In the previous comment’s thread, Anya asked if I’d provide some analysis once the speech was over. I’m going to provide a response and here’s a link to the transcript of his remarks at CSPAN for those at work who couldn’t watch the video.
What Secretary Kerry spoke about today is basically a reiteration of long standing US policy in regard to the Israelis and the Palestinians going back almost fifty years. In doing so it was also a defense of both these longstanding US positions and policies and a defense of the US’s abstention last week at the UN Security Council (UNSC). It is for this reason that Secretary Kerry recounted the almost identical actions taken on a very similarly worded UNSC resolution that the Reagan Administration took in December 1987. In a lot of ways what Secretary Kerry did today was an attempt to set the record straight on how the US has always approached the issue of Israeli settlements. My take is he felt he could wait no longer to do so in light of the official Israeli reaction and response since the US abstention at the UNSC last week.
The Israeli response is, itself, not surprising. And while some of this lack of surprise comes from who Prime Minister Netanyahu is, more of the lack of surprise is that this is how Prime Ministers from the Likud Party have always treated the US, its actions, and US Presidents – regardless of their party. Both Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir made similar types of responses when they were unhappy with Presidents Reagan and Bush (41). In both cases they went around sitting US Presidents and attempted to directly work Congress, the news media, and Jewish American organizations.
Here’s President Reagan’s account of Prime Minister Begin’s actions.
Although I felt that our relationship had gotten off to a good start and that I had Begin’s confidence that we would do whatever it took to ensure the safety of Israel, I learned that almost immediately after he left the White House, Begin went to Capitol Hill and began lobbying very hard against me, the administration, and the AWACS sale – after he had told me he wouldn’t do that.
I didn’t like having representatives of a foreign country – any foreign country – trying to interfere in what I regarded as our domestic political process and the setting of our foreign policy. I told the State Department to let Begin know I didn’t like it and that he was jeopardizing the close relationship or our countries unless he backed off. Privately, I felt he’d broken his word and I was angry about it. Late the following month, we won the AWACS battle when the Senate narrowly defeated a measure that would have blocked the sale, and we achieved our goal of sending a signal to moderate Arabs that we could be evenhanded – even though Israel, in a message apparently dictated by Begin, denounced the administration for anti-Semitism and betrayal.
And here’s Prime Minister Begin’s accusations of anti-Semitism by the Reagan Administration:
91. Statement by Prime Minister Begin on U.S. Measures Against Israel, 20 December 1981.
In an unprecedented move, Mr. Begin summoned the United States ambassador to Israel, and read to him the following statement. It was later read to the cabinet and issued to the public. Mr. Begin complained that the U.S. had punished Israel three times in the past six months. Israel was no. “vassal state” or a “banana republic.” He also hinted of anti-Semitic overtones in some of the punitive measures taken by the United States. Text:
Three times during the past six months, the U.S. Government has “punished” Israel.
On June 7 we destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor “Osirak” near Baghdad. I don’t want to mention to you today from whom we received the final information that this reactor was going to produce atomic bombs. We had no doubt about that: therefore our action was an act of salvation, an act of national self-defense in the most lofty sense of the concept. We saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians, including tens of thousands of children.
Nonetheless, you announced that you were punishing us – and you left unfilled a signed and sealed contract that included specific dates for the supply of (war) planes.
Not long after, in a defensive act – after a slaughter was committed against our people leaving three dead (including an Auschwitz survivor) and 29 were injured we bombed the PLO headquarters in Beirut.
You have no moral right to preach to us about civilian casualties. We have read the history of World War Two and we know what happened to civilians when you took action against an enemy. We have also read the history of the Vietnam war and your phrase “body-count”. We always make efforts to avoid hitting civilian populations, but sometimes it is unavoidable – as was the case in our bombing of the PLO headquarters.
We sometimes risk the lives of our soldiers to avoid civilian casualties.
Nonetheless, you punished us: you suspended delivery of F-15 planes.
A week ago, at the instance of the Government, the Knesset passed on all three readings by an overwhelming majority of two-thirds, the “Golan Heights Law.”
Now you once again declare that you are punishing Israel.
What kind of expression is this – “punishing Israel”? Are we a vassal state of yours? Are we a banana republic? Are we youths of fourteen who, if they don’t behave properly, are slapped across the fingers?
Let me tell you who this government is composed of. It is composed of people whose lives were spent in resistance, in fighting and in suffering. You will not frighten us with “punishments”. He who threatens us will find us deaf to his threats. We are only prepared to listen to rational arguments.
You have no right to “punish” Israel – and I protest at the very use of this term.
You have announced that you are suspending consultations on the implementation of the memorandum of understanding on strategic cooperation, and that your return to these consultations in the future will depend on progress achieved in the autonomy talks and on the situation in Lebanon.
You want to make Israel a hostage of the memorandum of understanding.
I regard your announcement suspending the consultations on the memorandum of as the abrogation (by you) of the memorandum. No “sword of Damocles” is going to hang over our head. So we duly take note of the fact that you have abrogated the memorandum of understanding.
The people of Israel has lived 3,700 years without a memorandum of understanding with America – and it will continue to live for another 3,700. In our eyes it (i.e., the U.S. suspension) is an abrogation of the memorandum.
We will not agree that you should demand of us to allow the Arabs of East Jerusalem to take part in the autonomy elections – and threaten us that if we don’t consent you will suspend the memorandum.
You have imposed upon us financial punishments – and have (thereby) violated the word of the President. When Secretary Haig was here he read from a written document the words of President Reagan that you would purchase 200 million dollars worth of Israel arms and other equipment. Now you say it will not be so.
This is therefore a violation of the President’s word. Is it customary? Is it proper?
You cancelled an additional 100 million dollars. What did you want to do – to “hit us in our pocket”?
In 1946 there lived in this house a British general by the name of Barker. Today I live here. When we fought him, you called us “terrorists” – and we carried on fighting. After we attacked his headquarters in the requisitioned building of the King David Hotel, Barker said: “This race will only be influenced by being hit in the pocket” – and he ordered his soldiers to stop patronizing Jewish cafes.
To hit us in the pocket – this is the philosophy of Barker. Now I understand why the whole great effort in the Senate to obtain a majority for the arms deal with Saudi Arabia was accompanied by an ugly campaign of anti-Semitism.
There’s much more at the link. Prime Minister Begin let the US Ambassador at the time have it with both barrels, then went for a rhetorical reload, then called in a rhetorical air strike, then rhetorically burned the village to save it…
When President George H. W. Bush clashed with Prime Minister Shamir over the settlements and Israeli settlement policy he was also publicly attacked with charges of anti-Semitism:
Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were often frustrated by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. Perhaps the most public crisis in the relationship came in 1991 when Bush and Shamir clashed over the one topic that has divided almost every president from almost every prime minister—Israel’s construction of settlements in occupied Palestinian territories.
Unhappy over the impact the settlements were having on the peace process, Bush held up $10 billion in loan guarantees for Israel. Bush was blasted by one Israeli Cabinet minister as a “liar” and an “anti-Semite.”
It is very important to state that when the US or American officials in their official capacity or even Americans disagree with Israel in regards to Israeli actions and publicly air those criticisms and disagreements that this is not anti-Semitism. Here are links to how the US, Great Britain, and the EU officially define anti-Semitism. All three are in agreement. Here’s the US definition from the Special Envoy to Monitor anti-Semitism and Extremism:
“Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
And here’s how the US defines anti-Semitism in regards to Israel:
What is Anti-Semitism Relative to Israel?
EXAMPLES of the ways in which anti-Semitism manifests itself with regard to the state of Israel, taking into account the overall context could include:
- Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism to characterize Israel or Israelis
- Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis
- Blaming Israel for all inter-religious or political tensions
DOUBLE STANDARD FOR ISRAEL:
- Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation
- Multilateral organizations focusing on Israel only for peace or human rights investigations
- Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist
However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.
Nothing in last week’s UN Security Council Resolution fall within this definition. And certainly nothing the US has done under President Reagan, President George H. W. Bush, or President Obama does either.
What Secretary Kerry was responding to in his remarks today is, unfortunately, nothing new. Likud Party Prime Ministers have been treating American Presidents and American Ambassadors this way for over 30 years. Including accusing them of anti-Semitism. A great deal of what Secretary Kerry said today was an attempt to make sure that Americans remember their own history. Most Americans couldn’t even paraphrase the US policy towards Israel and the Palestinians, let alone have a good historical understanding of how it was developed, what was adjusted under which President, just how tough on the Israelis Presidents Reagan and Bush (41) were, and that the responses of Prime Minister Netanyahu to President Obama is not new, but quite in line with how Prime Ministers Begin and Shamir treated Presidents Reagan and Bush (41). This includes the professional Jewish Americans that are on network and cable news, have columns in major newspapers, and run major Jewish American organizations. Secretary Kerry’s remarks today boil down to: if you don’t remember where you’ve been, you’re not going to be be able to figure out how to get where you want to go.
To finish up, as a national security professional who has worked on these issues* I think that what Secretary Kerry reiterated today as the principles for an Israeli-Palestinian peace make a lot of sense. Unfortunately they are dead on arrival. And this has less to do with any potential change in policy from the incoming Trump Administration. Rather, they are dead on arrival because over the past five years more and more members of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition, or significantly notable members of the parties within the coalition, have repudiated the concept of a two state solution. Instead a one state solution has been put forward with different dynamics and permutations based on who is articulating the potential policy. Some of these call for some form of legal rights and citizenship for the Palestinians within this unitary state while others call for the removal of the Palestinians from the proposed unitary state. Even Prime Minister Netanyahu called for a one state solution during his most recent reelection campaign, though he quickly repudiated this upon winning. Unfortunately the one state position is now the default position of the majority of the current Israeli governing coalition. And this, itself, has ramifications among the Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority has been seeking more and more often, through international organizations, recognition of it as the de facto government of a de facto Palestinian State. And this is all aside from the increasing cycles of violence between Israelis and Palestinians that further poisons any attempt at trust building. All of these actions, from the governing Israeli coalition’s abandonment of the two state concept as a solution, to the Palestinian Authority’s attempt to gain de facto recognition as the government of a de facto Palestine, to the cycle of violence, are all negatively contributing to the inability of anyone to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
Until or unless the Israelis and the Palestinians are able to break the cycle there is very little that the US can do to resolve the crisis and facilitate a peace agreement. During the GOP primaries the President-elect indicated that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute was really a real estate problem and that he knows how to solve those. Leaving the second half of the statement aside, he is absolutely correct in regard to this being a difficult real estate transaction. One that requires trading land, which is tangible, for security if not peace, which are intangible and hard to measure. What makes the Israeli-Palestinian dispute a wicked problem is not that we don’t know how to engineer the solution. We do know how to do that. What makes it a wicked problem is no one has cracked the code on how to successfully market that solution to the Israelis and the Palestinians, as well as marketing it domestically within the US to Americans too.
* Full disclosure. I was one of the people that worked on the Department of Defense’s portion of the 2014 Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative. Originally I was brought to US Army Europe (USAREUR), which was in charge of actually overseeing and carrying out the security assessments for the DOD that Secretary Kerry mentioned. I was under temporary assigned control (TACON) as the Cultural Advisor to the Commander of US Army Europe and worked both on site at USAREUR headquarters on temporary duty (TDY) and from my own office at Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania from December 2013 through June 2014, with most of the time being spent at my own office, not on TDY. In this assignment I was tasked with providing input (several in depth reports as well as shorter written inputs and onsite direct inputs) to the Commander, Deputy Commander, Chief of Plans, Chief of Assessments, and their teams on the socio-cultural dynamics of the Israelis, Palestinians, and the history of the conflict between them, as well as assisting both the Chief of Plans and Chief of Assessments and their teams with consolidating the various portions of the assessments into the final report and I was tasked with writing the historical section for the report.
From June through August 2014 my civilian mobilization term assignment under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act was shifted from US Army War College to the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Security Dialogue (OSD-SD) as they picked up my funding and I was assigned under Operational Control (OPCON) to US Army Europe. This two month assignment was to serve as the executive editor and oversee quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) in the production and completion of the final DOD report that would go from the Commander of US Army Europe to the Commander of US European Command to GEN Allen, the Special Envoy at OSD-SD, to the Secretaries of Defense and State. When this assignment was completed I demobilized from my four year term appointment at USAWC.