Kerry’s speech, UN resolution drive peace further away, say US Jewish groups
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'Disconnected from the reality'

Kerry’s speech, UN resolution drive peace further away, say US Jewish groups

ADL, AIPAC slam address as too focused on criticizing Israel; J Street, IPF laud remarks, urge Jewish leaders to back initiative

US Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a speech on Middle East peace at the State Department in Washington, DC on December 28, 2016.  (Zach Gibson/Getty Images/AFP)
US Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a speech on Middle East peace at the State Department in Washington, DC on December 28, 2016. (Zach Gibson/Getty Images/AFP)

A number of prominent American-Jewish groups on Wednesday took to task US Secretary of State John Kerry for his speech earlier in the day laying out a comprehensive vision for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with the organizations suggesting the address was overly focused on criticizing Israel and failed to advance peace.

The Anti-Defamation League said it was “deeply disappointed” with certain parts of of the speech, adding that certain concerns about policies and dynamics expressed in Kerry’s address were “disconnected from the reality” that there were two parties to the conflict — Israelis and Palestinians.

Kerry’s speech came days after the US raised Israel’s ire by refusing to wield its veto power at the United Nations Security Council on Friday where a resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem was adopted with 14 nations voting in favor.

By abstaining, the US allowed the measure to go through.

The ADL on Wednesday said that Kerry’s speech could not be separated from the UN Security Council Resolution 2334 and that both risked distancing peace by reinforcing perceptions among Israelis that the Palestinians are unwilling to negotiate an agreement, prefering international measures instead, and appearing to dictate terms to Israel.

The speech and the resolution, said the ADL, “will strengthen the belief among Israelis – even those most supportive of negotiations – that the Palestinian leadership would prefer symbolic protest and unilateral measures rather than the hard work and difficult choices associated with direct negotiations with Israel. Further, they reinforce the unhelpful perception that the international community is dictating terms to Israel with the demands of the Palestinians.”

In addition, the US abstention at the Security Council, the ADL argued, “has the potential to set in motion many initiatives that delegitimize and demonize Israel, rather than advancing the peace process.”

Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, speaking at the ADL Annual Meeting in Los Angeles on November 6, 2014. (Courtesy ADL)
Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, speaking at the ADL Annual Meeting in Los Angeles on November 6, 2014. (Courtesy ADL)

The group said that while Kerry’s remarks were “heartfelt,” some of the sentiments he expressed seemed “disconnected from reality that there are two parties involved in this process, both of whom will need to make difficult choices to resolve the conflict.”

“As an organization committed to a two-state solution, we want to see trust and confidence nurtured among the parties so that we can achieve [the two-state solution]. However this speech – combined with the recent UNSC abstention – only pushes those prospects farther out. It is a truly upsetting final note from this administration on this issue of critical importance,” the ADL said.

The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee took the criticism of Kerry and of the US abstention at the Security Council a step further, calling the move a betrayal and abandonment of an important ally.

AIPAC said the resolution was “unfair, unbalanced and represented a profound departure from the policies of previous Democratic and Republican administrations for nearly the past forty years.”

While blasting Kerry for placing “overwhelming, disproportionate blame for the failure to advance peace” on Israel, the lobby added that “any potential positive contribution” from the speech was “foreclosed by the Obama Administration’s shameful refusal to veto the destructive, anti-Israel UNSC resolution.”

“By abstaining, and thereby allowing the resolution to pass, the outgoing administration not only betrayed a democratic ally and abandoned a forty-year understanding, but it also made the goal of peace more elusive by undermining direct talks, reinterpreting UN Security Council Resolution 242, and providing the recalcitrant Palestinian leadership with further incentive not to compromise or negotiate,” AIPAC said in a statement Wednesday.

“The intransigence of the Palestinian leadership is now being rewarded by the administration and others through destructive resolutions and counterproductive attempts to internationalize the conflict,” the group said adding that it will now work with Congress and with the incoming Trump administration to “begin the work of repairing the damage done to the cause of peace and the US-Israel relationship.”

President-elect Donald Trump has signaled he may not be committed to the two-state framework.

US President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with Ronald Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress,  after a meeting on December 28, 2016 at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida. (AFP/DON EMMERT)
US President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with Ronald Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress, after a meeting on December 28, 2016 at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida. (AFP/DON EMMERT)

The president-elect’s response to Kerry’s speech was rather subdued, telling reporters that the address “speaks for itself,” after meeting with World Jewish Congress President Ron Lauder at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

In a speech that lasted well over an hour, Kerry dwelled at length on Israeli settlement policy in the West Bank, charging leaders of the settlement movement with “purposefully accelerating” trends that will make a two-state solution impossible. Kerry noted that the settler population has grown by 270,000 since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, and by 100,000 since Obama took office in 2009. He also lamented the reversal of trends toward greater Palestinian control initiated with Oslo.

Castigating the coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he said it was “the most right-wing in Israel history with an agenda driven by the most extreme elements. The result is that policies of this government, which the prime minister himself just described as more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history, are leading … towards one state. In fact,” he added, “Israel has increasingly consolidated control over much of the West Bank for its own purposes.

US Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a speech on Middle East peace at The U.S. Department of State on December 28, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Zach Gibson/Getty Images/AFP)
US Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a speech on Middle East peace at The U.S. Department of State on December 28, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Zach Gibson/Getty Images/AFP)

Kerry argued that settlement construction in the West Bank was being “strategically placed in locations that make two states impossible” and said the “the status quo is leading toward one state, or perpetual occupation.”

B’nai B’rith International said Kerry’s speech was “unlikely to be helpful,” considering that it immediately followed the US abstention, and urged no further action on the US’s part.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center slammed what it termed a “draconian foreign policy shift” on the part of the Obama administration and said it was confident that Trump team’s “will restore – in tone and deeds – the relationship behooving two great friends who share a common heritage and democratic values.”

Liberal American-Jewish groups, by contrast, praised the speech and urged the Trump administration to move peace efforts forward.

The left-leaning J Street organization urged US Congress and American Jewish leaders to throw their backing behind Kerry’s initiative.

“J Street applauds Secretary of State Kerry’s speech today, which powerfully made the case that the two-state solution is not only in Israeli and Palestinian interests, but in the American national interest as well,” it says in a statement. “J Street strongly supports as well the secretary’s proposals for concrete steps toward the two-state solution that can be taken now and his outline of the basic principles on which resolution of the conflict can ultimately be based.”

“J Street calls on Members of Congress to welcome and respect the vision laid out by Secretary Kerry as an important marker and reaffirmation of US policy, and as a basis for future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to achieve the lasting peace and security that both peoples crave and deserve,” it says.

“We call as well on Jewish communal leaders to endorse this vision and to make clear that the overwhelming majority of Jewish Americans and friends of Israel choose the path of two states and not the path that leads to a “Greater Israel” and increasing international isolation.”

Meanwhile, the Union for Reform Judaism — which represents the largest denomination of American Jews — praised the speech for warning against the possibility of creating conditions that would lead to a one-state reality, but also reaffirmed its disappointment over the US decision to withhold its veto power with last week’s vote.

Reform leader Rabbi Rick Jacobs has urged President Obama not to close the office of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Washington DC, a position that puts him at odds with AIPAC. (Robert A. Cumins/JFNA via JTA)
Reform leader Rabbi Rick Jacobs (Robert A. Cumins/JFNA via JTA)

URJ president Rick Jacobs said Kerry’s remarks were “a powerful affirmation of the bipartisan bedrock of American policy in the Middle East” in it’s support for the two-state outcome, while issuing a sharp critique of Palestinian behavior that has impeded peace between the sides.

Kerry’s support for two states, Jacobs said, was “rightly cast in some of the staunchest pro-Israel language and most forceful denunciations of Palestinian instigation of violence that we have ever heard from the podium at the State Department.”

“We continue to believe that the administration was wrong to abstain from voting on Resolution 2334 at the United Nations last week,” he added. “Though we share the administration’s concern about settlement expansion, and, of course, its commitment to addressing Palestinian violence, it does not follow that the United Nations Security Council is the right place to have that discussion.”

The Israel Policy Forum said the parameters laid out by Kerry “have long been known to be the contours of any eventual negotiated permanent status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians” and that his “vision is a fair one that is in line with the Israeli consensus.”

The New Israel Fund said Kerry’s speech was “one more warning sign that all of us who care about Israel must heed. The status quo is dangerous for Israel.”

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