Kerry in Wonderland
While President Obama was busy retracting promises and apologizing for his health care debacle, Secretary of State Kerry was frantically commuting between Jerusalem, Ramallah and Amman in a desperate effort to salvage unraveling Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. But his inflated fantasies and ominous predictions only exacerbated the problem.
The crux of Kerry’s unhappiness was Prime Minister Netanyahu’s announcement that Israel would, as had been an agreed condition for negotiation, continue settlement expansion in return for its release of more than one hundred Palestinian murderers from prison. This was the pact with the devil that permitted the resumption of negotiations, now in their fourth month of mutual recrimination that is increasingly unlikely to produce the peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that Kerry so evidently wants to claim as his crowning achievement. Predictably, President Abbas backtracked and immediately threatened that unless Israel halted construction in Jerusalem and nearby settlements the peace negotiations would terminate “without results” and “the situation is likely to explode.” In translation, Israel’s reward for abiding by their shared understanding would be another intifada.
The Secretary of State swallowed the Palestinian hook. In back-to-back statements on successive days, he warned of “a third intifada” and “the potential of chaos” if Israel did not back down from its understanding with the Palestinian Authority and halt settlement construction. Kerry was blunt: “the position of the United States of America on the settlements is that we consider them . . . to be illegitimate.”
If Kerry would lower the volume, and devote a few minutes of commuting time to scrutiny of relevant provisions of international agreements, he just might be edified. The establishment “in Palestine” of “a national home for the Jewish people,” was first enunciated in the Balfour Declaration (1917). It was explicitly reaffirmed in the San Remo Resolution of the League of Nations (1920) and the Joint Congressional Resolution of 1922. The League of Nations Mandate for Palestine (1922) recognized “the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and . . . the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.”
Where was “Palestine”? According to Article 25 of the Mandate, it comprised the land east and west of the Jordan River. But “Palestine” could be redefined as the land west of the Jordan if Great Britain, the Mandatory authority, so decided. It did, providing the Hashemite prince Abdullah with his own kingdom (now Jordan). In truncated Palestine between the Jordan River and Mediterranean, according to Article 6 of the Mandate, Jews enjoyed the right of “close settlement.” This means settlement in Kiryat Arba and Ariel, no less than Tel Aviv and Afula.
That right has never been rescinded. Indeed, UN Security Council Resolution 242, following the Six-Day War, called only for the withdrawal of “Israeli armed forces” (there were as yet no civilian settlements) “from territories,” not from the territories, or all the territories, which Arab aggression had restored to Israel. That was not casual language; it resulted from months of intense diplomatic negotiation.
Kerry could do far more to bolster, rather than impede, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations if he were to abide by these international legal principles that have been developed during the past century. Instead, in a joint interview on Israeli and Palestinian television last Thursday, he delivered what Raphael Ahren described in The Times of Israel as “a forceful slap in the face for Netanyahu.” The Secretary warned: “If we do not resolve the issues between Palestinians and Israelis, if we do not find a way to find peace, there will be an increasing isolation of Israel, there will be an increasing campaign of delegitimization of Israel.”
Targeting the Jewish state alone, he continued: “If we do not resolve the question of settlements, and the question of who lives where and how and what rights they have; if we don’t end the presence of Israeli soldiers perpetually within the West Bank . . . you may wind up with leadership that is committed to violence.”
That, however, would be the far likelier result if Israel were to embrace the Kerry plan, withdraw its soldiers, abandon settlements with their 350,000 residents, and retreat to pre-1967 borders. With “Palestine” accessible to Hamas fighters and weapons that are now confined to Gaza, no Israeli military presence along the Jordan River, Syria funneling weapons from Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Iranian nuclear development that the Obama administration now seems quite willing to tolerate, Israel could hardly confront a more menacing prospect.
But John Kerry might receive the Nobel Prize that he so desperately craves.
Jerold S. Auerbach is author of the forthcoming Jewish State/Pariah Nation: Israel and the Dilemmas of Legitimacy