POLICY BRIEF: The Obama/Kerry Parameters: Blueprint for Apartheid

January 11, 2017 IMEU
POLICY BRIEF: The Obama/Kerry Parameters: Blueprint for Apartheid

(See here for the full text of the speech given by Secretary of State John Kerry on December 28, 2016.)

Parameter 1 – “Provide for secure and recognized international borders between Israel and a viable and contiguous Palestine, negotiated based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed equivalent swaps.”

  • The call for mutually agreed land “swaps” based on the pre-1967 borders is generally understood to mean that Israel will keep large Jewish settlements and so-called settlement “blocs” that it has built in violation of international law on occupied Palestinian land in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, while providing Palestinians with land elsewhere as compensation.
  • These large settlements are located mostly in and around East Jerusalem, and jut out deep into the middle of the West Bank. As result, even if all small settlements built outside these areas are dismantled, the Palestinian “state” in the West Bank will effectively be divided into two or three parts, and severed from East Jerusalem. This would be in addition to the West Bank and East Jerusalem’s geographical split with Gaza, which is supposed to make up the rest of the Palestinian state under the two-state solution.  (See here for interactive map of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.)
  • Each of the four or more cantons that would comprise the Palestinian state under such a scenario would be mostly or entirely surrounded by Israeli territory, which Palestinians would either have to travel around or get Israeli permission to travel through.

Parameter 2 - “Fulfill the vision of the UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of two states for two peoples, one Jewish and one Arab, with mutual recognition and full equal rights for all their respective citizens.”

  • Although it includes a call for equal rights for all the citizens of both Israel and Palestine, Kerry’s statement urging “recognition of Israel as a Jewish state” means that in effect Palestinians are being asked to formally acquiesce in the permanent second-class status of Palestinian citizens of Israel, who are indigenous to the land and today number more than 1.5 million people, comprising about 20% of Israel’s population.
  • Palestinian citizens of Israel already face widespread, systematic discrimination, including dozens of laws designed to privilege Jewish citizens (and non-citizens) over non-Jewish citizens, affecting everything from land ownership and housing to family reunification rights, education, employment, and health care.
  • Recognizing Israel as a Jewish state also means in effect renouncing the legal right of Palestinian refugees to return to homes and lands they were expelled from inside Israel.
  • Palestinians, represented by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), have already officially recognized Israel, in 1988, and again in 1993 as part of the Oslo Accords. In contrast, no Israeli government has ever officially recognized the right of Palestinians to have a state or self-determination of any kind inside historic Palestine.

Parameter 3 - “Provide for a just, agreed, fair, and realistic solution to the Palestinian refugee issue, with international assistance, that includes compensation, options and assistance in finding permanent homes, acknowledgment of suffering, and other measures necessary for a comprehensive resolution consistent with two states for two peoples.”

  • By calling for a “realistic” solution for Palestinian refugees, which, as Kerry further stipulated in his speech, doesn’t “affect the fundamental character of Israel,” the Obama/Kerry parameters would negate the internationally recognized legal right of Palestinian refugees to return to homes and lands they were expelled from during and after Israel’s establishment in 1948, in order to maintain a Jewish majority inside Israel.
  • The legal right of return of Palestinian refugees has been affirmed repeatedly by the United Nations and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. This is an individual human right that cannot be bargained away by political leaders. As noted by Human Rights Watch:

“Neither the options of local integration and third-country resettlement, nor their absence, should extinguish the right to return; their humanitarian purpose is to allow individual Palestinians to select during a specified period among several choices for ending their refugee status.”

  • While Palestinians would be denied their right to return under the Obama/Kerry parameters, Jews born anywhere in the world would continue to be able to immigrate to Israel and automatically receive full citizenship, as is the currently the case.

Parameter 4 - “Principle four: Provide an agreed resolution for Jerusalem as the internationally recognized capital of the two states, and protect and assure freedom of access to the holy sites consistent with the established status quo.”

  • Combined with the provision for land swaps and the idea that areas that currently have a predominantly Jewish population will become part of Israel, the reference to an “agreed resolution” means that the semi-circle of Jewish settlements Israel has built in and around occupied East Jerusalem will remain in place under the Obama/Kerry parameters. (See here for map of Israel’s East Jerusalem settlements.)
  • Israel’s settlement enterprise in and around occupied East Jerusalem is specifically intended to cement Israeli control over the city and to separate it from the rest of the occupied West Bank. If these settlements end up under Israeli sovereignty, Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem - which are supposed to be under Palestinian sovereignty and serve as the capital of a Palestinian state as part of the two-state solution – will be isolated and surrounded by Israeli territory.
  • The Obama/Kerry parameters also make no reference to East Jerusalem’s Old City and its highly sensitive religious sites, except to say that freedom of religion should be guaranteed “consistent with the established status quo.” Since occupying East Jerusalem during the 1967 War, Israel has routinely violated the right to freedom of worship of millions of Muslim and Christian Palestinians by denying them access to their holy sites in the Old City, most notably the Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) mosque complex and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. If Israel retains its settlements in East Jerusalem, Palestinians will likely continue to need permission from Israeli authorities to worship at some of their most sacred holy sites.

Parameter 5 - "Satisfy Israel’s security needs and bring a full end, ultimately, to the occupation, while ensuring that Israel can defend itself effectively and that Palestine can provide security for its people in a sovereign and non-militarized state.”

  • The stipulation for a demilitarized Palestinian state and stress on Israel’s unspecified “security needs” and requirement to “defend itself effectively,” along with the call for its half-century-old occupation to be ended “ultimately” rather than within a specific timeframe, leave open the possibility of a continued, long term Israeli military presence and operations inside the Palestinian state, particularly in the Jordan Valley. Israel has long insisted that it maintain control of the fertile Jordan Valley, which contains the border between the West Bank and Jordan, as part of any peace agreement.
  • A non-militarized Palestinian state, compromised of four or more isolated cantons on just 22% of historic Palestine, surrounded by a much larger and more powerful Israel which persists in denying millions of Palestinians the most basic of civil and human rights, will lack any real sovereignty and in all likelihood continue to be dominated militarily and economically by Israel.

Parameter 6 - “End the conflict and all outstanding claims, enabling normalized relations and enhanced regional security for all as envisaged by the Arab Peace Initiative.”

  • The reference to ending “all outstanding claims” is intended to prevent individual or groups of Palestinians from attempting to use legal avenues and international forums to safeguard or seek further redress for their rights that will be denied under any deal based on the first five parameters, including the right of return of Palestinian refugees and the right of Palestinian citizens of Israel to full legal equality with Jewish Israelis.


  • The Obama/Kerry parameters closely resemble the parameters set out by President Bill Clinton before he left office in January 2001 after overseeing eight years of failed negotiations under the Oslo Accords, but they go further in negating Palestinian rights by demanding that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
  • The primary effect of the Obama/Kerry parameters would be to enable Israel to maintain a Jewish majority population at the expense of the fundamental rights of millions of Palestinians, and to make permanent the apartheid regime it has implemented in the territories under its control, all with the formal acceptance of Palestinians themselves and the international community.
  • Decades of unsuccessful US-sponsored, bilateral negotiations have demonstrated that for there to be lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians it must be based on international law and respect for the rights of, and equality for, all peoples of the region, regardless of religion or ethnicity. All other approaches are destined to fail in the long term, as occurred with the Oslo Accords, President Clinton’s parameters, President George W. Bush’s “road map” for peace, and numerous other diplomatic initiatives.