Netanyahu Leads Onslaught of Right-wing Rejection of Kerry's Speech

A statement from Netanyahu's office accuses the U.S. Secretary of State of obsessing about settlements while Education Minister Naftali Bennett reaffirms his rejection of a two-state solution. On the left, politicians welcome Kerry's remarks.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responds to John Kerry's speech, December 28, 2016.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responds to John Kerry's speech, December 28, 2016. Emil Salman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu led an onslaught of Israeli criticism of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's speech on Wednesday terming his speech a "great disappointment" and "biased" against Israel.

About an hour after Kerry's speech (full text here), Netanyahu delivered a televised statement criticizing Kerry for attacking the "the only democracy in the Middle East" while terror is rampant and the "Middle East is in flames."

Netanyahu said that had the Obama administration invested as much energy in dealing with Palestinian terrorism as it had with Jerusalem construction, maybe the cause of peace would have been better advanced.

"This is what the secretary of state has to focus on in one of his final speeches, for an entire hour. The entire Middle East is in flames, entire countries are collapsing, terrorism is rampant, and for an entire hour the secretary of state attacks the only democracy in the Middle East maintaining stability, not only for our Jewish and Arab citizens but also contributes to stability in our region.

"Maybe Kerry hasn't noticed that Israel is the only place in the Middle East where Christmas can be celebrated safely and peacefully. This unfortunately doesn't interest the U.S. Secretary of State," Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu's office issued a statement immediately after Kerry's speech, saying: "Just like the resolution that John Kerry advanced at the United Nations, the speech he delivered was 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."

In his speech, Kerry strongly criticized Israel's government, saying that trends on the ground are leading to a one-state solution and defending the U.S. decision not to veto a UN Security Council resolution against the Israeli settlements.

"If the choice is one-state Israel can neither be Jewish or democratic, it cannot be both and it will not ever live in peace," he said.

Kerry presented the principles of a future final status agreement: An Israeli and a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines; full rights to all citizens; a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue; Jerusalem as the capital of both states; an end to the occupation, while satisfying Israel's security needs, with a demilitarized Palestinian state; an end to all claims by both sides.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the far right Habayit Hayehudi party, said Kerry "quoted me three times anonymously in order to show that we object to a Palestinian state."

"So here it is out in the open: True, as far as it depends on me, we will not establish another terrorist state in the heart of [Israel]. Israeli citizens have paid with thousands of victims, tens of thousands of missiles and endless condemnations because of the messianic policy of a Palestinian state. The time has come for a new path, and we will lead it," Bennett said.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (Likud) called Kerry's speech "a lot of words and very little understanding of reality."

"Secretary of State Kerry, whose actions have caused the status of the United States in the world to deteriorate in every area he acted in, is trying to force on us in his final days in office a viewpoint that is entirely a prize for Palestinian terrorism while completely ignoring our rights to the land," said Levin.

"I have the honor of being a part of a government that defends the critical interests of Israel and our rights to the land. A true friend of Israel needs to strengthen the elected government and not to try to  force on the people in Israel a  decision by means of the supporters of Iran in the United Nations," he added. 

On the left wide of the political spectrum, politicians welcomed Kerry’s remarks.

Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog tweeted: “John Kerry has always been a great friend of Israel and will always be. His speech expresses true concerns about Israels wellbeing and future.”

MK Zehava Galon, the chairwoman of Meretz, said: "Kerry's speech of rebuke sends an unambiguous message  to the government of Israel, the settlements are an explosive device in any future two-state solution, and for the continued existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state."

"In the government, they can roll their eyes over this speech forever, but the American secretary of state showed us once again the critical influence the [law legalizing expropriating private Palestinian-owned land], the legalization of illegal outposts and Amona had on the United Nations Security Council resolution," Galon said.

MK Ahmad Tibi of the Joint List said: "John Kerry defends with his life the dream of two states, and says it is collapsing because of the policy of Netanyahu and his most right-wing government there has been, which sanctifies the settlements over a diplomatic agreement."

"Netanyahu's policy is leading to a single binational state  based on apartheid and the rule of the minority over the majority.

"Kerry said in fact that the values of the Israeli government and its policies are opposed to the values of the United States of America."

Tibi was skeptical about the impact Kerry’s speech would have saying his and Obama’s latest remarks “will not leave their mark in history if the administration does not recognize Palestine even before the end of Obama's term, as they did in the UN a few years ago: Palestine in the 1967 borders whose capital is East Jerusalem alongside the State of Israel."

MK and former defense minister Amir Peretz ofZionist Union saw the speech as one of “the possible ways to end the stagnation which the Netanyahu government has brought about - stagnation that has led to our isolation in the world and endangers Israel."

Peretz said Israel is in a difficult situation internationally and isolated from the entire world - and the importance of Kerry's speech is that it offers a framework or possible solution.   

"It does not matter if it is Kerry's initiative or the Saudi [peace] plan or any other plans; without Israeli initiative or support and joining the existing framework, this stagnation will continue and with it Israel's isolation in the world will intensify," he said. This is " a danger to the security of Israel and its existence," said Peretz.

Peretz also introduced a motion to dissolve the Knesset and hold new elections, with the support of his entire party.