by James M. Wall
He did so in order to send a public message to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
An Israeli writer for the right-wing Jerusalem web site, Times of Israel, got the message. He did not, however, like what he heard. He relayed his negative reaction in his story:
For the first time since he managed to restart the [Israel-Palestine peace] talks in July, Kerry dropped his statesman-like public impartiality, and clearly spoke from the heart — and what emerged were a series of accusations that amounted to a forceful slap in the face for Netanyahu. It was a rhetorical onslaught that the prime minister cannot have expected and one he will not quickly forget. (emphasis added by blogger)
The writer with that perspective is Raphael Ahren, diplomatic correspondent for the Times of Israel, a Web-only, English-language Israeli newspaper, launched in February earlier this year by Seth Klarman, a wealthy American Jewish investor.
Klarman, according to Wikipedia, has also been the longtime chairman and a financial supporter of The David Project, a Boston-based group which sponsors pro-Israel advocacy programs on American college campuses.
Using words from Kerry’s TV interview, and then filtering them through the Times‘ right-wing perspective, Ahren continues:
A very frustrated Kerry basically blamed the Israeli government for stealing the Palestinians’ land and the Israeli public for living in [a] bubble that prevents them from caring much about it. If that wasn’t enough, he railed against the untenability of the Israel Defense Forces staying “perpetually” in the West Bank.
In warning that a violent Palestinian leadership might supplant Mahmoud Abbas if there was not sufficient progress at the peace table, he appeared to come perilously close to empathizing with potential Palestinian aggression against Israel.
As to tone and intent, Ahren got it about right. The problem is, what he heard as a “slap in the face” were words intended not as an insult, but as a wake-up call.
Kerry spoke as a friend of the state of Israel, but more importantly, he warned Netanyahu that his adamancy was damaging the chance for peace in the region.
In his Times story, Ahren focused on Kerry’s responses that clearly disturbed Ahren.
“If we do not resolve the question of settlements, [Kerry] continued more dramatically, “and the question of who lives where and how and what rights they have; if we don’t end the presence of Israeli soldiers perpetually within the West Bank, then there will be an increasing feeling that if we cannot get peace with a leadership that is committed to non-violence, you may wind up with leadership that is committed to violence.”
He later elaborated, expressing apparently growing dismay over continued Israeli settlement expansion:
“How, if you say you’re working for peace and you want peace, and a Palestine that is a whole Palestine that belongs to the people who live there, how can you say we’re planning to build in a place that will eventually be Palestine? So it sends a message that perhaps you’re not really serious.”
The New York Times juggled two Netanyahu stories simultaneously, the Prime Minister’s response to Kerry’s interview, and his attack on the carefully constructed Iranian nuclear agreement.
Responding to Kerry’s interview in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said “pressure has to be put where it belongs, that is, on the Palestinians who refuse to budge.” The Times adds that Netanyahu “was in no mood to compromise”.
The Times asked Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, for her reaction to Netanyahu’s attack on Kerry’s efforts to reach a nuclear agreement with Iran.
Ashrawi “denounced Mr. Netanyahu’s statements on Iran as ‘arrogant,’ ‘childish” and ‘an insult’ to Mr. Kerry, and said they reflected a relentless focus on Israel’s security that has prevented progress in the peace talks.
“His temper tantrum response to an Iran agreement is just an extension of that mentality,” Ms. Ashrawi said. “I want to do what I want to do, I want to get away with everything, and I want to dictate to everyone, including the U.S., how they should behave regarding Israel’s security the way Israel exclusively defines it.”
Many other U.S. media outlets, including National Public Radio, relied on the Associated Press story of Kerry’s interview by Matthew Fox. The AP story went with the heading, “Kerry Warns Of Violence If Peace Talks Fail”. That heading stayed with the story in its many incarnations. It began:
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a stark warning to Israel on Thursday, saying it faces international isolation and a possible explosion of violence if it does not make progress in peace efforts with the Palestinians.
Kerry issued the blunt remarks in a joint interview with Israeli and Palestinian television channels, ensuring the message would reach its intended audience.
“The alternative to getting back to the talks is the potential of chaos. I mean does Israel want a third intifada?” Kerry said, using the term for past Palestinian uprisings against Israeli occupation.
The settlements and a warning to Israel that a peace agreement will not wait forever, were not the only highlights of Kerry’s Jerusalem television interview with the two journalists, Udi Segal of Israeli Channel 2 and Maher Shalabi of Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation.
To move beyond the “stark warning” and pending “violence”, the full text of the interview is available here. It is posted by the U.S. State Department website, which also sent out the picture of Kerry and his two interviewers.
Selected highlights of the interview, separated by topics, and gleaned from the State Department text, are below for those who wish to have an upclose and personal view of what upset Benjamin Netanyahu. Other highlights will emerge upon close reading.
“Warning” and “violence” are not words that dominate the interview.
On the demonization of Israel
SECRETARY KERRY: I believe that if we do not resolve the issues between Palestinians and Israelis, if we do not find a way to find peace, there will be an increasing isolation of Israel, there will be an increasing campaign of de-legitimization of Israel that’s been taking place in an international basis, that we if we don’t resolve the question of settlements and the question of who lives where and how and what rights they have, if we don’t end the presence of Israeli soldiers perpetually within the West Bank, then there will be an increasing feeling that if we cannot get peace with a leadership that is committed to nonviolence, you may wind up with leadership that is committed to violence.
MR SEGAL (Israeli Channel 2): Mr. Secretary, you spoke about what signaling does those things send. So let me ask you this. How do you think a picture of Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, hugging murderers that killed children 20 or 30 years ago and say that they’re heroes of the Palestinian people – what kind of message do you think this is sent about peace process or peace atmosphere to the Israeli people?
SECRETARY KERRY: It’s very difficult. I have no illusions. I know that the vast majority of the people in Israel are opposed. I understand that. Prime Minister Netanyahu understands that, and it is a sign of his seriousness that he was willing to make this decision. The alternative to getting back to the talks is the potential of chaos. I mean, does Israel want a third intifada? . . .
I know there are people who have grown used to this. And particularly in Israel – Israel says oh, we feel safe today, we have a wall, we’re not in a day-to-day conflict, we’re doing pretty well economically. Well, I’ve got news for you. Today’s status quo will not be tomorrow’s or next year’s. Because if we don’t resolve this issue, the Arab world, the Palestinians, neighbors, others are going to begin again to push in a different way. And the last thing Israel wants to see is a return to violence.
Palestinian Economic Plan
SECRETARY KERRY: . . . . if you want to make peace with people, if you want people to believe in the possibilities of peace and the benefits of peace, you need to show them the benefits. If the life of Palestinians continues to not have opportunity, not see economic opportunity, not find jobs, not improve their lives, it’s hard for them to believe in the government, it’s hard for them to believe anything anybody says. But if their lives are beginning to improve, then they have a stake in the future, and they begin to believe in the possibilities of peace. And you have a better chance of making peace if life is improving and things are happening on the ground. . . .
We’re trying to help prove that there can be improved living conditions. More water is coming into the West Bank on a daily basis. We’re improving the Allenby Bridge movement. We’re improving the number of work permits so that more Palestinians will be able to come into Israel and be able to work. I mean, these are the ways in which you break down the barriers and you begin to show people what peace could possibly look like.
Recent agreement on prisoners and settlements
MR. SEGAL: Can you confirm that the two sides – Israeli [and] Palestinian – agreed to free murders [sic] versus building in the settlement deal as part of the resumption of the negotiation, i.e., every time that Israel will release the prisoner, there will be a wave of construction?
SECRETARY KERRY: No, I cannot confirm that, because that is not true. . . . The agreement specifically was that there would be a release of the pre-Oslo prisoners, 104, who have been in prison now for many, many years, who would be released in exchange for the Palestinian Authority not proceeding to the UN during that period of time.
The Palestinian leadership made it absolutely clear they believe the settlements are illegal, they object to the settlements, and they are in no way condoning the settlements. But they knew that Israel would make some announcements. They knew it, but they don’t agree with it, and they don’t support it. . …
We do not think you [Israel] should be doing settlements. We, the United States, say the same thing. We do not believe the settlements are legitimate. We think they’re illegitimate. And we believe that the entire peace process would, in fact, be easier if these settlements were not taking place. Now, that’s our position. . . .The United States policy has always been that the settlements are illegitimate, and we believe this process would be much easier if we didn’t have the tension that is created by settlements.
One state versus two states
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, there is no one-state solution. There’s no such thing as a one-state solution. You cannot have peace on any one side with the concept of a one-state solution. It just won’t happen. You can’t subsume other people into one state against their will. And it simply is not a reality. And anybody who’s talking about it doesn’t know really what – it’s just not possible. So you’ll have a perpetual state of conflict if somebody tries to achieve that. . . .
Importance of non-violence
MR. SHALABI (Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation): Maybe you know, Mr. Secretary, that in 2012 not one –
SECRETARY KERRY: I do know that. Not one Israeli in 2012 was killed in the West Bank. And that’s a huge step forward. And the reason I’m so urgent about this is because the Palestinians and President Abbas have committed themselves to nonviolence. So it is important for Israel to strengthen them, to help provide this peace so that the nonviolence is rewarded. Because if nonviolence is not rewarded, the alternative will be that people go back to the other.
You need to provide the security for Israel and you need to provide certainties about certain things, what happens with refugees, how you deal with the land.
The Palestinians need to know that they will have a real state, not a Swiss cheese, but a state that is contiguous, that allows them the opportunity to be able to have their sovereignty respected.
Kerry’s final two paragraphs have been highlighted because I believe they offer the essence of the Secretary’s goal for Israel and Palestine. He cannot achieve that goal alone. Remember his words, “a real state, not a Swiss cheese”.
A real contiguous state with respected sovereignty, is a goal that demands patience and hard work.