Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Kerry Links Palestinian Terror to Settlement Expansion

by Elliott Abrams
October 14, 2015


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.

Post a Comment 16 Comments

  • Posted by Brad Brzezinski

    Israel is doing a terrible job countering the false beliefs about settlements that are endemic everywhere.

    By way of argument though, if settlements building was making a 2 state solution more difficult AND Abbas really wanted a state, he would be pushing for negotiations for all he was worth. Using settlement building as an excuse to not negotiate proves that something disingenuous is going on. This apples to the Obama Administration as well as it set that up as an excuse.

  • Posted by D'Allessandro

    During a 1979 presidential debate between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, the latter told Carter with a disbelieving grin on his face: “there you go again”. If Reagan were alive today he would most probably tell Secretary of State John Kerry the identical line because at every conceivable opportunity the former senator distorts the facts and tries to shift the blame on Israel rather than hold responsible those who are perpetrating heinous crimes against unarmed civilians… however Kerry’s rhetoric follows a pattern for he is not a one-man show; if he were then this administration would have distanced themselves from his remarks by rebuking his claims or replacing him. It is no wonder that Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israelis have a deep mistrust of the current administration, and when there is a strong skepticism between allies it then becomes extremely hard to forge a peaceful solution to the Palestine issue.

  • Posted by Peter

    The obtuseness and/or dishonesty are indeed infuriating and I can only imagine how much more so they are to Israelis enduring this horrible violence, and coming from a supposed ally. It makes one wonder what on earth Kerry thinks he can accomplish in person.

    And what a disturbing contrast to the protective and conciliating tone the Administration takes towards Cuba and the Islamic Republic.

    Congrats on this making the WSJ, though!

  • Posted by Evelyn Fabrikant

    Kerry is inciting more violence by blaming ‘”SETTLEMENTS” Every citizen must speak out before this terrorism increases both in Israel and abroad. Call Kerry tweet him email him.Tell him to tell Abbas to stop the violence or the US will stop the money we put into his bank account.
    We must not be silent ever again!

  • Posted by Judie Amsel

    “Stop building and adding to settlements. Stop incitement about the Temple Mount.”  How are these equivalent?  There are 139 Jewish settlements on the West Bank.  While existing settlements have expanded due to natural population growth, fewer than ten were constructed after 1990 and only two of these, with a total population of about 1000 people, were built after 2000.  Four others were dismantled in 2005.  I realize that Bibi and members of his party have been deliberately obnoxious about the timing of the announcements of new settlements, which have really been expansions, there have been far fewer under his watch than under previous Priime Ministers.  Why has this become such a big issue in the Obama administration and how does building homes equate with killing innocent civilians? 


  • Posted by Meir Russ

    I have to agree with Secretary Kerry’s conclusion regarding the recent acts of terror in Israel. It is the failure of the Israeli authorities to negotiate an acceptable agreement with the Palestinians and the increase in settlements that drive the terrorist to justify their recent attacks. I hope he also realizes that the same rationale would suggest that it is his and the President’s inability to negotiate an acceptable agreement with (1) and the activities of (2) that justify (3) : A. (1)the Chinese regarding their rights in the South China Sea and (2) the aggressive movements of the Navy that justifies (3) their island building; B. (1) Syria, and ISIS, and (2) the attacks by the Air Force that justify their (3) war criminal activities in Syria; C. (1) Russia, and the (2) destruction [or lack of] of chemical weapons that justify their (3) intervention in the war in Syria; D. (1)the Taliban and (2) NATO and American forces attacks that justify (3) their attacks in Afghanistan; E. (1) North Korea and Iran, and (2) the American aggressiveness and threats toward those two regimes that justify their (3) nuclear weapons building and testing with ballistic missiles.
    How far and low blaming the victim can Kerry go? Ask the Secretary. He will be better staying home.

  • Posted by Laura

    I see 3 alternatives for Kerry: he’s an idiot and doesn’t know the basic facts about the conflict he claims to want to end; he’s an Israel-hating liar; he’s totally amoral and doing Obama’s bidding.

  • Posted by Fred Donaldson

    John Forbes Kerry could be suffering from “blocking”, a problem not uncommon with the elderly – basically forgetting small details. It is a usual sign of aging and not generally harmful, unless the fate of the world might be determined by your words.

  • Posted by Bernard Smith

    Obama has appointed several persons to high positions, who were not qualified for such responsibility. Kerry is one of them. He, like the others, displays a lack of knowledge, lack of brain power and a willingness to do his master’s bidding, instead of being able to give the president good advice.
    Kerry, like Obama, makes one mistake after another with the Middle East and should keep out of ME affairs. If this means resigning, that is what he should do. He is damaging the region and the US.

  • Posted by Bernard Smith

    Armed with a proper knowledge of the local history, Mr . Kerry would understand the power of incitement combined with hatred. The 2 resulted in the Hebron massacre of 1929 and had nothing to do with jewish settlement. The massacre resulted from the incitement of the grand mufti of Jerusalem. Assaults on Jews in the 19th and early 20th centuries had no connection to large Jewish settlement.
    The building of Jewish communities in the territories did not stop peace negotiations before Obama took office. His obsession with these Jewish communities has necessitated Abbas to magnify their importance and gave him reason not to negotiate, even during a 9 month freeze.
    The cry that Al Aksa is in danger is another manifestation of religion used as a weapon to try to dislodge Jews from first Palestine and now Israel.
    Mr. Abrams analysis is correct. Kerry’s is just plain wrong, to put it mildly.

  • Posted by June

    Mr. Kerry, if he is to be taken seriously, needs to do better research and understand the history and context of the situation. As it stands now, he seems to want to distance himself as much as possible from his father’s parents choice to hide their Jewish origins, totally embrace his mother’s Brahmin New England ancestry and take advantage of his association with his daughter’s Muslim inl-aws.

  • Posted by Michael Wolin

    Mr Abrams writes: “The Kerry remarks at Harvard were morally obtuse and factually wrong.”

    We’ve come to expect nothing less from the hapless Secretary and the Administration he so ably represents.

  • Posted by Elaine gecht

    Type your comment in here…why all the one sided reporting.favoring the Paladtinesns. Jewish blood is always cheap. They call the Wedt Bank occupied but the land was gained by attack from the Arabs and their loss. That is never mentioned. Sheet dishonesty.

  • Posted by mer

    kerry’s statements along with Kirby’s statement from State Dept mic that Israel was playing around with the status quo on Temple Mount (later walked back) are indicators of what we are dealing with. time to take off the rose colored glasses. Netanyahu is now in a position of having to push back against the administration and their statements that subvert Israel’s sovereignty and question it’s motives and mischaracterize its actions. glad to see he is doing so. this is Obama’s cold war. face it.

  • Posted by Jassem Othman

    The Obama administration does not like to blame the Islamist terrorists for their terrorism, and probably soon will legitimize for murdering Jews and will blame America and the Zionists for any problem just like most of Eastern Europeans who always blame the Jews for their problems and the world’s problems.

  • Posted by F. Montelatici

    As a neutral, Kerry seems to me the reasonable one and Abrams the partisan ideologue.

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