WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State John Kerry warned Wednesday that Israel’s settlement building in the West Bank threatens both hope for peace with the Palestinians and the country’s own future as a democracy.
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In a major speech setting out his vision of a solution to the conflict, Kerry warned Israel was on a course leading to a “perpetual occupation” of Palestinian-owned land.
Kerry hit back against Israeli claims that Washington conspired behind its back to push a United Nations resolution condemning its settlements.
In a clear message to Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, Kerry suggested that the charge — which he firmly denied — could harm Israel’s relationship with its most important ally.
“Ultimately, it will be up to the Israeli people to decide whether the unusually heated attacks that Israeli officials have directed toward this administration best serve Israel’s national interests and its relationship with an ally that has been steadfast in its support,” Kerry said.
“Those attacks, alongside allegations of a US-led conspiracy and other manufactured claims, distract and divert attention from what the substance of this vote really was about.”
In a pointed reply to Netanyahu who said last week that “Friends don’t take friends to the Security Council”, and who has insisted the Obama administration had orchestrated the resolution, Kerry hit back, saying:
“Friends need to tell each other the hard truths, and friendships require mutual respect.”
Kerry warned Israel was on a course leading to a “perpetual occupation” of Palestinian-owned land.
“Today, there are a similar number of Jews and Palestinians living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea,” he told an audience of diplomats in Washington.
“They have a choice. They can choose to live together in one state, or they can separate into two states,” he said.
“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.”
Explaining the US decision last week not to veto a UN Security Council vote to condemn Israeli settlement building, Kerry said: “The vote in the UN was about preserving the two-state solution.
“That’s what we were standing up for: Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, living side by side in peace and security with its neighbors,” he said.
“The two-state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” Kerry said, warning that such a solution was now in “serious jeopardy.”
Kerry vigorously defended the U.N. resolution and rejected criticism “that this vote abandons Israel”.
“If we had vetoed this resolution just the other day, the United States would have been giving license to further, unfettered settlement construction that we fundamentally oppose,” Kerry said.
“It is not this resolution that is isolating Israel. It is the permanent policy of settlement construction that risks making peace impossible.”
Kerry defended Obama’s commitment to Israel’s security and U.S. support for Israel in international platforms. Earlier this year, the United States and Israel agreed a $38 billion in military assistance over the next decade.
Friday’s UN Security Council resolution passed 14-0, with the United States abstaining. By declining to use its veto, Washington enabled the adoption of the first UN resolution since 1979 to condemn Israel over its settlement policy.
Netanyahu reacted furiously, accusing US President Barack Obama’s administration of being behind the resolution and vowing not to abide by it.
‘Skewed against Israel’
In a statement, Netanyahu said Kerry’s speech “was skewed against Israel.” The Israeli leader said Kerry “obsessively dealt with settlements” and barely touched on “the root of the conflict – Palestinian opposition to a Jewish state in any boundaries”.
The Israelis are looking past Obama and expect they will receive more favorable treatment from Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20. The Republican used his Twitter account on Wednesday to denounce the Obama administration, including its U.N. vote and the nuclear accord it reached with Iran last year.
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…….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 28, 2016
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 28, 2016
“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,” Trump said in a series of tweets. “Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!”
Trump had openly lobbied against the U.N. resolution and would be expected to veto any further ones deemed anti-Israel.
He has vowed to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and has appointed as ambassador a lawyer who raised money for a major Jewish settlement, has cast doubt on the idea of a two-state solution and even advocated for Israel’s annexation of the West Bank, a notion even further to the right than Netanyahu’s own stance.
Blaming Israel for the lack of peace
Speaking from his office following Kerry’s speech in Washington, Netanyahu said the outgoing secretary of state paid only “lip service” to Palestinian violence against Israelis.
“What he did was he spent most of his speech blaming Israel for the lack of peace,” Netanyahu said.
He added later that “Israelis do not need to be lectured about the importance of peace by foreign leaders”.
In an earlier statement from Netanyahu’s office, the premier said “like the Security Council resolution that Secretary Kerry advanced in the UN, his speech tonight was skewed against Israel”.
“For over an hour, Kerry obsessively dealt with settlements and barely touched upon the root of the conflict — Palestinian opposition to a Jewish state in any boundaries.”
NETANYAHU’s FULL SPEECH