On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a comparatively fiery condemnation of the Israeli Occupation of Palestine — in what may have been the Obama Administration’s strongest showing in support of Palestinians yet. Kerry started by assuring Israel that it still had the U.S.’s respect, but held that “Friends need to tell each other the hard truths, and friendships require mutual respect.” He went on to challenge the brutal conditions Palestinians under occupation have been forced to accept as the status quo, asking, “Would an Israeli accept living that way? Would an American accept living that way?”
Kerry further slammed the current Israeli government, calling it the “most right-wing in Israel history with an agenda driven by the most extreme elements.”
Reactions to the speech have been, unsurprisingly, mixed. While some congressmen stated their support, such as Mark Pocan (D-WI), he was one of few lawmakers to support the speech. Former Republican Presidential Candidate and longtime Arizona Senator John McCain stated called the speech a “pointless tirade.” Incoming Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, who has advocated Israeli interests in the Senate for over a decade, also condemned the speech, expressing concern that Kerry “emboldened extremists on both sides.” This blunt disapproval flies in the face of the fact that the vast majority of American Jews oppose settlements and support a two-state solution.
Kerry’s speech comes at a critical time for Palestinians; earlier this week, the United States abstained from a crucial vote in the United Nations Security Council on Resolution 2334, which condemned Israeli settlements into Palestine as a “flagrant violation under international law.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has retaliated at the international community in response by isolating himself further and further, “reducing” working ties with 12 of the UN Security Council member nations. This only seems to further affirm Kerry’s statement that the UN vote is not what isolated Israel – rather, Israel’s own refusal to recognize that “virtually every country in the world other than Israel” opposes settlements is the isolating factor.
While this stronger stance is a huge step forward for American recognition of Palestinians’ human rights, it’s also important to remember not to get ahead of ourselves. As Kerry himself pointed out during his speech, the Obama Administration has actually proven more of an ally to Israel than almost any other administration. Even in the face of the genocidal Operation Protective Edge, President Obama authorized additional military aid to the Israeli military to help secure the Iron Dome; and as recently as just this fall, he “concluded an historic $38 billion memorandum of understanding that exceeds any military assistance package the United States has provided to any country at any time.”
So, realistically, Palestine will not be free tomorrow, or even next year. But the fact that the United States and the rest of the international community appears to finally be reconsidering its unconditional love affair with an occupier state is a good sign for potential peace. Whether this tenuous breakthrough holds with an openly infatuated President-Elect Trump remains to be seen.