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Elliott Abrams wants John Kerry to STFU about Palestine

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Reprinted from Mondoweiss

The Belfer Center hosted Secretary of State John Kerry for a conversation about Iran, Russia, Syria, and the world on October 13, 2015.
The Belfer Center hosted Secretary of State John Kerry for a conversation about Iran, Russia, Syria, and the world on October 13, 2015.
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At a time when many of us are trying to understand the motivation of terrorists, and the relevance of the Israel/Palestine conflict to terrorism (including possibly in California), Secretary of State John Kerry is being trolled on this question by the neoconservative Elliott Abrams. I wish I could say that Abrams, a former Bush aide who is an ardent supporter of Israel (and was convicted of lying to Congress a generation ago), didn't have influence. But actually he is helping to set the red lines of discussion in Washington.

Kerry's first recent offense came in October, when he linked extremist violence to Israeli settlement building. In this appearance at Harvard on October 13, you will see that he went directly from the greatest challenge of our generation being international terrorism, to the need for Palestinian statehood. He began by saying that young people in North Africa, the Middle East and southern Asia need better government or they will be tempted to become suicide bombers.

"I think... the challenge of -- violent extremist, religious radical extremism, is the challenge of our generation, of all of us together. And we're going to have to do a lot more to help countries to help themselves. Now, that became a bad word in the 1980s and '90s in America -- nation building. It's still a bad word probably in a lot of places.

"But I got news for you. If we don't do a better job of taking our values and our interests and marrying them and engaging with the rest of the world to give greater capacity to international multilateral efforts, it's going to come back to haunt people. And so I'm very clear about sort of where we are. If you support a two-state -- I'll bet -- how many people in this room support a two-state solution in Israel? ...

"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. So I look at that and I say if that did explode -- and I pray and hope it won't and I think there are options to prevent that -- but we would inevitably be -- at some point we're going to have to be engaged in working through those kinds of difficulties. So better to try to find the ways to deal with it before that happens than later."

The occupation of Palestine as a grievance fostering international terrorism is a verboten idea for Israel supporters; and Elliott Abrams promptly landed on Kerry, writing two days later at the Council on Foreign Relations site that the comments were "morally obtuse and factually wrong" and that Kerry was blaming the victims. The idea that settlement growth is endangering the alleged two-state solution is...

"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...

"[T]he 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..."

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the remarks, saying there had been no massive increase in settlements, and the State Department walked back Kerry's comments a bit, and so did the White House.

Then came the November 13 slaughter in Paris, with 129 victims of orchestrated suicide attacks; and on November 17, Kerry spoke to the US embassy to France and distinguished between those attacks and the January attacks in Paris.

"There's something different about what happened from Charlie Hebdo [in January], and I think everybody would feel that. There was a sort of particularized focus and perhaps even a legitimacy in terms of -- not a legitimacy, but a rationale that you could attach yourself to somehow and say, okay, they're really angry because of this and that. This Friday was absolutely indiscriminate. It wasn't to aggrieve one particular sense of wrong. It was to terrorize people. It was to attack everything that we do stand for. That's not an exaggeration. It was to assault all sense of nationhood and nation-state and rule of law and decency, dignity, and just put fear into the community and say, "Here we are." And for what? What's the platform? What's the grievance? That we're not who they are? They kill people because of who they are and they kill people because of what they believe. And it's indiscriminate. They kill Shia. They kill Yezidis. They kill Christians. They kill Druze. They kill Ismaili. They kill anybody who isn't them and doesn't pledge to be that. And they carry with them the greatest public display of misogyny that I've ever seen, not to mention a false claim regarding Islam. It has nothing to do with Islam; it has everything to do with criminality, with terror, with abuse, with psychopathism -- I mean, you name it."

Five days ago, Elliott Abrams wrote a piece called "Unspeakable Kerry" in the Weekly Standard, accusing John Kerry of anti-Semitism for his "unforgivable" comments on the Charlie Hebdo killings. He pointed out that a coordinated attack that January day killed four at a kosher supermarket.

"The more shocking message he delivered was that the November killings in Paris are more terrible than those of January. Why? Because the earlier killings, of cartoonists and Jews, were ... were what? First he said the previous attacks 'had a legitimacy in terms of' and then stopped himself. Even Kerry realized that what he was about to say was indefensible: that they had a legitimacy in terms of the beliefs of the attackers, who were offended after all by nasty cartoons of Muhammad. And as to the Jews, well, perhaps the attackers were offended by the mere existence of Jews, or perhaps in Kerry's misguided view they were deeply moved by the real or imagined plight of Palestinians."

Ali Gharib at Lobelog seized on this point, and brought up the motivation of Amedy Coulibaly, the 32-year-old Frenchman who killed four hostages at the kosher supermarket before he was killed by police:

"I was struck by Abrams's line that 'perhaps in Kerry's misguided view [the attackers] were deeply moved by the real or imagined plight of Palestinians.' One doesn't need to look to Kerry's view at all in this case: the assailants were very clear. Coulibaly had called into a French television station and told them so: '[H]e explained also why he did this: to defend oppressed Muslims, he said, notably in Palestine,' a journalist at the television station recounted. 'And finally he explained that he'd chosen the kosher store ...because he was targeting Jews.' The logic there is terribly anti-Semitic and reprehensible to its core, but that was indeed the logic. To entirely ignore how the gunmen themselves described the attacks in order to make nasty imputations about a politician with whom he disagrees on a reasonable rhetorical point, even if many of us might find that point incorrect, is misguided to say the least."

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Philip Weiss is a longtime writer and journalist in New York. He co-edits a website on Israel/Palestine,, which he founded in order to foster the movement for greater fairness and justice for Palestinians in American foreign policy. He is currently working on a novel about the US in Australia during WW2.

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