What Will Be The Reaction To Kerry's Speech On Mideast Peace? Secretary of State John Kerry gave a presentation of the administration's Middle East peace plan on Wednesday. NPR's Robert Siegel talks with former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer.
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What Will Be The Reaction To Kerry's Speech On Mideast Peace?

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What Will Be The Reaction To Kerry's Speech On Mideast Peace?

What Will Be The Reaction To Kerry's Speech On Mideast Peace?

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Daniel Kurtzer was U.S. ambassador to Israel during the George W. Bush administration. He's a retired career diplomat who also served as ambassador to Egypt. He now teaches at Princeton and was named by Secretary Kerry to the Foreign Policy Advisory Board. Daniel Kurtzer, welcome to the program once again.

DANIEL KURTZER: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: Did you hear anything new in Secretary Kerry's speech, and if not, then why do you think he made this speech today?

KURTZER: It wasn't new, but it was the most comprehensive, substantive statement of any American policymaker I think in the last 30 years. And I think he made it in order to kind of sum up what the Obama administration and what he personally had tried to do over the last years to try to achieve some movement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process - also to leave behind some lessons learned and a direction of how things might go if people actually wanted to take this up and move forward.

SIEGEL: Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu claims that U.S. policy changed when Ambassador Samantha Power abstained and let the U.N. Security Council resolution pass. Is that accurate?

KURTZER: No, it's plain wrong. And Secretary Kerry made that clear. And any reference to the record would indicate that what we voted - what we abstained on last Friday was consistent with longstanding American policy.

In fact, this administration - the Obama administration has been much less harsh to Israel in the U.N. than any of its predecessors. This is the first resolution that Obama has allowed to pass. Other administrations allowed several, including much harsher language.

SIEGEL: One reading, though, of the Israeli political landscape and literally the landscape of the West Bank is that a two-state solution may have had real possibilities 10 years ago, 20 years ago. But today the settler movement is so strong, settlements with their connecting roads are so developed that the idea is effectively dead, finished. Would you agree with that?

KURTZER: Well, it's certainly on life support. And the right-wing coalition in Israel would like to pull that plug. I was just out in the West Bank and took a firsthand look at a place like Ofra, which is a religious, ideological settlement in the heartland of the Palestinian areas, and the outpost of Amona, which is now the subject of such debate in Israel should it be removed.

And in fact, there is a concerted effort by settlers to create enough of these facts on the ground to make it impossible to reach the possibility of a two-state solution. I don't think we're quite there yet, but it's not far out.

SIEGEL: Donald Trump has given money to a Jewish religious school in the West Bank. So has his nominee to be ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who sounded hostile to a two-state solution. Can you imagine U.S. policy come January shifting to either approval of West Bank settlements or indifference to West Bank settlements?

KURTZER: Well, until November 8, it was unimaginable, and now we're looking at what appears to be an increasing likelihood that it will become a reality. I think it carries tremendous risks for us not just in this particular context but in our larger policy in the region.

You know, the Secretary of Defense-designate James Mattis, when he was serving as central commander, talked about the degree to which the Arab street in the Middle East continues to see the Palestinian issue as a central emotional concern. And how that street impacts the politics of the same Arabs who seem to have some strategic alignment with Israel could carry tremendous implications for their relations both with Israel and with us.

SIEGEL: He actually warned of the risk of Israel developing an apartheid state in the West Bank. He said things that were completely consistent with Secretary Kerry's speech today.

KURTZER: Yeah, we don't like to use that word, but it's a word that's been used by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who said if Israel doesn't make the tough decisions, he said it could become an apartheid state.

SIEGEL: Former U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer, thanks for talking with us.

KURTZER: Thank you, Robert.

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