U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry strongly criticized Israel's government in a speech on Wednesday, 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 Israeli settlements.
"If the choice is one-state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic, it cannot be both and it won't 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.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Kerry's speech. In televised remarks, Netanyahu criticized Kerry for attacking the "the only democracy in the Middle East" while terror is rampant and the "Middle East is in flames."
The Prime Minister's Office said:"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."
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in response he was ready to resume peace talks if Israel freezes settlement construction.
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The secretary of state said that although Netanyahu said he supports the two-state solution, his government was the most right wing in Israel's history, and its agenda was driven by the "most extreme elements."
"Netanyahu's government policy is more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history leading in opposite direction, leading to one state. Israel has effectively consolidated control of much of the West Bank for its own purposes," he said.
"Trends show a comprehensive movement to take West Bank land for Israeli development," Kerry said. "Israeli farms flourish in Jordan River Valley and Israeli resorts line the Dead Sea where no Palestinian development is allowed."
"If Israel goes down the one state path it will never have peace with the Arab world," Kerry said.
Kerry also defended the U.S. abstention at the Security Council on Friday, when the resolution criticizing settlements was adopted.
"The vote in the UN was about protecting a viable two-state solution.. Israel living side by side with a Palestinian state... that's what we were trying to preserve," Kerry said.
Kerry said that although the U.S. didn't agree with every word in the resolution, they couldn't "in good conscience veto a resolution that condemns violence and incitement, reiterates what has long been the overwhelming consensus international view on settlements, and calls for the parties to start taking constructive steps to advance the two state solution on the ground."
"If we had vetoed this resolution, the United States would have been giving license to further unfettered settlement construction that we fundamentally oppose," Kerry added.
Kerry rejected claims that the U.S. was behind the resolution, made by Israeli officials. "The Egyptians and Palestinians have long made clear their intention to bring this resolution to vote before end of year. The U.S. did not draft or introduce this legislation," he said.
Kerry also defended the Obama Administration's record on Israel, pointing to an unprecedented 10-year $38 billion dollar military aid package concluded earlier this year. He added:
"No American Administration has done more for Israel’s security than Barack Obama’s. The Israeli Prime Minister himself has noted our unprecedented military and intelligence cooperation. Our military exercises are more advanced than ever. Our assistance for Iron Dome has saved countless Israeli lives. We have consistently supported Israel’s right to defend itself, by itself, including during actions in Gaza that sparked great controversy."
He condemned terrorist attacks by Palestinians. "President Obama and I have made clear to the Palestinian leadership countless times, publicly and privately, that all incitement to violence must stop. We have consistently condemned violence and terrorism – and even condemned the Palestinian leadership for not condemning it," Kerry said.
Kerry laid down six principles of any future final status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians (Full Speech Here):
1. Provide for secure and recognized international borders between Israel and a viable and contiguous Palestine, negotiated based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed equivalent swaps.
2. Fulfill the vision of UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of two states for two peoples, one Jewish and one Arab, with mutual recognition and full equal rights for all their respective citizens.
3. Provide for a just, agreed, fair and realistic solution to the Palestinian refugee issue, with international assistance, that includes compensation, options and assistance in finding permanent homes, acknowledgment of suffering and other measures necessary for a comprehensive resolution consistent with two states for two peoples.
4. Provide an agreed resolution for Jerusalem as the internationally recognized capital of the two states, and protect and assure freedom of access to the holy sites consistent with the established status quo.
5. Satisfy Israel’s security needs and bring a full end to the occupation, while ensuring that Israel can defend itself effectively and that Palestine can provide security for its people in a sovereign and non-militarized state.
6. End the conflict and all outstanding claims, enabling normalized relations and enhanced regional security for all as envisaged by the Arab Peace Initiative.
Kerry had planned to make the address on Thursday, when the UN Security Council resolution against the settlements went up for a vote for the first time. After Egypt, the sponsor of the original motion, backed down, Kerry's speech was canceled.
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Kerry's spoke against the backdrop of a serious crisis between the Israeli government and the Obama administration following the UN resolution against the settlements that past Friday, which the U.S. refused to veto.
Netanyahu fears Kerry's remarks will be used as basis for international imitative on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Paris peace summit, taking place on January 15, or even in another Security Council resolution that will be put for a vote before Obama leaves office on January 20.
Friday's vote was able to pass the 15-member council because the United States broke with a long-standing approach of diplomatically shielding Israel and did not wield its veto power as it had on many times before.
The resolution's two main clauses state that the settlements have "no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law," and call on the nations of the world "to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967."
Just before Kerry spoke, Jerusalem's city planning commission approved a plan to build a three-story building for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem's predominantly Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan.
The vote on the Silwan project took place despite the commission's cancellation of a vote on hundreds of other housing projects for both Jews and Arabs in East Jerusalem earlier in the day. The Jerusalem municipality denied a Reuters report that a request to put off the vote on these other projects had come from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Also Wednesday, President-elect Donald Trump said that the U.S. "cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect" hours before the speech.
"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!" Trump tweeted.