In what may be the last important act of his public life, Kerry got up on Tuesday and tried to explain the current state of affairs in the Middle East–specifically, the relationships between Israel and the United States, between Israel and the occupied Palestinian population, and between Israel and the rest of the world. He telegraphed the speech, which gave the usual suspects a head start at taking bites out of it.
But Kerry never has been better than when he drops political calculation–at which he probably is the most obvious politician I’ve ever seen–and fastens his feet to the ground. Per the CSPAN transcript of his remarks:
This is an issue which I have worked on intensively during my time as Secretary of State for one simple reason–because the two state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It is the only way to ensure that Israel has a future, as a Jewish and democratic state, living in peace and security with its neighbors. The only way to ensure a future of freedom and dignity for the Palestinian people and it is an important way of advancing United States’ interest in the region. I would like to explain why that future is now in jeopardy. And provide some context for why we could not in good conscience stand in the way of a resolution at the United Nations that makes clear that both sides must act now to preserve the possibility of peace.
So, no, there will be no apology to Benjamin Netanyahu, and his good friend, the President-elect of the United States. Kerry explained this to Netanyahu. He pretty much told Donald Trump to stay in the backseat where he belongs.
Friends need to tell each other hard truths. And friendships require mutual respect. Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, who does not support a two state solution, said after the vote last week, quote–“It was to be expected that Israel’s greatest ally would act in accordance with the values we share and veto this resolution.” I am compelled to respond today that the United States did in fact vote in accordance with our values. Just as previous U.S. administrations have done at the security council before us…We cannot properly defend and protect Israel if we allow a viable two state solution to be destroyed before our own eyes. That is the bottom line.
… I honestly don’t know what else Kerry could have said. Gaza remains an open wound. The settlements are a permanent roadblock at this point, and somebody had to promote the two-state solution at least for the record before El Caudillo del Mar-A-Lago comes in and (perhaps) abandons it entirely. And Netanyahu–and the Fox News ambassador he sent over here–richly deserved the slap that came afterwards.
The result is that policies of this government, which the prime minister himself just described as “more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history,” are leading in the opposite direction, towards one state.
If that’s the last big moment for John Kerry on a public stage, it at least was a principled one. Whoever comes next is really on his or her own.
Then came the usual side-taking and ducking for cover:
Secretary of State John Kerry’s rebuke of the Israeli government on Wednesday set off a wave of criticism from lawmakers in both parties. Republicans denounced what they said was the Obama administration’s harsh treatment of a steadfast ally and Democrats signaled that they were uneasy with Mr. Kerry’s pressure on Israel, even as they praised the effort to promote Middle East peace.
Democrats named as being critical of Kerry’s speech were New York’s Sen. Chuckie Schumer (but you knew that already, didn’t you?),Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, and Rep. Eliot L. Engel of New York. Republicans on the whole are more loyal to Bibi Netanyahu’s Israel than they are to the U.S., so we know how they reacted.
In Europe, however, Mr. Kerry’s speech was greeted warmly, with officials calling it a courageous and thoughtful effort to salvage the idea of a two-state solution for the Israelis and Palestinians. Still, across the Arab world, his harsh words for Israel were met with a collective shrug, coming at the end of eight years of Obama administration policies that left many in the Middle East frustrated. …
… In France, Britain and Germany, Mr. Kerry’s speech was greeted with more full-throated support. Senator Nathalie Goulet, vice president of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the French Senate, said Mr. Kerry “is right, he is absolutely right.”
“The more there are settlements,” she said, “the less it is likely there will be a two-state solution. But nobody ever dares condemn Israel. There is a double standard that nourishes the propaganda of the terrorists.”
In a statement, the German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, praised Mr. Kerry’s speech as a “passionate and deeply convincing” defense of “the only credible way” to solve the issue: a two-state solution.
British officials said they regarded Mr. Kerry’s speech as a thoughtful summary of longstanding British and European concerns about the direction of Israeli politics. Britain and France, both members of the Security Council, voted for the resolution on settlements, and France has been extremely active in pressing for a kind of peace conference, to which the Israelis have objected.
In the Arab world, analysts said the Obama administration should have spoken out sooner.
“At the last five minutes of the hour, apparently Kerry and Obama are showing some courage to stand up to Israel, but it is coming too late in the game,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a professor of political science in the United Arab Emirates. “It is after the fact. They should have shown this amount of political courage four years ago, if not eight years ago.”
I’m with Abdulkhaleq Abdulla on that one, although we know that Kerry’s predecessor in the State Department would never have given that speech. She made that clear last March. So it was up to Kerry to say what needed to be said. Fat lot of good it will do, though.