U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry took Israel to task at a private meeting in New York last Monday over its policy in the West Bank, Haaretz has learned. The comments came at a closed meeting of ministers representing the countries providing financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority.
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Kerry repeatedly raised his voice, emphasizing that Israel and the Palestinians are moving in the direction of a binational state rather than a Palestinian state alongside Israel and are also headed toward war. He added that if the international community is interested in putting a halt to these developments, “Either we mean it and we act on it, or we should shut up.”
Western diplomats who were present at the meeting, but who asked not to be identified because the meeting was not public, noted that Kerry was extremely agitated.
The U.S. secretary of state also expressed criticism of the Palestinians, the sources said, citing the increased number of Palestinian terror attacks and the incitement against Israel. However, the thrust of his remarks constituted criticism of the unprecedented rate of construction in the settlements in particular, and Israel’s policies in the West Bank in general.
The Western diplomats noted that Kerry’s comments presented the despair on both sides, but also the understanding emerging not only on Kerry’s part but also among an increasing number of senior White House officials that they need to seriously consider the possibility of promoting a resolution at the United Nations Security Council or at another international forum. This would be immediately after the U.S. presidential election in November, and would deal with the Israeli-Palestinian issue and preserving the option of a two-state solution in the future.
In an interview with Channel 10 last Thursday, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, hinted at this, noting that the U.S. administration is considering a series of options, including a UN Security Council resolution.
Shapiro added, however, that a decision has yet to be made on the matter.
Meanwhile, speaking to reporters at the beginning of last week, U.S. President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, said Obama does not rule out such a process, but no specific proposal has been presented to him yet.
At the New York meeting last Wednesday between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Obama, the subject did not come up for discussion. But in interviews the prime minister gave to Israeli television networks over the weekend, he said he hoped Obama would not force a unilateral political solution on Israel.
On Friday, Netanyahu met one-on-one with Kerry to discuss the Palestinian issue. The meeting, which was hastily arranged, took place shortly after a meeting of the foreign ministers of the Middle East Quartet (the United States, Russia, the UN and the European Union). Also attending were the foreign ministers of France and Egypt.
At the end of the meeting, the Quartet’s foreign ministers condemned accelerated construction in the settlements, demolitions of Palestinian homes and the retroactive approval of illegal West Bank outposts in recent months.
“All those are steadily eroding the viability of the two-state solution,” the Quartet statement said. “The Quartet stressed the growing urgency of taking affirmative steps to reverse these trends in order to prevent entrenching a one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict.”
At last Monday’s conference of countries providing funding to the PA, Kerry told the several dozen foreign ministers in attendance that after close to four years of talks with Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, he had come to the conclusion that the actions the two have been taking — and, more than that, the actions they are not taking — are deepening the diplomatic stalemate.
“Now, every single terrible act of violence, every new settlement announcement, takes us not closer to peace; they take us closer to a one-state solution,” he said. “That is no solution. It is an invitation to perpetual conflict. And as Shimon Peres himself said, it will bring one war, not one state. Make no mistake about it, I believe that is the risk if we continue on the current course.”
Kerry noted that since the release last July of a Quartet report that included a major warning regarding the direction in which the Israelis and Palestinians were headed, there has only been an increase in violence and Palestinian incitement has continued. In addition, plans for 2,400 new housing units in the settlements were announced and there has been a dramatic increase in Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes.
The U.S. secretary of state presented figures indicating that since Obama took office in 2009, the number of Israelis in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has increased by 95,000, and that 15,000 of that increase has come in the past year alone.
“How does increasing the number of settlers indicate an attempt to create a Palestinian state?” Kerry asked, raising his voice. “The status quo is not sustainable. So either we mean it and we act on it, or we should shut up.”
The U.S. secretary of state also spoke with anger, cynicism and frustration about the steps Israel was purportedly taking on the ground to ease the lives of the Palestinians. However, many of the measures have not been implemented at all and remain in the nature of declarations or remain simply on paper.
“I know this because I was told the Allenby Bridge [between the West Bank and Jordan] would open 24/7. It never did. I was told that the 3G [West Bank cellular service] agreement signed nearly a year ago would take place within months. It still is not fully implemented,” Kerry said.
“If we really want to get serious about a two-state solution, we need much more than just one-time agreements and improvements. We need to fundamentally change the dynamic by resuming the transition to greater Palestinian civil authority in Area C, which was called for in prior agreements.”
Area C is the designation for the areas of the West Bank under full Israeli control.
Kerry concluded by saying that Israelis and Palestinians are at a crossroads. “Either we reverse course and take serious steps on the path to a two-state solution, or the momentum of existing actions will carry us further toward an intractable one-state reality that nobody wants and nobody really thinks can work.
“The consequences of the current trends reverberate far beyond the immediate damage the destruction and displacement may cause. What’s happening today destroys hope. It empowers extremists,” he added.