In a call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday, January 15, 2017, Secretary of State John Kerry assured the prime minister that there would be no further United Nations Security Council action taken against Israel in the wake the Paris peace conference.

That conference brought 70+ nations together to discuss terms of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, without either party being present.

United Nations Security Council resolution 2334, passed in late December 2016, when the United States abstained and failed to protect Israel from a resolution that stated that the Israeli presence in all lands captured in 1967, including parts of Jerusalem, constituted a flagrant violation of international law. The immediate effects of the resolution was to encourage boycotts of Israel and increase Palestinian violence, mostly rock throwing, against Israel.

Kerry’s Cynicism

The Paris peace conference was intended to advance the international assault on Israel’s legitimacy, playing up the Palestinian narrative that settlements, not Palestinian intransigence, were mostly responsible for the lack of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. It was expected that the final communique from the conference, which would have reiterated the “flagrant violation” language, would have been formalized in a second UNSC resolution.

However British Prime Minister Theresa May stepped up and sent a low level delegation to the conference, which refused to sign on to the final communique. (A spokesman for the government had blasted Kerry’s post resolution speech, in which he tried to justify the abstention, saying that it was wrong to be “focusing on only one issue,” namely the settlements, in seeking peace, when “the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is so deeply complex.” The statement also took Kerry to task for criticizing “the composition of the democratically-elected government of an ally.” The statement criticizing Kerry also reiterated that bilateral negotiations were the only way to achieve peace.)

Given that Great Britain is not buying into the Paris peace conference or Kerry’s diplomacy, and that it is a permanent member of the Security Council with veto power, it is not likely that any further resolutions would pass. (Why did Great Britain vote for 2334? Apparently May was blind-sided by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s participation in the resolution. This time she took no chances and took charge.)

Given the likelihood that no resolution would pass the Security Council, Kerry’s call to Netanyahu looks more like a cynical acknowledgement of defeat than a generous reassurance of an ally.

The Misplaced Priority

While the final communique did not include the most offensive language to Israel, it nonetheless cited “settlement activity” as a major impediment to Israeli-Palestinian peace. The communique did condemn ongoing violence, but violence, unlike so-called settlements, could apply to both sides. Implicitly, it still primarily blames Israel.

Blogger Daled Amos in a carefully argued post on Sunday demolished the “settlements are an impediment to peace” argument underlying the Obama administration’s failed Middle East diplomacy.

First Daled Amos showed that there have been only THREE new settlements built by Israel since 1990, not the thousands alleged by fiction writer and deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes.

He further pointed out that housing within existing settlements has not increased at the same rate as housing elsewhere in Israel and that housing in settlements hasn’t even kept up with the needs of the communities. Furthermore settlements make up less than 2% of the area in the West Bank, hardly enough to impede the formation of a Palestinian state.

So why raise the alarm about settlements?

By the way, a Washington Post (hardly a supporter of Netanyahu) editorial made a similar argument criticizing Kerry’s speech:

In fact, the two-state solution remains entirely viable, as even the settlement statistics cited by Mr. Kerry demonstrate. The administration asserts that the Jewish population in the West Bank has increased by 100,000 since 2009 — but by Mr. Kerry’s account, 80 percent of that growth was in areas Israel would likely annex in any settlement. In eight years, 20,000 people have been added to communities in territory likely to become part of Palestine — an area where 2.75 million Arabs now live. That growth of about 3 percent per annum, the product of a restraint for which Mr. Netanyahu received no White House credit, means that the Jewish population outside Israel’s West Bank fence may have decreased as a percentage of the overall population even as Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry have made it the focal point of U.S. policy.

The editorial attributes the lack of peace to a “a failure of leadership among Israelis and Palestinians,” but that hardly seems fair as it acknowledged that Netanyahu had indeed limited settlement growth.

In his conclusion, Daled Amos suggests:

At issue is more than just the sloppy confusion of settlements, houses and settler population. The hyperbole used by both the White House and the media pushes an agenda that clouds what is at stake and puts responsibility for peace on one party alone – Israel.

In the end it’s impossible to credit Kerry’s diplomacy or the outsized attention paid to settlements on misplaced good intentions.

In 2011, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas wrote an op-ed that was published in The New York Times expressing his intent to internationalize the conflict:

Palestine’s admission to the United Nations would pave the way for the internationalization of the conflict as a legal matter, not only a political on. “It would also pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice.

Palestine has not been admitted to the UN, but officials of the PA are saying that they will use 2334 to pursue action against Israel in the International Criminal Court.

It also has to be remembered that over President Barack Obama’s two terms in office the administration launched two peace initiatives in 2009-10 and 2013-14. Both times it was Abbas who torpedoed those efforts to make peace.

Allowing Abbas to internationalize the conflict after he refused to make peace has rewarded him for his obstructionism. Not only does it make peace less possible but it whitewashes recent history – even by those who were involved – to reward the obstructionist Abbas and punish Israel.

[ U.S. Department of State / Flickr ]