EU welcomes John Kerry’s peace message: “The international community does not give up on peace in the Middle East”
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EU welcomes John Kerry’s peace message: “The international community does not give up on peace in the Middle East”

US Secretary of State John Kerry warned last Wednesday (28 December) that the two-state solution is in serious jeopardy but hoped that there was still a way forward if the responsible parties are willing to act.

In a frank and passionate speech at the State Department in Washington he told some uncomfortable truths – especially to the Israeli side – and confronted both Israelis and Palestinians with the difficult choices they need to make.

“The alternative that is fast becoming the reality on the ground is in nobody’s interest – not the Israelis, not the Palestinians, not the region – and not the United States.”

He was referring to the fact that the possibility of a two-state solution is gradually slipping away and is being replaced by a one-state reality that will never work and that most people do not actually want. For the Palestinians, however, any solution with offers them fundamental rights, dignity and an economic future would be better than the current occupation.

“In the end, we all understand that a final status agreement can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the parties,” he said. “We cannot impose the peace. We can only encourage them to take this path; we cannot walk down it for them.”

Last time Israelis and Palestinians negotiated under US mediation was in 2013 – 2014 but the peace process collapsed after nine months and with it the hope of a solution to the conflict.

In July 2014 the third Gaza war broke out. As long as the peace process was going on, there was at least a faint hope of a solution based on two states.

Neither side gave really the fragile peace process a chance. When the parties could not agree, US proposed instead a framework agreement, which was supposed to outline the content of a final peace agreement, but it was never published.  

In his speech John Kerry listed some “practical suggestions” or principles for how to preserve and advance the prospects for the just and lasting peace that both sides deserve. The principles are apparently taken from this draft framework but come too late to make any difference.

They remind us about the “Clinton ideas” that former US president Bill Clinton presented on 23 December 2000 in the White House to Israeli and Palestinian negotiators. They were also presented in the last days of an American administration and covered also the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict such as borders, Jerusalem, security and refugees.

The difference was that the Clinton “ideas” summarized the results of intensive negotiations between the two parties and included concrete solutions. As for example regards territory, the solution provided between 94 – 96 % of the West Bank to the future Palestinian state with a land swap of 1 – 3 %.

According to the American peace negotiator Dennis Ross, who wrote “The Missing Peace – The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace” (2004), the Israeli government under Ehud Barak accepted the ideas with some reservations but the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was not ready to make a decision to end the conflict.

Israeli reaction

Since then the situation on the ground has deteriorated and the current nationalist Israeli government will hardly offer the Palestinians almost 100 % of the West Bank. The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, hurried to issue a lengthy statement in response to John Kerry’s speech in the very same evening (28 December). His statement largely ignored the content of Kerry’s speech and his concerns for the two-state solution.

Netanyahu claimed in the response “that Israel remains committed to resolving the outstanding differences between us and the Palestinians through direct negotiations” but he did not mention the two-state solution. For the religious-nationalist partners in his coalition government the two-state solution is already dead.

He referred to the direct negotiations on peace treaties with Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994). “This is how we made peace with Egypt; this is how we made peace with Jordan; it’s the only way we’ll make peace with the Palestinians.” The difference is of course that Israel did not have any territorial disputes with its neighbors and therefore agreed to evacuate occupied land in return for peace.

Secretary of State John Kerry’s six principles for peace

Borders: Provide for secure and recognized international borders between Israel and a viable and contiguous Palestine, negotiated based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed equivalent swaps. The border should reflect practical realities on the ground.

Two states: Fulfill the vision of two states for two peoples, one Jewish and one Arab, with mutual recognition and full equal rights for all their respective citizens. The two states should be recognized as the homelands for respective people.

Refugees: Provide for a just, agreed, fair, and realistic solution to the Palestinian refugee issue. The solution must be consistent with two states for two peoples, and cannot affect the fundamental character of Israel.

Jerusalem: Provide an agreed resolution for Jerusalem as the internationally recognized capital of the two states, and protect and assure freedom of access to the holy sites. The solution must reflect Israel’s historic and religious ties to the city and the realities on the ground.

Security: Satisfy Israel’s security needs and bring a full end, ultimately, to the occupation, while ensuring that Israel can defend itself effectively and that Palestine can provide security for its people in a sovereign and non-militarized state.

End of conflict: End all outstanding claims, enabling normalized relations and enhanced regional security for all. For Israel, this must also bring broader peace with all of its Arab neighbors.

EU position

The Brussels Times asked the European External Action Service (EEAS) whether state secretary John Kerry’s outline of principles for a comprehensive solution of the conflict also reflects EU’s position. Without entering any details, its spokesperson replied that he outlined important principles for a two-state solution.

“All our efforts must be focused on upholding the basic international consensus on the principle of two states,” the spokesperson continued. “The international community must remain united in order to preserve the viability of the two-state solution and to promote a comprehensive peace deal that meets the aspirations and needs of both Israelis and Palestinians.”

The Israeli government is probably pleased to hear that “The only way to end the conflict is through a two-state solution negotiated between the parties. The EU remains fully committed to work towards this end in cooperation and coordination with its international and regional partners in order to be helpful to the parties on their path to sustainable peace.”

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times