Illegal Israeli settlement Ariel in the West Bank (Photo: Salonmor/CC)
In the context of the current political climate in America, US Secretary of State, John Kerry’s speech was a brave rallying cry for Palestinians. In a move that will be remembered for years to come, he delivered some home truths with a much needed and long awaited frankness. Just weeks before a handover of power to a right-wing populist with little understanding of diplomacy let alone a desire to implement it in a peaceful way, Kerry’s speech was all the more important and timely.
Although he did not mention the right of return for Palestinian refugees and was unwavering when it came to America’s long-standing support of Israel, he was very emphatic about the danger of illegal settlements, the building of which has gone on unremittingly since 1967.
Downing Street did not think the issue of illegal settlements deserved that much attention from Kerry, but the time he dedicated to talking about settlements in his speech only just touched on their level of destructiveness: for Palestinian homes, territory, livelihoods and all notions of justice and peace.
Kerry laid out the principles required for a two-state solution, which included recognising Jerusalem as the capital of both states and an end to the occupation which sees 2.75 million Palestinians living under martial law in the West Bank.
He also mentioned the humanitarian crisis in Gaza where 1.3 million people out of Gaza’s population of 1.8 million are in need of daily assistance, including food and shelter and where only 5 percent of the water is safe to drink. He touched on the plight of the 1.7 million Arab Israelis who feel oppressed, marginalised and underrepresented in their own country.
These were all issues that he felt he had to speak out against, despite the relationship between the United States and Israel, because it was a matter of principles, because the US “cannot be true to our own values – or even the stated democratic values of Israel – and we cannot properly defend and protect Israel – if we allow a viable two-state solution to be destroyed before our eyes.
He made it clear that the continuation of settlement building would make a two-state solution impossible. The only other alternative would be one state instead of two. This state can be either “Jewish or democratic- it cannot be both”. It would, therefore, have to make a fundamental departure from the main founding principle of the state of Israel.
But Kerry doesn’t believe in this idea of one bi-national state. According to him, “It won’t ever really be at peace”. For him, the choices are either a two-state solution or perpetual conflict. And this is why he was right to focus on the issue of illegal settlements. Their continuous existence and expansion are tantamount to a daily declaration of war.