Friday, December 30, 2016

John Kerry's Speech on Palestine/Israel

Still reading, wondering, sifting through Secretary of State Kerry's speech this week?  Here are some thoughts from Jason Weeks of People for Justice in Palestine in Iowa.  He wrote this note to friends Darrell and Sue Yeaney here in California.

Hi Darrell and Sue. I hope things are sunny and bright out there in California this holiday season.

I cannot resist sharing some of my reaction to Secretary of State Kerry's momentous speech today concerning Palestine, wherein he defended America's decision to abstain from the Security Council resolution declaring Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be contrary to international law.

Of course I had many reservations about the speech, which made far too many concessions to State of Israel propaganda. As is standard practice in all US diplomatic discourse, each and every criticism of Israel must be "balanced" by criticism of the Palestinians, even at the cost of false moral equivalence.

The fact that the Palestinians are, on any reasonable view, the indigenous inhabitants of the land whose territory was taken from them by force and appropriated by foreigners, a process of dispossession which continues to this day, never gets a mention, even though it establishes the moral lineaments of the conflict and is the essential context for understanding Palestinian violence. Likewise, we never hear about Israeli human rights abuses, the detention and torture of children for throwing stones, the shooting of unarmed demonstrators, the deliberate denial of food, medical care, a decent supply of water to millions of people.

Above all, we hear no acknowledgment of the basic truth of the vast asymmetry in power between the two sides, the fact that the Israelis, who portray themselves as victims, have nearly all the cards in their hands. But we do hear endlessly about Palestinian "terrorism" and the practice of "incitement", with specific vivifying details. Israel's evil, if alluded to at all, is spelled out only in the most general terms, but the violence of the Palestinian resistance is treated graphically and explicitly.

I could go on and on about that, but I need not. Our political culture is such that no truth, however great, can be told without a large accompaniment of lies to make it palatable, or even audible, across all but the narrowest range of the ideological spectrum. Most things in life have to be graded on a curve. And by the standards of US State Department utterances about the Palestine problem, Kerry's speech today stands out as something extraordinary.

Notwithstanding its timing at the very end of the Administration, notwithstanding the gutlessness of the Obama Administration in vetoing the same resolution in 2011 and in not allowing Kerry to make this speech, as it is reported, two years ago, this speech deserves an A+. In a field of diplomacy where lies are commonplace, Kerry was uncommonly truthful about what the State of Israel is doing.

Kerry tells us simply that the US abstained on the resolution because it believes that a two state solution is necessary for peace, and that settlements will make a two state solution impossible. He thought he should say something before it was too late, even if it was something Israel and its friends didn't want to hear. "Friends have to tell each other hard truths."

In detailing the rapid growth of the settler population, the practice of planting settlements in such a way as to make retrocession of an intact territory impossible, and the demographic realities pointing to a "separate and unequal" future for the Palestinians and a complete failure of Israel's aspiration to be a "Jewish democracy", Kerry's argument could hardly be faulted.

The bitter irony, of course, is that he is speaking out not before it is too late, but when it is already too late. With nearly 600,000 settlers now in place, it is almost impossible to visualize how you can fit a viable Palestinian state in the same area without causing a displacement and disruption in the State of Israel virtually equivalent to what would come about with a defeat in war. The settlers and their supporters, though a minority in the country, have a lock on the Knesset and will have veto power in any foreseeable future government. Change will not come about through the existing Israeli political order, acting on its own.

Despite its belated character, however, Kerry's speech does mark a milestone. It is the most pointed warning ever issued by a world leader about the consequences of Israel's behavior and the depth of Israel's hypocrisy.

Netanyahu is supposedly committed to a two state solution, but has constantly acted against it. His government, and even his representatives abroad like his UN ambassador, oppose it. Beyond all the constant hectoring about the world's "biases" against Israel and the terrible "existential threats" it is facing, Netanyahu and his government cannot rationally justify the settlement expansion policy. It is against basic justice, against the hope for peace, even against Israel's fundamental security interests.

They want the land for chauvinistic, ideological reasons, and they want to wall up the Palestinians or push them out to achieve this goal. The want to reclaim the sacred territories of the Bible, Judea and Samaria, despite two thousand years of history and the equally valid interests of other religious communities. They cannot make their case by appealing to universalistic ethics: if every ethnic group had a right to grab any territory it had ever held in its history, regardless of the amount of time that has passed since it had actual possession and who may have settled there in the intervening time, there would be no end to geopolitical chaos. The truth is that there are no universal principles of justice, recognizable to all people, which can justify the Zionist theft of Palestinian land. What lies behind the project is tribalism, not universalism.

Kerry, by making plain the emptiness of Israel's justification for the settlement project and the hypocrisy behind its claim to support territorial compromise and peace at the same time, is bringing this tribal, in group/out group morality into the light. The security argument cannot conceal it any longer.
Kerry's speech will cause the Israeli mask to drop just a bit and will induce the media to look a little more closely at their usual claims and excuses, since now it is clear that the whole world stands in opposition to them, including what pass for "respectable" countries. Above all it creates a powerful public record. When, as is inevitable, peace breaks down in the future and Israel faces a real crisis, the US and the whole world will be able to say, "we told you so".

Kerry was of course wrong to say that change can only come from the parties themselves and cannot be imposed from the outside. This is a false antithesis. Only international sanctions brought the "parties" in South Africa to the bargaining table, though the result there was a "one state solution", not separate states for whites and blacks, with or without "territorial swaps". But Kerry's speech lays bare where the true historical responsibility for the impasse lies and makes clear that the direction we are heading is morally unacceptable to the entire world.

In his speech, Kerry spoke in bleak terms about isolated Palestinian enclaves surrounded by Israel, permanently occupied and controlled, deprived of basic human rights, and ultimately bereft even of the fig leaf of autonomy provided by Oslo, if the Palestinian Authority dissolves. Except for the part about the PA, that is exactly the reality we have today. It is masked only by the collective denial and wishful thinking of Israel's respectable, non-chauvinistic supporters in America and around the world. But this edifice of denial is wearing thin, and the upcoming generation has scant sympathy for it.

Kerry's speech sets the world up for the question that he did not dare to ask. What must we do if the two-state solution fails and the bleak picture he paints comes to pass? If, as he says, a one-state Israel would not be democratic and not morally acceptable, then the only acceptable alternative will be to get rid of the "Jewish" definition of the "Jewish democracy". That is to say, the world will have to work for a non-sectarian successor state to the State of Israel, a democratic state which guarantees equal rights to all, Jews and Arabs alike.

It is clear that Kerry and his kind are not willing to contemplate this possibility. Any criticism of Israel is at least slightly risky and taboo in conventional American political culture; fundamental criticism of Zionism is off the charts. But even those who might have accepted Zionism in principle, or as a morally compromised but necessary solution to long term historical problems (rather like the Dayton Peace agreement which, though enshrining injustice and ethnic cleansing, has kept the peace in the Balkans), will be hard pressed to accept it unconditionally, regardless of how the State of Israel evolves in the future.. As Israeli politics gets more and more overtly illiberal, defense of Zionism by decent and influential people gets harder and harder.

I can foresee a time when people finally have to admit that the Zionist project has to come to an end, whatever justification it may have had at one time. It will be easier for them to reach this conclusion if we have a clear public record from Israel's greatest geopolitical backer telling us that the country had a chance to make peace through the two state solution, but chose territorial expansion and war instead. A nation that made such a fatal, hubristic choice has little command on the world's sympathy.

If, despite all the other problems with this speech and its timing, Kerry managed to open this conversation today, or to make it acceptable for people in the mainstream to begin thinking along these lines, he has done the US and the whole world a major service and
richly deserves our gratitude.

Thanks, Darrell and Sue.

Happy New Year. Jason