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Op-Ed Contributor: John Kerry and Israel: Too Little and Too Late

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John Kerry speaking at the State Department on Wednesday.

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Zach Gibson/Getty Images

In a speech this week laying out the Obama administration’s parameters for a final peace agreement between Israel and Palestine, Secretary of State John Kerry stated what has been obvious to most observers for many years: that Israel’s construction of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land has all but destroyed the two-state solution. Unfortunately, Mr. Kerry’s speech offers far too little, and comes much too late.

In 2013, shortly after he became secretary of state, Mr. Kerry warned that there was only a two-year window left for creating a Palestinian state. Now, almost four years later and in the last days of his tenure, he has finally laid out parameters for a two-state solution. But with President-elect Donald J. Trump suggesting he will align the United States with Israel’s extreme pro-settler government, the Obama/Kerry parameters will most likely be consigned to oblivion like those promulgated by Bill Clinton 16 years ago.

During Mr. Obama’s eight years in office, the illegal Israeli settler population has swelled by 100,000, to well over 600,000. Simultaneously, for eight years Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has directed a barrage of calculated slights, insults and acts of disrespect at the president of the United States. The Obama administration has finally reacted with Mr. Kerry’s speech and by allowing Resolution 2334, which condemns Israeli settlement expansion, to pass in the United Nations Security Council. By doing so, the United States simply acted in accordance with international law and the global consensus of nearly 50 years.

Meanwhile, a third generation of Palestinian children is growing up under a brutal occupation and Gaza has been under siege for a decade. Palestinians are obliged to seek the permission of the Israeli military for the most basic of needs, such as medical treatment, or to travel abroad or even just to Jerusalem. As Mr. Kerry asked in his speech: “Would an Israeli accept living that way? Would an American accept living that way?” It is no wonder that the hopelessness caused by Israeli settlement expansion and land theft in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and the closing of all avenues for realization of the aspirations of Palestinian youth have produced grave social ills, as well as outbreaks of violence.

The Kerry parameters and Resolution 2334 are not going to change much in this dismal picture nor will they save Mr. Obama’s tepid legacy where Palestine is concerned. The resolution has no built-in enforcement mechanism, and it is not necessarily binding. However, it calls upon states to “distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.” This provides the international legal justification for sanctions by states, boycotts of goods produced in settlements, and divestment by unions, foundations and universities of assets in companies that support the colonization of Palestinian land.

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