WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sat on the stage at the Saban Forum in Washington on Sunday and painted an exceedingly gloomy picture of the state of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Kerry, talking without notes, spoke from the heart like someone who truly fears for Israel’s future, as he expressed frustrations over four years of repeatedly trying to revive the two-state solution, the prospects for which seem to be expiring.
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Kerry’s criticism of the Israeli government's settlement policy and its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was unprecedented in its intensity. Fifty days before he leaves his post, Kerry finally publicly acknowledged the reality, admitting that the Israeli government was not really interested in a two-state solution. He made it clear that anyone who wants to know the Israeli policy should take heed of the words and actions of Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett rather than Netanyahu.
The U.S. secretary of state described a situation where a small group within the Israeli government is exploiting the disinterest of the majority of the Israeli public to what goes on in the West Bank to work quietly behind the scenes and create facts on the ground that will make it impossible to establish a Palestinian state. The bill to legalize unauthorized outposts in the West Bank, the strengthening of illegal outposts, the massive demolitions of Palestinian homes in Area C and more and more Jews moving into settlements outside the established blocs and east of the separation barrier are just some of the issues Kerry mentioned.
Kerry categorically rejected the claim Netanyahu made to the Saban Forum shortly before him to the effect that the Iranian threat would enable Israel to achieve a separate peace deal with Arab countries irrespective of the Palestinians. Kerry described Netanyahu’s remarks as falling somewhere between fantasy and mirage and deception and lies. “It won’t happen,” Kerry said. "No, no and no. Without peace with the Palestinians, there will not be peace between Israel and Arab states."
But Kerry’s most important point related to the coming six weeks. He left the door open to the possibility of an American move at the UN Security Council before Donald Trump is sworn in on January 20. Kerry clarified that rumors of U.S. President Barack Obama leaving the White House with no further dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian issue premature. He said a decision has yet been reached.
Kerry was precise in his comments. Such a decision is likely to be made in the coming week. Kerry would have liked to see the United States advance a Security Council resolution based on the Quartet report from July, one that would deal with negative conduct of both actors: settlements, home demolitions and legalization of outposts on the Israeli side, and incitement and violence on the Palestinian side. It’s no coincidence that Kerry said the U.S. would object to any “unfair resolution” against Israel: A resolution that also criticizes the Palestinians would not be unfair.
Another option open to Obama would be to avoid vetoing a resolution on a the settlements that the Palestinians are advancing in the Security Council. If the Palestinians remove a problematic clause from their resolution’s current text, it will look like a copy of one of Obama’s speeches. The president will have a hard time vetoing such a resolution. Nearly all of Obama’s advisers support making some kind of American move at the Security Council on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Whether Obama decides to accept or reject their advice will have a significant impact on his legacy.