U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday harshly criticized Israel’s decision to build roughly 5,000 new housing units in East Jerusalem and other settlements, alongside the release of a group of Palestinian prisoners. Kerry said settlement expansion sends a message that “perhaps you’re not really serious,” during an interview which aired on Israel’s Channel 2, as well as in Palestinian media.
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The lengthy interview was conducted by Channel 2 political correspondent Udi Segal and Palestinian journalist Maher Shalabi, and focused on the struggling peace negotiations and Kerry’s efforts to prevent a total collapse in talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
Kerry denied the claims made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that there had been an agreement between the two sides stipulating that each wave of Palestinian prisoners released would be accompanied by settlement expansion. According to Kerry, the deal was that Israel would release Palestinian prisoners in exchange for a halt of unilateral Palestinian actions at the United Nations during the nine months of negotiating.
“Palestinian leadership made it absolutely clear they believe the settlements are illegal, they object to the settlements and they are in no way condoning the settlements, but they knew Israel would make some announcements,” said Kerry.
“They knew it by they did not agree with it… there is a difference between knowing something may happen, and objecting to it,” continued Kerry.
Kerry traveled to Israel to try and deal with the crisis that resulted in Israel’s announcement of settlement expansion. He met twice with Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and will meet with Netanyahu again on Friday morning before leaving the region. Kerry urged both sides to continue negotiating as per their nine-month commitment and work to resolve core issues necessary for a permanent agreement - especially borders and security arrangements.
Kerry pointed out that construction in the settlements is burdening the peace process. “Let me ask you something – how if you say you’re working for peace and you want peace, and a Palestine that is a whole Palestine that belongs to the people who live there, how can you say that you’re planning to build in a place that will eventually be Palestine? It sends a message that somehow perhaps you’re not really serious,” said Kerry during the interview.
On the other hand, Kerry acknowledged that he understands the political pressure facing Netanyahu from elements within the government that opposed a freeze in settlement construction. “Until you arrive at a peace agreement, that issue will not be settled. If you arrive at a peace agreement, everybody will understand where Israel is, and where Palestine is,” said Kerry.
During the interview, Kerry rejected the possibility of a one-state solution for the two peoples, stating that such a scenario would only increase tensions and lead to a “perpetual state of conflict.”
Kerry also warned that if Israel and the Palestinians do not reach a peace agreement that results in two states for two peoples, “The alternative to getting back to the talks is the potential of chaos,” Kerry said. “I mean does Israel want a third Intifada?” he asked.
“If we do not resolve the issues between Palestinians and Israelis, if we do not find a way to find peace, there will be an increasing isolation of Israel, there will be an increasing campaign of delegitimization of Israel that’s been taking place on an international basis,” he warned.
Adding an additional warning to the Israeli public, Kerry urged making peace “with a leadership that is committed to non-violence,” otherwise Israel “may wind up with leadership that is committed to violence.”
“Today’s status quo will not be tomorrow’s, or next year’s,” said Kerry, referring to the Israeli public’s general feeling of peace and security. “If we don’t solve this issue, the Arab world and the Palestinians, neighbors, others, are going to begin again to push in a different way, and the last thing Israel wants to see is a return to violence. How does Israel survive as a Jewish state in a bi-national status? People need to stop and think about this reality”
Kerry also stated that at this point, the U.S. is not planning to present a peace plan, and stressed that the U.S. cannot force an agreement on the two sides. “We can help provide ideas… perhaps we can help to bridge the gap and the difference between them but in the end, you can’t have a peace imposed by anyone. You have to have a peace that the parties agree on.”