from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Kerry Links Palestinian Terror to Settlement Expansion

October 14, 2015

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Secretary of State Kerry made an unhelpful, mistaken, ill-informed comment about the current wave of Palestinian violence yesterday when speaking at Harvard.

Here is the comment Kerry made:

So here’s the deal. What’s happening is that unless we get going, a two-state solution could conceivably be stolen from everybody. And there’s been a massive increase in settlements over the course of the last years. Now you have this violence because there’s a frustration that is growing, and a frustration among Israelis who don’t see any movement.

Kerry does not know what he is talking about. There has simply not been "a massive increase in settlements over the course of the last years." There has been a steady growth in settlement population, though the bulk of that growth is in the major blocs--such as Ma’ale Adumim--that Israel will clearly retain in any final agreement. Kerry’s imprecision is another problem. Does he mean there has been a massive increase in the number of settlements? That’s flatly false. Does he mean a massive increase in settlement size, as existing settlements expand physically? That’s also flatly false. The so-called "peace map" or "Google Earth map" of the West Bank has changed very little.

The frequent Palestinian claim that Israel is "gobbling up" the West Bank so that "peace will be impossible" is what Kerry is here repeating when he says "a two-state solution could conceivably be stolen from everybody." It’s a false claim and he should know it. If that is not what Kerry meant, he should be far more careful when he speaks about such an explosive topic--and at such an explosive moment.

Moreover, his claim is plain silly. The slow but steady growth in population in settlements is a completely unpersuasive explanation for the sudden outbreak of violence. That outburst of violence and terror appears linked to lies about Israel changing the status quo at the Temple Mount or Haram al-Sharif. But whatever its explanation, the false linkage to settlements is of a piece with the Obama administration’s continuing obsession with that subject--despite all the evidence. It’s remarkable that the Secretary of State, who has spent so much time with Israelis and Palestinians and has visited Jerusalem repeatedly, has not bothered to learn the basic facts. He is instead parroting Palestinian propaganda. In fact, Prime Minister Netanyahu has been under pressure and criticism from settler groups because he has restrained settlement population growth beyond the security barrier. To suffer those political attacks and then hear criticism from the secretary of state about a "massive increase in settlements" helps explain the lack of confidence Israeli officials feel in the Obama administration.

Mr. Kerry is doing something else here that is even worse: blaming the victims. The State Department has of course condemned acts of terror, but here in a question and answer period we get beyond official statements and see what Kerry really appears to think. He seems to believe that the real culprits, when Palestinians stab  Israelis to death, are people who build a new housing unit in a settlement.

The Kerry remarks at Harvard were morally obtuse and factually wrong.

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