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Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Security Council, Jewish Settlements and Kerry's Speech

I support wholeheartedly Jewish self-determination in the ancient homeland of the Jewish People, with equal rights to all citizens.

I am not more nor less of a nationalist than any other member of a group who seeks the right of statehood. And because I recognize the right of others to self-determination, I have supported the creation of a viable Palestinian state to exist alongside Israel in a relationship of mutual respect and recognition.

But with the continuous expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, like many others, I am concerned about the possible transformation of the State of Israel into a bi-national state with a Jewish minority.

40% of the West Bank, most of which had been designated as the future Palestinian state (along with the Gaza Strip), is already under the control of Jewish settlers.  With their settlements dotting the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria, it is virtually impossible to create a contiguous state for the Palestinians who live there and for Palestinian refugees who would be absorbed there as citizens in lieu of their demand of the right of return to Israel. That is why in his December 29 speech Secretary of State John Kerry criticized the Netanyahu government and called for the distinction between pre and post 1967 Israel.

For many Jews in Israel and abroad, Kerry’s sharp condemnation of the Israeli settlements in the territories that Israel had won in the Six Day war is nothing short of a betrayal, even though he did not spare the Palestinian Authority from criticism for its incitement and glorification of terrorism.

Those who welcomed Kerry’s speech thought it was delivered too late in the life of the administration. They recall that President Obama has been one of the most pro-Israeli presidents from security and political aspects.

That Kerry delivered his speech a week after the Obama Administration deviated from its previous policy by not blocking Security Council Resolution 2334, angered those who condemn President Obama as Israel’s worst enemy in the White House. The resolution states that Israel′s settlement activity in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, violates the Fourth Geneva Convention, and constitutes a "flagrant violation" of international law.

Most analysts agree that the settlements are indeed a violation of international law. If so, Israel has managed to evade it by defining the lands it controls since 1967 as disputed rather than occupied territories.   

Obama is not the first American president to oppose the settlements. In fact, since 1968 every American administration has done the same and either abstained from or voted for Security Council resolutions concerning the settlements or the changed status of Jerusalem without negotiations. The plan Kerry outlined for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement was not new either. President Clinton had set its parameters in 2000, and those principles have since served other negotiators.

Still, why has the Obama Administration chosen to single out Israel when, as Prime Minster Netanyahu complained, other areas in the Middle East are on fire?

The first answer must be Israel’s domestic politics. Kerry did not exaggerate when he stated that Israel’s cabinet is the most right–wing the state has ever had. What alarmed him and the White House - along with those who voted for the SC resolution - was the Legalization Bill, which was introduced by The Jewish Home Party. Should it become a law, the bill would retroactively legalize 55 unlawful outposts and 4,000 housing units in existing Jewish settlements. On December 8 the Knesset passed the bill’s first reading.

Equally distressing is the fact that Naftali Bennett, head of The Jewish Home, and two other top ministers of his party have been calling for the annexation of area C (the Oslo accord divided the West Bank into three areas: Area A was to be controlled by the Palestinian Authority; B was to be jointly controlled by Israel and the PA; C by Israel only).

To preserve both his Likud Party leadership and his coalition, Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is far from being a dove, has become hostage of the more radical faction of his own party, The Jewish Home and other nationalist parties, and Yesha, the Jewish Settlements Council.

The second answer must rest in the Obama Administration’s desire to leave office with a blue print it can call its own, especially in view of president elect Donald Trump’s likely support of settlements and possibly annexation, as it appears from his tweets and his nominee for US ambassador to Israel.  Whether reality allows the incoming administration to reverse five decades of US policy on the Israelis-Palestinian conflict remains to be seen.

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