After an eight-year delay and in its last days in power, the Obama administration has spoken what it has been silent about. We have said over and over again that occupation and settlements are squeezing the life out of any possibility of creating a Palestinian state, destroying the chances of peace, that there is no alternative to the two-state solution except one state, that the incumbent government in Tel Aviv is the most radical right-wing government in the history of Israel, that its most extremist members are steering policy, and that the future of the region is in imminent danger because of it.
Also, that anyone who differs with Israel is described as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic, and that peace with Arabs is impossible without giving the Palestinian people their rights, and that the core of the problem is occupation which has become a ghetto system, and that settlements devour more than 60 per cent of occupied West Bank territories.
In short, Kerry in his belated comments warned Israel it has created and embedded an “apartheid” system without anyone daring to speak the term that former US President Carter had noted years ago.
Kerry said that the number of settlers grew by 100,000 during Obama’s tenure, but he did not mention that his administration’s failure to confront Israel and force it to stop settlement building is the reason for this. He did not mention how Obama buckled under pressure from Netanyahu and reneged on his promise made during his address in Cairo in his first year in office to work on ending settlements.
In fact, the Obama administration encouraged Israel to continue its arrogance. It was the most supportive administration of Israel in history, by way of which Israel now receives more than half of the US foreign military aid budget. Washington gives it the best weapons and opposes anyone who criticises it; fights the boycott campaign against it; and has approved giving unprecedented military assistance to Israel worth $38 billion.
But all this did not protect Kerry from Netanyahu’s insolence who described the former as “insane and fake”. Neither did bias towards Israel save Obama from the harsh embarrassment dealt out by Netanyahu in the US Congress.
What is most notable in Kerry’s speech are the criteria he suggested for a settlement, which the Palestinian people will never accept. We can never accept the description of our just and legitimate struggle as terrorism and incitement. We can never accept Kerry’s objections to our right to popular resistance, including the boycott movement, imposing sanctions, and withdrawing investments in Israel. We cannot accept the notion of recognising Israel as a Jewish state because this means abolishing the rights of two million Palestinians who succeeded in remaining in the 1948 territories, and obliterating the right of return.
No one will accept replacing the right of return of refugees with financial compensation or naturalisation in foreign countries. If Kerry wants to refer to UN Resolution 181, he must remember that according to that resolution, the Palestinian state includes Jaffa, Galilee, the Triangle and part of Negev. We cannot replace the notion of ending occupation in all territories taken in 1967 with amendments to the border to give legitimacy to settlements that the world community has condemned as illegal.
We cannot replace our recognised rights in occupied Arab Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state with a general and ambiguous phrase such as “capital of two states”, which gives Israel an opportunity to suggest that Jerusalem as a capital can be replaced with one of the surrounding districts, such as Abu Dis. Freedom of worship does not conflict with our right to complete sovereignty over the heart of Jerusalem, the old city, Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Resurrection.
Security is not only an issue for Israel; the right of Palestinians to security cannot be ignored. We do not possess an army like Israel or 400 nuclear warheads or F-35 jets or nuclear submarines. The ones in need of protection are the Palestinian people, more than anyone else.
Albeit late, Kerry presented a correct analysis and premise which is commendable. But his conclusions and criteria were mistaken and harmful.
Palestine does not need new criteria. We already have enough international resolutions and laws, the ruling of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, world consensus that 50 years of occupation must end and the path of the 70-year-old naqba must be corrected. Israel and its settlement policies have violently clashed with the world community in recent days, as seen in the Security Council and Netanyahu’s haughtiness and terseness towards dozens of countries. This is all thanks to the struggle of the Palestinian people, their resilience and resistance.
It is thanks to popular, political and diplomatic resistance and the boycott campaign and imposing sanctions through the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) movement around the world.
Today, Israel’s isolation is growing and the balance of power continues to tip in our favour. The cause of Palestine continues to coalesce since it is “the greatest moral issue of our era”, as Nelson Mandela put it.
Happy New Year to you and to Palestine.
The writer is secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative.