Though the Obama administration has just one week left in office, Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to a Paris peace conference this weekend in a last-ditch effort to advocate for the two-state solution he strongly endorsed last month.
In an unusually blunt December 28 address, Kerry said that Israel’s settlements in the West Bank are obstacles to the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. “No one thinking seriously about peace can ignore the reality of what the settlements pose to that peace,” he said, calling on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to end the settlements and allow for Palestinian development.
Israeli officials and defenders of the Jewish state are concerned by Kerry’s remarks, as well as the recent unanimous passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which declared the settlements illegal. The United States historically abstained from the vote, allowing the resolution to pass.
Kerry will attend the January 15 event in Paris alongside representatives from 70 nations.
Donald Trump and his ambassador to Israel nominee, David Friedman, support the settlements. Trump criticized the UN Security Council resolution, tweeting last month, “We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect,” and “Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!”
More than half of white evangelicals say that the United States isn’t supportive enough of Israel, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center survey. As CT reported last year, Pew found that Israel’s Christian minority tends to believe the opposite: 86 percent say the United States is too supportive.
Three Christians with expertise in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—Todd Deatherage of Telos, Gerald McDermott of Beeson Divinity School, and Alex Awad (formerly) of Bethlehem Bible College—offered CT their take on the Paris talks, and the prospects for the two-state solution as a new administration transitions into the White House.
Two Views and a Third Way
The tensions between the Obama administration and the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spilled over once again in recent weeks. This final disagreement follows the US decision to abstain from a UN Security Council resolution that criticized ongoing construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
The Security Council restated its view that the development of Jewish communities in the West Bank—biblical Judea and Samaria, land Israel took control of in the 1967 war—are illegal under international law, and amount to unilateral Israeli action that undermines confidence in the peace process and the ability to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The decision to abstain was met with sharp rebuke in Israel and here in the US, prompting Kerry to deliver a subsequent speech on the conflict in unusually sharp and direct language.
Many saw Kerry’s remarks as a settling of scores and a final revelation of the anti-Israel bent of the Obama administration. Others heard the Secretary of State articulate a different version of what it means to be pro-Israel. In their view, he offered a vigorous defense of the two-state solution as the best way to ensure Israel’s viability as a democratic state with a substantial Jewish majority, and chastised the actions by both parties—but Netanyahu’s support for settlement construction in particular—that are making that goal impossible.