Kerry: Israeli gov’t agenda ‘driven by the most extreme elements,’ jeopardizing two-state solution

WASHINGTON —Castigating settlement activity and defending Security Council abstention, secretary says friends must tell each other hard truths; sets out principles for accord but says he doesn’t aim to impose terms

US secretary of state John Kerry on Wednesday laid out his “comprehensive vision” for the future of Middle East peacemaking, saying that a two-state solution was the “only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state,” but promising that the US would not seek further UN action on the conflict. He spoke days after President Barack Obama infuriated the Israeli government by failing to veto a United Nations Security Council resolution demanding an end to Israel’s settlement activity, thus enabling it to pass.

In a speech that lasted well over an hour, Kerry described settlements as a central obstacle to achieving an agreement between the sides and declared that Israeli actions in the West Bank were putting the two-state solution, which he said was the sole path to peace, “in serious jeopardy.”

Kerry argued that settlement construction in the West Bank was being “strategically placed in locations that make two states impossible” and said the “the status quo is leading toward one state, or perpetual occupation.” Settlement expansion, he declared, “has nothing to do with Israel’s security.”

Castigating the coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he said it was “the most right-wing in Israel history with an agenda driven by the most extreme elements. The result is that policies of this government, which the prime minister himself just described as more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history, are leading … towards one state. In fact,” he added, “Israel has increasingly consolidated control over much of the West Bank for its own purposes.

With less than a month as secretary of state, Kerry sought to champion the two-state outcome he worked to achieve throughout the last four years, saying it was the only path forward. Incoming president Donald Trump has signaled he may not be committed to the two-state framework.

“The two-state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” Kerry said. “It is the only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state living in peace and security with its neighbors.”

“It is the only way to ensure a future of freedom and dignity for the Palestinian people and it is an important way of advancing United States interests in the region,” he added of the two-solution, which he said was “now in serious jeopardy.”

“The truth is that trends on the ground — violence, terrorism, incitement, settlement expansion and the seemingly endless occupation — are combining to destroy hopes for peace on both sides, and increasingly cementing an irreversible one-state reality that most people do not actually want,” he said.

Speaking directly to Israeli criticism of the US abstention, Kerry said: “It is not this resolution that is isolating Israel; it is the pernicious policy of settlement construction that is making peace impossible.”

The secretary dwelled at length on Israeli settlement policy in the West Bank, charging leaders of the settlement movement with “purposefully accelerating” trends that will make a two-state solution impossible. Kerry noted that the settler population has grown by 270,000 since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, and by 100,000 since Obama took office in 2009. He also lamented the reversal of trends toward greater Palestinian control initiated with Oslo.

“The Israeli prime minister publicly supports a two-state solution, but his current coalition is the most right-wing in Israel’s history, with an agenda driven by the most extreme elements,” Kerry said. “Policies of this government, which the prime minister just described as more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history, are leading in the opposite direction. They’re leading to one state.”

If there is only one state, he warned, “you would have millions of Palestinians permanently living in segregated enclaves in the middle of the West Bank with no real political rights, separate legal education and transportation systems, vast income disparities, under a permanent military occupation that deprives them of the most basic freedoms. Separate and unequal is what you would have, and nobody can explain how that works.”

Netanyahu responded almost immediately to the speech, and continued to voice his indignation toward the United States, arguing Kerry’s words were just as problematic as the actions his government took last week.

“Like the Security Council resolution that Secretary Kerry advanced in the UN, his speech tonight was skewed against Israel,” the prime minister said. “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.”

Kerry also had harsh words for the Palestinians, condemning their incitement to violence and glorification of terrorists, and he slammed the attempt to isolate and delegitimize Israel in the United Nations and elsewhere.

“The murders of innocents are still glorified on Fatah websites,” Kerry said, referring the movement headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. “Despite statements by President Abbas, too often they send a different message by failing to condemn specific attacks and by naming public squares, streets and schools after terrorists.

Ahead of the speech, the New York Times quoted a senior State Department official as saying that it would “address some of the misleading critiques” leveled at the Obama administration after Friday’s vote. This was, the Times said, a “clear reference” to Netanyahu’s furious response to the outcome of the vote, in particular the White House’s failure to use its veto.

In recent months, there had been increasing speculation that either Kerry or Obama could deliver a speech laying out parameters for reaching a final status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, detailing how future administrations that are committed to the two-state outcome may be able to take the issue forward.

Kerry laid out six principles that he said the United States believes must govern the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Firstly, Kerry said, peace must provide for secure and recognized borders, based on the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed land swaps and a contiguous state for the Palestinians.

Other principles included the fulfillment of UN General Assembly Resolution 181, which called for two state for two peoples; a fair and “realistic” solution to the Palestinian refugee problem that did not “affect the fundamental character of Israel”; shared capitals in Jerusalem that ensured free access to holy sites and no redivision of the city; Israeli security guarantees along with an end to the occupation; and a final end to the conflict and all outstanding claims along with the establishment of normalized relations.

But, Kerry said, “a final status agreement can only be achieved” through direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and insisted the US would not push for a further resolution at the Security Council.

Israel fears that the principles Kerry articulated will be discussed at a January 15 summit in Paris on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and could be enshrined in a further UN Security Council resolution. The prime minister and top diplomats have directly accused the Obama administration of working with the Palestinians to drive through Friday’s Resolution 2334, which the US has repeatedly denied.

The US did not agree with every word of the resolution, Kerry said, and therefore did not vote in favor. “But this vote, I can’t emphasize enough,” was not about a peace deal, Kerry said. “It was about how we make peace with the Palestinians in the future,” to “preserve the possibility to do so.”

UN Resolution 2334 says that the settlement enterprise “has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law” and calls for a complete end to all construction in areas Israel gained after the 1967 Six Day War. It also calls on all states “to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967” — language that Israel fears will lead to a surge in boycott and sanctions efforts, and that an Israeli official warned would provide “a tailwind for terror.”

The text was approved 14-0 with the United States abstaining. A no vote by the US would have meant the resolution didn’t pass.

Responding to the recent UN censure, Israel has hauled in for rebuke envoys from countries that passed the measure and has sanctioned several of them, reducing ties and aid programs and canceling meetings.

Defending these moves, the Israeli premier said, “Israel is a country with national pride, and we do not turn the other cheek.”

“This is a responsible, measured and vigorous response, the natural response of a healthy people that is making it clear to the nations of the world that what was done at the UN is unacceptable to us,” Netanyahu added on Monday.

At his weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu also addressed a conversation he had with Kerry on Thursday, in which he said he told him, “Friends don’t take friends to the Security Council.”

Since Friday, Israel has accused the United States of working to initiate the resolution, including by colluding with the Palestinians to strategize over its language — an allegation Washington categorically denies.


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