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Kerry Rebukes Israeli Settlements, Defends 2-State Solution


And let's bring in another voice here. Aaron David Miller spent decades advising secretaries of state on the Arab-Israeli peace process, and he's a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center. Welcome back to the program.

AARON DAVID MILLER: Always a pleasure to be here.

GREENE: So the Palestinian journalist we were just listening to seemed to suggest this was a President Obama late in his term, unrestrained by lobbyists, able to just tell the truth in his final days. Is that what's happening, or was President Obama trying to accomplish something here?

MILLER: No. I mean, I think - tell the truth, I mean, the notion somehow the president's in his second term finally unchained or unconstrained from domestic politics somehow run free to do things that Palestinians like and Israelis don't I think, frankly, is a myth.


MILLER: The reality is the Obama administration, I think, fully understood that there would be very little consequence certainly in creating an environment for negotiations or perhaps even leaving a legacy for an incoming administration. They have a sense of what's coming. They see an incoming Trump administration probably largely going to support a variety of policies which will make creating a negotiation virtually impossible. I think that's the reason they did it.

GREENE: So it is this - we heard from Donald Trump tweeting yesterday, saying stay strong Israel, January 20 is fast approaching. Are you saying the Obama administration just, I mean, knows what's coming - was just trying to send a message and be able to say, look, we tried as hard as we could - this is going to be our legacy?

MILLER: I think that's precisely right. I think they tried to frame an issue that they have cared about deeply, particularly Secretary of State Kerry. You know that obviously it was not the president giving this speech. And while you could argue that the president's effort was the U.N. Security Council resolution, the abstention, he clearly allowed Secretary Kerry, the Energizer Bunny of American diplomacy on this issue, to create this frame of reference.

GREENE: But that showed it didn't rise to the highest of levels, which would have been a presidential speech you're saying.

MILLER: Exactly. I mean, the frame of reference was the two-state solution is dying. There's very little right now that can be done to save it. And we, the Obama administration, are going to frame the issue of why that is the case and what needs to be done by both sides in order to have a stake in saving it. You do not, at five minutes to midnight, launch a serious initiative with any expectation that you are going to create an environment for negotiations or certainly create a breakthrough.

GREENE: This is not the first time that the United States has sent a tough message to Israel. You have been involved in some of that. You worked for James Baker during the first Bush administration when James Baker famously said, you know, Israel, call the White House when you're serious about making peace. I mean, is - does Israel have an argument here to feel abandoned, which seems to be the message that's coming from there?

MILLER: I mean, I don't think they need to feel abandoned by the Obama administration. I think there are fundamental tensions between this Israeli prime minister on settlement activity, on Iran, on a different view that the president has on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The issue here is not the U.S. The reality is unless the parties are prepared to deal with the core issues - Jerusalem, border security, refugees, end of conflict and recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people - unless both parties are willing to deal with that, the prospects of any mediator getting close enough to bridge gaps between the two sides are slim to none. And frankly and sadly, that's where we are right now.

GREENE: Aaron David Miller, former State Department adviser on the Middle East and a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center. Thanks, as always.

MILLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.