John Kerry speaking at the State Department on Wednesday. Credit Zach Gibson/Getty Images
In a speech this week laying out the Obama administration’s parameters for a final peace agreement between Israel and Palestine, Secretary of State John Kerry stated what has been obvious to most observers for many years: that Israel’s construction of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land has all but destroyed the two-state solution. Unfortunately, Mr. Kerry’s speech offers far too little, and comes much too late.
In 2013, shortly after he became secretary of state, Mr. Kerry warned that there was only a two-year window left for creating a Palestinian state. Now, almost four years later and in the last days of his tenure, he has finally laid out parameters for a two-state solution. But with President-elect Donald J. Trump suggesting he will align the United States with Israel’s extreme pro-settler government, the Obama/Kerry parameters will most likely be consigned to oblivion like those promulgated by Bill Clinton 16 years ago.
During Mr. Obama’s eight years in office, the illegal Israeli settler population has swelled by 100,000, to well over 600,000. Simultaneously, for eight years Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has directed a barrage of calculated slights, insults and acts of disrespect at the president of the United States. The Obama administration has finally reacted with Mr. Kerry’s speech and by allowing Resolution 2334, which condemns Israeli settlement expansion, to pass in the United Nations Security Council. By doing so, the United States simply acted in accordance with international law and the global consensus of nearly 50 years.
Meanwhile, a third generation of Palestinian children is growing up under a brutal occupation and Gaza has been under siege for a decade. Palestinians are obliged to seek the permission of the Israeli military for the most basic of needs, such as medical treatment, or to travel abroad or even just to Jerusalem. As Mr. Kerry asked in his speech: “Would an Israeli accept living that way? Would an American accept living that way?” It is no wonder that the hopelessness caused by Israeli settlement expansion and land theft in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and the closing of all avenues for realization of the aspirations of Palestinian youth have produced grave social ills, as well as outbreaks of violence.
The Kerry parameters and Resolution 2334 are not going to change much in this dismal picture nor will they save Mr. Obama’s tepid legacy where Palestine is concerned. The resolution has no built-in enforcement mechanism, and it is not necessarily binding. However, it calls upon states to “distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.” This provides the international legal justification for sanctions by states, boycotts of goods produced in settlements, and divestment by unions, foundations and universities of assets in companies that support the colonization of Palestinian land.
Wide support for such actions already exists, even in the United States. A recent poll conducted by the Brookings Institution found that 46 percent of Americans believed that their government should impose sanctions against Israel over the construction of new settlements; the figure rises to 60 percent among Democrats.
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Maybe, just maybe, had there been several more, equally firmly worded Security Council resolutions over the past eight years, that might have tempered the sense of impunity that the Israeli government and the settler movement have enjoyed for so long. Perhaps in that case Israelis would have discovered that they could not continue with endless settlement expansion and obtain American largess at the same time. Perhaps being confronted by enough 14-0-1 votes, representing the view of virtually every country on the planet, would have caused the Netanyahu government to pause in its frenzied colonization campaign.
Or perhaps not. Since Friday’s vote, Mr. Netanyahu has recalled Israeli ambassadors to two of the countries that sponsored the resolution and temporarily limited working ties with 12 of the Security Council members that voted for it. He has accused the Obama administration of a “shameful ambush,” as if the resolution were a dirty trick instead of a statement in line with longstanding American policy and international law. And his government has vowed to press forward with plans to build even more settlements.
What is clear is that the Netanyahu government will never willingly endorse a peaceful and fair resolution of this conflict. If the Trump administration chooses to join Mr. Netanyahu on such a course, that makes the need for pressure in forums such as the United Nations, as well as through boycotts, divestment and sanctions, all the more necessary. European countries, Russia, China, India, and civil society in the United States and elsewhere must act decisively to underscore the global isolation of the proponents of unending occupation and colonization in Palestine. As too little and too late as Resolution 2334 and the Kerry speech were, they do offer an opening for an overdue global response to the arrogance of the Israeli and American enablers of the denial of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.