No, we don't need to applaud the American Secretary of State John Kerry's speech about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The very notion we do speaks volumes about how easily surprised we are in the mainstream discourse about Palestine in the United States today.
Let's be clear about the point of the speech: Kerry was trying to accomplish a few things. He wanted to send a clear message about the US involvement in the United Nations Security Council resolution about Israeli settlements – a resolution that, it has to be said, was hardly controversial, but let's come back to that.
The incoming Trump administration, pro-Israel members of Congress, and, of course, the Israeli administration of Netanyahu found the whole resolution deeply offensive, and accused the sitting Obama administration guilty of orchestrating the entire affair. Kerry, no doubt in coordination with the White House, wanted to clear the deck on that score, claiming that the US wasn't instrumental in this regard – and that, rather, it reflected a widespread consensus.
Which isn't entirely the case – it represents a minimum standard that the international community holds, and which, incidentally, international law backs.
Beyond that, there was the "legacy" question. It's long been held that outgoing US president, Barack Obama, has views on the Palestine question that are far more pro-Palestinian than his administration's policies suggest.
Given that Kerry's speech literally comes at the very end of the administration's tenure, a key take away from it is that it sought to establish the Obama administration view on the conflict in a particular frame.
History will judge that in due course – but it remains the objective reality that for almost the entirety of the two-term Obama era, these basic points were not expressed in such a forceful and forthright manner.
Administration officials that held these views regularly privately expressed them – and during the first term of the Obama presidency, often insisted that in the second term, he would be more frank about them. That never happened, but with the Kerry speech, they can, if they choose, argue that at least the historical record will be able to record that he did actually hold them.
This is a conflict which, at its core, is about an illegal, military occupation and siege of Palestinian territories by Israel.
They will have to argue hard, though – because the actual policies of the Obama administration cannot be remotely described as harshly critical of Israel, beyond snippets of rhetoric here and there. The speech, in the final analysis, doesn't change any policy of the United States to Israel or to the Palestinians. If this is a legacy item, it isn't a particularly effective one. Cuba; the Iran deal; those might be counted among the legacy. (And a negative one – the Syrian quagmire – is foremost among those legacy items.)
But this is the DC Beltway. In the wider establishment of DC media, politics, and policy institutions, against the prevailing discourse and mainstream rhetoric, the speech was indeed something new. And that is the problem. The standard for "surprising" and "novel" when it comes to this decades old issue is pretty low.
What Kerry said would be standard in most Western capitals, and not simply by parties on the left – even on the right wing of British politics, this is part and parcel of mainstream, accepted political discourse. That doesn't mean the West, bar the United States, is anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic. It does mean we ought to consider very carefully what is "acceptable" or "not radical"on the Palestine question in the United States.
The Palestine question is fraught with difficulty and complexity, not least because of infighting for a variety of reasons in the Palestinian camp, and a lack of inspirational leadership therein. But this is a conflict which, at its core, is about an illegal, military occupation and siege of Palestinian territories by Israel.
Palestinians do not occupy or are laying siege to a sliver of Israeli territories or Israeli citizens – it's not an "equal"conflict. It's why when CNN interviews a Palestinian spokesperson like Hanan al-Ashrawi, asking about "Palestinian responsibility" for the conflict, the question is so baffling.
At best, Kerry's speech has, partially, reset what is considered "mainstream" opinion about the Palestine question. It shouldn't be applauded for that – unless we implicitly accept that the mainstream is normal. The military occupation and siege of a people is wrong – and no one ought to be congratulated for recognising that basic fact.
Dr H.A. Hellyer, senior nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council in DC and the Royal United Services Institute in London, is the author of 'A Revolution Undone: Egypt's Road Beyond Revolt'.