By Karen McDonough/JNS.org
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry slammed the Israeli government over settlement building, warning that the two-state solution is “in jeopardy,” in a lengthy speech Wednesday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swiftly called “almost as unbalanced” as the United Nations Security Council’s recent anti-settlement resolution.
“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,” Kerry said in his speech, which lasted an hour and a half and detailed the outgoing Obama administration’s vision for Middle East peace.
With less than a month left in President Barack Obama’s term, Kerry defended Obama’s decision to abstain from the vote on U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334, allowing the measure to pass and breaking from the longstanding U.S. policy of vetoing one-sided U.N. resolutions targeting Israel. The secretary of state laid out the case to continue to push for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while questioning Netanyahu’s commitment to Palestinian statehood and calling the Israeli leader’s current government “the most right-wing in Israel’s history.”
The reaction from Jerusalem was immediate and searing. At a press conference, Netanyahu expressed “deep disappointment” in how Kerry blamed Israeli policy for the conflict and merely “paid lip service” to the unrelenting terrorism waged against the Jewish state since it declared independence in 1948.
“Israelis do not need to be lectured about the importance of peace by foreign leaders,” Netanyahu said. “No one wants peace more than the people of Israel.”
The prime minister said he looks forward to working with the incoming Donald Trump administration to “mitigate” the fallout from the U.N. resolution and to “repeal” it. He predicted that stemming from next month’s international peace conference in Paris, France or Sweden could bring another devastating U.N. resolution against Israel, emphatically saying that the U.S. should not enable more harmful resolutions against the Jewish state and calling on Obama to “stop this game, the charades.”
Netanyahu went on to say, "Palestinian rejection of Israel and support for terror are what the nations of the world should focus on if they truly want to advance peace, and I can only express my regret and say that it's a shame that Sec. Kerry does not see this simple truth."
President-elect Trump took to social media before Kerry’s speech, tweeting, “We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect.” He added, “Israel used to have a great friend in the U.S., but…not anymore. The beginning of the end was the horrible Iran deal, and now this (U.N.)! Stay strong Israel, Jan. 20th is fast approaching!”
Netanyahu responded by tweeting, “President-elect Trump, thank you for your warm friendship and your clear-cut support for Israel!”
On Dec. 23, the U.N. Security Council voted 14-0 to pass the resolution, which demanded that Israel "immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the 'occupied' Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem," adding that the establishment of Israeli settlements has "no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law." The measure states that the Western Wall is located in "occupied Palestinian land," and encourages boycotts and sanctions against Israel.
The resolution was first introduced by Egypt, which backed down after Trump intervened, before New Zealand, Senegal, Malaysia and Venezuela pushed for the eventual vote. Netanyahu said Wednesday that he has “absolutely incontestable evidence” that the Obama administration colluded against Israel prior to the U.N. vote, a claim supported by leaked documents released in the Egyptian daily newspaper Al-Youm Al-Saba’a, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Ten days before the vote, Kerry and White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice had told a Palestinian delegation in Washington, D.C., that “the U.S. would not impose a veto on such a resolution if its wording was balanced,” Haaretz reported. The White House has denied that report.
Meanwhile, Israeli media reported that British diplomats worked with the Palestinians on the wording of the resolution before it was unveiled Dec. 21, ahead of the vote two days later. The U.K. also reportedly encouraged New Zealand to be at the forefront of the vote. Hours before the Security Council voted, Netanyahu called New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully and asked him to not support the “scandalous decision,” adding that “it will be a declaration of war” if he supported the resolution, according to Haaretz.
Commenting on Kerry’s speech, Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon said the Obama Administration “acted against Israel at the U.N., and any claim to the contrary is a distortion of reality.”
“Neither speeches nor statements will bring peace to our region,” Danon said. “The only way forward is for the Palestinians to understand that they must condemn terror, end incitement and return to the negotiating table.”