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Middle East Notes, January 19, 2017

Dome of the Rock, Jeruselem

Please note: Opinions expressed in the following articles do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.

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The six featured articles and the related links in this issue of the Middle East Notes focus on U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s valedictory speech on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the approval by the U.S. House of Representatives of a bipartisan resolution rejecting UN resolution 2334; the fact that the resolution was only the most recent manifestation of ongoing strategic changes that President Trump won’t want to or be able to reverse; the end of the U.S. monopoly over the Israeli Palestinian negotiations process; the Middle East Peace Conference Joint Declaration from the Ministerial meeting held in Paris on January 15, 2017; and a special notice of CMEP’s “Broader Middle East Bulletin” which will be published monthly with articles covering a wide range of topics related to the Middle East region.

Commentary: The UN Security Council’s Resolution 2334, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech concerning the Israeli Palestinian conflict, the Middle East Peace Conference Joint Declaration from the Paris Ministerial meeting: all support a two-state solution with the end of the occupation and settlements. The new Trump administration will have to choose between supporting a viable and just two-state solution, or a one bi-national state which seems to be the de facto “facts on the ground” reality at present. The majority of Israelis and Palestinians still prefer the first option since they are aware that the second option will entail continued and perhaps increased conflict and violence. However the policies and actions of the present Israeli government continue to make a two-state solution less possible. It has become more of a dream than a possibility to the Palestinians who are now increasing their efforts to seek more democratic representation in Israel, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.  

  • James J. Zogby writes in LobelLog that Secretary of State John Kerry’s valedictory speech on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict unleashed a firestorm of criticism from the very same folks who had just finished hyperventilating over the U.S. abstention on a Security Council resolution 2334 a few days earlier.
  • Ma’an News reports that the U.S. House of Representatives approved on January 6 a bipartisan resolution rejecting UN resolution 2334. This House resolution strongly denounces Israel’s illegal settlement building in occupied Palestinian territory. It also stated its unwavering commitment and support for the state of Israel. The lawmakers passed the non-binding resolution with 342 representatives voting in favor, and 80 voting against.
  • Brent Sasley states in Haaretz that Obama’s UN abstention on Resolution 2334 was only the most recent manifestation of ongoing strategic changes that Trump too won’t want or be able to reverse.
  • Akiva Eldar notes in Al Monitor that Trump says he will squash UNSC Resolution 2334 condemning the settlements and leave it on the rubbish heap of history. However, no one, not even the President of the United States, has the power to revoke a UN Security Council resolution. The UN is not some entity that has all of a sudden decided to attack Israel. For the past 50 years, all the world body’s member states except for Israel and Micronesia have viewed the settlements as an obstacle to peace, at best.
  • Matthew Duss in FMEP writes that the Obama administration’s decision on Dec. 23 to abstain from vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution reaffirming the illegality of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory marked the end of the longstanding U.S. monopoly over the negotiations process, and the acceptance of greater international ownership of a solution.
  • Haaretz has provided a copy of the Middle East Peace Conference Joint Declaration from the Ministerial meeting held in Paris on January 15, 2017 to reaffirm their support for a just, lasting and comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They reaffirmed that a negotiated solution with two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, is the only way to achieve enduring peace.

Special Note: CMEP Bulletin: In Context: News From the Broader Middle East, January 13, 2017

“Welcome to the first edition of CMEP’s “Broader Middle East Bulletin.” While CMEP will continue to focus primarily on Israel/Palestine, it is important to understand the broader context of the region as we do the work of peacebuilding. This first edition contains articles covering a wide range of topics from ongoing conflicts to economics, politics and U.S. involvement in the Middle East region. Over the next year we hope to provide a “Broader Middle East Bulletin” about once a month focused on more recent events.” 

Featured Articles:

1) What Kerry Did, James J. Zogby, LobelLog, January 2, 2017

“[U.S.] Secretary of State John Kerry’s valedictory speech on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict unleashed a firestorm of criticism from the very same folks who had just finished hyperventilating over the U.S. abstention on a Security Council resolution a few days earlier.

“The speech, itself, was divided into three parts. Kerry opened with an accounting of all that the Obama Administration had done for Israel in the past eight years. And he closed with a list of principles he said should serve as the basis for a future Israeli-Palestinian peace. The largest part, the middle, was a passionate indictment of Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank and East Jerusalem—the most comprehensive critique ever given by an American political leader.” …

“What set off the firestorm was that Kerry dared to publicly and forcefully criticize Israeli policy. And that was what the overreaction intended to snuff out. The standard Israeli approach used in situations of this sort is to launch a campaign of intimidation designed to pummel the offender into submission and to discourage others from taking similar course.”

“And now comes Kerry’s State Department speech in which he didn’t just criticize Israel’s occupation and settlement policy, he also demolished the arguments Israelis use to defend their actions. At the same time, he provided a tutorial on the damage done to peace by settlements. Kerry’s speech will not change Israeli policy. And with Trump in the Oval Office in three weeks, the speech most certainly will not affect a change in US policy. But what Kerry has done, if he doesn’t relent, is shatter the taboo that has sheltered Israel from official criticism, while laying out the arguments needed to rebut Israeli efforts to justify their policies.” 

2) U.S. House of Representatives approve pro-Israel resolution, dismiss UN, Ma’an News, JAN. 6, 2017

“The US House of Representatives on Friday (January 6) approved a bipartisan resolution rejecting UN resolution 2334 that passed last month and which strongly denounced Israel’s illegal settlement building in occupied Palestinian territory, and instead stated their unwavering commitment and support for the state of Israel.

“According to Israeli news outlet Ynet, the lawmakers passed the non-binding resolution with a staggering 342 representatives voting in favor, and 80 voting against.” …

“The UN’s anti-settlement resolution (2334) passed at the United Nations General Assembly last month, which reiterated the international community’s rejection of Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territory and restated its illegality under international law.” …

“While US-Israel relations have seen a series of diplomatic disputes during Obama’s administration, Israel remains the number one long-time recipient of US military aid, and US representatives have largely neglected efforts to hold Israel accountable for violations of Palestinian rights and international law.”

“On Wednesday, (January 4)  three US senators-- Republicans Ted Cruz (Texas), Dean Heller (Nevada), and Marco Rubio (Florida) -- introduced a bill to congress that would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital and move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv, defying international stances on the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict resting on a two-state solution.” …

“While members of the international community have rested the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the discontinuation of illegal Israeli settlements and the establishment of a two-state solution, Israeli leaders have instead shifted further to the right as many Knesset members have called for an escalation of settlement building in the occupied West Bank, and with some having advocated for its complete annexation.

“A number of Palestinian activists have criticized the two-state solution as unsustainable and unlikely to bring durable peace, proposing instead a binational state with equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians.” …

See also:

a) Samantha Power Paints Dark Picture, Encourages Trump to Lead World in Exit Memo From the UN

b) Republicans Move to Defund UN Over Censure of Israeli Settlements

c) U.S. House Votes to Condemn UN Over Israel, but Two-state Solution Clause Irks Hardliners

3) Opinion Increasingly, Supporting Israel No Longer Serves America’s Interests, Brent Sasley, Haaretz, January 7, 2017

“We are at the beginning of a new era in U.S.-Israel relations. While predications must always be tentative, it’s likely that the relationship will never be as strong as it once was. President Barack Obama’s decision to abstain on United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 is not the cause, but only the most recent manifestation of that change.” …

“In other words, there is nothing automatically close about the relationship; changing international and domestic conditions led to a strengthening of the connection. They can weaken the connection, as well. From the beginning Netanyahu and Obama had conflicting priorities and preferences. But while the specific contours of their squabbles might be unique, they reflect the changed positions of both countries as well as a shift in their domestic politics.” …

“Any Israeli government that promotes settlements will find itself increasingly isolated on this issue in world opinion and in international institutions. Israel’s domestic politics reinforce that type of government. The country’s electorate has shifted to the right. It’s not a permanent move. But the lack of a viable leftwing alternative to the political right and to Mr. Netanyahu specifically has facilitated the dominance of the nationalist right. That segment of the political class is committed to expanding settlements. Any international effort to push Israel to end that enterprise is a threat to both the right’s political position and to its deeply held beliefs.” …

“But most important, they mean that the relationship with Israel is increasingly seen as only one small part of a much bigger effort to exert leadership and deal with global problems. Israel’s interests are progressively diverging from America’s.”

4) Why Trump can't save Israeli settlements; Akiva Eldar,  Al Monitor, January 2017

“U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s tweet in reaction to the speech by outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry, who sharply rebuked Israel, was pleasing music to many Israeli ears. ‘Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!’ Trump wrote. Trump is promising to teach the United Nations a lesson. When he occupies the Oval Office, the United Nations will not dare treat Israel with ‘such total disdain and disrespect.’ Trump will squash UN Security Council Resolution 2334 condemning the settlements and leave it on the rubbish heap of history.” …

“Trump will find out very soon that changing the traditional bipartisan policy on this issue would be in defiance of the European Union, another senior member of the Quartet. The EU has already decided to label products made in the settlements and to deny the settlers the trade benefits accorded to Israel. UN Security Council Resolution 2334 and Netanyahu’s unbridled attack against the countries that voted for it, among them France, the United Kingdom and Spain, brought the settlement issue to the top of the international agenda. Given the international consensus over the resolution, Trump will have a hard time convincing the EU and its member states to refrain from adopting harsher sanctions against the settlements. Unlike him, European leaders are careful to differentiate between support for Israel’s security and well-being within its pre-1967 borders and support for a government of settlement supporters doing everything in its power to erase those border lines.

“The president of the United States cannot, of course, dictate anything to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. One of the most important articles in Resolution 2334 is the one calling for the implementation of the court’s opinion regarding the separation fence. By doing so, the council validated its 2004 ruling that the sections of the fence that cross the Green Line, including those in East Jerusalem, constitute de facto annexation and a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The court ordered a halt to the construction of the wall in those areas, the dismantling of the sections already built and compensation for any damage caused by the construction.” …

“The changing of the guard at the White House is not expected to change the rest of the world’s negative views of the Israeli occupation, which marks half a century this year. “ … 

See also: Blessing in Disguise?  The Trump Presidency May be Better for Palestine

5) Is the Search for a Palestinian State Over?  Matthew Duss, FMEP, January 13, 2017

“Any attempt to examine how the Israeli-Palestinian peace process might fare under the presidency of Donald Trump must acknowledge one thing: The peace process did not survive the presidency of Barack Obama -- at least not in the form in which it has existed over the two decades since the signing of the Oslo agreement, in which the United States served as broker of bilateral talks between Israelis and Palestinians aimed at negotiating a Palestinian state.

“The Obama administration’s decision on Dec. 23 to abstain from vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution reaffirming the illegality of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory marked the end of the longstanding U.S. monopoly over the negotiations process, and the acceptance of greater international ownership of a solution.” …

“One possible dissenting voice in a Trump administration on these issues could be the aforementioned Mattis, who served from 2010 to 2013 as head of U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East. Mattis explained in a 2013 interview why he supported the peace process then being pursued by Secretary Kerry.”

“’So [Secretary Kerry is] right on target with what he’s doing. I just hope the protagonists want peace and a two-state solution as much as he does.’ Mattis reiterated this view at his Senate confirmation hearing this week, saying that Israeli-Palestinian peace ‘serves our vital interest.’

“Given that Trump said in a recent speech that ‘our goal is stability not chaos,’ it’s possible that, notwithstanding many of his advisers’ hardline pro-Israel leanings, he may ultimately be swayed by Mattis’s view, one also shared by previous administrations, and backed by a strong international consensus, that achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace would contribute to that goal.”

See also: Taking Peace Seriously – A Must For The Holy Land

6) Read Full Concluding Statement of Paris Peace Conference, Haaretz Jan 15, 2017

“(I) Following the Ministerial meeting held in Paris on 3 June 2016, the Participants met in Paris on 15 January 2017 to reaffirm their support for a just, lasting and comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They reaffirmed that a negotiated solution with two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, is the only way to achieve enduring peace.” …

“(II) The Participants highlighted the potential for security, stability and prosperity for both parties that could result from a peace agreement.” 

“(III) Looking ahead, the Participants:

- call upon both sides to officially restate their commitment to the two-state solution, thus disassociating themselves from voices that reject this solution;” …

“As follow-up to the Conference, interested Participants, expressing their readiness to review progress, resolved to meet again before the end of the year in order to support both sides in advancing the two-state solution through negotiations.” …

See also: 

a) Analysis Trump Was the Elephant in the Room at the Paris Peace Conference

b) Editorial Israel's Useless Boycott of the Paris Peace Conference

c) PA Welcomes Paris Summit Concluding Statement, Calls on France to Recognize Palestine

d) Two-thirds of Israelis Still Back Two-state Solution, J Street Poll Finds

e) 10 Reasons Two States Must Be Advanced

Links from the CMEP Bulletin - ALL Israeli Settlement Are Illegal Says UN Security Council – January 9, 2017 

a) U.S. Senate Leaders Back Bipartisan Bid Condemning Anti-settlements UN Vote [Haaretz]

b) The United States Just Made Middle East Peace Harder [The Washington Post] 

c) U.S. Abstention is a Message to Europe: End Israel’s Impunity [+972]

d) Kerry’s Mideast Peace Push Is Too Little, Too Late [Foreign Policy]

e)  With The Two-State Solution a Distant Dream, Palestinians Ask If It's Time To Push For a One-State Solution [Los Angeles Times]

f) Christian Envoy: Congress Must Cut All UN Funding After Anti-Settlement Vote [The Jerusalem Post]

g) Coalition of Churches Welcomes U.S. Abstention From UN Resolution On Israel's Illegal Settlements [Independent Catholic News] 

h) U.S. Christians Divided On U.N. Rebuke of Israel [Baptist News Global]

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