US Secretary of State John Kerry attends the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, January 17, 2017..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – In his final public remarks as secretary of state, John Kerry called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a friend. But he had a message for the Israeli leader that he explained he has repeatedly offered in private.
“You’re affecting the ability to make peace,” he said. “You’re changing the peace map, and you’re doing it unilaterally. And if you continue to do that, you’re going to have trouble also with us, because our credibility is on the line – we can’t say we’re against settlements and then turn around and turn away from an effort to try to do something about it.”
The outgoing statesman spoke with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who, in their short time on stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos, focused his questions heavily on the issues of climate change and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Kerry’s responses were familiar: His only major foreign policy address since the November presidential election has been on this topic, and he is repeatedly pressed on Israel policy, including by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour this week.
“Let me say to my friends in Israel that you cannot be a unity state and be democratic and Jewish at the same time. You can’t do it,” he told Friedman, who noted that Kerry has received grief from Israel and the American Jewish community over his address on the topic last month.
John Kerry lays out Mideast peace vision
“Is it over?” Kerry quipped.
Kerry said that the Obama administration, with his speech and their UN abstention, had intentionally spurred debate over Israel’s future ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump – a figure who, by all measures to date, plans a different approach to Israel over its settlement activity.
“We saw a process taking place whereby the West Bank is slowly and steadily being eaten up – where municipal boundaries of settlements are expanded well beyond the settlement buildings themselves,” he said. “And if you take all the concentric circles of the municipal boundaries around these settlements, you actually see that most of the West Bank has been reserved for the exclusive use of Israel.”
“It’s a hard thing to be the messenger of truth,” he added, “because it quickly gets distorted into one sentence or one attack.”
Noting that the majority of Israel’s cabinet now opposes a two-state solution, Kerry said that a unitary state would be a “recipe for permanent insurgency, permanent conflict.
“You see 11,000 demolition orders for Palestinian homes right now, and they’re taking place at an increased rate,” he said. “It’s impossible to say that every person you add isn’t a complication when you decide what kind of state you want to have.”
Neither he nor Obama supports an immediate withdrawal of Israel from the West Bank, he said, citing administration concerns for Israel’s security.
But the spirit of the 1993 Oslo Accords – which reserved much of the West Bank for a future Palestinian homeland – is being violated, Kerry argued.
“It really was important for us to make a statement, and frankly, ignite a debate,” Kerry added. “And I think that debate is now on.”