Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has always had a rocky relationship with the Barack Obama administration, but in the wake of Secretary of State John Kerry’s anti-settlement speech Wednesday and the United States’ decision to allow a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning settlements, he has abandoned all pretense of bilateral decorum.
Immediately following Kerry’s remarks, Netanyahu criticized Kerry in scathing terms in a prime-time speech on Israeli television.
Kerry’s speech, Netanyahu said, was “almost as unbalanced as the anti-Israel resolution passed at the U.N. last week.”
“For a full hour, the secretary of State attacked the only democracy in the Middle East,” he added.
Earlier in the day, Netanyahu and Cabinet member Naftali Bennett, who opposes a two-state solution, retweeted President-elect Donald Trump’s message promising his policy at the United Nations would be different toward Israel.
Gershon Baskin, founder of the Jerusalem-based Israeli-Palestinian think tank Israel-Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives, said Netanyahu’s disregard for a sitting president in favor of his successor was “certainly unprecedented” in the annals of U.S.-Israeli relations.
“The Israeli government has already written off the Obama administration and has great expectations for the Trump administration,” Baskin said.
The feeling is apparently mutual. The president-elect had already reportedly tried to table the unfavorable U.N. resolution by appealing to Egypt not to introduce it. The last-minute maneuver failed when New Zealand, Malaysia, Senegal and Venezuela introduced it in lieu of Egypt.
Baskin also noted that Netanyahu’s prime-time rebuke of Kerry and praise for Trump “might be in fact some kind of deflection” from a report by Israel’s Channel 10 that the Israeli attorney general has ordered a criminal investigation of Netanyahu for unspecified charges.
Kerry’s Wednesday speech was the Obama administration’s most stinging public rebuke of the Israeli government to date, warning that Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian territories and expansion of civilian settlements there are rapidly jeopardizing a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic, it cannot be both, and it won’t ever live in peace,” Kerry said.
Unlike Jewish settlers on these lands, the 4.4 million Palestinians living under Israeli rule in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza lack the rights of citizenship to any sovereign nation. It is a situation Kerry called “separate and unequal.”
The remarks functioned as a de facto defense of the U.S.’ decision to allow Friday’s passage of a U.N. Security resolution condemning settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories as illegal. The U.S. abstention in the vote, which permitted its adoption by default, is a departure from the administration’s previous policy of vetoing such resolutions.
Netanyahu, who is also Israel’s foreign minister, continued an ongoing diplomatic counterattack against the U.S. and other nations for the resolution. He reiterated his government’s accusation Wednesday that the Obama administration facilitated the resolution rather than merely failing to block it.
“We have it on absolute, incontestable evidence: The United States organized, advanced and brought this resolution,” Netanyahu said without presenting this evidence.
Supporters of the Obama administration’s abstention, including Palestinian activists and J Street, a progressive Israel advocacy group, have hailed it as an appropriate response to the right-wing Netanyahu government’s refusal to halt settlement expansion on land that would form the future Palestinian state.
The Israeli government and its many allies in both U.S. political parties have argued that the U.N. resolution was inappropriate because Israelis and Palestinians must resolve their differences directly without the intervention of international institutions. Even some critics of the Netanyahu government have faulted the resolution for failing to distinguish between Israel’s control of East Jerusalem ― including holy sites such as the Western Wall ― and the West Bank.
But if Netanyahu’s relations with the Obama White House have reached a new low in the waning days of the administration, tensions between the two governments have been simmering for some time.
Most notably, Netanyahu drew criticism for delivering a public address to Congress in March 2015 opposing the Iran nuclear agreement against the wishes of the Obama administration. Many Democratic lawmakers boycotted the speech.
This story has been updated to include reports of a criminal investigation of Benjamin Netanyahu.