhoods within Israel. I simply disagree that these settlements make it “that much harder to separate,” that much harder to transfer sovereignty let alone to imagine such a transfer. It is quite easy to imagine and not that much more difficult to realize the transfer. Unless, of course, one accepts the principle that Palestine as a state should remain Judenrein.
There is a distinction between referring to the intentions of the Oslo Accords and the realization or failure in their realization. When we factor in two other elements, context, such as what followed the transfer of Gaza, and consequences, the huge increase in the number of settlers and the decline in the population of Palestinians, the explanation for what has happened over almost a quarter of a century can be attributed to either or both Palestinian malfeasance and Israeli bad faith in its failure to live up to its commitments, in different proportions depending on your information, point of view and ideology. But if we focus on consequences rather than argue about causes or commitments, we enter a reality whereby Israel will never transfer all of Area C and evacuate 400,000 Israelis. It was barely able to succeed in transferring 9,000 from Gaza. The most that can be realistically envisioned is a transfer of some of the territory in Area C along with land now in Israel to make up an equivalent total land previously in Area C.
Kerry stated that, “Now, you may hear from advocates that the settlements are not an obstacle to peace because the settlers who don’t want to leave can just stay in Palestine, like the Arab Israelis who live in Israel. But that misses a critical point, my friends. The Arab Israelis are citizens of Israel, subject to Israel’s law. Does anyone here really believe that the settlers will agree to submit to Palestinian law in Palestine?” Well you may also hear it from critics of settlements such as myself and, as I have heard directly from a Fatah leader, we believe that some settlers would agree to submit to Palestinian law rather than return to Israel proper. In any case, the choice would be for them to make. As it should be, rather than a forced evacuation of those settlements.
Kerry is absolutely correct that those settlements cannot remain either as enclaves of Israel or as enclaves within a sovereign Palestine protected directly by the IDF. Kerry is wrong, however, that Palestinians do not have equivalent rights to build in the territories they control administratively, as all the cranes in cities such as Ramallah indicate. The problem is I Area C. Kerry is also correct that the land on the other side of the barrier cannot be broken up further if a viable Palestinian state is to be created. But does Kerry believe that this can only be accomplished by dismantling those settlements? How does he believe that this would be politically possible? At one time, it could have been. But it is far too late for such a possibility. There is no question that the settlements on the other side of the barrier pose a challenge in a peace agreement. But not an insurmountable one. Not a problem close to that of the Old City.
Further, Kerry is correct that Israel has openly discriminated against Palestinians building in Area C. Demolitions of Palestinian structures have increased. The only way this will be settled is through some kind of a peace agreement, but there is little prospect of that if the dismantling of settlements are made part of the equation. To repeat, it is just too late for that now.
There is the other matter of the illegal outposts under Israeli law, sometimes located on Palestinian owned land. Would the enforcement problem towards these outposts shift if there was international recognition that the main bulk of the settlements would be integrated into Israel in exchange for a land swap and that the other settlements on the other side of the barrier would be permitted to continue, but only if the settlers there recognized sovereign authority held by the Palestinians? If Israel domestic law is extended to the settlements in Area C inside the separation barrier, just as it has been to the Jerusalem neighbourhoods built on the other side of the Green line, why would that threaten the possibility of peace if that peace agreement as thus far articulated includes those areas within Israel?
If one focuses on the extremist one-state advocates who decry a Palestinian state and the Hamas extremists who deny the legitimacy of Israel, then is Kerry not parroting the same distortions that Samantha Powers lambasted the UN for? But if Kerry were truly both honest and fair,t, he would have to oppose the Resolution. But the Obama administration clearly supported it with qualifications about the wording around violence and the U.N.’s past positions on behalf of Israel.
Kerry argues that the danger is a unitary undemocratic Jewish state of Israel permanently ruling over an unequally-treated Palestinian population. Why is this suddenly an immanent danger? Surely the trends in 2007 when Obama first took office were almost as great then or greater. There has been a degree of quantitative difference since then, but nothing qualitative. Kerry is correct. There are no answers if Israel becomes a fascist apartheid state ruling over almost 3 million Palestinians. But does the de facto support for Resolution 2334 undercut that possibility or is it more likely to increase its probability, even if still improbable at this time?
Why does Kerry not plug for a realistic two-State solution based on previous agreements between Israelis and Palestinians? Why provide de facto support for a Resolution that makes the armistice lines prior to the 1967 Six Day War as the reference point for resolving the problem and does so without referring to “the mutually agreed swaps” referred to as a basic principle in Kerry’s principles at the end of his speech and even in the Arab Peace Initiative? Admittedly, the U.S. sits between a rock and a hard place. Did its defence of Israel in the past without the current pressure of Resolution 2334 possibly encourage and/or facilitate the growth of extremism? This is a possibility. But Kerry’s analysis does not answer that question or even ask it.
Instead, Kerry insisted that the Obama switch to allowing a de facto Resolution so one-sided criticism of Israel to pass was a last ditch effort to preserve a two-State solution. If he had analyzed the various possible two-State solutions and indicated which forces are in play reinforcing one rather than another and then concluding how such an analysis affected American policy, one might give him greater credit. But when he holds out the fear of an undemocratic Israelis state ruling over 2.75 million Palestinians in perpetuity instead of considering what elements need to be put in place to ensure this remote possibility never becomes an immanent one, then it s very difficult to take Kerry’s position as serious. Is it possible that all of the impotent efforts of the UN to put pressure on Israel on dismantling ALL the settlements has strengthened the right and the resistance to Palestinians having their own state?
I have opposed settlements for five decades. So has the U.S. So have the Europeans. John Kerry offers an alternative solution as if he has suddenly discovered that the settlements have reached the stage where the two-State solution has been undermined. But U.S. administrations have always opposed settlements as obstacles to peace. And, in my estimation, they were correct to do so. But just when the time has come to forge a realistic solution that takes account of both the settlements and Palestinian aspirations, a pile up on Israel takes place. Does anyone believe that this will encourage such a stubborn and stiff-backed people to back down, especially when Donald Trump is soon to assume power and the right controls the government of Israel?
Kerry argued that if the U.S. had not abstained but had vetoed the resolution, the U.S. would have given Israel “license to further unfettered settlement construction that we fundamentally oppose.” Did the Obama administration give unfettered licence for Israel to expand settlements over the last eight years when it did not allow a U.N resolution selectively critical of Israeli settlements? U.S. Policy, as Kerry repeatedly said, always opposed settlements. Why would licenced be given now to support the growth of settlements but not before? Perhaps Kerry, without admitting it, wants to say that in vetoing and resisting previous UN resolutions in the past zeroing in on Israel and its settlement polices, the U.S. inadvertently gave a licence to expand settlement.
Obama has been a great president and a strong friend to Israel. John Kerry has been an excellent Secretary of State and one truly devoted to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian impasse. But his position recently has been ridden with inner contradictions. And his defence of his de facto support of the Resolution is weak and contradictory. If Resolution 2334 “simply reaffirms statements made by the Security Council on the legality of settlements over several decades,” why is so much emphasis given to the 1949 armistice lines as a reference point? Why has the U.S. shifted from calling the settlements an impediment to peace to calling them illegitimate and then shifted once again to calling them illegal?
I believe they are illegal according to most interpretations of international law. But why this shift so late in the Obama presidency and with so one-sided a resolution? Further, there was not just the reference to Eastern Jerusalem that includes the Old City that was problematic, it was the reference to eastern Jerusalem including the Old City as Palestinian territory. Does not this prejudge an outcome if the premise is self-determination of the largest community in an area? Why is that not the premise for Area C?
Further, Kerry’s second principle for a peace agreement required withdrawal for territory occupied in the Six Day War. He did not say “all” territory. But he also did not say that that clause of Resolution 242 also deliberately omitted the reference to ALL the territory. Why did John Kerry not make that clarification in his speech?
Kerry, to his credit, did spell out the terms now generally acknowledged by both sides to deal with the refugee issue that at one time appeared to be the most intractable problem. Return was omitted. “As part of a comprehensive resolution, they [the refugees] must be provided with compensation, their suffering must be acknowledged, and there will be a need to have options and assistance in finding permanent homes.”
Of course, the U.S. was not the manipulator behind the scenes in drafting the Resolution and pushing support for it. Such an interpretation is but part of a post-fact world. But this does not require an assertion, also made by Samantha Power, that “we [the U.S.] could not in good conscience veto a resolution that condemns violence and incitement and reiterates what has been for a long time the overwhelming consensus and international view on settlements and calls for the parties to start taking constructive steps to advance the two-state solution on the ground.” As I have written, the condemnation of violence was pro tem and had none of the specificity re agency or persistence contained in Kerry’s speech. The Resolution was not “about actions that Israelis and Palestinians are taking that are increasingly rendering a two-state solution impossible.” It was barely about Palestinian actions. And it never adequately demonstrated why those actions – by Israel or the Palestinians – made a solution not just difficult, but impossible.
“Further, to reiterate, if that Resolution was reasonable enough to allow de facto passage, why were not numerous other previous ones that differed very little from this one? The problem is that Kerry’s defence of the new American position rested on quicksand.
The real reason for the switch, I believe, emerges in one paragraph in reference to “the unusually heated attacks that Israeli officials have directed towards this Administration.” This was quid pro quo for an irrational Netanyahu and partisan treatment of the Obama administration that destroyed bipartisanship in the policy towards Israel and had given every ground for America to desert its ally.
But more on that in the next blog on Israeli policy in dealing with the Resolution.
With the help of Alex Zisman