In his final address to the Saban Forum on Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry indicated that Israel was ultimately to blame for the failure of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians during the Obama administration.
Addressing an audience of Washington elite on Middle East issues, Kerry warned, “The current path is not leading to a more peaceful future. I am concerned that unless significant efforts are made to change the dynamic – and I mean significant – it will only bring more violence, more heartbreak, and more despair.”
Repeatedly, Kerry hinted that Israel’s stubbornness and unwillingness to negotiate or overlook terrorist violence led to the stalemate. Palestinian leaders, he said, have assured him that they are prepared to accept “true peace” under the Arab Peace initiative, but have not been given the opportunity because “there is no chance for a two-state solution” in the current political climate.
He called for a “strengthening” of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, labeling him “the one person who is most committed to nonviolence”.
Among the obstacles to the two-state solution, he listed “violence” – a euphemism for Palestinian terrorism – and “settlement activity” as equally to blame.
This led him into a diatribe on Israeli settlements, which, while he insisted were “no excuse for violence”, still raised “questions about Israel’s long-term intentions.”
“If you have a whole bunch of people who are specifically strategically locating outpost and settlements in area that make it impossible to have a contiguous Palestinian state, they’re doing it for the specific purpose of not having a peace,” Kerry said.
He obliquely blamed Israel’s lack of leadership for stalling talks, pointing out that previous Israeli leaders had been willing to compromise and negotiate in order to move peace efforts forward and hinting that current premier Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to give in on security issues or settlements was the reason behind the US’s failure to make a peace deal.
Kerry also warned that without a two-state solution in the coming years, Israel would lose its Jewish majority, and indicated that Israel had to choose between being Jewish and democratic, and keeping its citizens safe.
“How does this work?” Kerry asked, essentially suggesting that Israel should compromise on its defense. “How do you have a one state that is Jewish and democratic and also has provisions in place for Israel’s security?”
In contrast to Kerry’s not-so-subtle accusations, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments to the Forum, delivered from Jerusalem via video link, made very clear that he is willing to “stop everything I’m doing right now” in order to talk peace with the Palestinians without preconditions.
But, he said, Abbas has consistently refused to engage in direct talks with him despite Jerusalem’s “hundreds” of requests.
“The core of the conflict is the Palestinians’ refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state,” he stated, dismissing Kerry’s claims that settlements are a main obstacle to peace.
“The question of settlements is an issue that has to be discussed in peace negotiations, but i disagree, and I have always disagreed, that this is the source of the conflict,” he said, pointing out that Arab military resistance to Israel had raged for a full 50 years before there were any modern Jewish communities in Judea or Samaria.
Netanyahu also reminded the audience that his predecessors’ compromises had not always worked. “We left Gaza, and after leaving Gaza, they fired 20,000 rockets on our heads,” he said.
He emphasized that Israel has no interest in backing down from its position of power.
“Nobody makes peace with the weak,” he said. “In the Middle East, the weak don’t survive… The strong and the smart survive.”
John Kerry and Netanyahu Disagree Over Settlements