U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned on Wednesday that the future of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was in jeopardy, and laid out parameters for future peace talks, saying the United States could not stay silent.
In a speech just weeks before the Obama administration hands over power to President-elect Donald Trump, Kerry defended the U.S. decision to allow the passage of a U.N. resolution last week demanding an end to Israeli settlements, saying it was intended to preserve the possibility of a two-state solution.
“Despite our best efforts over the years, the two-state solution is now in serious jeopardy,” Kerry said in a speech at the State Department. “We cannot, in good conscience, do nothing, and say nothing, when we see the hope of peace slipping away.”
“Friends need to tell each other the hard truths and friendships require mutual respect,” he said, adding that Israel “can either be Jewish or it can be democratic’ if it chooses a one-state solution with the Palestinians.
“The truth is that trends on the ground – violence, terrorism, incitement, settlement expansion and the seemingly endless occupation – are destroying hopes for peace on both sides and increasingly cementing an irreversible one-state reality that most people do not actually want.”
“Let’s be clear,” he continued. “Settlement expansion has nothing to do with Israel’s security. Many settlements actually increase the security burden on the Israeli defense forces and leaders of the settler movement are motivated by ideological imperatives that entirely ignore legitimate Palestinian aspirations.”
Kerry condemned Palestinian violence which he said included “hundreds of terrorist attacks in the past year.”
Shortly after the address, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement denouncing the secretary of state’s speech as “biased against Israel.”
“For more than an hour Kerry dealt obsessively with the settlements and almost did not touch on the source of the conflict – Palestinian opposition to the existence of a Jewish state with any borders,” it read.
Kerry’s parting words are unlikely to change anything on the ground between Israel and the Palestinians or salvage the Obama administration’s record of failed Middle East peace efforts.
The Israelis are looking past President Barack 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 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 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s own stance.
Kerry’s 70-minute speech provided some insights into an issue that he personally feels passionate about and had hoped to resolve during his years as secretary of state.
He defended the U.S. decision to allow the passage of a U.N. resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlements, saying it was intended to preserve the possibility of a two-state solution.
The United States abstained in the Dec. 23 U.N. resolution, in what many see as a parting shot by Obama who had an acrimonious relationship with Netanyahu.
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.