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Diana Buttu & Gideon Levy on Israeli Settlements, Kerry, Military Aid & End of Two-State Solution

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Secretary of State John Kerry has blasted Israel’s government, saying in a major address on Wednesday that the relentless expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank threatens Israel’s democracy and has all but ended the prospect of a two-state solution with the Palestinians. "If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or Democratic; it cannot be both," Kerry said. "And it won’t ever really be at peace." Kerry’s speech followed intense Israeli criticism of the U.S. for refusing to veto a Security Council resolution last week. The measure condemns Israel’s expansion of settlements as a flagrant violation of international law. The resolution passed in a 14-0 vote. The U.S. abstained. We speak to Palestinian attorney Diana Buttu and Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, a Haaretz columnist.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Secretary of State John Kerry has blasted Israel’s government, saying in a major address Wednesday that the relentless expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank threatens Israel’s democracy and has all but ended the prospect of a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: Despite our best efforts over the years, the two-state solution is now in serious jeopardy. The truth is that trends on the ground—violence, terrorism, incitement, settlement expansion and the seemingly endless occupation—they are combining to destroy hopes for peace on both sides and increasingly cementing an irreversible one-state reality that most people do not actually want.

AMY GOODMAN: Secretary Kerry’s speech followed intense Israeli criticism of the U.S. for refusing to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution last week. The measure condemns Israel’s expansion of settlements, a flagrant violation of international law. The resolution passed in a 14-to-0 vote. The U.S. abstained. Kerry insisted the U.S. had not abandoned its longtime ally, but said Israeli democracy would not survive under a single state.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: But here is a fundamental reality: If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic; it cannot be both. And it won’t ever really be at peace.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In the West Bank, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he was willing to resume peace talks in exchange for a halt to settlement construction. This is chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

SAEB EREKAT: Mr. Netanyahu knows very well that he has the choice: settlements or peace. He can’t have both. Settlements are illegal under international law. Settlements are a flagrant violation to international law. Settlements are the antidote for the two-state solution.

AMY GOODMAN: In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reaction to John Kerry’s speech was swift and harsh.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: I must express my deep disappointment with the speech today of John Kerry, a speech that was almost as unbalanced as the anti-Israel resolution passed at the U.N. last week. … Israel looks forward to working with President-elect Trump and with the American Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, to mitigate the damage that this resolution has done, and ultimately to repeal it.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Meanwhile, Donald Trump took to Twitter to blast Kerry’s speech, writing in a pair of tweets, quote, "We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect. They used to have a great friend in the U.S., but....... not anymore. The beginning of the end was the horrible Iran deal, and now this (U.N.)! Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!" Trump wrote. On Capitol Hill, lawmakers in both parties blasted Kerry’s address. South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham called it "delusional," while New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer said Kerry had, quote, "emboldened extremists on both sides," end-quote.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we’re joined by two guests. In Haifa, Israel, we’re joined by Diana Buttu. She’s an attorney based in Palestine who has served as a legal adviser to the Palestinians in negotiations with Israel. Buttu was previously an adviser to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. And in Tel Aviv, we’re joined by Gideon Levy, a Haaretz columnist and member of the newspaper’s editorial board. His new article is headlined "UN Resolution is a Breath of Hope in Sea of Darkness and Despair." Gideon Levy is also the author of The Punishment of Gaza.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Diana Buttu, let’s begin with you. Your response to this resolution?

DIANA BUTTU: This is a resolution that is good on its face, except what it requires is it requires the international community to actually follow up with it. What I think is important to remember is that these types of resolutions have been issued by all of the U.S. administrations, with even President Reagan not abstaining from this resolution but actually voting in favor of it. So, what really needs to happen now is sanctions need to begin to be imposed on Israel. It cannot be allowed to continue its colonization of the West Bank for yet another 50 years. And Israel must be sent the message that they cannot continue to defy international law. There will be a price to be paid.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Gideon Levy, your response to the vote in the United Nations, and especially to Kerry’s speech this week?

GIDEON LEVY: Both are too little. Both are too late. And about both, I can say, better late than never. I think that the main importance is, for the Israeli public opinion, it’s a wake-up call, is a last wake-up call, maybe even it is a too late wake-up call, to remind the Israelis that the world is very, very clear about the settlements, that the United States is not in the pocket of Israel, as we used to think in the recent years, rightly so, and, above all, that it doesn’t go together, settlements and peace, settlements and justice, settlement and being a democracy. This is the message, and I hope at least some of Israeli public opinion will start to think about it.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech. He described the many ways the Obama administration has supported Israel over the years.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: Time and again, we have demonstrated that we have Israel’s back. We have strongly opposed boycotts, divestment campaigns and sanctions targeting Israel in international fora, whenever and wherever its legitimacy was attacked. And we have fought for its inclusion across the U.N. system. In the midst of our own financial crisis and budget deficits, we repeatedly increased funding to support Israel. In fact, more than one-half of our entire global foreign military financing goes to Israel. And this fall, we concluded an historic $38 billion memorandum of understanding that exceeds any military assistance package the United States has provided to any country at any time.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s the secretary of state. Gideon Levy in Tel Aviv, this is not how all of this is being portrayed, that it may be unusual for President Obama to abstain from vetoing a vote on Israel, but, as Diana Buttu just said, going back to Reagan—in fact, when Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., began her speech, she quoted Reagan, who had been involved with a number of resolutions that criticized Israel, and that went right up through Republican and Democratic presidents. And here you have John Kerry talking about this unprecedented, historic military deal, $38 billion over 10 years. Can you talk about whether President Obama has been, whether in manner, in fact, friendlier to Israel than any previous president since Reagan?

GIDEON LEVY: You, Amy, may call it friendly, and I would call it very hostile, because supplying Israel with more drugs just to get Israel satisfied is not friendship. It is hostility. And I think that President Obama, as great as he is, he really thought that, with Israel, it will go only with carrots. And we know by now that the last thing you can do with Israel is treat Israel with carrots, because Israel learned in those years, in those eight years of Obama, more than ever before, that it can do whatever it wants. The United States is still in its pocket. Many times when you were watching the relations between Israel and the United States in the recent years, one could even ask himself, "Who is really the superpower between the two? And who is really the friend of whom here?" because, as Tom Friedman wrote just today in The New York Times, you don’t supply a driver with more alcohol, you don’t let him drive drunk. And Obama let Israel drive drunk.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Diana Buttu, I’d like to ask you, Mahmoud Abbas has said that he’s willing to resume negotiations if the settlements stop, but you have said that Israel is not really interested in peace. Can you explain that?

DIANA BUTTU: Look, what Israel wants is it wants to have the farce of having a diplomatic process and bilateral negotiations, because what that does is it gives Israel a lot of support from the international community. We saw that during the period of Oslo, that Israel got more money coming into its coffers as a result of the negotiations, that it was allowed to establish more diplomatic ties. In fact, 34 countries established diplomatic ties as a result of Oslo. It ended up signing a peace agreement with Jordan that wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for the diplomatic process. And so, for Israel, negotiations pay.

But at the same time, what Israel was allowed to do during the negotiations process was continue to build and expand its settlements. And we saw that the number of settlers ended up doubling just in the few short years that the negotiations were taking place. Within a seven-year period, the number of settlers went up to 400,000. Even now, we see that the number has more than tripled. So what Israel wants is it wants to have this farce of a bilateral process, but it doesn’t at all want to pay the price of peace. It doesn’t want to end its settlements. It doesn’t want to end the occupation. All that it wants is for the international community to reward it for entering into dialogue and discussion with the Palestinians, all the while continuing to steal more Palestinian land.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk about the issue of one state versus two states. Benjamin Netanyahu says he supports a two-state solution. Diana Buttu, you have changed your views on this.

DIANA BUTTU: Yes, definitely. In the past, my view was that the only way forward was to be able to have Palestinians have a state of their own. But the more that I’ve spent time here, the more that I’ve come to realize, and after spending time in the negotiations, if, Amy, this were a battle line, a line would have been drawn a long time ago. That’s not what this is about. This is about the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. And I believe that the only way that we can move forward is if we address that fundamental issue and if we begin to establish a situation in which all individuals living in this country are given equal rights, irrespective of what their religion is, irrespective of their race. And that is the only way that we’re going to move forward. At this point in time, continuing to believe in a two-state settlement, when what we’ve seen is that all that it’s done is to further entrench the occupation, is to believe in the concept of insanity. And I’m simply not somebody who believes in that.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I want to go back to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech. He said the future of a two-state solution is in jeopardy.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: Despite our best efforts over the years, the two-state solution is now in serious jeopardy. The truth is that trends on the ground—violence, terrorism, incitement, settlement expansion and the seemingly endless occupation—they are combining to destroy hopes for peace on both sides and increasingly cementing an irreversible one-state reality that most people do not actually want.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Secretary of State Kerry went on to say a one-state solution would mean Palestinians will permanently be relegated to separate but unequal enclaves.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: If there is only one state, you would have millions of Palestinians permanently living in segregated enclaves in the middle of the West Bank, with no real political rights, separate legal, education and transportation systems, vast income disparities, under a permanent military occupation that deprives them of the most basic freedoms. Separate and unequal is what you would have. And nobody can explain how that works.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Gideon Levy, what about this, the issue of a one-state—can there be a Jewish state that is at the same time a democratic state, in a one-state solution?

GIDEON LEVY: I think what Secretary Kerry described so nicely about the future is the past and the present. He just described the reality in the West Bank and Gaza in the recent 50 years. Nothing changed. It’s exactly there. And therefore, my claim is that the one state is—has been established 50 years ago. The only question now is what kind of regime will this state have, because, by the end of the day, the Green Line was killed many, many years ago. The '67 borders are, unfortunately, irrelevant anymore. The settlers go to such a quantity, that it became an irreversible reality. And what Secretary Kerry described is very, very precise. But the only question I ask myself: "Mr. Secretary, don't you know that this is the reality by now? Don’t you know that this is the reality in the recent decades? You are speaking about the future." When will be the stage in which people like Secretary Kerry will admit that the two-state solution is dead? I think that if they had more guts and more honesty, they would have said it by now. But saying this means to reshuffle everything—all our concepts, all our beliefs, all our values. And it takes time for statesmen to change their minds. But by the end of the day, we have only one alternative. And the alternative is the one state, which exists already for 50 years. And the struggle should be from now on, like the name of your program, democracy now, equal rights. That’s the only issue at stake.

AMY GOODMAN: Gideon Levy, your response to Donald Trump? I want to play a clip of Donald Trump, who spoke about Israel Wednesday night when he briefly took questions from reporters.

PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP: I think you know what I believe. I’m very, very strong with Israel. I think Israel has been treated very, very unfairly by a lot of different people. You look at resolutions in the United Nations. You take a look at what’s happened. They’re up for 20 reprimands. And other nations that are horrible places, horrible places, that treat people horribly, haven’t even been reprimanded. So, there’s something going on, and I think it’s very unfair to Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: So, he’s saying he thinks it’s very unfair to Israel. And in that tweet, "We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect. They used to have a great friend in the U.S., but....... not anymore. The beginning of the end was the horrible Iran deal, and now this (U.N.)! Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!" What is your assessment of Donald Trump and what he will mean for Israel and Palestine?

GIDEON LEVY: "Stay strong, Israel," as if Israel is just about to collapse and it’s only about the coming 20 days. With all the weapons and the F-35 and the submarines, "Stay strong, Israel," another 20 days. It is ridiculous.

But I’ll be very honest with you, Amy. Before the elections, I played with myself with the idea that maybe Donald Trump is the better choice for the Middle East, not for the United States, because we knew very well what will Hillary Clinton do, and mainly we knew what she will not do. And I thought that maybe an unexpected figure like Donald Trump might bring new air, new ideas, new approach, and stop this automatic and blind support to Israel.

But I’m really regretting this by now already, when I see his nominations, when I see his last expressions. I think that between the two, John Kerry is much more of a friend of Israel, friend of democracy and friend of peace in the Middle East, rather than Donald Trump. He is still very unexpected. Nobody knows—I doubt if he even knows—what are his plans about the Middle East. But my feeling is that Donald Trump will always go with the strong ones, and the victims will always be the weak ones. And in our case, we know very well who are the victims and who are the weak ones.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Diana Buttu, your sense of what should happen and what can happen under a Trump administration and Republican control of the Congress, as far as the United States is concerned? Your perspective on what needs to happen now in terms of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?

DIANA BUTTU: Well, you know, in the United States, it’s become clear to me that Israel is not an issue that you even can discuss any longer, when you have presidents—President-elect Trump and a would-be President Clinton talking very much in the same form. And in the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, the line is pretty much the same. What’s become clear to me, as somebody who lives in Palestine, is that the United States is no longer relevant any longer and that what we need to begin to do is focusing on—focus on all those other countries and pushing for divestment, pushing for sanctions, pushing for boycotts of countries all around the world, just in the same way that the South African apartheid movement ended up pushing for—end of apartheid movement ended up going around the United States and pushing legislation through different countries around the world. To me, it’s become apparent that the United States is an obstacle. It’s been an obstacle for decades now. And the only way forward is to go around the United States, rather than continue to try to go through the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about David Friedman, Donald Trump’s bankruptcy lawyer, who is his pick to be the next U.S. ambassador to Israel. Friedman said in a statement he aimed to, quote, "strengthen the bond between our two countries and advance the cause of peace within the region, and look forward to doing this from the US embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem." When his nomination was announced, Haaretz ran an article headlined "David Friedman, Trump’s Radical-right Ambassador, Makes Netanyahu Look Like a J Street Lefty." Let’s go to David Friedman in his own words. October, he was interviewed on the Israeli network i24news.

NURIT ZUNGER: Will Donald Trump recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s sole capital?

DAVID FRIEDMAN: Yes. He said that countless times, that he will recognize the city of Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital. And he’ll move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

NURIT ZUNGER: All right. So, Trump’s policies, as far as the Israeli Jewish American voter, why should Israeli voters, Israeli-American voters, vote for Trump?

DAVID FRIEDMAN: Well, if those who want to see a strong relationship between Israel and the United States with no daylight, those who want to see Israel protected at the United Nations, those who want to see the strongest level of military and strategic cooperation between the two countries, those who don’t want to see any daylight between the two countries, those that want to live in an environment where the United States doesn’t attempt to impose upon Israel a solution to the Palestinian conflict against the state of Israel, those that want to see Jerusalem recognized as the capital of Israel, you know, vote for Donald Trump.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Donald Trump’s bankruptcy lawyer, David Friedman, who’s nominated to be the U.S. ambassador to Israel. Diana Buttu, I wanted to—if you could explain what this means, moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, for an audience, for example, in the United States, who really may not have any idea? And I also just want to point out how rare it is to bring on a Palestinian to comment on this in the last few days since the resolution. I’m not talking about Fox here. MSNBC, CNN rarely interview a Palestinian. They interview Netanyahu’s representatives. They interview the Obama administration, as if that represents the Palestinian side. And that’s pretty much it. But if you can explain what this means?

DIANA BUTTU: Well, first, to get to the issue of Jerusalem, not a single country around the world has recognized that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, including the United States. And the reason that nobody recognizes that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel is because under the partition plan, Resolution 181, the issue of Jerusalem was one that was to be decided in the future and to be internationalized. And this is why, when the negotiations actually began to take place in 1993, that Jerusalem was placed as one of those issues to be negotiated. The United States’s position has always been—and not just the United States, every country around the world—that the status of Jerusalem is one that will be decided bilaterally between the two sides and that neither side can impose their own vision for Jerusalem. And so, this is why the United States has never moved its embassy to Jerusalem and why you have to instead go to Tel Aviv. What Donald Trump is purporting to do is go behind—go around years of U.S. foreign policy to defy not only U.S. foreign policy, but international policy on the issue of Jerusalem and simply to appease Israel.

When it comes to the issue of representatives speaking before the media, you’re absolutely right, Amy. In order to get a Palestinian voice onto the mainstream media, the—I’ve noticed that the conversation ends up being between one Israeli faction and another Israeli faction, or sometimes you get somebody within the U.S. administration speaking. What I think that they need to know is that we are very capable of speaking for ourselves, and we should be invited to speak for ourselves, rather than having people speak about us. This is what one of the major problems is, is that, for decades, the Israelis have been speaking about us, but not to us. And the international community has spoken about us and not to us. And you see this particularly when it came to Secretary Kerry’s statement that people—that Palestinians don’t want to see a one state. The polls are actually showing the opposite, that people don’t believe in two states any longer, and even taking away the negative, not believing in it, that people genuinely want to see one state. So it’s time for people to start listening to the voices of Palestinians. We’re very capable of speaking for ourselves.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Gideon Levy, finally, your sense of what needs to be done now, not only here in the United States, but across the globe, by those who want a just solution in Palestine and—between Palestine and Israel? And also, your perspective on sanctions and the boycott movement?

GIDEON LEVY: Unfortunately, the only way to change things in Israeli policy will be only by pressure from the outside. I have very little hope that change will come from within the Israeli society, which is extremely brainwashed and nationalistic and religious and right-wing and even racist, more and more, day after day. I think the only hope is from international intervention and, above all, international pressure. It is about time that Israel will be punished for the crimes of the occupation. It is about time that Israelis will pay for the occupation that they all share responsibility for. We are all settlers. All of us Israelis carry responsibility for this occupation project, and all of us should be taken to pay, to be punished, to feel it, because the occupation is even not in the Israeli discourse. The occupation is not on the table. It’s not on the agenda. Nobody cares about the occupation. So, my only hope—and it’s a very limited hope—that gradually, gradually, the world will react, like it did react with South Africa. And hopefully it will be effective. And that’s right now the only optimistic scenario that I can draw.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Diana Buttu, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is calling on President Obama to join 137 other nations in granting Palestine diplomatic recognition before Obama leaves office. In a New York Times editorial, Carter writes, quote, "The combined weight of United States recognition, United Nations membership and a Security Council resolution solidly grounded in international law would lay the foundation for future diplomacy. ... This is the best—now, perhaps, the only—means of countering the one-state reality that Israel is imposing on itself and the Palestinian people." Again, so wrote the former U.S. president, Jimmy Carter, in a New York Times op-ed piece. We’ll end with you, Diana.

DIANA BUTTU: Look, for me, this isn’t about a question of recognition. This is a question of whether we will be able to get our rights enforced. And if that means that recognizing Palestine is a means of precluding us going to court, then, simply, I don’t want it. But what I do want to see is I want to see the Palestinian government taking Israel to court. I want to see them go before the ICC, the International Criminal Court, when it comes to settlements and when it comes to their actions in Gaza. I want to see that Israel is being sanctioned around the world. And I want to see that Israel is being isolated around the world, as well. If that means doing—if that means that we have to trade one for the other, I’ll take the going to court instead of recognition.

AMY GOODMAN: Diana Buttu, we want to thank you for being with us, from Haifa, Palestinian attorney, and Gideon Levy, speaking to us from Tel Aviv, the Haaretz columnist. We’ll link to your piece in Haaretz.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, Ava DuVernay. Stay with us.

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