U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry laid out parameters for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Wednesday, saying the United States could not stay silent while it saw the possibility of peace slipping away.
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 for the passage of a United Nations resolution 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 remarks at the State Department.
“We cannot, in good conscience, do nothing, and say nothing, when we see the hope of peace slipping away.”
Kerry invokes memory of late Israeli leader Shimon Peres in key Mideast speech, urges both sides to not allow peace to have died with him.
“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.”
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 Mideast peace efforts.
His impassioned speech comes less than a week after the United States abstained in the Dec. 23 UN resolution, in what many saw as a parting shot by U.S. President Barack Obama, who had an acrimonious relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Trump, who has vowed to pursue more pro-Israeli policies, had urged the United States to veto.
Trump urges Israel to ‘stay strong’
Trump on Wednesday chided the Obama administration for its stance toward Israel, shortly before Kerry’s speech.
“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 …,” Trump, a Republican, wrote on Twitter.
In another tweet, he said, referring to when he takes over at the White House, “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!”
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. The beginning of the end was the horrible Iran deal, and now this (U.N.)! Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!
Israel postpones vote
Israel pulled back from approving hundreds of new homes for Israelis in East Jerusalem on Wednesday before Kerry was set to speak.
The housing projects, in areas Israel captured in the 1967 war and which Palestinians seek as part of a future state, are part of building activity that the Security Council, by a vote of 14-0, demanded be halted.
With applications for 492 building permits in the urban settlements of Ramot and Ramat Shlomo on its agenda, members of Jerusalem city hall’s Planning and Building committee said a planned vote was cancelled at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request.
The panel’s chairman, Meir Turgeman, said at the session that Netanyahu was concerned approval would have given Kerry “ammunition before the speech”.
A spokesman for the Israeli leader declined immediate comment.
Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, called on Israel “to take the high ground and declare a cessation of settlement activities, including East Jerusalem, so we can give the peace process the chance it deserves by the resumption of meaningful negotiations”.
Peace talks stalled since 2014
Washington’s move at the United Nations broke a longstanding policy of diplomatic shielding of Israel by the United States.
Obama and Netanyahu have had a rocky relationship, divided over the decades-old Israeli policy of building Jewish settlements in occupied territory as well as on how to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.
Washington considers the settlement activity illegitimate and most countries view it as an obstacle to peace.
Israel disagrees, citing a biblical, historical and political connection to the land — which the Palestinians also claim — as well as security interests.
Some 570,000 Israelis now live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem amid mounting international concern that a two-state solution to the dispute is in jeopardy, with peace talks stalled since 2014.
“The prime minister said that while he supports construction in Jerusalem, we don’t have to inflame the situation any further,” Hanan Rubin, a member of the Jerusalem municipal committee told Reuters.
The panel meets regularly and the building projects could come up for a vote at a future session.
Since learning last week of Kerry’s planned speech, Israeli officials have been concerned he might use the address to lay out parameters for a Middle East peace deal.
Netanyahu’s aides are confident Trump’s incoming administration will likely ignore any Obama principles and pay no heed to the UN resolution. But they fear Kerry’s remarks will put Israel on the defensive and prompt other countries to apply pressure.
Trump has pledged to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which Israel claims as its capital — a status that is not recognized internationally. And he has appointed his lawyer, who has raised funds for a major Jewish settlement in the West Bank, as the new ambassador.
“Who’s Obama? He’s history,” Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev said on Army Radio on Wednesday.