Saying that "friends need to tell each other the hard truths," Secretary of State John Kerry gave his valedictory address at the State Department yesterday. He focused primarily on Israel, its occupation of Palestinian-claimed territory, and his conclusion that Israel's "endless occupation" and settlement building in the West Bank are "destroying hopes for peace."
Clocking in at more than an hour, Kerry's diplomatic language could not completely obscure his frustration that he had not been able to move the cause of peace toward any resolution. That's no small wonder, given that the Netanyahu government had approved building even more housing units just before he gave the speech, which included Kerry's assertion that "Virtually every country in the world other than Israel opposes settlements." The U.N. Security Council vote last week was 14 to 0 against them.
Kerry sees no chance for any reconciliation between Israel and Palestine without two separate, independent and autonomous states. He declared that, under a one-state solution, "Israel can either be Jewish or Democratic; it cannot be both."
Let's unpack that. If the area becomes one state, including all that is now Israel and all that is Palestine, it will soon have a majority population that is not Jewish. The only way to prevent that would be not to give full citizenship and equal rights to the Palestinians, which is essentially the case now. Then it would not be a democracy. On the other hand, if all occupants have equal rights and are all full citizens, it will not be a Jewish state.
Kerry acknowledges, as do I, that Israelis have a right to defend themselves and that terrorist attacks against them must stop, or be stopped. But I also agree with Kerry that a peace process must begin with both sides acknowledging the needs of the other side. Only if there is a mutual, constructive effort to meet the needs of both groups can the next step toward peace be taken.
Kerry was forthright in calling the occupation for what it is -- an occupation. Neither side is going to unilaterally disarm, which means that the attacks from the Palestine side and the occupation restrictions must be ended simultaneously, as they move forward to craft a two state solution. Since Prime Minister Netanyahu calls this a biased position against Israel, his claim that he favors a two state solution is simply empty rhetoric.
Although Kerry has a plan that could work -- if all parties would let it work -- his impassioned speech carried a note of pessimistic gloom because of the simple fact that Donald Trump has already made it clear that he will side totally with Netanyahu and Israel. He blasted Obama as treating a "great friend" with "disdain and disrespect."
I believe that Obama and Kerry have a comprehensive understanding that their successors will not have, so it is doubly discouraging that they are having to leave this one unresolved -- and in the incapable (metaphorically small) hands of Mr. Trump.